By now everyone from news anchors to feminists, to regular old Joe Schmoes, have raided the Twittersphere to express their opinions on the alleged sexual misconduct of Aziz Ansari.
Upon hearing the news, I was shocked and heartbroken to hear about this latest accusation. I was in disbelief that someone whose career has benefited from the awkward bravado of the modern romance, and the seemingly empathic plight of the modern female, could be capable of such things.
However, reading the denunciatory details of that night, I found myself conflicted. Were her claims truly ones of sexual misconduct or just the bruised ego of a young 23-year-old that craved genuine affection from a celebrity who only wanted to get laid?
I wondered if the #MeToo movement – a much-needed uprising of women whose careers were derailed by power-hungry men – had evolved into an elusive scapegoat against anyone that looked or flirted in the wrong manner. Exaggerated cases of women saying, “I don’t like how he looked at me,” or “He told me my dress looked nice,” reeled in my head, and I debated if the case of Aziz Ansari belonged in such a powerful progressive movement.
As New York Times writer Bari Weiss suggests, “Lumping him in with the same movement that brought down men who ran movie studios and forced themselves on actresses, or the factory-floor supervisors who demanded sex from female workers trivializes what #MeToo first stood for.”
Nonetheless, I am sympathetic to Grace’s story because like most women I have been there. And NO, I haven’t always left.
The alarming tale of ignored non-verbal/verbal cues from men who either couldn’t read them or chose to ignore them is all too common. None of this excuses Ansari’s behavior in any way, yet somehow this felt like just the “norm.”
Quickly, I realized the weight of this story isn’t about Ansari or even Grace, but about redefining the “norm.”
The norm does not revolve solely around the inappropriate behavior of a young man who misread the signs but bears equal weight on the young woman who was afraid to speak up. Unlike other women in the #MeToo movement, Grace was not bound by her career obligations as he held nothing over her future. She had nothing to lose by leaving and rejecting him, and yet she didn’t. Why?
Why didn’t she leave? Why didn’t I leave when I was met with the same harrowing situation?
Women have been taught to be gentle, pleasing and compliant, despite our loathing or annoyance in an uncomfortable situation. The word NO doesn’t come easily for us, and it takes a series of internal conflicts and justification to eventually utter that simple word. We have evolved from being housewives to career women, yet our internal instincts still have the mutterings of our ancestors.
We are part of the problem, ladies.
Just as Ansari is guilty of misreading her resistance, she too is guilty of ignoring the clear signs that this was not the kind of date she signed up for. Her persistence to try and turn this into a romantic love affair, perhaps enamored by his celebrity status, was clearly failing. Repeatedly asking her to give him oral pleasure, when she felt uncomfortable, should have been a clear red flag. This is the part of the story where she should have stood up and left, and yet so many women don’t.
#MeToo has brought to light the imbalanced hierarchies used in power dynamics against women, the same system used to foster abuse within intimate relationships. But the imbalance of responsibility in these situations of abuse, need to also be part of the conversation.
I recognize this is an overly simplified insight, of an increasingly complex conversation. But the much-needed re-evaluation of our role in this new world of uprising and resistance should not be taken lightly.
Grace is a victim of the modern day “norm.” She deserves better and so do we.
The Renaissance of this movement is too important to idly sit back, and if not for her, then for the little girls who will be empowered by it. Throwing stones from afar is no longer an option.
Women need to stop being afraid. Say it loud and clear. No means no.
Get up, walk out of that door and never look back.