There have been a metric ton of hot takes about the recent article in Babe about a young photographer going on a date with Aziz Ansari and calling it “the worst night of [her] life.” Some pieces, like this one by Lindy West in The New York Times, come to the defense of the young woman –- who goes by Grace in the Babe piece. Others, like this one by Bari Weiss, also published in the Times, believe the article is “arguably the worst thing that has happened to the #MeToo movement since it began in October.”
Let’s back off of Ansari for a moment; he’s not really the story. The real question here is whether his behavior, as described in the piece, constitutes sexual harassment or assault. I have to say — with the strong knowledge that this conversation is far from over and the needle can be moved — that I don’t think it does.
But it’s not for the reason you might suspect. It’s not that I think repeatedly putting your fingers down a girl’s throat is a cool idea (really, Aziz?), or that bending someone over and asking whether they want to do it in a certain area of an apartment isn’t kinda skeazy and simply un-fun. These acts can certainly amount to feeling harassed. The reason I think what this woman experienced is not harassment is because she had every single bit of agency to say “no” to the situation, and she didn’t — and people don’t see a problem with that.
The thrust of the #MeToo movement is not the ability to say, “men fucked up” whenever they do something women don’t like. #MeToo and other feminist initiatives are about deciding to be an agent in how you are treated by others – men and women alike – whenever humanly possible.
This woman was not an agent. She was a victim because she made decisions which allowed her to be a victim. She voiced concerns about Ansari’s behavior, and the fact that he didn’t get the hint might be to his detriment. But she could’ve gotten her ass up and walked out of that apartment, and she didn’t. If women expect the onus to be on men to say, “Hey, it doesn’t seem like you’re 100 percent into this, so maybe I’ll stop trying to put my penis inside you” and calling that female activism, there are going to be a hell of a lot of unhappy female activists in the world.
In situations in which both people are free to say “Nah, I’m not feeling it” and walk away, a woman should never expect a man to give her the permission to do so. She has permission, implicitly, and so does he. For whatever reason, this woman didn’t seem to understand that, and thought a couple of hints to the other person of mild discomfort were enough to claim he harassed her. For that, I am honestly sorry for her, and for any other woman who feels she can’t speak up or walk out the door when she’s on a date that isn’t going well.
There are, of course, situations in which women do not have the power to say “no” or even “yes” because of factors beyond their control. That reality we must fight tirelessly. But the danger of interpreting #MeToo as permission for a lack of agency when there is all the agency in the world is that it warps the concept into the desire to pass off all agency to men and being able to blame them when things don’t go the way women want. If this becomes the norm, women will find themselves even more helpless and in danger of feeling violated than ever before.
[featured image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.