How the Aziz Ansari accusation highlights differences in consent among the generations

How Aziz Ansari is highlighting the differences in consent among the generations
Photo via Time.com

I've been a fan of Aziz Ansari for years. He's always been a great example of an Asian-American actor hustling in media and especially comedy, which can be a cesspool of misogyny and racism. Hell, I even wrote all about why I thought Master of None was changing television. I rooted for him when he won his Golden Globe for that show recently. So when I saw his name pop up in the headlines attached to a sexual encounter, my heart dropped. Here's where the story was first published, if you're unaware. The quick hit version is that a woman went on a date with Ansari and gave some non-verbal cues that she wasn't willing to engage in sexual activities with him, but he persisted in his advances. She later told him she felt uncomfortable with the encounter and he replied that he misread the situation and was very sorry.

As with all of these high-profile accusations from both men and women, I defer to the victim and their stories. The issue wasn't whether she was believed or "right" for me, it was how responses in the media seemed very much divided by age. And where do we go from here when it's not a cut and dry issue of power structures, but rather how consent is dealt with between all of us?

I first encountered some opinion pieces from post-Millennials, those over 40 predominantly. Here's an excerpt from an article in The Atlantic by Caitlin Flanagan titled, "The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari":

Was Grace frozen, terrified, stuck? No. She tells us that she wanted something from Ansari and that she was trying to figure out how to get it. She wanted affection, kindness, attention. Perhaps she hoped to maybe even become the famous man’s girlfriend. He wasn’t interested. What she felt afterward—rejected yet another time, by yet another man—was regret.

And another New York Times op-ed titled, "Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader," by Bari Weiss:

"If you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you… There is a useful term for what Grace experienced on her night with Mr. Ansari. It’s called 'bad sex.' It sucks."

Continued discussions with Gen-Xers in past days have confirmed it. Many consider it just a bad date. These post-Millennials come from varying times when women were often the "pursued" and men the "pursuers." After all, boys will be boys, right? There was a common acceptance that men's desires can't be controlled and women must be prepared to fight off or verbally stop any encounter that will (undoubtedly) happen to them. But in recent decades, this paradigm has changed. Subtly, sure, but enough to analyze how it will change how we approach consent with the next generations.

The Millennial and younger response has been markedly different. Here's one example:

We're seeing that younger generations only consider enthusiastic, enduring consent to be the line drawn between acceptable and not.

In this case, we're seeing that younger generations only consider enthusiastic, enduring consent to be the line drawn between acceptable and not. What this means is that during a sexual encounter, both partners should be actively assessing whether things are still going okay and that everyone is still cool with what's happening. No, it doesn't have to be consent forms and constant questioning, but keeping an eye on the emotions of your partner, simply asking "is this cool?," and backing off when things seem iffy. It also considers whether or not your partner's position is too vulnerable to consent, and not just based on sobriety. Your partner may have many reasons they aren't articulating why they may want to stop what's happening, or they may feel like they don't have a choice.

Teen Vogue (of course) has an amazing overview of enthusiastic consent that seems like the primer for teens on the verge of getting busy. Here's an excerpt:

When people are intoxicated, sexually inexperienced, in a new situation, or acting recklessly or immature, their physical and/or mental capacity to make informed sexual decisions is impaired or limited. The more vulnerable they are — and the more vulnerable than you they are — the greater the risk they will feel coerced or regretful the next day.

Ultimately, as someone who is the oldest of the Millennials, I can easily see both sides of this divide. But I know that embracing a more communicative approach to consent allows us to more confidently pursue our various desires and kinks in healthy ways with hopefully far less ambiguity and pain. And how is that bad?

It's great that men in power are being called out for their transgressions. But it doesn't help us formulate a solution for the problem itself.

It's great that men in power are being called out for their transgressions. But it doesn't help us formulate a solution for the problem itself. This has to happen with children. It means teaching them that their bodies are their own and nobody else's body is theirs to take. Women are socialized early on to be submissive in some ways and non-verbal in others. Even forcing them to hug strangers as a child teaches them that sometimes they have to suck it up and give away their affection without consent. It only makes sense that they would have issues asserting their non-consent as they age. Unless all children are given comprehensive sexual and consent education which is supported by their peers and family, we'll always run into women feeling helpless to stop something they don't want to happen.

