The 21st Century Chick Talks Self Defense, Assault, and Consent in a Media Driven World
Trigger Warning: sexual harassment and assault/sexual misconduct, coerced consent
From my very first Self Defense for Women class at my high school, I was made aware of the severe sexual assault problem in the America. “One out of three girls in their first semester of university in the United States will be sexually assaulted”. The teacher’s statement on the first day was not meant to scare me off from going to university or pursuing higher education, it was about preparing young women so they could physically and mentally prepare if something were to happen to themselves or their friends. Throughout the course, I stepped into uncharted territory of confidence and awareness I had never experienced before. I became hyperaware of the way that I was yelled at when I walked down busy streets and questioned my female and male friends’ dismissive responses to my experiences being harassed. Fast forward to my senior year in high school, when I took my first Women’s Literature class. An insightful female instructor outlined some basics of feminism in creative expression. She gave me the opportunity to engage in literature with personal connections, to see the possibilities for myself in academia. Here we are today, in 2018. Donald Trump, a man infamous for his history of sexual assault is President of the United States of America.
In the past few months I have not been surprised to hear of sexual assault cases of the many men in power taking advantage of women. Although empowering to see so many survivors of sexual assault finally be heard, for their stories to hit the headlines of the big news channels day after day, seemed to me overdue.
The 21st century has brought more advancements in communication than seemingly any other moment in history. The rise of social media has brought a solidarity for people who experience oppression, yet also an accessible form of propaganda and organization for extremely oppressive groups. Today more than ever, we should take what we read on the internet with a grain of salt. If you see something on a twitter post or snapchat story claiming to be factual, google it and read up! Question your sources and those who are contributing to it. Are they writing about oppression which they themselves do not experience? If the answer is yes, find a source that is written by someone who actually experiences that oppression. It is very likely that the article, video, or blogpost is there, you just need to look for it.
It was very moving to see so many people wearing black at the Golden Globes with renowned actresses accompanied by grassroots leaders of the feminist movement. Even more empowering was knowing that many women around the world felt like they were not alone in their experience of assault. In all of the news coverage of sexual assault cases, people in a variety of industries have felt more comfortable to speak out about their injustice. Solidarity is one beautiful and powerful thing to come out of oppression.
During commercial breaks of the Globes, glancing through my social media feeds, I noticed that post after post praised Oprah’s speech. Several times throughout her speech I caught myself questioning the way she seemed to universalize and simplify the manifestation of sexism in our society given the complexity of consent and power. So I turned to several of my intersectional feminism and political science podcasts. Many were disappointed with the Oprah 2020 trend and suggested that standards had clearly lowered since the Celebrity Apprentice was elected president. Growing up in LA, the center for the entertainment industry, awards season was a time where my extended family would get together and see their friends and family members be thanked for their contributions. This was the first year that I really questioned the politics and paradoxes of the industry’s institutionalized manner.
The Time’s Up grand appearance at the awards was no exception. Its seemingly questionable intentions became more and more clear as the leaders of the movement seated themselves amongst a sea of men who had histories of sexual assault. James Franco won best actor in his shiny black suit with his Time’s Up pin just to be accused of sexual misconduct days later (the rumor mill had been churning on that one since my high school twitter days). The problem is that Time’s Up had good intentions but bad execution. When people in the industry see the accusations flying they felt the need to do something. But no one held themselves accountable to their standards of a perpetrator free environment. No forms of education were spread at the Globes, there was no outlining or defining of consent. Actors who have histories of sexual misconduct arrived to the show to make a show, that is if they even recognize their actions as misconduct.
I would like to break down issues of consent in one particular story of sexual assault that really hit me close to home. I had heard rumors of men who claimed to be feminists, all the while putting up a front to eventually take advantage of them. But then, I heard that Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual misconduct. I thought, really? Aziz Ansari? The self-proclaimed feminist who wrote, directed, and starred in his socially informed Master of None which won awards for its political commentary? Yes, they said. Aziz Ansari.
Shit, how would a intersectional feminist who thoroughly enjoyed Master of None and actively supported Aziz Ansari respond to this?
