In The Aziz Ansari Story She Said No, But She Didn’t Have To. It’s Time To Talk About Consent.
Ansari’s behavior is a symptom of a sick society that seriously needs to talk about gender, sex, trauma and relationships.
What’s astounding and profound is that everyone who is blaming “Grace” in the Ansari story is conveniently overlooking every time she said no. They are behaving exactly like Ansari did that night and that is what we need to talk about. We desperately need to talk about consent.
In truth, Grace put up much more resistance than she even needed to.
She said no.
For clarity’s sake these are direct quotes from the Babe.net story and “Grace’s” version of her encounter with Ansari:
- “I said something like, ‘Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill.’”
- But the main thing was that he wouldn’t let her move away from him. She compared the path they cut across his apartment to a football play. “It was 30 minutes of me getting up and moving and him following and sticking his fingers down my throat again. It was really repetitive. It felt like a fucking game.”
- “Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points,” she said. “I stopped moving my lips and turned cold.”
- He asked her if she was okay. “I said I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you,” she said.
- “After he bent me over is when I stood up and said no, I don’t think I’m ready to do this, I really don’t think I’m going to do this. And he said, ‘How about we just chill, but this time with our clothes on?’”
Let’s get clear about what consent is.
California recently passed a new law known as the ‘yes means yes law’ or SB-967. It applies to schools that receive public funding. It reflects the most accurate and up-to-date understanding of rape, trauma, and human psychology. It is how consent should be defined across the country.
“Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent,” the law states, “nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.”
Failure to ‘sufficiently’ resist advances is not consent.
California’s definition of consent is crucial because it does two things. One, it clarifies that failure to say no, failure to put up ‘proper’ resistance does not equal consent. Why is this so crucial? Because if you understand the psychology of trauma and have studied human behavior you understand a basic human (and animal) instinct is to freeze.
Science has just begun to study the freeze response in humans and animals but it is a legitimate and proven psychological and evolutionary response to trauma. I’m not exactly sure why we need science to tell us that freezing or ‘tending and befriending’ are legitimate responses to trauma.But I’m thankful science does tell us this for the people who need science.
There are numerous other reasons why someone would not be able to say no, including being in shock, being confused about what is happening as it’s happening, being too intoxicated to even know what is happening, being afraid of escalating the situation, being socialized to please (as women are), or even just being asleep.
The number of reasons why someone might not be able to say no are as endless as the number of sexual assaults that take place every year.
The number two thing the California definition does is clarify that consent can be revoked.
Some say Grace did this x, y or z act with Ansari and that thus Ansari had consent. Well, one no winning a battle and getting a woman to relent into a sexual act is not consent. But even if it was consensual, consent to one act is not consent to every act thereafter and consent can be revoked. A person can want to have sex but then change their mind. A person can want to perform one sex act but not all the ones coming after.
Consent must be affirmative.
Even if you believe Grace consented to some of the acts there were times she was very clearly not okay with his behavior. Every one of the five instances above demonstrate that she was not affirmatively consenting to what was happening and that any consent that had existed had been revoked. Each time it was revoked Ansari needed to get clear affirmative consent before he could go forward with her, something he never did.
To clarify, affirmative consent does not look like someone trying to physically get away from you. It does not look like some asking you to slow down. It does not look like someone telling you they don’t want to feel forced. It does not look like someone stiffening up and mumbling some form of no. Those are very clear signs that you do not have AFFIRMATIVE consent.
What is affirmative consent?
Affirmative consent can be a verbal ‘yes I want to have sex’. Grace never said ‘yes, I want to have this sexual encounter’.
Affirmative consent can also be physical. If you can’t read the physical signs of your partner then you need to ask and get verbal consent. Grace’s physical signs to me were very obvious she was not into what was happening.
To people more sympathetic to Ansari, her physical signs were a mixed message and confusing. Given that we’ve established above that people are often not able to say no, the burden falls on the person crossing the line into possible inappropriate behavior to make sure that their behavior is okay. This is not gender specific. If Grace was the aggressor and Ansari froze, it’s on Grace to make sure her behavior is appropriate.
like, it looks like another person enthusiastically and actively engaged in the same behavior you are. It looks like two people both enjoying the experience and not one person just trying to get through the experience or maneuver away from the other person. If one person isn’t enjoying the experience but they are doing it because they care about you and want you to enjoy it then that needs to be clarified.
Getting affirmative consent is very simple.
You need positive clear consent and that’s actually much easier to obtain than it sounds. I hear men say that they are not going to stop a woman every five minutes and say hey are you okay with this? Well good, you don’t need to.
If physically she’s not taking your clothes off, saying she wants ‘it’, initiating sexual acts with you then take that as your cue to stop and get some verbal consent. Just say hey are you okay with this? Or say the same thing in whatever sexy way you are into.
Bottom line, to make sure you have consent you just need to be a decent human being and care about the other person in the encounter. All Ansari had to do was listen and pay attention to her the FIVE times mentioned above.
Legally, California says she didn’t even have to put up resistance.
(This is the whole, Grace didn’t even need to say no point). California’s law is written in a way that shows it understands trauma and human behavior which is why it’s such a great law.
California says that affirmative consent must be ongoing. Grace’s resistance to Ansari’s advances shows that even if there ever was affirmative consent (think words, physical signs of enjoyment and enthusiasm) that it was at least very clearly not ongoing.
California says that consent can be revoked. Grace’s ‘hey slow down’, her physical attempts to get away, and her ‘I don’t want to feel forced’ are all signs that any consent that may have existed clearly no longer existed at that point. Ansari then again needed to get clear and affirmative consent.
