Female Perspective

The shocking number of victims coming forward should make us all that more aware of how easily these situations can happen. It is a positive development that these victims are being heard, and that society is responding so forcefully to their claims.

A few days ago, a comedian, Aziz Ansari, was accused of sexual assault by a woman called “Grace.” We believe that Grace’s story about her encounter with Aziz Ansari is true, and we understand what she meant when she compared Ansari’s sexual mannerisms to those of a horny, entitled 18 year-old boy because these are the exact experiences of many girls our age.

But we don’t agree with her estimation that what occurred was sexual assault.

“Can I identify with Grace? Yes. Was I disgusted with Ansari’s behavior? Yes. Do I believe it was sexual assault? No,” said one female board member.

It is not appropriate for a man to coerce someone into sexual contact.

“I’ve been in situations of coerced sexual involvement a countless number of times,” said a female board member. “I can’t say that I was completely comfortable with it, but I will speak truthfully and say that while my initial intentions [in those situations] may not have been to engage in anything sexual, coercing has been effective on me. If I regret it after, the only person I can blame is myself.”

It’s difficult for us to stand with Grace in her fight. Because that’s just it– she didn’t fight.

By her own account, Grace was not physically forced to do anything in Ansari’s apartment. Coerced, perhaps, but not forced.

There was coercion, which she had the choice to refuse, but it’s bears acknowledging that this case was a little different because of Ansari’s status. As a female board member said, “she may have felt coerced because he was someone famous.”

But Grace never once mentioned trying to leave, and all of the “signals” she gave Ansari could have been easily misinterpreted.

“Maybe it’s wrong of me to be asking this,” said one female board member, “but what did Grace expect when she accompanied him back to his apartment? And if she was uncomfortable, why did she comply with his requests once they arrived?”

Our society is striving to achieve equality, but in order to be equal, both parties must claim responsibility for their actions.

Taking away Grace’s responsibility in this situation undermines her right to have power in the first place.

We do feel for Grace, but to call this encounter sexual assault is demeaning to those who have experienced more extreme forms. By sharing her story, Grace has given those who don’t believe in the feminist movement one more weapon to use against us.

“Upon reading multiple accounts of the story I find it hard to wholeheartedly agree with one side or the other,” said another female board member. “From Grace’s perspective, she was ‘violated’ and repeatedly pressured to engage in an unwanted sexual activity. Yet, upon considering Aziz’s side, he was in a way encouraged by her to continue his behavior due to her lack of objection. It is unfair to expect him to read her mind and understand she was not ready.”

Another female board member agreed, stating that although Ansari should be accountable for his actions, he was acting on societal norms that he truly believed were OK.

Feminist writer Jessica Valenti summed this up in her tweet, “…part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.”

It’s important that we continue to believe victims, and that we support the “outing” of sexual abusers, but we have to be able to determine what constitutes assault, and what is simply miscommunication.

“I think he was genuine in his statement that he believed nothing to be wrong,” she said. “He should have been able to recognize that what he was doing was wrong, but in a culture where one night stands are glamorized, the idea of women being comfortable ‘giving it up’ is all too common.”

Like innumerable men across the world, Ansari could not recognize non consensual (and primarily nonverbal) signals. Consider all the men who have undoubtedly done something like this.

Let us use this as a wake-up call for men everywhere, rather than use it to destroy one man who is far from alone in his mistakes.

It’s also a reminder to women that they can say “no” in a situation where they do not give consent. In the case of Grace, although she may have felt pressured by Ansari’s persistence, he gave no indications that she would be harmed if she left. For a lot of women, just walking away isn’t an option. In hers, though, it was.

“We need to reset our definitions and educate people on what is appropriate and what isn’t,” said another female board member.

It’s time.