Yesterday, I read a piece in Babe. You know the one.
The piece by Katie Way tells the story of a young woman, whom we know as Grace, who met Aziz Ansari, went on a date with him, and then engaged in sexual contact with him that was deeply uncomfortable and upsetting.
The allegations against Ansari open up the next, harder, messier chapter in the #MeToo movement, one in which the vast majority of us are no longer able to simply say, "If you're not with us, you're against us." The line in the sand is hard to see here. This is the one that is forcing me into a place where I'd rather not go. This is scary to write and publish.
So far I as I can tell, these are the teams.
In Grace's corner:
This was a sexual assault.
Twitter is hopping with women coming forward with their own hookup stories that run the range from mildly icky to flat-out horrifying.
In Ansari's corner:
This was really bad sex.
People are starting to roll their eyes at what passes for sexual assault these days.
And The Atlantic published a piece called "The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari," subtitled, "Allegations against the comedian are proof that women are angry, temporarily powerful — and very, very dangerous."
(In unrelated news, hi, The Atlantic. If you want to find out how dangerous angry women are for being called "temporarily powerful" and also for having their anger once again weaponized against them in an attempt to shut them up, then give me a call.)
(In other unrelated news, if The Atlantic burns down today I'm going to need an alibi.)
In the "I'm freaking out" corner:
(texts a friend: Did you see this Ansari thing? Hmm.)
I wouldn't presume to speak about why any other women are struggling to stand with Grace on this one, so I'm just going to tell you why it's hard for me.
Yes, this one is hard for me. Please keep reading.
I read Grace's story with amusement, embarrassment, and creeping unease.
I was not outraged. Well, I am outraged at The Atlantic, Liam Neeson, and Twitter. But I was not outraged at Ansari. I felt uncomfortable.
Grace's story is so familiar that I laugh at it without smiling. It's the story of so much bad sex.
I have had my fair share of what I'd call "crappy dates." And what I call crappy dates looks an awful lot like what Grace calls sexual assault. It's like we went on the same dates, wrote down the same details, and told two very different stories.
And be honest.
If you got to choose a narrative for your life, which cut would you pick? The one where Clarice descends into cannibalistic hell and fights for her life? Or the one where she's caught in a jaunty love triangle with a couple of quirky gents?
And that's the thing: We do get to pick how to decide to tell our stories, at least to ourselves. I've dated a few Dr. Lecters, and like Clarice Starling, I escaped with a few tears, a few shivers of disgust, and a few stories that I rarely tell. I decided not to call those encounters assault. I decided to make those nights the bad-date montage in act one of the story of my happy life.
That's how I moved forward.
Grace's story is common. It's so common that I don't have to imagine it because I remember it. I laugh about it without smiling. It's the story of so much bad sex. And when I hear that bad sex described as a sexual assault, it forces me to reexamine my own history. And see, I just started feeling strong again.
I believe her; I don't agree with her.
I'm telling you this not because I think she is wrong, but because I think I am.
You have to understand that many women approach humiliating and uncomfortable sex from a place of "it's not that bad." Part of "not that bad" is a preemptive minimization of our experiences. You know, the way Fat Amy calls herself Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect so that the other girls can't do it first? It's our armor.
I know what people will say when I tell them that I had a professor who put his arm around me (I was 19) and asked why we weren't dating, while his hand stroked the bare skin of my shoulder (it was spring).
I am waiting for people to say, "So he just... put his arm around you?" I am waiting for them to ask for a gasp-worthy punchline: Actually I was 12, a tit grab, a ten-pound helmet into his lap, an offer to exchange nude selfies for a better grade. They're already imagining there is more to the story. There really isn't.
I don't want to have to up the ante, tell another, worse, story to prove that I had the right to be uncomfortable when my professor stroked my bare shoulder in a dark theater. I don't want to have to buy my friends' support with maximum humiliation.
I have no interest in turning my sexual history into social currency; exchange rates are so unpredictable.
So I hurry up to add, "It wasn't that bad." That way, the people I'm telling have to convince me, "No, that really wasn't cool." If you push, people push back, that's just human nature. If you pull away, they come to your side and find you. They can't resist.
So I say, "It's not that bad," and I hope they'll come over to my side, and find me.
Does that make sense? This is complicated.
Ansari's behavior, as it is described in the article, is fucking awful and ordinary. So many men learn how to perform sex by watching porn, itself a performance of sex that for the most part treats women like props.
Women have had so much bad sex that our scale for sex has been skewed so it shows every shitty sex encounter as 10 pounds less shitty than it was.
Jabby and fumbling and pushy and transactional? He convinced you to say yes even though you said no a bunch of times? OK, but did he leave bruises? No? Did he leave the condom on the whole time? You think so?
Then we're going to call that one, "meh" and lock it up in the "Not that bad" vault. You don't want to make a big deal out of this — people will ask why you didn't just leave.
But Grace's story re-zeroes that scale, and suddenly everything in my past that's already beyond fixing is +10 worse.
Jabby and fumbling and pushy and transactional? He convinced you to say yes even though you said no a bunch of times?
