In a recent article for the New York Times regarding the “gray rape” of a woman with the pseudonym Grace and comedian Aziz Ansari, writer Bari Weiss would have you believe that feminism is the root cause of all the confusion, by turning women into helpless damsels too afraid to use their words:
“If you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you…If he pressures you to do something you don’t want to do, use a four-letter word, stand up on your two legs and walk out his door.
Aziz Ansari sounds like he was aggressive and selfish and obnoxious that night. Isn’t it heartbreaking and depressing that men — especially ones who present themselves publicly as feminists — so often act this way in private? Shouldn’t we try to change our broken sexual culture? And isn’t it enraging that women are socialized to be docile and accommodating and to put men’s desires before their own? Yes. Yes. Yes.
But the solution to these problems does not begin with women torching men for failing to understand their ‘nonverbal cues.’ It is for women to be more verbal. It’s to say: ‘This is what turns me on.’ It’s to say ‘I don’t want to do that.’ And, yes, sometimes it means saying piss off.”
That “broken sexual culture” Weiss refers to demands further examination. I would push back on the idea that simply being in a man’s apartment after a date, with or without clothes, is automatic permission for sex. It’s a sign of a “broken sexual culture” that these expectations even exist, just because sex happens to be easily attainable. But just because sex can happen doesn’t always mean that it should.
Mature adults can retreat to an apartment for Netflix without the “chill” part; they can kiss and cuddle or cross other “bases” without having intercourse. They can also put on the brakes after an encounter begins, if one party changes his or her mind about going further. This idea that once a woman crosses a certain threshold – whether it’s entering an apartment, or removing items of clothes – she owes a man sex, or else she’s being a tease is a lie from the pit of patriarchy, and it’s a damn effective one.
So why are self-identified feminists buying it?
Weiss calls herself a feminist, and I don’t doubt her sincerity. But she’s still operating under toxic assumptions about sex, claiming “It’s obvious” what was going to happen. Weiss sympathizes with Ansari because he wasn’t supposed to be a mind reader, but neither was Grace, his date. Unless I missed the memo that “Let’s go back to my place” is the new “Let’s have sex,” I don’t think Grace was automatically supposed to know what was on Ansari’s mind, either.
It’s toxic to assume that sex will happen after a nice date, but shouldn’t it be just as toxic to assume that sex is what every man expects, also? The feminism that I know doesn’t paint all men with the same broad brush.
The feminism I know challenges any and all situations where sex is implicitly “owed.” At the same time, the feminism I know encourages and empowers women to say, “I’d love to see your place, but only if we can just watch a movie, and not get physical. Is that okay with you?”
Whether or not you’d call it “rape,” what happened in Ansari’s apartment that night was unfortunate on several levels. I firmly believe that feminism, by way of encouraging women to confidently and coherently voice their wishes, and challenging the norms in which sex is expected, is a vital tool for preventing incidents like it in the future. If those clearly expressed wishes are ignored, then there will be no “gray” about whether or not the sex is, in fact, rape.
“What did you expect?” is the wrong question. It ought to be “What DO you expect?” instead, after dinner has been finished and the couple feels it’s too early to call it a night.