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Aziz Ansari accused of sexual misconduct, spurs conversation around consent

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Comedian Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual misconduct by a woman alleging he repeatedly tried to have sex with her despite her physical and verbal cues of discomfort. (Courtesy Photo)

Over the weekend, Babe.net published an account of a photographer who went on a date with comedian Aziz Ansari in 2017. The woman, going by the pseudonym Grace, recounted her date with the “Master of None” showrunner after meeting him at an Emmys after-party.

The two went to dinner and following the meal, went back to his apartment, she said. She said she grew uncomfortable with how quickly things were progressing, nothing that Ansari placed his hand on her breast “in a second” after they kissed. Grace says that over the course of the evening, Ansari repeatedly tried to get her to have sex with him. This included moving her hand toward his penis, asking her explicit questions and sticking his fingers down her throat.

The woman said she expressed her discomfort through body language and verbal cues. “I stopped moving my lips and turned cold. I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn’t interested. I don’t think that was noticed at all, or if it was, it was ignored,” she explained.

At one point, the woman said she told Ansari she didn’t want to feel forced to do anything, to which he replied “Oh, of course, it’s only fun if we’re both having fun.”

Still, she says Ansari resumed his behavior and when he later went to undo her pants, she left the apartment. In a screenshot provided to Babe, Ansari allegedly texted the woman the following day. “Last night might’ve been fun for you. It wasn’t fun for me,” she responded, “You ignored clear non-verbal cues. You had to have noticed I was uncomfortable.”

“I’m so sad to hear this,” Ansari responded. “Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.”

The accusations spurred contentious debate on social media around whether it was fair to catergorize Anzari’s actions as sexual misconduct. Some argued the experience did not amount to much more than a bad date, that if the woman was uncomfortable, she could have said no more emphatically or left sooner.

Others, like sociologist and writer Eve Ewing, explained how the claims highlight a lack of societal understanding around consent and coersion.

“For every moment that’s easy to identify as assault, most of us have dozens that are more like the Aziz story – halted, uncomfortable, ‘I didn’t want to but I did but then I felt sick afterward.’ We all need to have a fuller conversation about what consent means & looks like,” Ewing tweeted. “All of us have these kinds of moments and pretty much nothing in our culture equips us for them.”

Jessica Valenti, writer and founder of the blog Feministing, picked up on how the #MeToo moment is not just about addressing rape, but a system of values that make women feel unsafe in a multitude of ways that have been so normalized, they can be hard to identify.

“A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction,” she tweeted, “But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers “normal” sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.

She expounded on this, the suggestion that actions like those allegedly carried out by Ansari can be chalked up to mixed signals and common dating experiences, in a column for The Guardian on Friday — before the accusations against Anzari surfaced.

“There’s a reason so many people are conflating bad and sometimes criminal behavior with romance: traditional ideas about seduction rely on tropes of women witholding sex and men working hard to get it. It’s a narrow notion of heterosexuality — one that does a good job excusing abusive behavior.”

Ansari released a statement Sunday, confirming the woman’s account of the interaction:

In September of last year, I met a woman at a party. We exchanged numbers. We texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. We went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual,” He wrote.

“The next day, I got a text from her saying that although “it may have seemed okay,” upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. 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,” Ansari concluded.

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