A story published on babe.net a couple weeks ago, detailing a 22-year-old woman’s troubling date with actor and comedian Aziz Ansari, has gained a reaction unprecedented in scope for the site. This is mostly due to the subject’s celebrity, but also because of the encounter’s ambiguously consensual nature.
In the story, the woman (under the pseudonym “Grace”) recalls going home with the actor after a dinner date. At his apartment, a pretty unsettling night ensues of him trying to coerce her into various sexual acts, despite her “verbal and nonverbal cues,” until she ultimately leaves. At least, that’s how I read it. A lot of people disagree.
Many have shared a Jan. 18 Atlantic article criticizing the Ansari story. The author questions the integrity of babe.net’s reporting, details how it’s inferior to the New Yorker’s viral “Cat Person” and accuses the site of naming Ansari in the story for the purpose of “attracting extra clicks.”
One of the people who shared the Atlantic article was the guy I reported for sexual misconduct. I wouldn’t know this, because I’ve removed him from all my social media, but my friends still like to alert me when he posts things that piss them off. This usually doesn’t faze me, but he shared that article a few days after our OESCR hearing, which found him not guilty.
I wrote an op-ed last fall about how frustrated I was with Miami’s mandatory reporting policy. Because of it, something I’d never wanted more than a handful of people to know wound up as a Title IX report.
After deliberating for a couple weeks, I decided to report the incident from fall 2016 and request an investigation. This turned into a hearing, a couple weeks ago. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to hold it together there, because I’d spent three months prior so depressed and anxious I didn’t feel like a functioning human being.
But that afternoon, as I listened to him deny my accusation, use the excuse that it was just “something [he’d] done before” and point to my own op-ed to imply I’d only reported him because I had to, I remembered that I wasn’t just depressed and anxious. I was livid — at him, at the situation, at college-aged guys in general. After I read my opening statement, I didn’t know why I’d spent the last month agonizing over whether or not I’d done the right thing. I was sure that I had.
So, when the panel declared him not guilty, validating all of his behavior and confirming my worst fear — that I’d been overdramatic and what happened didn’t actually matter — I didn’t understand. Everyone I’d told about the incident had encouraged me to report it. I’d given the panel both physical evidence and testimony from my friends and an advisor. And, above all, I didn’t understand why my word wasn’t enough.
He didn’t rape me, and I never accused him of that. I won’t recount exactly what happened, for obvious reasons, but I will say that he physically coerced me into something I didn’t want to do. I brushed it off as weird, then panicked a couple weeks later when I realized it might have been more than that. But I was still, at that point, under the impression that sexual misconduct was rape or nothing. And I was embarrassed; it’s easy to talk to your friends about sexual encounters that are exceptionally good or comically bad, but not about ones that leave you feeling concerned or violated.
We hung out a couple more times as friends, then didn’t talk until spring semester, when he seemed to have changed. In the spring, we became genuine friends and he respected me, so he didn’t try to force me into anything. We hooked up a few times and platonically hung out often.
Then I found out, around finals week, that he’d been behaving inappropriately with other Miami girls over the past year. I started panicking again about what had happened the previous semester, and eventually let it go. But last fall, I learned about another incident that reminded me of my own experience, and I decided to report him.
I’d anticipated feeling relieved and, at the very least, a little better than I had last semester as I drove back to Cleveland the morning after the hearing. It was nice to no longer have that date looming over me, but now I had to come to terms with the fact that all my stress and anxiety and panic attacks had apparently been for nothing. I just felt hollow.
I maintained a precarious chill for the next couple days, then broke down again when I found out about him joining the backlash against the babe.net story. People had reassured me that the hearing must have “scared” him, but I didn’t think so, and that seemed to be proof.
This situation isn’t black and white, which is also why I empathize with “Grace’s” plight and am particularly unsettled by all the rage against it — a lot of which seems to come from men. She merely recounted a sexual situation that left her feeling “uneasy” and “uncomfortable.” She did not call for the end of Ansari’s career, or for everyone to turn on him because of what happened; she just expressed her frustration at the apparent irony of his wearing a “Time’s Up” pin to the Golden Globes.
My theory is that a lot of guys probably realize they’ve behaved this way in the past, and are looking for people with whom they can empathize. But they don’t deserve that. If guys can’t recognize that they’ve treated women poorly, understand why their behavior was problematic and decide not to act that way in the future, there’s not going to be any progress.
As Samantha Bee recently said, directly challenging critics of “Grace’s” story, “It doesn’t have to be rape to ruin your life, and it doesn’t have to ruin your life to be worth speaking out about.”
“People like me had to wade through a sea of prehensile dicks to build the world we now enjoy, and part of enjoying that world is setting a higher standard for sex than just Not Rape,” Bee continued. “And women get to talk about it if men don’t live up to those standards.”
The incident with the guy I reported was the only one I’d define as any kind of “sexual misconduct” I’ve experienced, but like most women, I can think of several more (with him and other guys) that left me uncomfortable and, after I’d left, wondering why I hadn’t done so earlier.
Like for instance, the last time we hooked up. I’d told him I would stay over, then changed my mind. He told me he’d make me coffee in the morning. If he wasn’t awake, his roommate would make me coffee in the morning. He would drive me home. I stood and asked him to zip my dress up, and he kissed me instead. When I told him again that I wanted to leave, he replied, “You realize I’ll have to get myself off then, right?” and pulled me back onto his bed.
Like “Grace,” I didn’t leave right away that night, even though I could have, because I felt like I owed it to him to stay. I didn’t realize until he’d pulled me back onto his bed and I’d continued making out with him, feeling absolutely nothing, that just because I’d gone home with him didn’t mean I had to go along with anything he wanted.
Again, this wasn’t misconduct. It was irritating, but there’s no clause in the student code of conduct that prohibits guys from being assholes (if there was, OESCR would be a lot busier). But I wish he would have understood that I wasn’t playing hard to get — I just wanted to go home.
I would never claim that was assault, just like “Grace” didn’t try to overdramatize her experience with Ansari. They’re different situations, obviously, and she did discuss struggling with whether or not the encounter in the story was assault, or “actually that bad.” I had the same concern before (and after) I filed my Title IX report, because I’d also known so little about the spectrum of misconduct that I remember lying in bed last spring Googling “sexual harassment” vs. “assault” and “coercion,” wondering if I could validate my concerns and discomfort.
Stories like these are not trying to undermine more serious ones that have surfaced in the “Me Too” movement — ones that are not subjective and do not require Googling to determine if what happened was “actually” assault. They do serve a purpose, though, to illuminate the “gray areas” the Atlantic article refers to, and to try to hold men accountable for ambiguously consensual as well as downright illegal behavior.
In sixth grade, my school had an assembly called “Can I Kiss You?” It was a handful of skits illustrating the importance of consent among tweens, and for weeks afterward, people would ask permission before they did anything — invite you to their bar mitzvah, hand you a worksheet, stand or breathe near you.
Guys don’t have to be quite that paranoid now. All they have to do is not coerce or force girls into doing things they don’t want to, and understand that there’s other ways of saying “no” than the word itself, which really isn’t that much to ask. I hope someday (but preferably sooner than later), we can set the bar higher than, “At least he didn’t rape me.”