What’s becoming clear as crystal is people are realizing just how many men would be behind bars if sexual assault and coercion were treated as the serious crimes they are.One of the most disturbing things that emerged from the debate around “Grace” and Aziz Ansari’s date was how normalized coercive sexual encounters have been, especially with regard to women’s pleasure and safety. After a year of Trump’s regime, my capacity for shock has been whittled down, but during the Ansari brouhaha I found myself at peak stunned by all the people—and women in particular—who have accepted men’s sexually predatory behavior as a matter of course. Worse, they go to great lengths to defend this misogynistic paradigm. You know you live in a patriarchy when feminism is akin to a swear word. The case is made further when a simple fact like “coercion is not consent” becomes a divisive and controversial statement to both men and women. Color me flabbergasted. That is, until I took a couple steps back to analyze everything that the Ansari situation brought up. For me personally, I had to come to terms with the fact that more than half of my limited sexual encounters had in fact been non-consensual due to coercion or lies. It’s a horrible feeling to look back and realize that things were not what I thought they were. At all. And that I had considered those terrible encounters "simple" bad sex when they were far worse and even criminal encounters. It felt like being violated all over again, and I spent more than a few days sitting with my pain, grieving and acknowledging it, and trying to figure out how to put it all into place. Lili Loofbourow recently wrote in “The female price of male pleasure”: “Research shows that 30 percent of women report pain during vaginal sex, 72 percent report pain during anal sex, and 'large proportions' don't tell their partners when sex hurts. … The studies on this are few. A casual survey of forums where people discuss 'bad sex' suggests that men tend to use the term to describe a passive partner or a boring experience. ... But when most women talk about 'bad sex,' they tend to mean coercion, or emotional discomfort or, even more commonly, physical pain. Debby Herbenick, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health, and one of the forces behind the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, confirmed this. 'When it comes to 'good sex,'' she told me, 'women often mean without pain, men often mean they had orgasms.'” Loofbourow’s conclusions about how male sexual pleasure comes at the price of women’s pain would be chilling, except that every woman on this planet has been there at some point or another. Despite the frequency of these systemically entrenched behaviors and experiences, this isn’t something any of us openly talk about. At least until the Aziz Ansari situation.
The assumption that most sexual assault victims lie has been proven false and this fact has been known for quite some time. Yet, the toxic notion still prevails.Since late last year we have heard women and men come forward with their experiences with harassment and sexual assault as part of #MeToo, a movement started by activist Tarana Burke over a decade ago and catapulted into the spotlight because of the hypervisibility of the accused. We have also heard the rumbling undercurrent of the cishetero patriarchal establishment trying to buck against the changing times. 2017 was a start, but we still have a long way to go. The proof lies in the heated debates over the Aziz Ansari allegations. What should have been another voice to join the #MeToo chorus became way for opponents to begin anew at their attempts to dismantle the movement. “Why didn’t she say anything, if she didn’t consent?” “Why did she do those things if she were really scared?” “Why didn’t she tell any authorities if it were really assault?” By the second week of 2018, it seemed that, so many people have forgotten the education that previous year brought. The stereotypes and fallacies that had stifled voices for so many years were back in full force. In truth, sexual assault and rape allegations have always been heavily shrouded in suspicion, so much so that no matter how the victim acted before, during, or after the assault, no matter how they reported her experience, or how long it took them to come forward, the victim was always at a disadvantage. They are always lying. That sounds harsh, but the stereotype is so deeply rooted in our society, that we learn to strongly believe the most rape victims are lying about their assault despite data which proves otherwise. The victim must come forward with enough DNA to reconstruct the assailant in a lab like some “Black Mirror” type of scene. Otherwise, the missing evidence indicts the victim and exonerates the rapist in the court of public opinion long before they even go to court. Actually, many of the victims are treated like criminals for no other reason than their desire to report the heinous crime they underwent.
