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:
I saw someone tweet something like “if what Aziz Ansari did was sexual assault then every woman I know has been sexually assaulted” and like yeah, actually.
— Arnesa (@Rrrrnessa) January 15, 2018
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: