Friday, January 19, 2018

On Aziz Ansari: Let's Set the bar Higher than 'Not Rape'

I've had a hard time getting myself to sit down and write about this. I've procrastinated for days, always finding something else to do, other than think about this blogpost....or the Twitterhate writing about this subject could bring, from the antis and 'Rational Centrists' - who are usually...you know... *totally*  believably moderate and Center in their politics. 

It's sad that we live in a world where being a feminist or simply a woman speaking up about sexual harassment/abuse/coercion/inappropriateness is a controversial position on the internet. 

Many tend to be more concerned about the careers of the accused being DESTROYED than what the victim might have gone through, and how their lives might have been affected. And, all this in a world where a self professed sexual predator was elected to lead one of the most powerful countries in the world. 



His career seems fine, so far. 

***

There are so many thoughts buzzing around in my head...things that I’m recalling, that I’d rather not. I'm reluctantly combing through my relevant memories, because these #MeToo stories cause them all to surface. Those experiences in uni, on a packed bus, at work...with a boss creepily running his finger down my neck, bare shoulder and along my ear... (was it my fault for wearing an off shoulder top?) are all coming back to me. Another experience comes to mind, one with a doctor responsible for putting me under before a surgery - who leaned in and called me 'sexy'...as I lay there on the operating table about to be knocked out cold. 

I clench my jaw just thinking about it.

There are so many ways that behaviour can be sexually inappropriate, a whole spectrum exists. It's not always as black and white as rape vs. not rape, attack vs. no attack...it doesn't actually have to be an 'attack' to violate someone.

And some very important, oft-neglected conversations lie in those grey areas. 

The thing that bothers me most about the discussion revolving around #MeToo, other than those trying to discredit the whole movement as some sort of hysterical, puritanical sex panic/witch hunt, is the binary thinking - That either this movement is perfection, impossibly unflawed....or that it is unfair and worth delegitimizing entirely... 'angry women' apparently now hold a lot of 'power' over some potentially innocent men that will get caught up in this. Will somebody please think of the accused men?!!

Sigh. If I were Aziz, I'd honestly cringe at the kinds of things being written in my defense.

(Click to enlarge) Interestingly. the writer of the above piece defending Aziz is also the author of this gem.
"Having so many choices, Caitlin Flanagan maintains, has torn women away from what many
of them want most: to raise a family and run a household. "  I bet this is on Peterson's reading list.


The attempts to discredit a general conversation about sexual behaviour that crosses the line, takes me back to my experiences with conservative opinions in Saudi and Pakistan. 

While of course not at all comparable in the power they wield over dissenters or the degree of blatant misogyny...the underlying distaste for women having these conversations, reminds me of what I've seen in the other countries I've lived in. There are definitely some common themes, harder to ignore in these Trumpian times, as the better packaging comes undone.  

However, despite some fierce criticisms, a very important discussion has opened up. And I for one am pleased to see the walls of silence come crumbling down, inspiring women around the globe, including in my motherland, Pakistan. As difficult as these conversations are, they need to be had. Finally…finally, women are being heard on this. Finally the grey areas are up for discussion...

There's this ridiculous idea that if it’s not a Harvey Weinstein level of abuse then it’s basically not worth criticizing. 





Firstly, I haven't seen anyone equate Aziz to Weinstein, and secondly why the fuck isn't something less than that worth talking about? The complaint isn't that it just wasn't romantic enough ffs. 

I'd even say the behaviours and incidents that are not on the worse end of the spectrum are probably personally relevant to more people.

It might be hard to come to terms with for some  -- especially those who are now having to question their own past actions -- but lets face it, sexual mores change, evolve and have *always* done so. 

This isn't some new thing sprung upon us by the 'spoiled, shrill, unreasonable, sjw' feminists of this decade. 

Once upon a time in popular media, Pepe le Pew's courting tactics were considered acceptable for children to view, hilarious even. 

Now, we know better. 





*** 

Many things can simultaneously be true in regard to this story & #MeToo, this is what most of the pushback doesn't get:

1) Of course it is in no way comparable to Weinstein, and 'Grace' from the story isn't saying that it is. 
2) It still paints a concerning picture.
3) The Babe article was done irresponsibly, it's focus on irrelevant minute details like the wine, etc. were damaging to the story.
4) It still started an important conversation.
5) Just because it isn't rape or about workplace harassment, doesn't mean it can't be included in #MeToo.
6) Criticizing people who are less than serial rapists doesn't mean it's a witchhunt. 
7) Yes there are bad takes happening in #MeToo, some blanketly throwing men under the bus. That is unavoidable in a conversation where literally anyone and everyone is chiming in. We should call those out too.
8) Some bad takes do not discredit all of #MeToo.

