CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT, COERCION, LACK OF CONSENT, VIOLATION
By now, you’ve probably read the story on Babe.net of a young 22 year old girl who went on a date with Aziz Ansari and ended up being coerced into sexual acts she did not enthusiastically consent to. If you haven’t read it, here it is and this is Ansari’s response to the allegations.
If you haven’t read the above articles, and do not wish to, I will briefly summarize what happened in this incident: Ansari met a much younger woman, Grace, at a party, and after talking for a week, they went on a date. Afterward, Ansari took her back to his apartment, where he coerced her into engaging sexual acts she was not comfortable performing. He repeatedly ignored her verbal refusals and non-verbal cues of not wanting to participate and briefly reassured her that she did not have to do anything she didn’t want, only to go back to coercing her to perform oral sex on him and to be the recipient of aggressive, unwelcome kisses.
Many subsequent ‘reaction’ articles have been written on Ansari’s behavior solely from a standpoint of a so-called woke man who turned out to be an abusive person himself. And that is certainly a valid point along with the fact that it’s particularly shocking (or maybe for many of us, not shocking) when men who claim to be champions of women end up being abusers themselves-Al Franken, Louis CK, etc. But as a South Asian Muslim woman, I’ve grown up in a culture similar to the one Aziz was probably raised with and one can’t hold behavior like his accountable without examining the cultural nuances that are at play in this situation.
Societal structures on all levels have cishet white men in power. We see this from a young age in media, films, politics and representation in general. The cool, popular guy in most movies is a white guy and while growing up, many young men of color try to do all that they can to be that popular white guy. This often means imitating actions that they perceive come easily for white men. Men of color who have been marginalized on the account of race or religion often feel that being as “white” as they can be is the best way to escape being “different.” As a result, many men of color, when younger at least, prefer white women to women of color because being with a white woman is the closest thing they will ever have to being a white man.
I have seen this pattern in many South Asian men for as I can remember. It’s a craving for a power that they feel they do not have but are somehow entitled to. It is that craving for power that leads to coercive sex, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. When white men assault, it’s because of power they’ve enjoyed for years. When men of color assault, it’s to assert the power they feel they’ve been denied by society, specifically by white men. The abuse of power is wrong in any case but it’s important to see the different reasons why it occurs because without that, we will never fix the systemic problems we face as a society. Nor will we ever be able to create a safe world for women and femmes. This is why toxic masculinity needs to be addressed because until we unpack the different ways toxic masculinity manifests itself in different communities, we will never uplift those who are the most vulnerable among us.
Aziz’s reaction of not respecting this woman’s boundaries is unfortunately something I have seen time and time again in South Asian men. When you couple the attitudes towards sex that most South Asians are raised with, that’s it’s something for “western societies” and “white people” with this need for being white, one can see how this entitlement to sex builds itself in South Asian men. I have experienced it personally and I have many girlfriends who have experienced the same. It is uncanny how similar Aziz’s behavior is to other South Asian men I’ve met over the years.
It goes beyond the simple statement, “He didn’t respect her boundaries.” It’s about how toxic masculinity plays out in South Asian men and how they view women because of the patriarchal attitudes that prevail in South Asian communities when added with the need to feel the entitlement not automatically awarded to them due to structural racism. It’s also clear that this isn’t the first time Ansari has done something like this, given the nonchalant response his team sent out earlier today.
His response to the allegations is also nearly identical to other South Asian men when confronted with their patterns of abuse. They don’t recognize what they’re doing as problematic and therein lies the problem. So many people are saying that Aziz got confused by her so-called mixed signals. But one must wonder that if signals are mixed, what was stopping Aziz from asking if she was comfortable? If he was unsure, then he could have just asked? She said she did not want to feel forced. She said she wanted to just chill.
Aziz acknowledged that momentarily and instead of not pushing her again, he began aggressively kissing her again. This is a classic pattern of abuse where the abuser acknowledges the other person’s discomfort, only to dismiss it almost immediately after. I have experienced this myself and I have so many friends who have unfortunately experienced the same. It is a toxic pattern that repeats itself too often and will continue to repeat itself until we address the structural inferiority with which we treat women.
Women are raised to care about everyone’s feelings and are conditioned to let men down gently. And sadly, I can almost guarantee that all the men on my social media in the last 24 hours who claim that Aziz is just an awkward guy feel that way because they empathize with him. They’ve probably done the same thing he did and not even realized how wrong it was because it is so commonplace. And sadly, when coercion is normalized, it is the most vulnerable populations that are at the most risk for being abused.
Another thing I’d like to say is that while many people claim Grace could have just left, I want to point out that she did try to leave. He kept following her and cornering her. He didn’t take no for an answer. And in that moment, so many women I know would feel it is just easier to give in, instead of risking your physical safety. That is what coercion does to a person. There’s a reason Fight or Flight Response is now called Fight, Flight or Freeze response because in traumatic situations, sometimes we freeze. Everyone reacts to trauma differently and one must not invalidate or dismiss another being’s response to trauma simply because they feel they’d react differently. And truly, you don’t know how you’ll react until you are in that situation yourself. It’s so easy to say “Oh, I would have just walked away.” but sadly, you won’t know until you’re in a situation like that.
And on a final note, I have already seen so many comments trying to discredit Grace but I must say, I believe her, because well, me too.