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Let's Talk About Aziz Ansari and the Woke Misogynist of Our Times

Comedian Aziz Ansari. (Image: Reuters)

Comedian Aziz Ansari. (Image: Reuters)

Aziz Ansari is no Harvey Weinstein. He is not even your ordinary Hollywood guy. In a world of white men, Ansari went on to make a career using comedy to explore modern day relationships.

I still remember that cold, winter night in Calcutta when a friend asked me to get a drink with him at a new pub that had opened up. My stay in Calcutta usually lasts less than five days, once every six months—so it becomes absolutely mandatory to pack in a large number of friends in one night. The same thing happened. I first got a drink with another friend and then went to meet this friend. By the time I reached this new hangout place, he was slightly tipsy. I just wanted a beer and then get back home, but he insisted I drink more. At some point, even pouring the beer from a bottle straight into a glass despite me repeatedly asking him not to.

The pub shut down within 45 minutes of us reaching there, when he insisted I go over to his place to share a smoke. I had no reason to doubt him. I had known this guy since my teenage years, we had tried to solve difficult statistic equations at each other’s houses at the presence of our parents, and sometimes even when they were not around. I knew he was safe.

He took me up to his terrace and within seconds started to kiss me. I didn’t stop him. He then started to unzip his pants. I didn’t stop him, but kept saying, “I want to go home.” He started pulling my hair and pushed me against the terrace wall. At this point, I was scared. But no, I didn’t kick him in the balls or run away. It was post midnight and there was not a soul in the streets. He had promised to drive me home. I was scared because I knew if I leave his place and try to hail a cab on my own, there is a possibility that I will get groped. So, I decided to be polite. I told him that my mother is waiting at home and he needs to drop me. “I can come back tomorrow,” I said. It was my way to ensure that this ends. At some point, I said, “I am not liking this. Can we stop?” He still didn’t stop. So, I lit a cigarette and kept it between our faces, so he stops kissing me. The cigarette did become the savior. He was not listening to me, he wasn’t even looking at me. So when the cigarette slightly brushed his face as he tried to come closer, he shrieked “Ouch”. And, finally, after at least 15 minutes of asking him to drop me back home, he stopped.

My heart was racing and there were just so many voices in my head, but I had to get into his car. I just wanted to go home safe. When I finally reached somewhere close to home, and I could see my guard, I asked him to stop the car. He did. I got off and ran inside. I didn’t turn back, I didn’t say goodbye—I just ran. I remember sitting in the washroom for an hour as tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt disgusted. I didn’t know where I had gone wrong.

The next day, this friend shared an article on Facebook on ‘rape culture’. He had gone back to being a feminist, he had gone back being an ally of women. And no one blinked an eye. I never spoke about it because I knew no one would believe that a man who talks about feminism and says the right words could be capable of not taking into account the multiple “No”.

Why am I writing about this? Because this is exactly what the incident on Aziz Ansari reminded me of.

Aziz Ansari is no Harvey Weinstein. He is not even your ordinary Hollywood guy. In a world of white men, Ansari went on to make a career using comedy to explore modern day relationships. In his much loved show, Master of None, he began a conversation on harassment way before Weinstein came into the picture when a fictional celebrity chef is accused of sexually assaulting a number of women. During his 2015 Madison Square Garden special, he asked women in the crowd who had been followed home by “creepy dudes” to raise their hands. “What I’ve learned, as a guy, is to just ask women questions and listen to what they have to say,” he told the Daily Beast later.

But the last two days may have been rough for the actor (hopefully) and a lot of us.

It’s one thing to know that someone who demeans and talks down to women behave in a certain way during a sexual encounter, it’s completely mind jarring to realize that these woke men of the world who wear a "Time's Up" pin while accepting the Golden Globe award can be completely clueless, behave in an obnoxious way and reeks of self-entitlement.

A 23-year-old photographer recounted her interaction with Ansari on their first date and it’s well, to say the least, heartbreaking. “Grace”, as she is called in the piece in babe, met the actor at a party after the Emmy Awards last September, where the two flirted and took photos of each other, and he asked for her phone number. She says they exchanged texts when she returned home to Brooklyn and went on a date a little more than a week later.

The date wasn’t anything like she expected. But, throughout it all, you will relate to it if you are a woman. And it will send shivers down your spine.

They had a glass of wine at his apartment and then he rushed her though dinner at an expensive restaurant and brought her back to his apartment. Within minutes of returning, she was sitting on the kitchen counter and he was performing oral sex on her. She told babe that she was uncomfortable with how quickly the situation escalated. “It was really quick,” she said. ‘Grace’ said she attempted to indicate her disinterest, but Ansari followed her around the apartment as though he was executing “a football play.” “It was 30 minutes of me getting up and moving and him following and sticking his fingers down my throat again,” she said. “It was really repetitive. It felt like a fucking game.”

She said he then suggested they move to the couch, where he continued to attempt to initiate sex, though she wasn’t interested: “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.”

She said that Ansari physically pulled her hand towards his penis multiple times throughout the night. “He probably moved my hand to his dick five to seven times,” she said. “He really kept doing it after I moved it away.” She said she remembered him asking again and again, “Where do you want me to fuck you?”

When she empathetically said ‘no’ after he’d bent her over in front of a large mirror, Ansari probably got the cue. He seemed to have acknowledged that she was uncomfortable. He said the right words, “it’s only fun if we’re both having fun.” But, it continued.

In the end, when they decided to just ‘chill’-- while the TV played in the background, he kissed her again, stuck his fingers down her throat again, and moved to undo her pants.

On social media, a lot of people have gone on to defend Ansari saying this wasn’t a sexual assault. Many are questioning the woman on why she didn’t leave. And, that is the problem with us. Yes legally, Ansari has done nothing wrong. But in 2018, the conversation has to go beyond that.

The whole Ansari incident doesn’t feel like assault because it’s so deeply rooted in our dating culture that it is considered just another "normal" sexual encounter. Many men and in fact, a lot of women say that the women could have left, no one had stopped her. No, of course not. But at that moment, you are not sure what you are supposed to do. “Will he hurt me if I yell? Will he force himself? Maybe I should just let him do what he wants to do”—These are thoughts that often come to your head in an encounter like this. And, trust me, and the hundreds of women out there when they say, “it’s not easy”.

Ansari, like a gentleman, apoligised the next day when the woman reminded him about how he behaved. A year ago, my friend did the same. But it didn’t quite change anything for me. And it changed nothing for him.

If we don’t have a conversation on the Ansari episode now, it will get brushed aside, again. Because, after all he is no Weinstein. He didn’t rape anyone. The woman was there with her consent. And Ansari will go back to be being our hero, again.

So, this is the time we begin this conversation. This is the time when we sit down our male friends and tell them that you have to ask the women repeatedly if she’s okay with what you are doing if you are unable to pick on cues. It’s not difficult to understand consent. And really, if it’s that difficult, just bloody ask.

“I believe that I was taken advantage of by Aziz,” Grace told babe. “I was not listened to and ignored. It was by far the worst experience with a man I’ve ever had.” To know that there are many Graces out there, and to know that there are people out there who feel that she should have done something that night is the problem. The conversation should begin now before we normalize this crossing the thin line of consent, once again.
first published:January 15, 2018, 14:23 IST