That's coercive, nonconsensual sex. You have a right to feel violated.
No! It was meh! We already decided, no take-backsies!
I'm a kid in a corner kicking the wall with my fingers in my ears.
No, no, no! I don't wanna! I'm rom com Clarice! I'M ROM COM CLARICE!
|this isn't creepy
this isn't scary
he just said hi
with nice eyes
and she was like
Women have already taken enough of a painful personal inventory to be able to say #metoo; I am not eager to go back over what I've come to comfortably accept as "crappy hookups," or "shitty sex," and come to realize that yes, that was sexual assault, too.
If we begin to call all sexual assault what it is, we will have to voluntarily admit more pain into our lives, pain that we have up to this point refused to let in the door. If we call this kind of sexual encounter an assault, then women who have been weathering what they call "bad sex" will suddenly have justification for the icky feelings and shame that follows them home in the cab. And yet, we'd really rather just hit the showers.
I've taken that cab, crying. And I've taken that shower. And I would never have told the story, because I would have been afraid of someone thinking, "That's not that bad," the way I just fucking did. I don't have to imagine what happened to Grace because I remember it.
This is complicated.
And yes, guys, what Grace described is totally normal for a woman. This is a normal sex encounter. The women that you're seeing scoff at her? They aren't scoffing because they think a guy would never do that. They're scoffing because they believe every single word she said. They don't have to imagine it either.
This is a common, normal hookup. A shitty, painful hookup where Grace's comfort and pleasure were like #7 on the priority list. Mean, punishing sex is normal. And awful. Our normal is awful.
People are quick to label sex crimes as deviant or aberrant, but the truth is that sexual violence is socialized into us. Men are socialized to fuck hard and often, and women are socialized to get fucked, look happy, and keep quiet about it.
Aziz Ansari has been socialized.
And if we don't like the way socialized men do sex, then we need to take a hard look at our society, friend.
Now, I want to be clear. Ansari is 100% responsible for what he did. He behaved like a sexual bully who hurt and humiliated a woman while he acted out a fantasy that was his and his alone. He treated her like a prop. And if you don't understand why that's shitty, ask yourself how much your hand enjoys jerking you off. Ansari is responsible for knowing better, and caring about whether his sexual partners are comfortable, safe, and enjoying themselves. Even though nobody ever taught him that's a "normal" way to do sex. It's his job to help change the normal.
As a woman, I am supposed to take what's given to me, to shrink my pain, ignore my bad feelings about what just happened, and generally be FINE WITH EVERYTHING! Also I have to have a good banana bread recipe.
|so like that
except instead of being in a room on fire
you're in an apartment and someone is sticking his fingers in your mouth
over and over again
What I'm realizing now, after reading Grace's story and the responses to it, is that when I shrink my own pain, I also shrink my empathy for women who feel the same pain and feel it full-size. I resent Grace for talking about her hookup as if it's an assault. I'm mad at her for talking about it at all.
But that's not because she was wrong to talk about it. And it's for sure not because she was wrong to go on a date, drink wine, or try to have a pleasurable sexual encounter. She wasn't. She wasn't wrong.
It's because if what happened to her is a violation, then we are all violated. And everyone is a violator. And that's a scary fucking world to live in. I don't want that to be the world I live in.
Can it be that we are so okay with being hurt as women that we are skeptical of the idea that sex shouldn't be humiliating or scary?
I THOUGHT THIS WAS A ROM COM.
If you shared my hesitation to stand up with Grace on this one, I'm just asking you to hang out and ask yourself why. You don't have to come up with answers. It's enough to notice and wonder.
These uncomfortable conversations are part of #MeToo, as much as the truth telling and hearing. The only easy day was yesterday, when we found ourselves mostly in agreement that Weinstein is a slimy bag of dicks, and Spacey is a scummy, flesh-eating bacteria.
This was never going to be easy or smooth. It's absurd to think that we'd be able to push through what Frances McDormand called a tectonic shift without revealing fault lines we didn't know were there. We're going to find ourselves on opposite sides of things. We're going to disagree. And we're going to get uncomfortable. Remember that you, too, are socialized. Even though you've been hurt, you are also trained to hurt others. I am; I do. I'm trying to do better.
My 5-year-old Chicken told me the other day, "I think the opposite of brave isn't scared. The opposite of brave is quiet."
Remember, we don't fail when we disagree. We fail when we go quiet and walk away. Stick around. Be honest. Don't be scared. Or be scared, but don't be quiet.
And if you need a break, you can always just pop in a rom com.
This post originally appeared on katykatikate.com and is reprinted here with permission.
top photo: Master of None
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Katie Anthony writes about feminism, scotch, parenting, small daily victories, and 90's pop culture references at www.KatyKatiKate.com. She is also the author of Feminist Werewolf, available now as an ebook on Amazon.com. 100% of the proceeds of Feminist Werewolf sales are donated to RAINN and Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault. Follow her on Patreon www.patreon.com/KatyKatiKate, and Facebook at www.facebook.com/KatyKatiKate, and on Twitter @yokatykatikate.