Here is how she responds:
In my analysis of his behavior I am going to use he/him pronouns and her behavior she/her pronouns. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of gender identity, sexuality, race, class, religion, geographic location. I am using ‘he’ and ‘she’ because I want to outline what he could have done better in his treatment of her.
In the case of Aziz Ansari, he had not in the moment or the following morning realized his behavior as misconduct. Following a date with Ansari, a young New York based photographer left Ansari’s apartment uncomfortable with the sexual experience she had with him. So, she and a writer at Babe magazine wrote about her story (https://babe.net/2018/01/13/aziz-ansari-28355).
To summarize, the woman, called Grace in the article for anonymity, felt that things had been rushed into very quickly- he suggested grabbing a condom a few minutes after they began kissing. She vocalized her desire to slow things down. He performed oral sex on her. He continued to touch her and force her hand on his penis despite her continuously removing it, she said at least five times.
This is problematic- regardless of vocalization, this physical response (the removal of her hand from his genitals) should have signaled to him her disinterest in performing oral sex on him, or at least made him second guess her interest in his genitals. Five times she removed her hand from his genitals and five times he placed it back there. Why doesn’t he get it?
Absence of vocalized consent does not mean one should assume consent. It also does not mean that you should try to convince her. Do not do anything other than ask her what she is comfortable with. If she removes her hands from the genitals several times, why put her hand back? Take a moment to ask her if she would like to stop. Just because he performed oral sex on her, does not mean she owes him anything. That was his decision to perform oral sex, this was her decision not to.
Next, she shifted away from him to create space between them for thirty minutes. Casual conversation came and went. She began to find it difficult to vocalize her disinterest, a common experience for people experiencing sexual assault or harassment typically referred to as freezing. It is both shocking and disturbing to me that for half an hour, he did not stop once to think about what had just happened or what was happening. She had made two different repeated physical signs that she was not interested in further developing the sexual encounter previously vocalized that she wanted to slow things down. He continued to ask “where do you want me to f*** you?”, as if sexual intercourse was up in the air. She said “next time”. He pushed to make date number two “now”, with another glass of wine.
An unclear answer is not ‘yes’, at this point it would have been appropriate to assume ‘no’ until explicitly stated. A delay to the development of the encounter should not be automatically perceived as “convince me”. If consent is not clearly vocalized, best to take the safe route and not proceed to develop the encounter or stop and ask.
“He asked her if she was okay. “I said I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you,” she said.” -Babe Magazine
According to Grace, he answered “‘Oh, of course, it’s only fun if we’re both having fun.’ The response was technically very sweet and acknowledging the fact that I was very uncomfortable.” They move to the couch and she loosens up a bit at this acknowledgement of her discomfort, expecting things to be nonsexual from here out. Then, he points at his genitals, motioning to her to perform oral sex, and she feels the pressure to do so, and does. “Doesn’t look like you hate me” he states afterwards, kissing her. He continues to suggest sex, she verbally addresses that she does not want to have sex. She leaves and has described her emotional state as upset and violated.
My close heterosexual female friends and I have talked this story through and through several times, and we arrived to this conclusion- he claims that he did not know that his behavior was sexual misconduct, which would be disturbing if it is true. Ansari presents himself as an ally and an activist, and his show Master of None gives a rather large effort to comment on society and its power structures. Despite the fact that Aziz Ansari claims he is socially aware, he, like so many other men, have internalized the systems of power that exist in our society. Ansari’s gender privileges him and this misconduct is a direct reflection of the abuses that occur when one does not actively recognize their privilege. This is a matter of education, of prioritizing women’s safety and mental well being. It is overdue and in high demand. Even men who claim to be educated feminists are contributing to sexism in violent ways like sexual assault.
I remain both disappointed, frustrated and confused with how things like this happen all the time. This sexual assault case came in a moment where my distrust for men was already high. I wish that sex was less complicated, that the discourses surrounding sex and consent were more open topics of conversation. (Cisgendered) Men, if you are looking to contribute to social change, if you want to see your sisters, your mothers, your friends, and your coworkers protected, now is your time to educate yourself. If you have access, take a Gender Studies class at your local university. Find intersectional feminist news sources and social media accounts and think about way that your gender privileges you every single day. Listen to women who tell you about their oppression. Do not question their experience, question yours.