Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Danny Masterson. James Franco. Woody Allen. Matt Lauer. Russell Simmons. Al Franken. Louis C.K. Donald Trump. Aziz Ansari. The list of men exposed as rapists, sexual abusers, and/or assaulters has gotten longer by the week.
Accompanying these men and their atrocious actions have been courageous retellings by the women (and some men) affected, along with plenty of uncomfortable conversations on sexual harassment and assault.
The prevalence of sexual assault and of rape in this country have been pushed to the forefront of mainstream media. We have seen hashtags and acts of symbolic solidarity flood our social media accounts. We have had too many brave people come forward and shine light on the traumas of their past. Movements have been initiated to combat the heartbreaking sexual assault statistics facing women.
However, we have to ask: is it enough? Are we really getting down to the nitty-gritty?
No. Sadly, but surprisingly, we are not.
We, as a society, continue to shift the blame from the abusers to those whom they abuse. We continue to perpetuate rape culture. We continue to allow performative and shallow acts of “solidarity” to satiate our anger and fear. We are continuing the cycle.
Actor and comedian Aziz Ansari has been the focus of many think pieces and articles, as he is the most recent man revealed to be a part of the aforementioned and ever-growing list. He went on a date with a woman referred to as Grace (in order to protect her identity) and, according to him, they “engaged in sexual activity” but he maintains that “by all indications [it] was completely consensual.”
That’s not what Grace had to say about their encounter. A text message from her to Aziz reads:
There is a lot to be discussed here, a lot to process and to reflect on. Do we — as women — need to reinforce our agency and our right to the word "NO"? Do we need to loudly and unapologetically set and define our boundaries? Do we need to make our non-verbal cues verbal and concise? In a perfect world — a world in which we are not threatened, berated, beaten, or murdered for rejecting men — yes, absolutely!
However, we live and exist in a world where NO can be a death sentence. Women and their agency shouldn't be the focus, not yet.
Instead, we need to focus on men like Aziz. Men who are the unassuming "nice" guys, the self-proclaimed feminists, and the ones who "respect" women. Aziz felt like the situation was consensual, but was he looking for any signs that it was not? Did he ask to kiss Grace? Did he ask to touch her? Or, did he assume her silence was a yes, and go for it?
When we examine cases like this, ones in which there is no big, bad boogeyman raping women, it can be difficult to identify the very nuanced wrong in the situation. However, taking that extra step, thinking deeper, we can try to prevent incidents like Aziz and Grace.
Lastly, the pushback many men have with identifying Aziz Ansari as a sexual harasser is most likely because his actions are identical to theirs. Have you pushed a woman's no into a coerced yes? Have you "forgotten" to ask permission to touch a woman? Have you felt a woman's body go limp under you and ignored it? If your answer to any of those questions isn't a resounding and confident NO, then you are an abuser.
And do better.