***

There are already many people like Christina Sommers, who will defend Milo at his worst, 

Now deleted whataboutery deflecting from criticism of milo making comments
about real ppl, actual consent. Not a play. 



But are waiting to jump at the slightest chance to discredit this entire movement, 



Not well reported but definitely not 'baseless', even he did not deny any of it. 






The skeptosphere in particular has been painfully swamped with praise for the ‘brave women’ who speak out against #MeToo (because of course),

Not to mention this very article laid out that the 'brave woman' being praised also defended Roman Polanski.
Then I was also linked to this, and it seemed he engaged and didn't deny defending someone
who was jailed for paying underage sex workers. :(


There are takes involving the revolting hashtag #MeNeither (yes that's really a hashtag dedicated to people who haven't been sexually abused talking about flaunting how they haven't in the faces of those who have), that frankly strike me as reminiscent of women who insist that because *they* had a choice around the hijab and niqab, that those things are not oppressive. We have plenty such women in Pakistan and Saudi, so many of these systems would not have thrived so long without the help of women who have a case of internalized sexism. Their western counterparts are now more openly flaunting their positions, in this absurd Petersonian era of the Skeptosphere. I mean #TradLife is a meme that exists now and isn't laughed out of existence. 

Yes yes unbunch your undies, I repeat, I know Saudi Arabia is worse and much more oppressive, and that women in Pakistan have a way tougher battle for rights ahead of them than western women do. I’ve heard that dismissing tactic enough times. 

There can exist similarities with differing degrees of intensity. 

But just imagine #MeNeither being used to oppose a hashtag where women were speaking up about religiously motivated abuse and mutilation like FGM. These same #MeNeither skeptics would see it for the disgusting minimization that it is. 

Aside from all this, there are also the deeply disappointing 'maybe Sandusky [convicted serial child rapist] is innocent' takes by Jerry Coyne and in Skeptic magazine. Jerry also expressed sympathy for poor Milo after his whole pedophilia scandal. 


Before I am accused of taking it 'out of context' let me just say here's a link to the whole piece
read it and cringe for yourself. 

The great Skeptic magazine also wrote a glowing review of Milo's book after this whole scandal. 

There are endless examples of concerning attitudes on this subject among 'skeptics' (see Amos Yee & the number of people that stepped up to defend or minimize Sargon tweeting 'I wouldn't even rape you', those that applauded it at an atheist/skeptic conference) ...but that's a separate blogpost in itself. 

Back to this story now;

This story hurt. 

Aziz Ansari cuts deep, he’s a successful brown Muslim comedian…such success in hollywood is rare for brown people. I have been rooting for him from the start. I grew up longing to see faces like mine on TV...and now...there he was. Oh Aziz 

:(

He’s a non traditional secular guy too who makes shows about his complicated relationship with his parents religious expectations, about the first time he snuck off with his cousin to have some pork. 

There is so much that deeply and personally resonates with me. He's repping secular people of muslim background in a not anti-muslim way...which is just so rare and so important. It really hurts to see him criticized like this, and it hurts to read about how he conducted himself.

I don't criticize him lightly or easily, but even I can see that some criticism is warranted. 

It also hurts because conservative muslims have already long attacked him with garbage takes like ‘hollywood only accepts secular muslims’ 

Really now. Hollywood only accepts secular Muslims? 

 ....And now they're using this story to say that it was his secularism or westernization that are to blame. Which is such rubbish - as if traditional muslim men who have clung to their religiosity and culture do not mistreat women..as if men directly from the old country do not mistreat women. 

I am so sick of people injecting their terrible agendas into #MeToo…be it anti-feminist, anti-western, anti-left, anti-porn, anti-casual sex....This isn't about any of those things...It's about sexual abuse and misconduct in whatever forms it may occur. 

This isn't hard.

On the flip side of anti-secular I've also seen pathetic anti-Muslim takes. 

Right, I suppose it was Cosby, Weinstein, Louis CK, Spacey & James Franco's Muslim upbringing
that caused them to behave this way...I mean, obviously there are some religious hypocrites, sexually repressed
who act out this way. But Aziz's story clearly isn't to do with his being of Muslim background. I forget which hadith says, 'demand a blowjob in the first 10 mins of a date'. 


I’ve also seen embarrassing ex-muslim takes, bringing Mohammed, (the prophet) into this whole thing? I mean why… this conversation is about people that...at the very least, have recently existed? 

