The Public Humiliation of Aziz Ansari

A straight white dude’s opinion

If Aziz Ansari is guilty of anything it’s being terrible at sex.

And being a hypocrite. Did he deserve to get publicly shamed for it? No, not at first glance. But when you consider that Ansari studied Sociology and co-wrote a well-researched book titled Modern Romance expounding his own romantic values—only to make moves ala American Pie’s Sherminator (yeah it’s a 1999 reference ‘cause that’s how dated his apparent skills are)—then it’s open slather.

Like finding out black rights activist Rachel Dolezal was never black at all, but pretending to be so for financial gain. Or that Lance Armstrong was on drugs the whole time despite being cycling’s biggest whistleblower, people in the public eye deserve to be called out for their shit if their actions contradict their words. Words they were never required to utter in the public forum in the first place. Should Ansari’s acting/directing career be ruined as a result? Hell no. But his days of well-paid relationship advice should be well and truly over following the Babe Dot Net expose this week.

Grace’s story

Ansari hasn’t contested her account. So it’s safe to say it’s mostly accurate—in the ballpark. And it reads like a textbook case of sexual coercion as defined by “Sexual coercion is when tactics like  pressure, trickery, or emotional force are used to get someone to agree to  sex.” No, it’s not a crime. But it’s also not cool. Nor uncommon, thanks to Pulitzer winning reads like The Game. (Note: Sexual coercion should not be confused with consensual sexual bribery: something men and women in all relationships partake in by using sex not as lovemaking but as a commodity—trading sexual favors for gifts, brunches, and getting out of family events with the in-laws.)

Grace’s responsibility

Should she have kept her clothes on, not given a BJ, said no, and left sooner therefore not giving mixed messages? No doubt—objectively yes. But things are easier said than done. Significantly harder in reality than hypothetically; like not eating a marshmallow left in front of you for 15 minutes, even when you know you’ll get two if you hold out as per The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment of the late 1960s. And that decision involved zero emotion. “Grace’s” emotional state however, made her susceptible to coercion for any number of reasons. Maybe her past involved bad/unequal relationships. Perhaps she had low self-esteem. Maybe she’d lost her job. Or was just having a tough one. Either way,  “Grace” deserves a pass. To be heard. She feels how she feels. And that’s her right. Her reality. Babe dot net on the other hand, well…

How the story was told

Perhaps Grace’s biggest mistake was allowing her story to be told by a little known startup site that exploits college-age aspiring writers by having them write for free in exchange for exposure and the possibility of getting paid should their story get enough clicks. Yep, a site that survives on clickbait. A site that actively seeks out disenchanted, angry and/or vulnerable young women to tell their personal stories for Babe’s net gain—as they seemingly did with “Grace”. It should be remembered, as Jezebel reported, that Babe went to her. And not the other way around. The Verge’s Kaitlyn Tiffany asked: “What the fuck is babe dot net?” It’s a fair question. Many of the baffling reporting choices around the story make a lot more sense once you understand that Babe is a women-focused spin-off of the controversial media startup The Tab… [with] a two-pronged approach to content: and replete with anodyne “relatable” blog posts that take little time and skill to write and circulate widely on Facebook. The reliance is upon controversial opinion or topical news reactions to go viral by inciting conversational rage.” Check.

Tiffany continues: “When Babe launched in May 2016, it incited its own minor scandal by soliciting unpaid “summer correspondents” with a job posting … [that] said Babe
Writers ought to “be active on social media” and “not give a fuck,” but made no mention of writing or editing skills, knowledge of any particular subject matter, or even a general interest in journalism.”

The writer strangely discredited the severity of “Grace’s” accusations by giving her own opinion on “Grace’s” outfit,  including how Ansari overlooked her preference for white wine, and explaining in vivid detail every minute detail of their sexual encounter—to no advantage.

Ansari’s responsibility

Yes, by “Grace’s” own account she originally pursued Ansari. At an awards show no less. She knew who he was. She liked his shows. Perhaps his book, too. And yeah, like any human with a remote interest in pop culture, she was excited and told all her friends. We’re all a little more willing in the company of celebrity—willing to suffer foolishness, willing to overlook shortcomings, willing to say yes, to go outside our comfort zones if it means being accepted. And that willingness, that vulnerability in the company of fame was taken advantage of at some level. Maybe not with bad intentions. More likely a blind eye turned. “Grace” later regretted being submissive and selling her agency short. Once alerted, Ansari also expressed regret. Had it not been for Babe dot net, it may have ended there. Returning to Ansari’s apartment was a joint decision but each had different expectations. And both parties share part responsibility—though perhaps not equally. That remains up for debate.

What did we learn?

That dudes need to aim the fuck up in the bedroom. As Samantha Bee says: “if you claim to be a feminist, then fuck like a feminist”. That dudes need to learn the fuck up, too. Read about what women want from women’s perspectives—and not 50 Shades of Grey (it’s confusing, we know). That dudes need to back the fuck up when she doesn’t seem as stoked to be sleeping with you, as you are with her. That women need to speak the fuck up. Men aren’t mind readers. That we should demand higher editorial standards (this piece an exception). Of course, there are a bunch of women and men who already hold themselves to a high standard, who wouldn’t put themselves in the situation in the first place. But even the strongest of us falter. Let our dicks, hearts and dreams of fame get the better of us. It’s when it becomes a behavioral pattern that perpetrators and serial accusers deserve greater consequence. Until then, let’s focus on a mutual dialogue instead of public punishment as the first option. We can all be better. And women’s concerns must be heard.

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