I’m sure this take has already been said but I thought it and then I had to go to work so now I’m saying it because that is how my life and my brain works.
A lot of criticism has cropped up in response to an article babe.net ran detailing a woman’s terrible date with comedian Aziz Ansari. The piece has its flaws. As my pal Joe Berkowitz notes for Fast Company:
“Rather than a well-reported, multi-source exposé, it reads like a cross between a second-hand blog post and a sexual Yelp review. Not to add to the chorus condemning the article’s existence altogether, but the story would have been better served if it had been published by an outlet with more experience in matters this delicate and potentially consequential.”
It’s true that the piece does read like a site eagerly jumping the gun to snag views by posting a half-formed takedown of a famous man in keeping with the current hot trend of famous men being outed as abusers. Was it helpful to name Ansari directly? I’d say yes. It shows even the goodiest of good guys is still susceptible to less-than-chill behavior. His career isn’t ruined because of this. Enough folks are criticizing the piece on his behalf, he’s got nothing to worry about. But a lot of criticism around the piece seems to suggest that people are using it as an excuse to prove the #MeToo movement has jumped the shark. I’d like to argue the opposite, thanks!!!
While reading “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life,” I couldn’t stop feeling reminded of The Feminine Mystique. Author Betty Friedan used Mystique to highlight a mysterious illness plaguing housewives across the country: those subtler forces of oppression telling women they were bad for wanting more than to be a housewife. (Spoiler alert). I noticed the same wisp of indescribable discomfort in “Grace’s” story for Babe: Here she is, in the glitzy apartment of a celebrity whose whole public identity is being a friend to women, and he would very much like to have sex, please:
“I just remember looking in the mirror and seeing him behind me. He was very much caught up in the moment and I obviously very much wasn’t,” Grace said.
Grace just isn’t feelin’ it (that’s my term for this). So he tries to get her turned on. She tries to let him get her turned on. Multiple attempts fail and, it seems, they run around his apartment half-dressed until she puts her foot down and her pants on and tells him point blank it ain’t gunna happen. She ends up feeling awful:
“I cried the whole ride home. At that point I felt violated. That last hour was so out of my hand.”
See, it’s sort of about enthusiastic consent, but not quite. Enthusiastic consent requires seeing a sexual encounter in black and white, not unlike an Aziz Ansari book cover. You have to know without a shadow of a doubt that you are extremely down to clown and your partner is also ready to rumble like it’s 1995. You don’t necessarily have to say “Are you ready to smash, baby!!!” for enthusiastic consent, but there is some level of eagerness and maybe ripping each other’s clothes off that just wasn’t present in Grace’s story. Does that mean Aziz assaulted her? Hm. Does it mean he failed to get the hint? Oh definitely, oh for sure yes. But. Going one step beyond that: How do you normally react when you want to be interested but you aren’t? When you’re just not feelin’ it even if the other person is?
For me, it depends on how much I don’t want to have sex contrasted with how much my partner wants it. Oh yes, you’re hearing about my sex life now. I’ve had experiences where I was just tired but I was able to change my mind. I’ve also had experiences where I knew the other person wanted to have sex and I didn’t feel up to it, where they tried in vain to get me to change my mind, and I stood firm that it wasn’t going to happen. Sometimes you just don’t want to have sex! Even if it’s someone you’ve been with before! Being aware that you’re just not feelin’ it, on a level where you can vocalize it, either takes being pushed to the edge in a specific moment and blurting out “You guys are all the same! You guys are all the fucking same!” or taking the time to do the emotional homework and learning to identify exactly what that weird, vaguely bad feeling is and how to handle it.
A guy I was seeing — yes, we’re back on my sex life, baby — it felt like every time we hung out, he’d eventually try getting me turned on so he could have sex. Most of the time he was successful. Even if I wasn’t feeling great or I had work the next morning and had been awake for 300 years or some funky ancient evil shit was going down in my body, I’d do my best to get turned on so he could have sex. I weighed my disinterest against his interest and did what I could to satisfy his needs instead of mine. And the sex wasn’t bad! It was actually pretty great! But soon I picked up on this habit of hanging out expecting it to end in sex and it irked me. The last time he tried getting me turned on and I absolutely wasn’t feelin’ it — knowing I wasn’t going to feel it, I suggested that maybe we could hang out sometime without it leading to sex. He responded that his Uber was here. Haven’t seen him since!
He’s not a bad guy or a creep or a sexual assaulter. He, like lots of guys, just thought that I might change my mind. It’s a bummer that the moment I said something, he disappeared. But such is the way of the world when you aren’t the type of girl guys “chase.” Getting back to my point: I’m not here to defend Ansari or Grace. The whole thing is a shitshow. I just want to point out that there are subtleties that go into the lead-up to sex and the self-awareness to know that you aren’t feelin’ it involves having a partner who recognizes that, who can tell if they should even bother trying to change your mind. Sometimes you want your mind changed! Sometimes you want balls in your mouth! People contain multitudes! The Babe piece, for all its flaws and transgressions, has brought that discussion — alongside other discussions, some of which are very dumb and embarrassing — to the forefront of the #MeToo conversation.
By the looks of it, the greatest flaw here is that Ansari thought he could change Grace’s mind. Maybe he’s only ever had partners who decided they’d do their best, for him. Maybe he’s literally never interacted with a human woman before. Maybe we’re all computer simulations. The point is: These two people were not communicating in the same language because we operate in a society that tells men they should always try to change a “no” into a “yes” and that tells women they should endeavor to put their needs as secondary to their partner’s.
That’s something we should be talking about, if only so younger folks can see that sex is confusing and weird and they shouldn’t have anything to do with it until they’re 35.
Now for a slight pivot that I can’t think of a decent transition into:
I sat on discussing the Babe piece for a few days. That’s something I never do— the whole waiting until I say something thing. But something irked me about the outrage to it that I couldn’t initially put my finger on. The outrage didn’t seem focused on the fact that it smeared Ansari. The outrage is more like “The piece smeared Ansari for just bein’ a dude, IT IS PROOF THAT THE #METOO MOVEMENT IS DEAD SO LET’S STOP TALKING ABOUT #METOO ALREADY FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST.”
It reads to me that we don’t want to hear stories of bad dates that highlight problems in the finer aspects of how men and women interact. We only want to read the stories of severe trauma so we can pat ourselves on the back for giving a shit. Someone being raped is bad. Someone who wasn’t feelin’ it being chased around an apartment by a guy certain just another glass of wine would change her mind? Also bad! They don’t cancel each other out. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” doesn’t make “Blurred Lines” a more acceptable song. Which reminds me: the Babe piece may as well have just been the lyrics to “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
If you want to argue an entire movement is dead just because of one lukewarm piece about commonplace — but ultimately wrong — behavior, you just want the entire movement to be dead. If you don’t think a piece that outlines the “feelin’ it” problem is as of merit as an article detailing the exact angle in which a woman was raped, you’re just looking to engage with trauma porn. The natural progress forward for a movement like #MeToo isn’t to just share every single story of rape or brutal sexual assault or sexual harassment at the hands of famous men. It’s to get us talking about these smaller details, these subtler experiences that are peppered across all of our lives, to get us to examine the details of our encounters and realign our mode of thinking down to a subatomic level. If you can’t see that, it’s because you don’t want to do that kind of work. And that’s fine. Sometimes, you just aren’t feelin’ it.