The #MeToo movement aims to bring light and awareness to experiences of sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct.
It focuses on providing validation and support for those who share their experiences. Over the past few years, individuals have come forward and shared their stories, calling out celebrities, academics, politicians, and others.
Watching the #MeToo movement unfold, I have admired the strength & vulnerability of those who have shared their experiences. I have watched as friends, family members, colleagues, and teachers have bravely told their stories.
The #MeToo movement gives me hope for a new world, one where conversations surrounding consent, sexual health, and respect of everyone are universal and common.
In January 2018, Aziz Ansari became one of the list of those “called out” in the #MeToo movement.
A young woman, given the pseudonym Grace, told her story about a date with Aziz where he engaged in frequent coercive behavior, and she left feeling uncertain about if she experienced sexual assault or if he was being a manipulative jerk.
Aziz gave her a private apology over text, writing: “Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.” Aziz later released a public statement.
“The #MeToo movement gives me hope for a new world, one where conversations surrounding consent, sexual health, and respect of everyone are universal and common.”
In it, he acknowledges that they “engaged in sexual activity” but says “by all indications [it] was completely consensual.”
A later statement included: “It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.” This lead to a debate.
Some thought it was sexual assault, some dismissed it entirely, and some thought it provided an example of a man not recognizing non-consensual cues. After this all occurred, Aziz took some time away from comedy.
His recently released Netflix special “Right Now” is his return to comedy. In the special, Aziz addresses the controversy almost immediately.
“I’m sure there are some of you who are curious how I feel about that whole situation,” he says, “and it’s a tricky thing for me to answer… There are times I’ve felt scared. There are times I’ve felt humiliated. There are times I’ve felt embarrassed. Ultimately, I just felt terrible that this person felt this way. And after a year or so, I just hope it was a step forward. It moved things forward for me. Made me think about a lot. I hope I’ve become a better person.”
He then goes on to share how he had a conversation with a friend that he thinks of often.
“He was like, ‘You know what, man? That whole thing made me think about every date I’ve ever been on,’ And I thought, Wow. That’s pretty incredible. If this made not just me, but other people be more thoughtful? Then that’s a good thing. And that’s how I feel about it.”
It appeared important to him that his audience knew how he “feels about that whole thing” before he went any further in his show. After sharing that, he quickly moves on, joking, “Well, that was pretty intense.”
When watching the special, and hearing his response, I had several conflicting feelings and initial reactions.
I’ll start with the positive here. At least he acknowledged it. He didn’t completely shut it down, and it seems to be impacting him. He wasn’t defensive, but rather, he was reflective on the experience.
However, it didn’t feel like enough to me.
I was hoping for more genuineness and openness. I wish he had talked about how it had affected his views of healthy relationships, how to treat women and his partner(s), the pursuit of healthy sexuality, a bit more honestly.
It felt as though it was the elephant in the room, something that he had to address and get over with in order to move on to the rest of the show, but I didn’t feel as though enough was given to it. Maybe this is indicative of the problems surrounding the way our society as a whole is handling the #MeToo movement.
Also, throughout his response, he does not apologize. He did offer the private apology to Grace, however, is that enough? It didn’t feel like enough to me. But what is “enough” really, in #MeToo situations?
I also found myself feeling a bit uneasy about his friend’s reaction. “You know what, man? That whole thing made me think about every date I’ve ever been on.”
I’m glad that his friend sees the need to reflect on his experiences. However, I have to actually think, well, yes—you should always be doing that.
Think about consent, about healthy sexuality, before it happens, while it is happening, after it happens…
Aziz ends his special saying, “I saw the world where I don’t get to ever do [comedy] again. And it almost felt like I’d died. In a way, I did. That old Aziz who said, ‘Oh treat-yo-self, whatever’—he’s dead… That’s how I choose to live—in the moment I’m in, with the people I’m with.”
“Think about consent, about healthy sexuality, before it happens, while it is happening, after it happens… “
Wait, so are we supposed to feel bad for him in this situation? That he almost never got to do his comedy shows again?
I do understand that is his job, and he finds meaning from it. However, to me, it appeared that he was making himself a victim. This didn’t actually ruin his life, but he was acting like it was so close to doing so. Something about him coming across as the victim rubbed me the wrong way.
Let’s talk about consent, baby.
However, Grace describes the situation and talks about how she used verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate how she was uncomfortable and didn’t want to continue. This is so worth talking about because it’s worth talking about consent. No means no.
Consent should never be assumed and not resisting cannot be interpreted as consent. This experience demonstrates the need for educating people on what consent means, nonverbal cues of consent, as well as the importance of respecting consent.
I understand that this experience appears to be a sexual situation with a lack of clarity. We could go around in circles reflecting: Did it really happen? Did it not happen? Did it happen as described? We can question: does this ‘count’? We could go on with these questions forever.
However, that should not be how we react. Individuals of all gender and sexual identities have unwanted sexual experiences. We need to value the courage that it takes to share one’s story.
If you have experienced an unwanted sexual experience, I hope that you find a space that is safe and validating, a space that provides support for you to share your story and the grief, fear, anger, etc. that you may be experiencing.
A space for you to feel empowered.
To receive support, contact a therapist or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. If you find yourself thinking: How can I provide such a space for a friend, a colleague, a sister? Listen. Support. Reiterate to them that it is not their fault. Focus on not minimizing their experiences. Do not add to the shame and guilt.
It’s easy for me to feel discouraged surrounding the #MeToo movement. However, I’m learning to find hope. Watching the “Right Now” special, it does seem like Aziz was impacted by this, and that he wants to make changes.
Maybe this is a baby step in the right direction, however, to me, it feels like a neutral step- in some ways, a step forward, in others, a step back. I still see so many things that need to change about how this is addressed. I hoped Aziz would’ve taken this opportunity to talk about consent, to talk about respect for sexual partners.
I’m hoping for more open, genuine, transparent reactions and conversations surrounding the #MeToo movement in the future.