By now you’ve probably heard about – or even read — the report on Aziz Ansari and the sexual assault allegations a former date recently made against him. I first saw a link to the expose on my Facebook feed Monday morning, posted by a feminist neighborhood dad we’re friendly with, who captioned it, simply, “This is date rape.” Interested, I read the piece and one of my first thoughts (you know, alongside: “Ew, what a douche!” and “Ugh, this sounds too familiar” and “Why did he keep pushing her?!” and “Why didn’t she leave?!”) was:
this is not date rape. What was described by the woman Ansari brought home after a dinner date is horrible and enraging and uncomfortable and regrettable, but it wasn’t date rape, and to categorize it as such really does a disservice, not just to the #metoo movement and to women who have suffered date rape and other kinds of sexual assault, but it’s also a disservice to our entire society to have missed an opportunity to include a new subtext in our recently collective conversation about sexual power dynamics and the impact such imbalance has not just in the workplace, but also on relationships and, more specifically, sex (heterosexual sex, in particular).
I’m heartened that many of the think pieces and social media posts published in the last 48 hours or so have focused on just that, and in doing so, we are expanding our collective conversation to include the misogynistic, archaic sexual script we all grew up learning: men are to doggedly pursue sex, women are to preserve their own purity while protecting a man’s fragile ego by coquettishly brushing off such advances. It’s a shitty script that results in more than just bad sex — it results in hurt feelings, murky boundaries, and ambiguous and unsatisfying relationships. It’s a narrative we saw recently in “Cat Person,” the viral short story for The New Yorker that so many of us identified with. We identified with it because we know the narrative, we know the script. This quote from The Guardian really hits the nail on the head:
“Girls are raised with a contradictory set of expectations: be kind and acquiescent, but also be the brakes on male sexual desire. We are taught to reflexively say yes except for when we’re supposed to definitively say no, but we don’t learn how to know when we want to say either…
When feminists do try to talk about this sexual imbalance, we get written off as anti-sex prudes. This is strange, because what we actually want is a norm of good sex for everyone involved, instead of the status quo of sex as a male-led endeavor, centered on male pleasure. Women seem to have two sexual possibilities: yes or no. Note that men never have to say “no means no” or even “yes means yes”. They’re the ones posing the question, not answering it.
Men aren’t morons, and they know as well as anyone that a woman who is silent, physically stiff, or pulling away is not exactly aflame with desire. But they also know that we are collectively invested in a social script wherein men push to get sex until women acquiesce. And so they push, even when they know it’s unwelcome, because they can.”
The language of “a bad hookup” fails to capture the unequal power dynamics and the deep sense of disorientation and betrayal that comes when someone treats you as a hole rather than a person. Nor does it adequately measure the weight of centuries of misogyny that have shaped our most intimate moments.
Feminists have been on the forefront of tackling these knottier issues of sex, consent, pleasure and power. And so it’s up to us to lead the way in confronting the private, intimate interactions that may be technically consensual but still profoundly sexist.
So, it’s time to shine a light on this issue of sexist sex — the kind of sexual interactions that don’t meet the legal and cultural definition of assault, but are something more, or something different, than just “bad sex” (which a journalist in the Times argues the Ansari case was) or even “sloppy sex.” It’s the kind of sex that, as mentioned above, has been shaped by centuries of misogyny and the idea that the female body is for his pleasure and the male body his for his pleasure and that sex, in general, is basically for his pleasure. And we’re all supposed to know that because that’s always been the script, and so when we’re on dates, it’s normal when a guy is overly aggressive and missing nonverbal cues — he’s just doing what he’s supposed to do (pursuing his own pleasure). And the woman, if she isn’t boldly saying no or voicing exactly what it is she wants or what would turn her on and what is turning her off, is doing what she was socialized to do (protecting his ego, not being rude). It’s rude, after all, to embarrass someone, to tell him you don’t like what he’s doing, that the way he touches you makes your skin crawl.
BE RUDE, bitches. Teach your daughters to be rude. Teach your sons to be respectful and to follow nonverbal cues (teach them examples of nonverbal cues!). Advocate for our public schools to teach social skills classes where these cues are taught. Be bold, speak up, say no, walk away, end a bad date as soon as you feel grossed-out or uncomfortable. YOU OWE NOTHING. Even if a guy paid for your meal. You owe him shit. Saying no or not now or that you don’t like that isn’t being a prude or anti-sex or a cock tease (raise your hand if you’ve been called a tease!). Changing your mind at any point for whatever reason doesn’t make you a tease. And if it does, so the fuck what? Wouldn’t you rather be called a tease than have sex with someone you don’t want to have sex with because you didn’t want to be rude?
On the flip side, if you want the sex, be bold about that too. Make ALL cues easier to decipher so that everything is more clearly defined and we have less ambiguity in personal moments and fewer public accounts of these moments that are icky to read about.