Last weekend, a woman known simply as Grace came forward to tell Babe.net about a date she went on with comedian and "Parks and Rec" alum Aziz Ansari. After meeting at an awards show a few weeks prior, the two met for dinner and ended the date back at Ansari's apartment. Grace explained how her celeb dream date soon turned into a nightmare when she found herself feeling pressured to perform sexual acts, eventually fleeing his apartment and crying in the Uber home.
The claims have left the internet to take sides. Even my house, composed of proudly feminist women, were divided:
"Not Tommy Fresh!"
"It's not like it was as bad as the Weinstein situation."
"I don't know, from her details I definitely think it's legit, but was it necessary to tell the world?"
Everyone from random Twitter users to op-ed writers for The New York Times have opinions on whether or not the claims have any validity. And if they do, is this actually sexual misconduct? Or just bedroom miscommunication?
Whether or not you agree with Grace's decision to come forward, her description of the night clearly details her discomfort with Ansari's advances. As a single woman close to Grace's age, I can only try to put myself in her situation — which isn't difficult, as both myself and many of my friends have told this same story.
Only a celebrity wasn't involved, so who cares, right?
In the height on the #MeToo movement and the empowerment of women to come forward and tell their stories, Grace's retelling brings forth the question: Who really gets to decide when a woman is violated? Throughout the article, Grace specifies that she made both physical and verbal intimations of discomfort, yet Ansari continued to be sexually aggressive. Her "nos" were not clear enough for Ansari or half of the internet.
On a night with a similar storyline but different main characters, were my own attempts at "no" not enough to validate my feelings of defilement? Is this story controversial because of the celebrity aspect or because the public has all of a sudden created strict guidelines of how to deter unwanted sexual interactions?
Online critics have barraged Grace's reveal, accusing her of highjacking #MeToo, crossing the line between exposing Hollywood misconduct and having 15 minutes of fame. One New York Post article goes as far as saying, "But this case is off the rails. Because, from the way Grace told the story, it seems her encounter with Ansari went south for her — but she failed to tell him about it."
So, to many, this interaction comes down to communication. Perhaps Grace could have been more vocal about her discomfort. Perhaps Ansari is not used to the typical signs of rejection.
But this story leads me to ask: How far does someone have to go to be considered oblivious versus a bad person?
How far should Grace have been pushed for the public to accept her feelings of violation?
I believe Grace's story has caused so much commotion because it is a common one. People discredit her truth-telling because they don't want to open their eyes to how even the good guys can be wrong sometimes.
Shortly after the Babe article broke, Ansari issued his own statement:
"It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.
I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue."
While Ansari offers concern, he does not offer much of an apology. In his eyes, the night was going "okay." And many people are agreeing with him, which is where the problem lies: This behavior has become so common that it is deemed acceptable.
If anything, we should look to Grace as an example of how hookup culture needs to change. In the end, no one will ever know exactly went down in his TriBeCa apartment last September. However, instead of fueling a witch-hunt for false accusers, society needs to reinforce that it is OK to change your mind. Just because someone gives consent at one point does not mean they are bound to going all the way. Just because Ansari was "okay" with how he felt the night was going down does not mean Grace's feelings are invalid.
We are living in a time where, for the first time in history, women saying "no" is empowering. However, we can't forget that it hasn't always been this way. We can't forget while young girls have brave role models like Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd today, the women who were young girls 10 years ago didn't receive the same message from Hollywood. Instead, their brains were constantly barraged with images of women as sexual objects. We've heard too many stories of men becoming violent when women offer a firm no. We've been subliminally taught that women should be passive and peaceful. With these thoughts ingrained, it is not hard to imagine how a young woman attempting to reject a successful, well-loved celebrity might take a diplomatic route rather than mirroring his aggression.
Women like Grace and myself have to learn this lesson of empowerment later on in life, and it doesn't always come easily. And while many say Grace should have been louder about her discomfort, I praise her ability to say anything at all.