CW: coercion, rape
I may agree that part of adulthood is experiencing bad or regrettable sex—but I refuse to conflate bad sex with coercion and rape.
As much as people may want to argue otherwise.
One of the problems in the recent ‘Grace’/Aziz Ansari issue has been the realization that many of us are not using terms the same way.
What is rape? What is coercion? What is just… bad, regrettable sex, where nobody is to blame and nobody is at fault? We think we know what each word means…
Rapists are guys in ski masks. Or Brock Turner.
Coercion is a powerful Hollywood personality telling you you have to watch him masturbate in the shower, or you’ll never get a good role again. Using intimidation and social pressure, instead of physical force or threats.
If you haven’t heard of the Ansari/Grace issue, it’s the latest development in #METOO—an article was published relating the experience of a nameless woman who recently had a date with the Golden Globe winner. He wines, he dines—he takes her to his apartment. He tries for sex, again. Again. Again. She agrees to some things—not to others. She finally leaves. The next day, he texts to say he had fun–she tells him she felt bad by his behavior. He is—surprised, having thought it was purely mutual. They don’t meet again.
A perfectly mundane incident any number of people could relate to.
When the article surfaced, a mini-meltdown ensued on the interwebs. Why? Why was this a reason to put this man’s name in public? It’s just a Bad Date. It’s just a regular guy (#notallmen, but #usuallymen, I’m sorry) with a regular girl. He had no physical power over her. He was never violent and she could’ve left any time she wanted. He had no social power over her (ok, so he’s a major star, an award winner, and twelve years her senior, but he wasn’t about to block or blacklist her career if she didn’t do as he said—)
Why make such a fuss over a common sexual miscommunication? Why add it to #METOO, amongst ‘real’ rapes and coercion stories, and water them down?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, the connection is clear.
Because honestly, the people initiating the sexual encounters need to do better.
And people who will stop for a clear ‘no’ but ABSOLUTELY will not stop for any other obvious sign—are lying to themselves if they think they are not coercing their partners.
He Said/She Said
‘Me Too’ (coined by Tarana Burke to show solidarity for female victims of sexual harassment and assault) has been around since 2006, but it’s literally exploded in the wake of the recent Hollywood scandals. A handful of men (including Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Louis CK and Kevin Spacey) have found their careers in shambles, more famous men (ala Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg) have demonstrated how spectacularly tone-deaf they are; and the rest of us have found (once again, for the millionth time) that we do not know how to talk about sex. We do not know how to talk about consent. Entire swatches of (mostly cis men) have displayed a complete ignorance to the sheer volume of harassment, coercion (and yes, assault) that many others in society (generally women and femme people) experience. Which means many men cannot understand the anger of women, since they believe incidents like this to be isolated. #METOO has shown these incidents are anything but.
The problem is obvious, endemic, systemic—and most of the times, we still can’t do it.
We still can’t simply say ‘he shouldn’t have done that. It was wrong of him.’
We hear ‘he shouldn’t have done that’ and it is translated into ‘oh so you think all men are rapists and deserve to die over this?’
We hear someone TRY to say ‘he shouldn’t have done that’ and instead of nodding we say ‘yeah well but what was SHE doing?’
Bad Men or Bad Dates?
I wanna make something very clear here. I know I get radical, but I am not grinding my mandibles together in anticipation of every cis man who has ever sexually stepped over a line (legal or otherwise) having his nuts fed to piranhas.
I don’t think Aziz Ansari is a terrible human. I don’t think he is a rapist.
I don’t think he deserves to go to jail or to have his career be ruined over this.
(His career will NOT be ruined over this, so everyone flipping their shit over the injustice of the #METOO ‘witchhunt’ can take alllll the seats.)
I do think that considering his behavior as a public figure (and the ample material out there explaining, for a long time now, that such behavior is harmful), it is not wrong that this incident is made public. Like it or not, his behavior has unleashed an avalanche of discussion, much of which can be reduced to the following points;
If what Ansari did is sexual coercion, then I’ve never had a consenting partner in my life.
She agrees to go to his apartment; she even performs oral sex on him. And he’s supposed to know she doesn’t ultimately want sex? He’s not a MIND READER! Men suck at picking up subtle cues!
This is a millennial problem. When I was growing up, us women were taught to say NO, forcefully!
I’m sick of these public, online confessions! Why are these women only attacking powerful men? If they have an issue, they can go to court and settle this there!
I’m an awkward guy. I’m sorry, but unless you explicitly tell me NO, I’m NOT going to understand that you don’t want sex with me. 😦 Please Please PLEASE tell me ‘no’, directly. It’s the only way I can figure it out.
We’re coming to a point of treating women like fragile little dolls who are too scared to speak up for themselves. Putting all/most of the burden of consent on the male partner? This is NOT feminism!
I’ve had dates with guys like that often enough. I didn’t say no strong enough at the time, and I regretted it, but that’s my fault, not his. A bad date is NOT assault.
These comments come from all directions. Some from men, some from women. Some are naïve. Some are disingenuous and self-serving. And they point directly to the problems we are having with having dialogue about this issue today. Unpacking all this:
If what Ansari did is sexual coercion, then I’ve never had a consenting partner.