This education needs to include what enthusiastic consent means and how to effectively seek it out. With part of our nation still pushing for abstinence-only education, it's no wonder the line is so fuzzy. Most children will grow up having no idea what consent even is, let alone how to deal with situations where it merits a nuanced response, as it most surely will.

I hope that the result of this particular high-profile situation sparks a conversation about what consent will mean for us now and how it may not look like it did before. It doesn't mean that woman aren't sexual and men can never seduce again, as we're seeing in a backlash by some high-profile French actresses. It just means that we're in a reconstruction phase in sexuality. As we hurdle through the Sexual Revolution, LGBTQ rights, and Gender issues, we now need to start considering the facets of power, sex, and consent as we never have before. I welcome it, and I hope Aziz will, too.

More times we've talked about consent:

  1. This is a great explanation of why I feel so conflicted on this one and I think it’s because I’m an older millennial. Spot on!

    One thought on the title, and maybe I’m being picky, but its wording suggests Aziz did something to earn credit here. He didn’t do anything, a situation reported by a woman involving him did. Just being cognizant of how we highlight men’s names in writing even when they don’t deserve it.

    9 agree
  2. I'm having a really hard time with this one for two reasons. The first being that I am notoriously bad at nonverbal cues myself. I am ashamed to admit I don't know if I would get the hint either if someone was not interested in my advances but still going along with them. My second struggle is, from what I've read about the Aziz call-out, the next day she expressed that she wasn't comfortable with what happened the night before and they talked it out then and there. He claims he apologized to her directly before she called him out. I get if you can't bring yourself to forgive someone, but if they apologized to you directly and are showing the effort to learn from this, why would you call them out publicly. He made a mistake and was literally given no chance to make up for it. But then again, I'm an older millennial so I'm still struggling to understand.

    23 agree
    • Spot-fucking-on. I’m facepalming all over the place with this one because he apologized (NYT confirmed the text conversation) and she STILL publicly called him out.

      For whatever it’s worth I was born in 1982.

      3 agree
  3. This one has been reeeeeally interesting for me as a Gen X woman. My super progressive parents raised me to believe that the best anti-victim stance was to accept assault as a common occurrence, and make responsible, safe decisions accordingly.

    Sure, they also thought boys should be raised not to assault women (and raise your hand if you know a Gen X SNAG who's totally ashamed of his masculinity, because he was raised by a well-intended second-wave feminist who taught him masculine = rapist)… but it it also means my dad told me stuff like "If you don't want to get assaulted, you don't go upstairs at a frat party." (I think that was a Katy Roiphe perspective from the late '80s / early '90s?)

    My mother also taught me that if you thought you were about to get raped, you should offer a blow job instead. (She stayed safe while hitch-hiking alone from Seattle to Mexico when she was 19 years old, so I figured she was pretty street smart?) They also taught me to never wear shoes you couldn't run in. I added to this by, when I was a raver in SF in the mid-'90s, dressing like a boy when I was out late alone. No one ever bugged me in my 32" cuff jeans and oversized hoody with my Adidas visor pulled low… I see now how this is victim blaming. I wasn't "asking for it," so I would be safe.

    It's clear to me now that for women of my generation, even those of us who were raised to by very progressive, feminist West Coast parents, we really were taught that you should just assume that most men wanted to assault you, and that therefore it's your responsibility to make choices accordingly to keep yourself safe. I get what my folks were trying to do: they wanted to raise me to be empowered and street smart so that I could safe safe. It's challenging to recognize where this perspective doesn't quite work, and fascinating to see where I'm blinded by what I was raised with.

    17 agree
    • Raising sensitive boys is hard! My oldest son (8) is hyper empathetic and on the spectrum which can make it especially tricky. The other day he asked why there wasn't a men's March like the Women's March and I had to attempt to explain male priviledge to him without making him feel horrible about himself. Thankfully we'd discussed white privilege and economic privilege multiple times in the past so I wasn't starting from scratch.

