The #MeToo spotlight has swung round again and landed on award-winning actor and comedian Aziz Ansari.
The website Babe.net published the story, “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.” The story details how Grace — an anonymous source — went home with Ansari, known for his role on the NBC series Parks and Recreation and his Netflix show Master of None. The article alleges Ansari continually ignored her “verbal and non-verbal cues” indicating she wasn’t interested. They never had sex, but Grace felt pressured throughout the encounter and eventually left in tears. Ansari, in his response, states that they “engaged in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual.”
The story, which has been spreading like wildfire all week, is unique in how divided its responses are — the responses are varied and disparate, sometimes even within the same publication. In the context of the #MeToo movement, there are those who argue that this is ultimately an account of “a bad date” and cannot be figured alongside more clear-cut cases of abuse, such as with Harvey Weinstein. In fact, these critics say, this story is irresponsible in that it actively derails the movement by muddying the waters.
Certainly, the story is rife with issues and published in a lifestyle blog rather than a more reputable news outlet. It is a bizarre hybrid of opinion piece and exposé: at one point, the author baselessly telegraphs foreboding based on which wine Ansari chose for his date. The author also offers her opinion on Grace’s outfit, which was apparently good: whatever happened to objectivity in reporting?
Furthermore, they gave Ansari a mere five hours to respond, and then when he did release a statement, they referred to it as “a full 14 hours later.” Right of response is the most fundamental journalistic tenet, and it comes with an expectation that you give your source a reasonable amount of time — a few days, ideally, but certainly not five hours.
Still, although poorly handled by Babe, and certainly not a clear-cut case of sexual assault, the story was ultimately an important one; it deserved to be published. As long as we remain mature in our discussions, the Ansari controversy will nuance our collective understanding of consent rather than derail it. Clearly, it’s not an entirely black-and-white issue, and the grey area must be investigated. For example, the uncompromising headline of the New York Times op-ed — “Aziz Ansari is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader” — is perhaps the sort of sweeping absolutism we shouldn’t be endorsing.
Instead, this story may hit home the importance of consent that is affirmative and enthusiastic, rather than the antiquated gender-role-dominated version that pervades our bedrooms.
It also revealed a measure of hypocrisy in Ansari himself, a vocal feminist. Having quite literally written the book on how tricky it is to navigate relationships in the 21st century, his lack of awareness is problematic and alarming. Grace's account truly does underline the reality that sexual misconduct is a systemic issue that affects all of us.
Despite the Babe article’s undertone of tabloid sensationalism and its status as a poor piece of journalism, the story highlights how murky consent can be within our current dating culture. That’s a conversation worth having.