In January, the website Babe published an anecdotal exposé about an alleged sexual encounter involving comedian Aziz Ansari and Grace, the author of the story. Grace recalls going on a date with Ansari shortly after he had won an Emmy for best actor, a meet-up that later turned romantic.
However, as the story details, despite Grace’s repeated suggestions that she was uninterested in sex, Ansari persisted.
The story, which quickly went viral, led to a groundswell of think pieces, as both critics and apologists were quick to try and use the murky relativity of consent to bolster their argument.
Megan Nesbith, in fact, a writer for Man Repeller, described one of the more insidious red herrings to emerge from the uproar, the widespread but fallacious idea that “#MeToo has now crossed the threshold into hysteria, with women equating Ansari’s aggressive sexual overtures with the repeated, systemic, and career-destroying sexual assaults perpetrated by people like Harvey Weinstein.”
Indeed, far from a cut-and-dry debate, the dialogue quickly mutated into an argument surrounding the nature of sexual crime and what sorts of sexual harassment are quantifiably worse than others.
Many women, unfortunately, found Grace’s story far too familiar, whereas many men seemed unaware of what the problem was — so what, they had bad sex? What the story should’ve done, though, was open up a more nuanced discussion about consent, power dynamics and sexual norms. While yes, what Ansari did wasn’t prosecutable, it certainly doesn’t feel right either.
As much as the #MeToo movement is about bringing justice to criminals, it’s also about taking a deeper look at the ethical fissures underlying many of our modern, complicated sexual mores.
As Manisha Krishnan, from Vice, wrote, “The point of #MeToo should be to change our culture around sex and to hold people to a standard of decency beyond just what the law or a human resources department requires.”
In her account, Grace verbally and nonverbally expressed that she doesn’t want to have sex. She said, “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you and I’d rather not hate you” and “I don’t think I’m ready to do this, I really don’t think I’m going to do this,” while repeatedly getting up and moving away.
She later wrote, “Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points. I stopped moving my lips and turned cold.”
The issue boils down to this: Why do you want to have sex with someone who isn’t enthusiastic about it? Do men genuinely want to have sex with someone who is, at best, indifferent, and, at worst, trying to escape the room in their heads?
No, instead, we need to reframe what normal sex is: an activity in which both partners are actively interested in each other’s engagement and enjoyment.
Perhaps your partner’s thing is lying unmoving like a statute. But you can’t assume this, which is why it’s important to have conversations and recognize the importance of non-verbal cues. Grace used both verbal and non-verbal ways to say no, but critics still had trouble grasping that it’s possible to convey disinterest without shrieking no.
If someone is physically struggling to get away from you, does that really seem like a green light?
Instead, what you can do is pay closer attention to nonverbal cues in your sexual encounters. Sex should be like a dialogue, with both parties actively participating. If you make a move or start an action and it’s unreciprocated, stop for a second and check in. If you’re kissing someone and they’re not kissing you back, stop and check in.
If someone is pushing you off of them, stop (immediately) and see if everything is alright. If your partner is lying there non-responsive, stop and check in.
Some people are scared that all this talk about consent will take the fun out of sex. But if your sex life is so bad that posing a simple question such as “Is this okay?” will ruin it, you’ve got bigger issues.
As Nesmith wrote, “Sure, sexual violence may not be eliminated by a more nuanced and open conversation around consent, power and pleasure, but that doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t critically important.”
It’s imperative that we analyze and discuss why our unbalanced sexual dynamics exist and why we have to expand our view on consent. These dialogues won’t solve all our problems, but they’re a great place to start.