I know this is the part that makes many men cringe, because to confront the issue of enthusiastic consent would mean dredging up all the times individuals did NOT have such consent from a partner, and proceeded anyway. It means confronting that some of us (many of us in fact) are guilty of having violated someone’s boundaries in the past. Maybe even to the point of it being unlawful. Nobody is perfect and nobody is asking anyone to be perfect or to be a saint: the question however is, do we NOW, at this moment in time, have a good grasp on consent?
The legal definition of rape is continuing when someone says no, but in recent years, more states are taking on a ‘yes is yes’ law. Meaning, ONLY a clear enthusiastic ‘yes’ constitutes consent—anything else (such as silence) does NOT. Because it can be difficult (for anyone) for a variety of reasons, to vocally refuse sex, the onus is on the person initiating sexual activity, to make sure their partner is fully interested.
However, too many people are still operating under the notion that consent is the absence of a no.
Even if the partner seems detached, uninterested, is silent or unengaged.
Reading the article, it is obvious that Ansari is one of these people.
People kept blasting ‘Grace’ for staying with Ansari, asking, well if it was so awful, why didn’t she leave? Why didn’t she outright say no? (Ignoring the fact that she said to him twice they would not have sex that night—and moved herself away from him more than once.)
Too many seemed preoccupied with, ‘well, if she didn’t like it, why did she stay?’ and too few interested in ‘well, if he could see that she wasn’t fully into it—why did he keep going?’
Instead of asking women why are you not more forceful about leaving an uncomfortable situation—why not ask men, why are you comfortable fucking people who are obviously not into it?
Because We Don’T KNOW if She’s Into It—A Hoax
When confronted by the idea that men owe it to their partners to make sure they are enjoying themselves and enthusiastic about the encounter, women and men alike began to wring their hands at just how universally AWFUL men are at reading non-verbal cues! You want MEN to pick up on NON-VERBAL CUES??? Soft noes? Gestures?? This idea was translated into a full article that claims Ansari was being put on blast for the non-crime of not being a mind reader.
The funny thing is, ‘Grace’ had told Ansari she did not want sex that first night. A clear verbal cue.
YEAH BUT MEN ARE DENSE. YOU NEED TO BE CLEARRRRRR. SHE SAID SHE DIDN’T WANT SEX BUT SHE NEVER TOLD HIM ‘NO’! If you don’t say ‘no’ outright, don’t get mad if men don’t get it!!
This whole ‘hurr durr men are too dense’ angle really didn’t sit well with me but it was this excellent piece that drove home why.
We Don’t Really Say…No
In our jobs, in our social settings, men, women and ALL GENDERS are saying ‘no’ without saying ‘NO’ all the time. We do this because saying ‘no’ outright is considered (in most social situations) unnecessarily blunt and rude. Compare:
-Hey, you wanna come over for a movie this weekend?
-Hey, you wanna come over for a movie this weekend?
-Sounds great, but I really need to get some yardwork done.
Pretty much every social situation in which we refuse an invitation, we cushion the refusal, and we almost never outright say ‘no’ or ‘I don’t want to do that’ (even if that is the case). We may say something complimentary or how we would love to, but— and nobody considers this to be a ‘mixed signal.’ Nobody would be ‘confused’ as to why you are saying a movie ‘sounds good’ when you actually won’t be going. This is normal and polite and everybody (not just women) does it.
-Hey, you want some cake?
(you are full and don’t want cake right then, but you don’t want to offend your host)
-Looks tempting, but I’m kind of full right now.
(The host wonders if you are being polite. They may try again.)
-Are you sure? I have a piece right here.
(Pushes the piece towards you on a plate. You put your hand out. They stop pushing it.
-I’m good, thanks. I’ll have some tea though?
You never said ‘no’ outright, but your host understands clearly you do not want the cake. I doubt any person reading (or experiencing) this conversation (male or female) would have a problem understanding that this person does NOT want cake. I doubt anybody would agree that the host should continue to offer.
‘Grace’ told Ansari she did not want cake on that first date. She pushed his hand away multiple times. She got up at one point and was in the bathroom for five minutes. She came back and asked to just ‘chill’ (at which point, he tried to advance again.)
It was clear reading the story what she didn’t want. I can’t imagine it was any less clear, right there in the room with her. Yet people kept defending that he ‘didn’t get it’ because men ‘can’t read minds.’ I call bullshit. It’s not that he didn’t get it; it’s that HE wanted cake, and he was hoping if he offered a fifth or sixth time, she would change her mind (either happily or unhappily). That’s the point. He didn’t care what she wanted—as long as it wasn’t a clear ‘no’ (at which point, it would be assault, by law)—her desires did not matter.
Many people have made the argument that it’s not her fault if she didn’t leave, because she may have been afraid on some level, even if he wasn’t violent. This is the legacy of the patriarchy. Afraid of angering or displeasing him. Maybe not physically imposing, but a social force to be reckoned with. Others have criticized this argument, claiming that we are forging a victimized image of women, too weak to speak up for themselves.
