I was sitting in the living room with my husband, convalescing from a bad virus, when the Aziz Ansari story showed up on my feed, irresistible tease about it being “the worst night” of a woman’s life and all. The alarming source was a site called babe.net, which I had never heard of before, so I didn’t expect this piece to be a reporting masterpiece. It wasn’t.
Nevertheless, it was true.
I sat on the sofa with the dog and my husband sat on the armchair, both reading the piece on our own devices. And while we experienced the story in different ways, there were so many familiar little details that rang true for both of us — for me, the moments in which my boundaries were pushed, the moments that made me feel unsafe and even scared, and the desire to acquiesce and be comfortable and not harmed, put it contrast with what it was that I really wanted to do, which was leave, which was say no. For him, maybe it was the moments in which unclear boundaries hesitantly put up by a partner seemed more like a game, more like a challenge or a thing to be blurred and smudged.
The story put forth by the anonymous “Grace” and babe.net may be deeply flawed, rushed, not well reported, but it is harrowingly familiar, and it is very believable (in fact, Ansari has not refuted any of the details of the story as of now, almost a week after its publication).
After we read, my husband and I talked. It was a good conversation, a passionate one, an important one. It is one we have been having more and more ever since the beginning of #MeToo. It is a similar conversation to the one we had after the publication of “Cat Person.” in the New Yorker. These conversations make me feel validated and seen, and they make me feel safer and closer to this man, with whom I have chosen to spend the rest of my life.
My husband and I have been together for seven years, since I was Grace’s age (23). I can count the sexual partners I’ve had before him (and actually including him) on one hand. I’ve never had a one night stand. I’ve never gotten drunk (okay, once, but never on a date). I didn’t even date that much. I’ve done things the way many self-proclaimed progressive feminists who have chastised Grace as irresponsible probably think you should. But I still don’t know that I would have fared differently from Grace in a similar situation.
I have spent a lifetime trying to please people, at times to my detriment. I, like many women who want to be “good” and not “a bitch,” am not good at saying no.
It’s so convenient for men to not see the person they’re having sex with as an actual human being with desires and boundaries. A lot of men, yeah, even the woke feminist types, walk into the bedroom expecting to have their needs met, and not really thinking about the inner experience of the other person. That’s what really struck me about the Aziz Ansari story, the way he was with a person in the most intimate of settings and refused to really see her.
We’re all scared of no, but if we really respected and ensured enthusiastic consent, men would hear no uttered a lot more. That’s a hard thing to reconcile or to settle for when even the nicest of guys is just used to rounding things up to a yes.
Even as I ranted to my husband that night, for a time that seemed endless, with emotions that seemed too great and too overwhelming to have come from just one story about one terrible sexual encounter, I started feeling badly. I started feeling like here I was, being difficult and angry at this person who I love.
Then I realized that my husband didn’t want me to be easy. He didn’t want me to be small. He wanted to see and understand me. He wanted my feelings out in the open and clear. That should be what’s at the root of every great personal or intimate encounter of any kind.
At the end, the #MeToo movement isn’t asking for men to burn. In fact, Aziz Ansari hasn’t and probably won’t pay a price for this story, aside from a slightly tarnished reputation. And there aren’t droves of innocent men being driven into exile or burned at the stake. And no, we don’t want men to be mind readers, or to live in fear. We just want to make things clearer and more open and safe for all of us. We want to have these conversations and not be afraid of seeming “difficult.”
At its core, the #MeToo movement is about bringing equity and safety into spaces women and femmes inhabit, their work spaces, their homes, the streets they walk in. So it shouldn’t be a stretch to want to bring that into the bedroom too. Both men and women have something to gain from that.
That can start in our own homes.