      5 agree
  4. This article captures my feelings about the issue with this situation. As a "senior" Millenial or Generation Xer depending on who you talk to, I totally get this. Explicit/Enthusiastic consent is something that has just come into my lexicon and understanding in the past 4/6 years as I opened up my relationship and started dating again. I hope that this story will bring another layer of conversation to the current discussions we're having, one that highlights what explicit consent is and the fact that alot of people are not educated about what it is and how it functions. I also think this story makes a lot of men and women people feel uncomfortable because it highlights what alot of people have considered "normal" coercive dating behavior by men.

    3 agree
  5. The issue with "enthusiastic consent" is that not only is a retroactive change that has been arbitrarily applied to society without even informing people, much less actually being put into law, but also that this standard applies to nothing else in society.

    If someone asks "can I borrow this" and begs you until you say yes, you cannot then accuse them of theft. If you feel social pressure to sign a contract out of politeness, you cannot then say that it's invalid. For every other aspect of our lives, a "yes" is a "yes".

    What of people who have difficulty reading non-verbal cues?
    What about people from other cultures with different non-verbal cues?

    I'm sorry, but I must say that this is madness. It creates a standard where a man cannot accept a nod, a kiss, or even a stated "yes" as "enthusiastic" consent. It's retroactive guilt that can be applied to anyone and everyone. If a reasonable person cannot follow a law, the law isn't workable.

    We used to hang people for rape. A lot of people think we still should. You would do very well to remember that before raising the bar so high that a person can violate it through minor miscommunication.

    13 agree
    • Forget non verbal cues. She told him she didn't want to have sex with him that night. She told him she didn't want to feel forced. He said things to indicate he was going to back off and proceeded to keep pushing for sex. He literally wrote a book about modern romance. No excuses. This was assult.

      3 agree
      • To use your examples… if someone asks to borrow something and you say no and they keep trying to grab it off you… that's them trying to steal it. If you say you don't want to sign a contract and then someone agrees that you won't be signing a contract… then hides all but the part you need to sign and tricks you into scribbling your name 'on a random piece of paper to test out a pen' then the contact is invalid.

        So if she says she didn't want to have sex that evening, he indicates he has heard her and suggests they just chill (with their clothes on… showing he knows she wants him to back off on the sexy times) and then keeps pushing for sex… well that's assult.

        2 agree
      • I would disagree. At least from the account, she did not actually say she did not want to have sex with him. She did not use clear language about what she wanted or didn't want, despite many opportunities to do so. And the few times she did, he backed off and tried to reassess the situation. He clearly didn't assess it correctly, but there's also no indication that she made it less ambiguous.

        Enthusiastic consent is a great starting point, but I would like our society and culture to reach a place where people can learn to act like adults and communicate clearly and openly with each other. Is it awkward? Often. Does it risk rejection? Sure. But it can also be the beginning of true intimacy. And sadly, so many of us have been socialized to avoid it at all costs. But sometimes you should just say what you damn mean.

        10 agree
        • So when someone keeps asking where you want to be f***ed and the closest thing you get to verbal consent is "next time"… then it's ok to keep pushing for sex? He asked for consent… didn't get the answer he wanted and kept going for it anyway.

          I hate it when we pretend men are too stupid to understand… it's demeaning to them and it lets so much unacceptable behavior get a free pass. Men aren't stupid and assault isn't ok.

          4 agree
          • The thing is I think what he was trying to ask was "What do you want me to do?" He should have asked it in a more open and general way and he shouldn't have assumed it would involve sexual behavior. BUT he was clear and explicit about what he wanted and was expecting her to be clear and explicit about what she wanted. EVERY time he asked she could have done that.

            He should have read her non-responses more clearly, but if we're honest there are a lot of women who absolutely don't want to be clear and explicit, but definitely want to have sex and want the other person to be in charge of it. I think that's a problem exactly because it leads to situations like this. Its great to tell men that they need enthusiastic consent, but if a large proportion of women behave in a way that indicates they don't want a relationship that works that way, we have a bit of a problem. I don't think we can have it both ways.

            1 agrees
          • No but he literally asked "where do you want me to fuck you" and she said "Next time". And then she said "I don't want to feel forced." And then she said "I don't feel ready to do this." Those are clear verbal "no"s, or at least "not right nows".

            2 agree
    • I agree with you – it also sounds like, though, this wasn't purely a case of missed signals, but of missing the signals willfully and then acting contrite later. He was being a pushy d-bag, and it sounds like she never actually said yes to anything, begrudgingly or not.

      1 agrees
  6. I have been trying to understand enthusiastic consent myself and realized that in a way I already understood it and that a couple guys I was with have too. There were a couple times that I started a sexual encounter with my mind saying go ahead have some fun and my body saying nope not feeling it. In the middle of the foreplay both of these guys stopped and that was the end of it. This was around 20 years ago. Both of us were frustrated but nothing more happened. I was young and still dealing with the catholic upbringing and virgin prize that I was raised with. I think that's part of that mind/body conflict I discussed. They stopped I spent the night in the room with them and nothing more happened.

    2 agree
  7. I would also like to say that I appreciate offbeathome readers so much because not only are we following the rules of this comment board (though I'm sure anyone not following the rules would get deleted), but we are EXTRA supportive of others differing view points and ideas. It's so freaking refreshing!

    7 agree
  8. From her account, it sounds like he really didn’t even try to be aware of her experience. “Enthusiastic” consent doesn’t mean you are jumping up and down cheering with pom poms. It isn’t as hard or complex as some people think. It is the idea that you are not entitled to someone else’s body, so you should check in before grabbing their boob, sticking fingers in their throat, etc. Just because you are on a date doesn’t mean suddenly you get access to their body. He could have at least talked to her about what she likes for the sake of having good sex! I have never had someone shove their fingers in my mouth—we don’t all have the same turn ons or kinks let alone the same expectations of what happens on a first date. You don’t just go for it. That’s what he did. It shouldn’t be “touch you UNTIL you say no” — it should be “don’t touch you until I know you want it and how you like it.”

    10 agree
    • I totally agree with your last sentence. That is how it SHOULD be. But, Xennials like me have internalized and accepted the mindset of "Go Until No." It really is a major cultural/generational difference in expectations.

      The enthusiastic consent model is WAY better, and I wish it existed back in my dating days. I was always annoyed when I had to uncomfortably abruptly say goodnight to guys who acted similarly after a lovely evening.

      2 agree
      • So much this: Xennials like me have internalized and accepted the mindset of "Go Until No." It really is a major cultural/generational difference in expectations.

        Also, some of us believe we can't control other people's behavior… only our own reactions to it. This is all to say, while I think "enthusiastic consent" is a better model, my belief systems also tell me that I can't control my partners' beliefs or behaviors. I can only control my reactions. Dismantling rape culture to move towards enthusiastic consent is of course what I want… but it's challenging for me to wrap my brain around a philosophy that necessitates relying on someone else's behavior to meet my expectations.

        Interestingly, this last point is more a web usability philosophy than a sexual philosophy… I know from running online communities that expecting members to follow my rules is an recipe for agony. You can set expectations, but ultimately people are gonna do what they do… you can't control people (online, or in sexual situations) and the best you can do is control your reactions.

        1 agrees
  9. I'm not familiar with the Ansari controversy, but I'd like to comment on that backlash from French actresses. I'm glad you mention generation issues at play, because that's exactly what is happening in France at the moment, with just a hint of classism (overprivileged women defending sexual harassment in public transportation when they haven't taken the subway since 1964 is just slightly wrong). Basically this backlash comes from older women who were young in the midst of the French sexual revolution, in the 60s and 70s. Even if I don't get *them*, I get that different generations have been taught different things and that this is the expression of a generation clash. I'm pretty sure our own views on consent will be vastly different from that of teenagers and 20-somethings 40 years from now. Will our views still be relevant then, that's an interesting question.

    3 agree

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