“What did you expect, going to his apartment?” is bad feminism

800px-Aziz_Ansari_2012_ShankboneWe live in a world where “gray rape” is a legitimate phenomenon; where consent is so often muddied that men walk away from sexual encounters feeling lucky, and the women they just slept with go home feeling violated. What is happening, and why?

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.

This piece originally appeared in Huffington Post


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7 thoughts on ““What did you expect, going to his apartment?” is bad feminism

  1. That’s the best question to ask: “what do you expect?” I like that, and I think that needs to be addressed more. We’ve lost our words and ability to speak to each other (if we ever had much of it to begin with). Seriously, I think people just use pop culture cues and cliches do the talking. All sides need to work on the actual communication issue, not through freaking texting all the time. Body language and verbal communication need to make a comeback. I’m afraid for this next generation that’s so into their phones that studies have reported the youth are losing their ability to read body language. That’s a necessary skill because it gives you emotional and behavioral cues to work with (and back it up with freaking verbal ones, dammit).

    But honestly, this gray-area, this non-communication, is the main reason I’ve been afraid to even date again. I’ve had guys try to wear me down and wear me down, and because I was told to be polite and don’t hurt feelings (and I’m trying to remember where and when exactly I learned that, since I don’t recall really talking to my parents about any of this), I’d agree to something briefly just to shut them up (not too far, thankfully). Then after parting I’d want to bash my head against the steering wheel, going “why the hell did I say we could see each other again?” I always drew the line at being anywhere private with them because of this same fear, so I didn’t have to worry about what this woman worried about.

    We’re all learning or being taught how to attract someone, to get their attention, to get a date. Oddly enough, I don’t think we’ve been taught or learned nearly enough about making a graceful, amicable exit that is clear and concise, whether for the night or forever.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel like people are being a bit disingenuous or at the very least extremely harsh on her. I didn’t get a chance to read the account put out there until I’d read several commentaries, and I was surprised at how much clearer a picture it painted than I’d expected. He rushed her back to his place as soon as the check arrived — if she’d said no, the date would have ended early. She said she used both verbal AND nonverbal cues, and she clearly asked him to slow down a couple times, which he disregarded. How is that now turning into “she expected him to read her mind”?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this piece. I do understand that no one point of view has the market cornered on “real feminism,” but comments like the one you refer to from Bari, as well as the crap spewed by Catherine Deneuve last week are truly damaging, and perpetuate the conditions that got us where we are today.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The cultural habit of victim blaming is so deeply ingrained that even people who think of themselves as “feminist” slip into it far to easily, as do the people who invite someone back to their apartment assuming that acceptance of the invitation is consent to some particular degree of sexual activity and feel cheated or teased if it doesn’t happen. Having clear and mutual expectations does require communication, questions and answers in both directions. There is a place, one might say, for “Talk dirty to me, and I’ll tell you which parts I like and am ready to do with you.” And, it goes both ways.

    One version of a common item of wisdom:

    “You should never assume. You know what happens when you assume. You make an ass out of you and me because that’s how it’s spelled.”

    ― Ellen DeGeneres


    • This story reminds me of a date I went on several years ago, in which the guy was going to cook dinner for me at his apartment. After we ate, he put on a movie, which we watched for the first ten minutes or so before he kissed me. I had conflicting thoughts in my head the whole time, from “Wow, this feels like a scene straight from a movie! This is awesome!” and “Hey, I’m not comfortable making out with this guy when I barely know him.” My uncertainty won, as he noticed my lack of enthusiasm to keep going, and I said, “You didn’t want this to just be dinner and a movie, did you?” He admitted, “No, not really.” The night basically ended there, and there wasn’t a second date.

      What I know now, looking back, is that nonverbal cues really aren’t THAT hard to read. And any uncertainty ought to be read as “No.” The date was a disappointment, but the fact that we were both honest about what we wanted to happen saved it from becoming something worse.

      Liked by 3 people

      • When it come to the nonverbal cues, I somehow made a decision early on that I would rather misread a “yes” or “maybe” for a “no” than the other way around. It has cost me some opportunities without doubt, but has been worth the price. Credit does go to the guy in your date story for noticing and not taking it as “try harder”.

        Liked by 2 people

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