Let's interrogate the politic of comparing Aziz Ansari to Emmett Till.A storm of articles has appeared over the last 48 hours regarding the account published by Babe magazine on the disturbing encounter between Aziz Ansari and a young woman who, in the account, is simply called "Grace." A large majority of these articles, particularly the ones published in mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times and the Atlantic, have rushed to Ansari's defense, accusing "Grace" of enacting "revenge porn," and merely "exaggerating" an episode of "bad sex," which, they claim, she should have had the foresight and/or common sense to resist. Among the arguments put forth in defense of Ansari — surprisingly by many whites, perhaps in an eager bid to prove themselves NotRacist™ — is the one that claims Grace used her status as a white woman to damage and discredit the career of a man of color (Ansari is a Brown south Asian man). Although no reference to Grace's racial identity was given in the original account, many subsequent articles have assumed Grace to be white because of Ansari's history of dating mostly white women. Regardless, though no facts are known for sure about Grace's racial identity, this has been the narrative: a white woman played up her helplessness in order to disempower a man of color. So let's begin with the phrase "man of color." This encompasses a rather large and diverse category of people who, at least in the United States, have historically had quite distinct relationships to both masculinity and whiteness as such. It is true that there has been a long and painful history of white women wielding their whiteness in violent ways against Black men and boys specifically. Throughout the history of the American south, there were countless documented cases of white women fabricating or exaggerating stories about being assaulted or harassed by Black men or boys, which resulted in tragic and fatal consequences for the latter. The case of Emmett Till is perhaps the most well-known and egregious example of this phenomenon, in which a white woman lied about a 14-year old Black boy whistling at her in public. As a consequence, Till was murdered by two white men in the most brutal way imaginable. Because Blackness as such is hyper-masculinized within the U.S. racial order, Black boys and men have historically been portrayed by white people as dangerous, violent, or criminal, and white women have capitalized on this trope by exaggerating their own "innocence" and "helplessness" in order to skew the balance of power further in their favor. Meanwhile, Asian American men have had a different relationship to masculinity. If Black men have been hyper-masculinized in our culture, Asian American men have been hypo-masculinized—that is, feminized or seen as less masculine than the desirable (i.e. white) standard. Constructions of Black and Asian men's masculinity as either "too masculine" (i.e. dangerous/violent/criminal) or "not masculine enough" (i.e. unthreatening/weak/compliant) are both racist because they are framed only in reference to white masculinity as the middle standard. Not surprisingly, Asian American men's critiques of racism have often amounted to protesting the way in which they are constantly "emasculated" under white supremacy. The problem with this appeal is that it still frames white masculinity as the desirable standard into which they (Asian American men) should be rightfully included.
Coercion is not consent. It is sexual abuse. It is sexual assault. It is rape. And "no" is a complete motherfucking sentence.[TW/CW: Descriptions of sexual assault, violence and rape culture.] With each 24-hour breaking news cycle I wait for the inevitable fall of another admired hero. I’ve almost gotten used to the gut-punch that comes with hearing about some new awful thing a beloved artist has done. And this weekend our feminist ally and Desi trailblazer of representation and inclusion, Aziz Ansari fell from that pedestal after a piece was published on Babe.net over the weekend. I’ve lauded Ansari’s work on "Master of None" to no end. I’ve seen his stand-up comedy live. I’ve been a huge supporter of his since he first appeared on "Parks and Recreation", bringing some much-needed South Asian representation to primetime television. The fact that he was an “out” feminist ally who openly spoke about his developing feminist consciousness, encouraging other cishet men to follow suit, only solidified his place as a Desi prince amongst Hollywood royals. So I’ll be honest: When the allegations about Ansari’s inappropriate sexual behavior while on a date broke, I didn’t want to believe them. As I read through the details of what happened, I found myself saying, “This isn’t sexual assault. This is several bad dates I have been on in the past. His behavior is totally normal. Why is she making such a big deal out of this?” And until that moment, I didn’t realize that a part of me is still conditioned to protect the patriarchy in which I was raised and which continues to rule the world, dictating that women and femmes' autonomy isn’t actually our right. It took a beat to realize that as much as I am aware of the cisgender men-behaving-badly excuse, without a hint of irony I was suddenly normalizing Ansari’s behavior as fitting that mold. Even worse, I was not seeing an issue with it because that is what men on dates do. It took longer for me to come to terms with why I was able to justify this situation in particular.