Now, point aside that some men DO literally flip their shit and become unexpectedly violently or grossly manipulative if you outright pass on sex (I have experience of this first hand, as I’m sure many others do…) …Personally, I don’t think she was afraid. I think she genuinely liked him, genuinely wanted to be with him at his apartment—and was just waiting for him to STOP OFFERING SOMETHING SHE DOESN’T WANT because it makes fucking sense to stop offering??? When it became clear he wouldn’t be happy with anything less than sex and would not stop pushing for it—she did go.
Yes, she could have clearly said ‘No. I said no and I don’t want you to make another attempt while I’m here.” (…imagine, how weird it would be if you had to outright tell a person whose house you are in ‘I Don’t WANT CAKE, I SAID FOUR TIMES ALREADY AND I WANT YOU TO STOP OFFERING OR I’LL LEAVE’).
She could have just got up and left. (Imagine, having to LEAVE someone’s house, because they keep offering you something, even after you gave clear cues you don’t want any, and you know they won’t stop while you are present?? With any situation other than sex, it would seem ludicrous. With any other situation, we would say—you shouldn’t have to LEAVE for the other to get the hint. We would automatically question the intention for ignoring such a common social cue.)
Which is really what elevates this type of behavior to a certain nastiness, and why I think what Ansari did was harmful.
It’s banking (consciously or not) on the social understanding that we don’t just ‘leave’ someone’s house or say ‘stop that!’ to them, unless they do something REALLY bad.
So if he did something really wrong, why not take him to court? Why not take all these men to court? Why the public circus?
A willful misunderstanding of this whole situation, but I will humor the question and answer it. This isn’t about law (or not entirely). And the law has already proven to be woefully unequipped at handling crimes of a sexual nature, even when the case is clear.
This is about asking people who initiate sex, to be decent fucking human beings.
Asking them to not wait for LAWS to make them into decent fucking human beings.
This is important, not because Ansari’s actions reflect an awful, horrible man; but because his actions reflect a very COMMON and ordinary type of man. Who is a ‘feminist’ and who ‘cares’ about women, and who may have very well the next day felt bad, because someone told him outright that she did not feel well in his company and he honestly doesn’t get WHY or what he did wrong.
But who nonetheless, when the chips were down, felt that his need for a certain gratification trumped his partner’s well-being. And as a society, a lot of us are still at a point where we here of someone forcing his will on another, as he did–our initial reaction isn’t ‘why did he do that? Why did he keep doing that?’
It’s ‘Of course he did that, man are sleazy. Why didn’t SHE try harder to make sure it didn’t happen?’
No. no no no no no.
Fucking BE BETTER. Full stop.
People want to talk about accountability? Yeah, let’s keep it out of the papers and out of the courtrooms and ask people to be accountable for their own actions. Because if he had taken her to his apartment, tried something with her once (or twice?) and then respected her wishes, and spent a nice evening doing something else with her, I guarantee, his name would not be in everyone’s mouth right now.
And yes, if you ignore someone’s signals repeatedly, you keep bringing them drinks, you draw them to you when they are clearly not enjoying themselves—if you don’t like the word ‘coercion’ because it sounds awfully like ‘rape’, it’s super easy. LOOK to see if your partner is enjoying themselves. STOP if they look uncomfortable, scared, zoned-out. ASK if you should continue. No, you do not have to ask before EVERY single motion, or every 20 seconds. It’s called ‘reading the crowd.’ Don’t say ‘men are awful at reading the crowd’ when all of us read body cues, and ‘soft’ no’s ALL THE TIME. When we want to.
If they want to stop, stop–and DON’T initiate for the rest of that encounter. Certainly not five minutes later, to see if they changed their mind.
Had Ansari taken her ample cues, they could have stopped that night, easily met again at another time and had a positive experience.
Which brings me to the very last common point, made in response to this issue. And it was saddening to see that the people saying this were mostly WOMEN. Saying that situations like this are awkward, embarrassing—bad… but they’re not WRONG. ‘We’ve all had bad sex. It’s called being an adult. It’s bad, but it’s not wrong.’
No, I don’t agree. These incidents don’t need to be happening. And they could be reduced, if as we start to teach and accept that bad sex does exist. Not being physically compatible or not aroused by the same things, or having someone do something to us in good faith (or us to them) and simply not finding it pleasurable—but there is a line between bad sex and wrong sex, that is easy (or at least easier) to find, via enthusiastic consent. We just have to uhhh… actually give a shit about the people we sexually engage with.
Having sex that didn’t measure up to the fantasy is ‘bad sex’–and disappointment (sexual and otherwise) is part of being an adult.
But sex in which one partner ignores the needs and cues of the other is not just bad–it is wrong.
[Note: I recognize that not all who have come forward in these recent times have been women (Kevin Spacey’s victims were other men), but I could only find one incident where a man accused a woman. Yes, I understand that sexual harassment and abuse happens to all genders, and is perpetuated by all genders, but anyone who wishes to derail these topics by yelling WHAT ABOUT ALL THE WOMEN WHO RAPE? is just being a twat.]