Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Aziz Ansari sexual assault allegations puts #MeToo in an awkward position

The sexual assault allegations against Aziz Ansari may well mark a turning point for the whole #MeToo / #TimesUp / #BelieveHer movement.
Not being an avid television viewer, I have to admit that don't know Mr. Ansari from Adam. But, apparently, he is a popular TV comedian and writer, and is best known for his starring role in a Netflix series called Master of None, a role for which he recently won a Golden Globe. From what I can make out, he seems like a nice enough guy, and he even wore a Time's Up pin for the recent 2017 Emmys awards ceremony, although I do understand that that in itself does not actually mean that much.
An after-party for another awards ceremony, the Emmys, was also the fateful occasion on which he met the photographer who is using the pseudonym "Grace" for the purposes of her public allegations. Although he apparently repulsed Grace's early attentions, they eventually bonded over a vintage camera that they both use, and they arranged to have dinner. Well, one thing led to another, as they say, and soon they were having mutual oral sex in Mr. Ansari's fancy TriBeCa apartment.
It was only when he did the fingers-in-the-mouth thing (something I have never understood, and which I honestly believe to be an invention of the porn video industry), and showed a keen and repeated interest in penetration that Grace finally used the word "no". And what did Mr. Ansari do? He stopped, saying, "How about we just chill, but this time with our clothes on?", and they watched episodes of Seinfeld for the rest of the evening.
Next day, he texted her to say what a nice time he had had, and it was only when Grace texted back that she had found it far from enjoyed it that Mr. Ansari had any idea that something might be wrong. In her text, Grace claimed that he had "ignored clear non-verbal cues", and that he "had to have noticed" that she was uncomfortable. He texted back, apologizing if he missed any such "non-verbal cues", but claiming that the encounter was "by all indications completely consensual".
Grace then gave her story to the feminist website Babe, calling it the worst night of her life, and social media lit up. However, this time, not all the responses were supportive of Grace and her allegations. A New York Times opinion piece claims that Ansari was being judged guilty of not being a mind-reader; the New York Post sees the case as evidence of the #MeToo movement officially "jumping the shark"; an article in The Atlantic opines that the story has destroyed a man who didn't deserve it; former CNN anchor Ashleigh Barfield warned that the case endangers the whole #MeToo / #TimesUp movement; a Guardian article calls the original Babe story a "bizarre hybrid of a reported piece and personal essay with editorial comments inappropriately intejected"; a rape survivor in another Guardian opinion piece argues that asault is not just a feeling but a concrete experience; a Washington Examiner article identifies "an unusual coalition of feminists, dissident feminists and conservatives has emerged to dispute the characterization of Ansari's behaviour as sexual assault"; etc, etc.
Now, this are not Fox News reports; these are esteemed women journalists writing for more or less progesssive news outlets. Other responses, it has to be said, have been more supportive of Grace's plight. But what comes out of the coverage as a whole is that we need to be more careful in the reporting of such allegations. It is worth noting also that this was not a Weinstein type of situation - Grace was not beholden to Ansari for her livelihood; it was merely a difference of opinion over what constitutes consent. Neither was it deliberate harassment or abuse of power; it was merely awkward, clumsy, or just plain bad, sex.
Like so many worthy and successful campaigns before them, #MeToo and #TimesUp are, predictably, going through a bit of a backlash at the moment - and I don't just mean Catherine Deneuve and her coterie of French bourgeoises, who have received a generally scathing reaction - and risk being branded as a witch-hunt. So, #BelieveHer by all means, but let's maintain some perspective and objectivity in our reporting, lest the good work of these valuable campaigns be lost amid the resulting flak. In the meantime, any publicity for the movement may be good publicity, to some extent, in that people are certainly talking about it, and it may hopefully give men pause to consider the issue of consent before they exercise their libido.

No comments: