If we have any hope of changing the landscape for women regarding equality, sexual harassment and assault, we have to be willing to have difficult conversations about the role males and females play in these dynamics. I cannot think of a more perfect story to shine a spotlight on this difficult issue than the story of Aziz Ansari and “Grace.”
Contrary to what some believe, I do not believe this story is a story of sexual assault, but rather a story of patriarchy, gender socialization and power. If you haven’t read the story—it’s worth the read (https://babe.net/2018/01/13/aziz-ansari-28355). Males and females alike have a lot to learn from this story.
We live in a world where males are socialized to have sex with as many females as possible without falling for any of them. They’re taught to be “strong,” emotionally cut off and aggressive. This sets guys up for viewing females as objects to be taken, rather than human beings to get to know. Similarly, females are taught that their worth is tied to their looks and the attention of men. They’re inundated with messages to be nice, put the needs of others before themselves and not make waves. This sets women up to be sexy, kind, non-confrontational and compliant—especially to males. In this story, both Aziz and Grace followed these instructions to a T.
In this story, Aziz is a man on an incessant hunt for sex. Throughout the night he pushes and pushes and pushes for sex by frequently asking, “Where do you want me to f*ck you?” and on several different occasions moving her hand to his penis. Even when Aziz appears to have agreed to stop pushing for more, the truth is that, in reality, he is manipulatively pushing for more (“Of course, it’s only fun if we’re both having fun,” as he takes her to the couch and starts up again). He’s a man on a mission, who has little interest in finding out what his date wants, what she’s feeling or who she is. What he is interested in is her body—not the person in it. He doesn’t slow down to “read” the signs, hear her pauses (“I do not want to feel forced, because then I’ll hate you.”) or make sure she’s “having fun” as well. Instead, he assumes that if she’s going along, she must want it as much as he does. Except—she doesn’t. And this is where Grace’s side comes in.
Grace reports giving Aziz several “non-verbal” clues that she’s not into having sex with him. In the article, she states, “I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn’t interested. I don’t think that was noticed at all, or if it was, it was ignored.” “Giving off clues” is girl speak for “I was trying to be nice. I didn’t want to be a bitch.” She states that the non-verbal clues she gave were “expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points. I stopped moving my lips and turned cold.” These “clues” were mixed in with her kissing him and giving and receiving oral sex. And this is where we, as women, have to learn from our actions.
If we have any hope of changing the dynamic between men and women around sexual assault, women have to be willing to look at our actions as well—not because we cause assault (we do NOT), but because we have to learn to better protect ourselves from it. Refusing to look at our actions, out of a misguided sensitivity around not blaming the victim, is increasing the odds of us being victims. There will always be dangerous males in the world. There will always be males who will try to push women into having sex with them regardless of whether or not the women want it. Females of all ages need to become better skilled at protecting ourselves, standing up for ourselves and sending clear messages about what is and is not okay. It’s one thing to say we don’t cause something, it’s another thing to choose to not take a position of leadership regarding our personal welfare.
It’s crucial for females, of all ages, to master self-leadership if we hope to create a safer world for all of us. Self-leadership is the ability to consciously impact one’s own world via effective communication, bold accountability (of yourself and others) and intentional action. We also need to master self-leadership if we hope to be treated as the equals we are. This is not about blaming victims: it is about raising the bar on females across the board regarding self-care. All females can learn from Grace’s experience because the truth is, if we don’t dare to learn from Grace’s actions, we run the risk of repeating the same mistakes to the detriment of all of us. Several key lessons to learn from Grace include:
1. When someone is pushing you to do something you don’t feel comfortable to do, do not worry about being “nice.” Focus on protecting yourself, NOT them.
2. It is your responsibility to speak your mind; it is not another person’s responsibility to read your mind—ever. This is true regardless of whether the other person is your spouse, date, boss or friend.
3. Whenever there are mixed messages given, the other person will pay attention to the part of the message they want to receive. Make sure your messages are clear, not vague or mixed.
4. Heed the red flags from the beginning. Aziz showed what he was after before they ever entered his apartment—and certainly within the first ten minutes at the apartment. Do NOT feel bad about walking out on a date at any point in the evening. Self-leadership requires that you make hard decisions for the sake of your team/company (you are your team!).
5. When someone is crossing the line, not listening to your body language or becoming aggressive in anyway, recognize that your “clues” are not working and RAMP UP YOUR MESSAGE. Do this unapologetically.
6. Do not blame other women (or yourself) for their choices—learn from them.
Challenge: Take time right now to get clear about what is and is not acceptable to you—before you are ever in the position of having to decide on the spot what to do. Tell yourself that, while it is not your fault if someone chooses to assault you, it is your responsibility to do whatever you can to protect yourself. You have to be clear with yourself that you have the right and the duty to unequivocally say “NO”—for your sake.
Note: Aziz does several things wrong in this story that all males will be wise to learn from—especially in the post #MeToo era (although, to be honest, men should have learned these things well before now). In Part II of this post, I’ll speak to what men need to learn—stay tuned.
Note: There are certainly times when fighting back will put women at greater risk of personal harm—in these cases, it is the individual’s duty to decide what she feel she needs to do to protect her welfare.