Are we going to bring Henry VIII into it too? This is such foolishness, and such a stretch to find a way to drag Islam into it. Why do they insist on making Islam criticism so cringeworthy? Islam certainly has some terrible beliefs surrounding treatment of women, most Abrahamic religions do. But when you're grasping at straws like this and inserting mohammed into conversations like #MeToo , it just makes your criticism appear silly.  

A better way would be to call out people who use religion/Islam to justify things like child marriage or sexual abuse today.. that would be relevant… unlike dragging Mo in all the way from 7th century Arabia. 

As for the anti left takes... OH MAH GAWD THE HYSTERICAL LEFT IS ON A WITCHHUNT AGAIN *eyeroll*....Yes absolutely there are some extreme takes on the left that make me cringe. Just the other day I saw one with like 25K retweets saying that men should act like their name could be on a list. I don’t think that preemptively instilling fear in innocent people is the right lesson to take from this at all. 

Then there was someone I encountered who claimed that STEM was immoral because Krauss tweeted that disappointing article. I mean, come on...what a ridiculous conclusion. 

I’m happy to call those views out without dismissing the whole of #MeToo. 

What I’m tired of seeing (particularly in the skeptosphere) are people who’ve not uttered a peep in support of women speaking out against predators but as soon as they get the opportunity to tweet an article questioning #MeToo, they’ll be all over that. 


(click to enlarge) An screenshot from an actual article Michael Shermer tweeted out about #MeToo - apparently the voices of women who have had enjoyable sexual experiences are missing from #MeToo...well no shit. 

***

Aziz’s case was a good way to see who’s just looking to delegitimize this entire conversation and who's willing to acknowledge the flaws in the Babe article... while also saying, "this is something we need to discuss, as we are currently redefining and renegotiating the boundaries of appropriate sexual behaviour. That is literally the point of this. Remember, at one time marital rape was not acknowledged...these boundaries continue to shift as culture shifts - and to be clear, I'm not saying this case was rape.

What makes Aziz’s case especially worthy of criticism is the context that he literally wrote a book on the nuances of modern dating,

"In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world." 

And let's remember that some of these cases have only surfaced because the women involved saw these men shamelessly flaunting a #TimesUp pin after having treated them in this way.

Aziz has often used feminism in his comedy, has talked about being a feminist and encouraged people to use the word. It's perfectly fair to call him on his unfeminist behaviour.

Some of what was detailed in that ‘Babe’ piece was pretty horrifying, I can't even believe this is up for debate or being characterized as her wanting him to be a 'mindreader'. 

She physically removed her hand from his dick 5-7 times….she said she pulled away... went limp and stopped moving her mouth, she told him she didn’t want to feel forced…when he asked about sex she said 'next time'...

What about this is confusing or unclear? What part requires mindreading? What has made people behave so viciously towards Grace...the fact that it wasn't rape? Come on...is that where we are as a society? Our bar should be set well above 'not rape'. 

He's a celebrity she has admired, it could easily have been intimidating for her when he started undressing her so immediately. She understandably needed a moment to process wtf was happening. She gave him enough cues to stop and he didn't...until she stood up and said no yet again. Even after all that he tried to kiss her again, reached to try and unbutton her pants again. Can a woman not expect to sit at a first-time date's house without getting felt up and kissed constantly? 

He doesn’t seem to have denied any of the things she’s listed, just that it was interpreted differently by him. And he might be right, he may not have even noticed doing anything wrong...Which is what’s appalling, this is the conversation that hasn’t happened properly.  Now is the time people are going to speak up about boundaries in the bedroom. 

Some responses to this were so cruel, so vicious...it was hard to even look. 




 






The victim blaming in relation to this case is just everywhere…the articles I’ve seen are unbelievable. How are we *still* having these discussions. Some of it perhaps, can be explained by a generational difference in perception. There's this idea that younger feminists are not tough enough, spoiled even. Feminists back in the day were fighting the 'real' fight, this is just shallow frivolous stuff now. 

I mean of course there are some ridiculous fringe views in feminism too, but these are exaggerated to try and discredit the whole of it. 

Being taken seriously when demanding progress has been a struggle for each generation. 




Sarcasm Font:

Worry not, silly Regressives...everything is *great* now, feminism has achieved it's goals and therefore has become unnecessary - Because things are not *as* bad as they once were, because women are now seen as 'equal under the law'.... there's no problem. Kind of like how racism is over too. Especially post-Obama, there has been no racism in the US ever again. You know where they need feminism? In those other countries, those people over there don't know how to treat women. Us in the glorious West thankfully have it all worked out. 


***

In seriousness though, one of the best responses I've seen to an accusation (not a perfectly comparable situation but one that is also 'not rape') is from Dan Harmon of the show Community who recorded a heartfelt apology on his podcast. 



Now Grace’s critics might also look at this situation and see something that required no apology, but in my opinion his words did a lot of good. It set a great example for something like this to be done again. 

Megan Ganz was a writer on the show that he had feelings for which soon became incredibly uncomfortable for her. Here are some quotes from his recorded apology below, which I think are especially significant in this climate. Too many people still insist that anything less than rape or Harvey Weinstein isn't worth discussing.

He made sure to tell his audience that attacking her or revictimizing her would do him no favours. 

He used language like “Attracted to a writer I had power over” 

“Ran the risk of undercutting her faith in her talent”

"I did the cowardly easiest laziest thing you could do with feelings like that, not dealing with them..and in not dealing with them I made everybody else deal with them. I made her deal with them. I was flirty, creepy, everything other than being overt enough to constitute betraying your live in girlfriend to whom you’re going home to every night."

He acknowledges, that he stopped short of doing anything obvious enough to constitute open betrayal and it was still a problem. And how everyone else, especially her…had to deal with that because he wouldn’t.

"….telling myself and anybody that threatened to confront me with it, that if you thought what I was doing was creepy or flirty or unprofessional, its because you were the sexist…”

Sounds familiar re: how the skeptosphere treats racism/sexism, It’s you who is the real sexist if you think women are victims. It’s you who is the real racist if you complain about racism. 

(Interestingly it’s also like the twisted logic you hear a lot ex hijabis mention, how they once justified the modesty garment to themselves; "Women who don't wear hijabs are slaves to society/the patriarchy, who mould themselves according to the will of men." "Hijabs are liberating, feminist…a means of freeing yourself from the male gaze, from scrutiny over appearance, etc, if you don't wear one you are actually the oppressed one"… but no one really buys that kind of thinking deep down inside.. do they?)

Back to Dan Harmon though, note the subtlety he captures here:

"Its not as if this person didn’t repeatedly communicate to me the idea that what I was doing was divesting her of a recourse to integrity.. I just didn’t hear it. It didn’t profit me to hear it."

Aziz Ansari could benefit from thinking along these lines. What he did may have been within the bounds of legality…but it was most certainly not ok. As someone who is a celebrity you’ve got to be aware of the sway you have over others. He must have sensed some of her signals of not being on board...I mean she literally said at one point, "I don't want to feel forced" but it didn’t benefit him to really pick up on them and adjust his behaviour accordingly. 

This line in particular struck me:

“I want it to sound relatively unremarkable to you because that’s the danger” - its really wonderful to hear someone acknowledge this...a man-person, even.  There are so many of these 'unremarkable' experiences happening in bedrooms, at workplaces that cross the lines...we need to start talking about those, and how we've normalized this kind of thing. 

"I wanted to teach her a lesson, if she didn’t like being liked in that way

Good on him, for acknowledging he felt that way.

"I crushed on her and resented her for not reciprocating it, and the entire time I was the one writing her paycheques ….treated her cruelly. Things I would have never done if she was male."

"I lied to myself the entire time about it, I lost my job, I ruined my show and I damaged her internal compass…and I moved on."  [emphasis mine]

I imagine this is an effect Aziz might have had on Grace as well, and it would be good of him to acknowledge it in the storm that is being unleashed on her. Her internal compass must be all over the place right now... second guessing herself for creating this cyclone of hate.

Yes we know Aziz isn't a monstrous rapist, but still this account does not paint him in a good light. It would be incredible to hear something like Dan Harmon's apology coming from him...something heartfelt, with no excuses. Something that calls out the articles and people hating on her. But that's usually not how things are handled in these situations, so I won't hold my breath. Harmon said he went against legal advice to talk about this openly. 

Anyway, those are my meandering, rambly thoughts on the matter. Thanks for sticking around to read them. 

I hope that we can soon stop shaming Grace, and have more productive conversations around sexual misconduct that is 'not rape'. I hope we can hold people to a higher standard in the bedroom than just 'but it wasn't illegal'. I hope that the terrible op-eds saying spare Aziz from criticism because he is brown-skinned will stop. 

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1 comment:

  1. Awesome read. I didn't know the details of the aziz case. I got too put off all the bitching to want to think about it. But he's clearly been a dick. Maybe Grace, her resistance aside, was being polite about it as she is well natured. And aziz in his position might have lots of attention like that and assume more than he's being offered. I have no idea but it strikes me that he'd be embarrassed and feel terribly guilty as the weight of this piles up on him. And Grace must feel awful having to hear some of the things being said about her. Disgusting that some people are so quick to judge they reply with more adrenaline than brain cells.

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