An Open Letter to Aziz Ansari’s Defenders

Disclaimer: This article discusses sexual harassment and assault.

 

To be honest, it’s difficult to find the words and the strength to write about this.

The looming “this” is Aziz Ansari’s assault of “Grace”, and, more importantly, the intense backlash that followed Grace’s brave reveal.

I remember reading Grace’s story before it caught the attention of the mass media. I was with my best friend, sitting on the floor of my living room, eating takeout and musing about our experiences with sex, dating, and love. When the headline of Grace’s story flashed across my phone screen, we instantly put our conversation on pause to read the article aloud. We read the article straight through, except for the most gruesome and telling sections, which we repeated multiple times in our disbelief and horror.  

“Well, at least we know how he really is now,” I remember saying to my friend, and they nodded in agreement. We both had the same idea about what would happen next: proponents of the #MeToo movement would applaud Grace for her bravery. Popular media, following suit, would commend Grace for telling her story while condemning Ansari’s immoral actions. In the best case scenario, maybe others whom Aziz had harmed would feel comfortable coming forward, and maybe there would even be some conversations about combating toxic masculinity and deconstructing rape culture.

We were optimistic because of the #MeToo movement. We thought that the general public would handle Grace’s story with the level of attention and concern that it afforded other survivors.

We were wrong.

Soon after word of Grace’s story hit more prominent news outlets, the backlash began. Proponents of the #MeToo movement rushed to accuse Grace of ruining its momentum and legitimacy. Multitudes of self-described feminists demeaned and scolded Grace for “calling a ‘bad date’ a ‘sexual assault’”.

Now, keep in mind, I wasn’t a stranger to the fact that survivors often aren’t believed. As a survivor myself, I’m well aware of the disbelief and victim blaming that ensues when one shares a story of abuse or assault. I thought, however, that the #MeToo movement signaled a departure from the old norms. I thought, just maybe, that we were at the inception of a great societal shift.

Instead, Grace, myself, and countless other survivors were hit in the face with the harsh reality that society only regards physically forceful sexual assaults as “legitimate”.

Grace clearly explained that she denied an interest in sexual activity multiple times throughout the night, Ansari cleverly blocked her line of exit, endlessly moved her hesitant hand to his penis, and continued to pressure her until she acquiesced. In fact, in one of the more disturbing moments of the encounter, Ansari admitted full knowledge of pressuring Grace and ignoring her stated desires: After Grace told Ansari that she would end up hating him if she felt pressured, he continued to initiate physical intimacy, telling her, “Doesn’t look like you hate me”.

Grace spent the car ride home crying.

And yet, Grace was met with backlash and disbelief.

I could tell you my story, too, at this point in the article. I could tell you all about the assault I experienced that so strongly mirrored Grace’s story. I could tell you how I still deal with PTSD and panic attacks years after the assault.

But, honestly, I’m tired. I’m tired of survivors being forced to bare their souls in order for society to take sexual assault seriously. And, more importantly, Grace’s story should be enough.

One is enough.

She is enough.

If you truly believe yourself to be a feminist, and yet you’re “calling bluff” on Grace’s account, I IMPLORE you to take a long, hard look in the mirror. You know the definition of consent. You know that coercion and manipulation mitigate any “yes” and amplify every “no”. I know you know this. And, more importantly, I know that you know, at least on an intellectual level, what it feels like to be degraded, used, and objectified for being a woman. I know that you know, beyond definitions and semantics, that what Aziz Ansari did was WRONG. That it was assault.

So stop hiding behind the swarms of Ansari defenders and make your voice heard.

And, to Grace: Thank you. I value you. I believe you.

 

Image Credit: Feature