Aziz Ansari & the Case of Ambiguous Consent

Still confused about what you feel about the Aziz Ansari-Grace incident? We asked five prominent Indian feminists—Saloni Choujar, Kiran Manral, Sheena Dabholkar, Sonam Mittal and Harnidh Kaur—to weigh in.

by Tara* Kaushal & Priyanka Sutaria

Sexual assault is built on a pyramid of building blocks which range in size and strength. From slut-shaming and "bro codes" to the social construct of virginity and conditioning males into feeling entitled to women's bodies—rape culture encompasses it all. In the post #MeToo world, the lack of nuanced debate (or the fact that there is a debate at all) around the allegations against Aziz Ansari has been the talk of the month. Pass the Mic curates the opinions of prominent feminists in order to understand how exactly we must face this issue head on.

Let it also be known that although we invited a number of prominent male feminists to contribute to this conversation, more so than women (you know who you are!), we were disappointed that they all declined to speak about this sensitive issue. Hence, this stays a "lady-oriented" set of opinions...



"Giving consent to sex does not mean you’ve given consent to anything that goes on in that bed, right? Women should be able to expect more than just not-rape sex. That shouldn’t be the bar. Which it is! I couldn’t possibly tell any friend hypothetically that a man forced me to give him head while we were having sex or that ‘he shoved his fingers down my throat’ and I was humiliated. They’d be like, ‘stop creating a scene and get over it. You were having sex!’

... that consent only goes as far as to get you in bed is scary. (The only thing we see seriously as without consent in bed is probably anal sex, and that’s only because we’re still orthodox about it.) Sex is a two-way thing; if you’re so engrossed that you’re not even aware when your sexual partner is saying ‘no’ then something isn’t right. Two people should have the respect and dignity they desire, even during sex. If you’re being treated in a way you don’t like, you should have the right to end it—be it a man or a woman.

I think that an issue that deserved discussion turned into ‘there goes another feminist cry’ or ‘there’s a bit of a witch hunt’ instead of conversations about appropriate sexual activity and the bounds of consent. We need to talk more about these issues before some people start attacking and others start guarding themselves. And now both sides are busy speaking only to themselves."



"The brand new tunnel through the patriarchy blasted through by the #MeToo movement faced its first road bump. And it was put there by a young woman who went under the pseudonym Grace, and the young woman who wrote her story in Babe. On the face of it, it was an innocuous account of a really bad date where Grace went out with a young man, who persisted trying to get sexually intimate with her despite her telling him to the contrary that she wasn’t interested. The date ended badly, he called her an Uber and she went home in tears. The man was famous, Aziz Ansari.

The fallout of that piece split the feminist movement into splinters. But what I take away from it, this disregard for a woman’s consent is so rampant that we have normalised it. That this piece speaks about it is important. And that we as women need to constantly keep having these conversations not just with the men, but with each other about how we take agency over our bodies and renegotiating the boundaries we set around ourselves and what defines consent for us."



"The behaviour reflected in the Aziz Ansari incident is not uncommon, it’s prevalent. That’s why it’s  unsurprising that men are resisting acknowledging Aziz’s behaviour as problematic because it will  require them to reassess their own past behaviour which they’ve previously deemed acceptable.  Women, even the many who identify with ‘Grace’, would rather believe that too, so they don’t have  to recount and relive the similar situations they’ve been in, because it’s less painful than admitting to being violated. Victim blaming is rape culture. "Focus on the real issues" is rape culture. Stripping  her off her agency to tell her story by saying it does a disservice to the #MeToo movement is rape culture. As if people shouldn’t share their stories unless they live on the end of the violence spectrum.

Rape (and murder) sit at the top of the rape culture pyramid, coercion is lower down, with victim  blaming towards the bottom but they all contribute to the same systemic violence against women.  To end rape culture, we need to be able to address sexual violence at all levels of the spectrum.  Dismissing it in the lower levels excuses it as we go higher up."



"The mess that is the conversation about Aziz Ansari-Grace, reminds me of how the Internet was split because of a blue-black-white-gold dress. But consent is not a dress. Consent is a simple Yes or No in theory, rarely so in practice. While we debate about whether it was a date gone bad, or a witch hunt to ruin men's careers (as if), the reality is that many of us have been where Grace was with Aziz Ansari. Our lack of conversation and sense of shame around such topics turns a concept as simple, as black and white as consent, into a grey area. An obscure zone where men like Ansari, feminist or not, can take advantage of women and turn it into a he-said she-said situation.

I don't know what happened between Grace and Ansari that night, because I wasn't there. Though, I'm glad we are having this conversation now. Do you know how many women Grace has empowered? Do you know how many men are now better aware because of her? I only wish we could have had such conversation sooner, so that someone like Grace wouldn't have had the worst night of her life."



"The betrayal of Aziz Ansari will soon be forgotten, but the questions it has raised will not. This is a confirmation of some of the most rankling fears women everywhere wrestle with—if a man says he’s a feminist ally, can I trust him? Should I? It’s exhausting living in a world where everything is conspiring against you, and women have been pushed back into the same corner again and again. This also forces us to step back and question where #MeToo goes next. Do we scale? Do we consolidate? Do we simply struggle to survive?

There are no simple answers. There shouldn’t be any, either. It’s time to move beyond catchphrases and linearity, and wrangle with tougher, murkier realities beyond hashtags and trends. It’s not going to be easy to let go of heroes we create out of people who express basic human decency—and maybe that’s exactly what we need to do. Pull our heroes off their pedestals and demand better of them."

(Excerpt from the article Aziz Ansari is not the woke desi feminist we thought he was published by Quartz.)


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