Where does the Ansari story fit in with the #metoo movement?
The Aziz Ansari story is everything our country needs to be talking about right now. I don’t know how I’d label Ansari’s behavior but that’s the point of the women’s story with him. Whether or not Ansari’s behavior is a crime and should be labelled as sexual assault is a legal issue and is something for the court’s to decide.
What his behavior is though is a symptom of a sick society that seriously needs to talk about gender, sex, trauma and relationships. The Ansari situation is an all too common experience. It’s an experience that is damaging to our society as a whole and undermines the full potential of both genders.
There are countless sociological and personal factors at play as to why Ansari behaved the way he did but what’s important is to say this is not okay behavior anymore. This is behavior that has painful repercussions for both sexes.
Our society collectively and publicly needs to talk about what is not okay anymore so we can change and create a better and healthier future. We need to strive for a society where sexual encounters (casual or not) are mutually positive experiences or at least not detrimental and painful experiences.
A problematic and ill culture.
In our society today sex is stigmatized and taboo and mysterious. It’s something that’s seen all too often as something the guy has to get from the girl and that when he does he has won and the girl has betrayed her purity. We need to redefine sex as a positive and mutually enjoyable experience between two people; a good experience that you get to enjoy with someone else.
Society’s messages to our children matter.
From kindergarten on we raise girls by saying oh that boy’s just making fun of you or pushing you because he likes you and we (the adults) think it’s cute. We tell little girls the best way to get him to stop is to ignore the behavior. Then we wonder why they grow into women who don’t know that they’re allowed to say no or don’t know how to say no. Saying no is not a practiced and learned behavior.
We tell little boys, oh boys are just being boys and we excuse their inappropriate behavior and then we wonder why they grow into men who don’t know how to respect boundaries or that they even need to respect boundaries. Stopping and taking tame to consider and respect boundaries is not their practiced and learned behavior.
Add to that, a media which inundates us with images where the boy just had to push a little harder and break through the girl’s resistance in order to get the kiss and win her over. It makes me feel sorry for men as well as women.
Both sexes are short changed.
Men are short changed. Our society has taught them to imitate behavior that is unhealthy and detrimental to having good relationships.
Many men probably don’t even realize that when they push through a woman’s resistance and get the kiss or the make out, they haven’t won her over. It is not like the movies where now the woman falls in love with you. Instead these men have actually betrayed trust and hurt someone.
I have heard men say that they were Ansari in Grace’s story and they walked away from these encounters feeling shame and confusion about why they acted the way they did.
Women are more obviously short changed by these experiences because they are on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior. Women walk away feeling violated and disrespected by the excessive persistence of men’s advances.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized many, if not most, men are not like Ansari, but the multiple encounters with men like Ansari make us feel like all men are just like him.
Where do we go from here?
A sexual encounter should never be about one person relenting.
Do I blame the guy or the society that raised him to “loosen her up with drinks”, to be the aggressor to get his physical wants met, to not worry about others’ boundaries?
Or do I blame the society that raised the girl to ignore and tolerate and laugh off boys being boys which became men being men.
I’m so proud of the #MeToo Movement and never thought I’d see something like this in my lifetime. I’m proud of it and all of its messiness and imperfections. Change doesn’t come in a nice neat little box. It’s hard and imperfect and messy.
Now the Ansari story is cutting to the heart of the problems in our culture. It is now getting really real. We are an evolved intelligent species. Now that we have things like psychology and science to help us understand human behavior and emotions it’s time we dig up and analyze our countless years of social programming. It’s time we look at those ugly painful things that are all too common in our society.
A culture that considers painful sexual experiences to be the norm is a cultural that is vastly underachieving and the repercussions reverberate through in endless ways.
I have had many encounters like the Ansari experience. I have been raped too and that experience for me was very different psychologically than the encounters I had with men like Ansari. I don’t know what that makes Ansari but I know that encounters with men like Ansari were very painful in their own way.
This has been a very hard few days for rape survivors not because of what happened in Grace’s story but because of how our friends, family members, and co-workers are responding. It is simply mind blowing to me and the other survivors I’ve spoken to that people can’t just look at the Aziz Ansari story and say wow yes we have a fucked up society and thank God someone (Grace) is brave enough to talk about it in public and make our society face these issues.
You don’t have to hate Ansari. You don’t have to define Grace’s experience.
I get it, people don’t want to hate Ansari and say he’s guilty of sexual assault. They also don’t want to dig up personal uncomfortable experiences that are just like Grace’s and wonder if maybe they should think about their own experience differently. But you don’t have to.
Only a court of law has to decide exactly how to define Ansari and Grace’s experience. They can each define for themselves how they want to label what happened and they can definite it differently. Every single person on this planet can decide for themselves what to call their experience.
We don’t need to define it because a painful experience is still pain. We don’t need to compare pains, we don’t need to decide if one pain is worse than another. We just need to say all pain is valid, these experiences are not good experiences and our society can do better.
Listen to survivors and do some research.
And please understand that survivors feel like we have to explain every little detail and nuance of rape, trauma, PTSD, interpersonal violence, gender issues, cultural issues and more to the entire world… but we can’t. We can’t explain everything to everybody. It’s utterly exhausting. It leaves you physically stressed and wiped.
Of all the talks I’ve had about Aziz Ansari only one person actually took the approach of asking me well why would she behave this way. Everyone else argued and counter-argued incessantly.
Please, instead of arguing your point, ask questions and do a little bit of your own research. We are doing our best but we can’t educate and play therapist to the entire world.
Well said. I appreciate your vulnerability and courage in putting this out there amidst all the victim blaming going on. I agree with everything you said. Thank you Lauren.