The recent Golden Globe Awards should have been an incredible night for social progress. Aziz Ansari is now the first Asian-American performer to win best actor in a TV comedy—this is undeniable progress. His acceptance speech identified disparities in media prevalence between Asian Americans and other demographics—more progress. On the lapel of his black jacket, worn over a black shirt, a black pin read “TIME’S UP”—more progress. Or at least, it should have been.
Skip forward a few days. babe publishes an article in which Grace (a name used to protect the contributor’s identity) describes a date with Ansari and the events that followed. Grace met Aziz at a party in California. They exchanged numbers. They met up later in New York City, got dinner, and wound up back at Ansari’s place. The sexual encounter that followed made Grace “uncomfortable” (to say the least) and yet “seemed okay” to Aziz.
It’s easy to get behind the #MeToo movement when we’re talking about men like Harvey Weinstein. But Ansari’s case is more difficult to swallow. Here’s a guy who’s made plenty of money and fame by discussing modern love and relationships—he’s the closest thing we have to a public intellectual on technological romance. It seems like a betrayal, a hypocrisy.
People feel comfortable condemning Weinstein. But they feel uncomfortable condemning Ansari.
Full disclosure: This is a super difficult topic to discuss, and I would not presume to have all the answers. What’s more, I’m a cisgender, heterosexual dude. I am not writing this because I think that the opinions of cishet dudes are more important than those of anyone else, or even because I think cishet dudes necessarily have anything intelligent to say on the subject. The unfortunate truth, though, is that a lot of cishet dudes will only listen to an opinion given by another cishet dude. So here is that opinion.
What underlies the account is an even bigger question of how we define sexual assault. A lot of people (and, in my experience, a lot of men) are struggling with this. I think the Ansari case makes a lot of guys pretty uncomfortable. If I had to guess, plenty of dudes can get behind the #MeToo movement when the definition of sexual assault is very clear. Hell, they may even be willing to call themselves feminists. But that label is as good as the “TIME’S UP” pin on Ansari’s lapel unless we advocate reprimand for more than just the black and white cases.
I think guys like having Harvey Weinstein around. We can look at what he’s done, and think, “Well, at least I didn’t do that.” It’s validating; it’s comfortable. But comfort means stagnation. We shouldn’t be comfortable.
Comfort is the real enemy here. Plenty of us are comfortable with our regular sexual interactions with femmes. Jessica Valenti tweeted, “A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction. But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.” Even if what Aziz did “seem[ed] okay” to him, the point is that what cishet dudes tend to think of as “okay” is just normalized discomfort for a lot of femmes.
In a recent article, Michaela Lindsey holds that there is “a cultural norm of victim-blaming that is present in the minds of the many ‘feminists’ who have argued that Grace should have just yelled ‘no!’ or left.” And that’s the truth. Most guys don’t even think about how they act in a sexual situation unless an advance is denied by their partner. But with all the socialization we receive, telling us how we ought to act and speak and think, we can’t only think about our sexual ethics when they’re called into question.
Maybe you’re a dude who is perfectly comfortable with the state of your sexual ethics. Maybe you read about the Aziz case and think, “Well, that’s just not sexual assault, so it isn’t a problem…” Dude, that’s like saying going 30 over the speed limit isn’t a problem because at least you didn’t go 50 over. Definitions don’t mean shit. If you’re making someone, anyone, feel uncomfortable, that ought to concern you.
Ok, let’s say you’re a dude who is convinced by all this, who wants to be uncomfortable, who wants to change what they see as normal. What can you do?
My guy, I cannot tell you. But you know who can? The women and other badass femmes in your life. So go ask. Assuming how to make someone more comfortable most often leads to a slew of other problems—so don’t assume. This is not a discussion that men should be having alone.
We need to start making efforts to hold ourselves, and each other, accountable. We are under a constant bombardment of messaging, telling us how we should be treating femmes; we’ve been taught aggressive sexuality in many ways and toxic masculinity in many more. Think hard about that: how what we choose to consume affects the way we think and how our thoughts affect the way we act. Call yourself out. Call out your friends. Change what’s “normal.”
The author is a sophomore in Columbia College studying philosophy and an associate editorial page editor for Spectator. This is a complex issue that he would not presume to know the answers to. As such, he has concentrated mostly on raising questions. Moreover, if you find any serious fault with this article, PLEASE email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is learning too and could always benefit from outside perspectives.
Love, Actualized is a weekly op-ed series on love, sex, and dating at Columbia. To respond to this op-ed, or to submit to Love, Actualized, contact email@example.com.