The recently revealed story involving Aziz Ansari and “Grace” has us asking ourselves even more questions about sex, sexual (mis)conduct, and consent.
First, I want to put something to bed quickly: to call what happened between Aziz Ansari and Grace “bad sex” is just wrong. Bad sex is when she doesn’t have an orgasm, or he doesn’t have an orgasm. Bad sex is when he sweats too much, talks too much, or finishes too fast. Bad sex is when he smells, she smells, someone is afraid that they’ll be seen, that someone will know. Bad sex has nothing to do with feeling violated!
Let’s be very clear here: bad sex is not doing something that you don’t want to do.
When I read the account of what happened to Grace, I thought, Why didn’t she just leave? It’s a sensible question; I’m sure thousands of others asked it. Then I read Sady Doyle’s response on Twitter and immediately felt guilty and stupid for asking that question. Doyle made me remember all the times that I did not just leave.
Ansari wore Grace down. In a Facebook conversation, a friend of a friend mentioned the concept of men wearing women down, forcing them, through a kind harassment, to give it up. That rang true! I’ve been worn down before, and those were the times I did not just leave. And all of those times, I felt horrible about the other person and myself after.
The last encounter I had like this was with someone who is not my husband. Prior to that day, I would have let myself be worn down until, Oh look! I’m fucking and I didn’t want this to happen! On that day, I was with a guy who I thought I was crazy about. He wasn’t entirely sober. I was interested in getting to know him more and, maybe, share a little intimacy. But very quickly he started asking for sex, and I said, “No!” and I left. And I felt good about myself.
I don’t know why many of my Facebook friends do not see the problem in Ansari and Grace’s date. I won’t say it’s generational because I see the argument for Ansari’s behavior from people in different generations. Instead of arguing on my timeline and asking friends the uncomfortable question of whether they’d feel comfortable in Grace’s position, I had a discussion with my husband. Along with talking about our interpretation of the account, we had a conversation about how to prepare our daughters for their future dating lives. We agreed to tell them to say “No” firmly, even if it makes them feel mean (that was my problem; I was always afraid that I’d appear mean or frigid or, let’s just say it, a bitch). We will also tell them that if they get to the point where they have to say “No” a third time, to leave.
Instead of arguing on my Facebook timeline, I had a discussion with my husband. We had a conversation about how to prepare our daughters for their future dating lives.
Furthermore, we will teach them that if they want to have sex, that they ask their partner if they want to have sex too. Be explicit and ask, “Do you want to have sex (or make love, or whatever word that clearly means sex)?” Do not try to guess or assume. Do not try to cloud the question with cutesy terms. And if there is any confusion regarding what they’re asking or answering, clarify.
I’m not going to argue whether Grace was assaulted, but I will say that she had unwanted sex. Go ahead and read that however you want to. And as many women have pointed out, such as Katie Anthony, this is not uncommon. This is how sex often happens. That was often how sex happened to me when I was single. Doyle’s Twitter thread made me recall countless times that I have been Grace, gracefully agreeing to go somewhere quiet and private, agreeing to kisses, and after countless asks from my date and countless replies of “No” and “I don’t want to” and “Not right now,” I found myself ungracefully having sex. Or being having sex upon. Whether that’s assault or consent, figure it out for yourself.
I like Aziz Ansari’s work, but that doesn’t matter. I think what matters here is that we are clear about what we want and when we want it. And although I’m upset that Ansari is, in many ways, like every other guy, “all the fucking same” as his date so gracefully puts it, I know that he is not entirely … hmm … I don’t want to say that he’s not entirely at fault because he’s a grown man; he should have known better. But I do want to say that he is a product of the culture, where he is taught that “men should pursue women relentlessly and women learn that this behaviour is ‘romantic.’” The culture that says it is okay for a man to be relentless, to wear women down, and the culture that says to me and other women that to say “No” is wrong. To deny a man after a dinner date and a good time is downright ungrateful, disgraceful. This culture that tells you it’s more important to practice grace than to have the good mind to get up and leave.
I can go into whether Grace’s account of Ansari’s social graces (or gross lack thereof) is an account of bad sex or assault, but I won’t—you can parse that out for yourself. And although I do have an opinion on that, I think it’s moot to what I would call, as an academic and a parent, a teaching moment. Now, we should move on by teaching our children and ourselves how to have consensual sex.