Aziz Ansari and the issue of consent

On Sunday, a Brooklyn-based photographer known only as Grace told a reporter for the website,Babe, that she had been sexually assaulted by actor and stand-up comedian, Aziz Ansari.
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???Describing it as “the worst night of [her] life” the 23-year-old spoke in detail about how, despite her verbal and non verbal protestations, Ansari forcefully sexually assaulted her. “It’s not ideal, but so what?” is how several people, many of them men, have reacted, labelling the interaction a “bad date”.

But this particular interaction defies that label.

“The move he kept doing was taking his two fingers in a V-shape and putting them in my mouth, in my throat to wet his fingers, because the moment he’d stick his fingers in my throat he’d go straight for my vagina and try to finger me,” Grace told Babe.

Leaving in tears, she texted Ansari the following day to make him aware of how upset she was by his behaviour.

“I just want to take this moment to make you aware of [your] behaviour and how uneasy it made me.”

To which, Ansari, 34, responded: “Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.”

It might initially seem shocking to think of the happy-go-lucky star of Parks and Recreation, the author of Modern Love and the Emmy award-winning creator of Master of None, being accused of sexual assault. Here is man who has championed the rights of women and LGBTQI stories, telling David Letterman he was a “feminist”.

That is, until you look back over his history, beginning with this interview in Salon. When asked about the issues surrounding campus rape, and of consent in the context of date rape, Ansari said he did not wish to answer, telling the journalist, “It’s a murky territory.”

“Honestly, and the thing about bloggers, I’m hesitant to even say anything. I feel like your job is to pull out something I say and make me sound like a monster sometimes.”

He may have been right in saying the online world will take anything nuanced and turn it into a scandal but consent and campus sexual assault are not “murky” and do not require any grasp of nuance.

???Here’s another thing about Ansari that I noticed months ago. His first season of Master of None was poignant, funny and brimming with something approaching hipsterish humility. His second series? Believe me when I say I could not get through all the episodes, they reminded me too much of Woody Allen.

Now, of course, nobody is calling Ansari a pedophile. But when Ansari went from making stories about relationships with peers in season one, to pseudo-relationships with women who were incomparably beautiful, but did not speak English as their first language, a tiny little alarm went off in my brain. The alarm only grew louder when Ansari’s side-kick, Arnold, (Eric Wareheim) had not just his choice of unbelievably attractive women online, but was able to act out in an obnoxious way at his ex’s wedding. (His ex was also extremely beautiful).

Again, superficially, none of this is a huge deal and does not automatically mean he assaults women. But this subtle message is still unmistakable: women had gone from peers to props. Women were now things to look at, not people. Their stories, their needs, their humanity became secondary to their looks.

Nobody is suggesting that casting beautiful women in a TV show means you’re a predator. But if women are treated as objects before anything else, it’s a sign that a man believes that they are, as show runner Dan Harmon so eloquently put it in his apology about his own sexual misconduct, non-human, “On a fundamental level,” wrote Harmon. “I was thinking about them as different creatures.”

Once you view women as “different” and not human, they are useful only to you, with no thoughts or feelings separate to yourself, it becomes all too easy to miss what they are saying to you in a moment of sexual intimacy. If your view of women is that they are not really human beings, you’re going to have a problem hearing what they say when you’re determined to have sex with them.

A study published last week confirms this, “A study led by Giorgia Silani from the University of Vienna, shows that observers have less empathy for sexually objectified women, meaning a diminished capacity to feel and recognise their emotions.”

So, it makes sense, doesn’t it, that you’re going to ignore a woman’s fear, no matter how obvious it is, because, on a fundamental level, you can not conceive that she has any.