The sexist hits just keep on coming! One day it’s entitled French ladies; the next it’s a woke (bacon-eating) Tamil Muslim whom I admit I had a teeny crush on. Aziz is the smart, sweet, sensitive, funny guy you seriously consider taking out of the friend zone. Or at least that’s what he plays on TV and in his stand-up—if not on his marble countertops. Kachow!
It’s been 36 hours of volleying with peeps on FB so I figured I’d put all those thoughts, scattered across Zuckerberg’s mind-meld, into this post. Hooray for consolidation. Boo for online arguments keeping me up way past my bedtime. I’m slightly punch-drunk so excuse any imprecisions.
Let’s take a look at the points most people are getting riled up about, shall we?
Grace And The Wine
She wanted red, not white! Why is this even in the story? Because this is a shit piece of journalism.* We can all agree on that. There might be less antagonism towards Grace and the valid issues (about sex, agency and systemic misogyny) her experience brings up if the story had been a first-person essay or simply better reported and written. Weirder to me than the wine detail was the “cocktail-chic” dress code Ansari apparently recommended. For a restaurant date and home hookup? Why not just lingerie and a trench coat? In any case, I prefer a well-chilled dry white so Aziz gets no knocks from me on that.
She gave him a blowjob. Twice. He went down on her. They were both naked. Clearly, she wanted some/all of that so how was Aziz to know she didn’t want to have sex? Well, because when he repeatedly asked her where she wanted him to fuck her, she didn’t say, “Babe, fuck me on your oh-so-expensive marble countertops.” She said, “Let’s relax, let’s chill… next time.”
This is what feminists mean about the enthusiastic yes versus no-means-no in the realm of consensual sex. Instead of putting the onus on girls and women to loudly shout, “No!”—while at the same time telling them how nice, polite and [sexually] accommodating they should be—why not teach boys and men that unless a woman is verbally and non-verbally crystal about wanting a penis in one or all of her orifices, back the fuck off with that thing.
For the cheap seats, examples of verbal cues: “Put on a condom.” “Fuck me.” “YES.”
Non-verbal cues: She undresses herself and/or you. She grabs your dick instead of you having to put her hand on it. She joyfully puts her mouth on your penis instead of you having to point to it or worse, push her head down on it.
It is disappointing that someone like Aziz, who self-identifies as an ally to women, allegedly can’t or doesn’t want to see when a woman isn’t into having sex with him. Also: He wants starfish sex?
What About The BJs?!
Gentlemen and ladies (to whom this has never happened), we women sometimes find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to give a blowjob as an act of safety, resignation or even pity. Weird, huh? The one and only time I met a micropenis, I blew the dude because I felt really bad about my unfiltered reaction to his baby dick. Did I want to? Not particularly. Was there any threat of violence? I don’t think so. Did it have to do with my internalized misogyny about protecting a guy’s ego (especially regarding his manhood), perhaps because there’s always a subtle shimmer of violence when it comes to a woman denying a man? Absolutely.
This is also an instance where there seems to be a generational gap re: sex. Older men and women seem to see oral as part of an entire sexual encounter, something that might be even more intimate than penetrative sex. Younger people seem to see it as another form of making out. Aziz kissed her, got her naked, went down on her and she on him, all in about ten minutes. It’s part of the rote millennial porn script and kind of NBD.
I shudder reading the things Aziz said, his “claw” move, not to mention the sex pantomime in front of the mirror. I wish I could say he’s an anomaly when it comes to his sex repertoire, but sadly for women everywhere, he’s not. If only guys understood that what they see in most porn isn’t sexually gratifying for most women. If only girls knew they don’t have to look and act like pornstars. In general, we shouldn’t take sex lessons from Le Bon Fap.
I don’t entirely blame the fellows for this one. We are tossed into the sexual arena as teenagers with only the vaguest notions of what sex is and can be. And really, the only free sex-ed around is porn. Wouldn’t it be great for everyone if classes about mutual sexual pleasure were widely available? If we learned to communicate openly about sex and the spectrums of desire? If we could do that, this all-too-familiar Aziz-and-Grace episode may never have aired. I am rooting for an app that not only designates consent for each sex act, but illuminates the possibilities for a bunch of confused, horny people.
Why Didn’t She Just Leave?
This is what some feminists (and most men) condemn Grace for. She’s a grown-ass woman. She could have left at any time. Aziz, a small Indian guy, didn’t pose a threat. It’s a “bad date” or “bad sex” but not assault.
This is the most tangled issue, one I think has to do with where we each are in terms of our lived experiences as well as what this blurry sexual encounter signals about our society in general.
I don’t see Grace as a fully grown woman and this isn’t me trying to infantalize and deculpabize her. She was 22 and while she’s technically an adult, she’s only a few years out of adolescence and far from being a “grown-ass” woman (IMO that happens somewhere in your mid-30s). Aziz is a 34-year-old male celebrity. There’s an inherent power differential between men and women, famous and unknown, older and younger, rich and not—even in a non-work environment—and that should not be ignored as we parse how we think about consent and sexual assault in 2018 and going forward.
I can’t imagine Grace is very sexually experienced and judging by her account, she doesn’t appear to be. There is a lack of empathy, compassion or imagination if it’s inconceivable why Grace didn’t simply leave. Off the top of my head:
- She liked Aziz and didn’t know how to outright refuse and risk him not liking her.
- Part of her wanted to stay. American culture is especially enamored of celebrity. This was perhaps her first intimate interaction with a star and she was struck. I have no idea of her socioeconomic background, but chilling in a famous person’s gorgeous Tribeca loft doesn’t often happen to 22-year-old civilians.
- She was psychologically frozen by Aziz’s rapid-fire porn judo and didn’t know how to extricate herself, fearing some unknown reprisal.
- Like many young women, including me at that age, she hasn’t learned how to forcefully say no in situations like these. In fact, she’s been socialized to do the exact opposite: please and placate.
I’m not saying these are Grace’s reasons, but these are plausible reasons why a young woman may not feel empowered enough to scream no and immediately flee when she’s feeling sexually overwhelmed by an older, richer, famous man she thinks she likes. Several Gen-X feminists have opined they’ve experienced similar situations when they were younger and didn’t characterize them as assault. Those Millennial teacups are at it again with their delicate constitutions and incessant complaining!
Yeah, me too. But instead of blaming Grace for not leaving, I blame a system that allows men to behave like this during a soi-disant consensual encounter—and forces women to laugh it off as a “bad date” or “awkward sex.” As if it’s normal. Ansari himself answered the allegations with “by all indications [it] was completely consensual.” I can believe that by the standards of what we currently call normal sex—which is heavily weighted against a woman’s agency and pleasure—the comedian did think he had a consensual experience. I also believe that Grace did not. The line between consent and coercion shouldn’t be so unarticulated that feminists have to argue amongst themselves over the assault/not-assault question. Yes, women should be strong enough to rebuff a man—we aren’t made of porcelain—but IT IS NOT NORMAL that sexual relations should regularly include this aggression-refusal schema.
While I didn’t call my “bad sex” dates assault, either, I am eager to reexamine the ways we approach and define consensual sex. We are failing at what should be, at the very least, fun and satisfying for everyone involved—not tinged with regret, tears, poorly written exposés and lackluster apologies. I don’t believe anyone has the right answers right now because we’re drawing new boundaries as we speak. This is our opportunity to recalibrate the parameters of sex, hopefully in the direction of more agency, equality, communication and freedom for everyone. And orgasms. Definitely more orgasms (which is more likely to happen when women feel safe, comfortable and don’t have fingers jammed down their throats). And don’t we all want that?
* While I think the original Babe piece is garbage journalism and I’m sorry Aziz has to be the poster boy for really, very bad sex, I’m not going to bother defending him and his position as plenty of other outlets are doing that.