Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the position of the Minerva Quest or its affiliates.
Let’s play a game. I will describe a situation and you have to decide if it’s sexual assault or just a bad date.
A girl goes out with a guy she just met. He takes her to a new restaurant. He won’t stop talking about himself, cryptocurrencies, and his job as a trader for two hours until the girl finally realizes that the only thing those three themes have in common is her absolute lack of interest in them. As if that wasn’t enough, he orders Pepsi instead of Coke or wine, and he honestly thinks Revenge of the Sith is the best Star Wars movie.
Sexual assault or bad date?
Try this one:
A girl goes out with a guy to a party. They drink a lot and smoke weed. Once she’s inebriated, she finally musters the courage to kiss him. He reciprocates. She asks if they can go to his place and spend some time together. Next morning she wakes up naked, next to him, without any memory from the previous night. She asks what happened and he confirms that they had sex, but that she had given him consent. She has no memory of that happening. She regrets the entire night.
Sexual assault or bad date? This one is trickier, right?
Finally, try this last one:
A girl goes out with a comedian that she admires. He ends dinner early and asks for the check too quickly. He invites her to come over to his apartment, to which she agrees. When they arrive, he makes multiple sexual advances on her without asking for consent. She becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the situation. She asks him to calm down and take things slowly, which he doesn’t. He puts his fingers on her mouth and then tries to insert them into her vagina. He also moves her hand to his penis multiple times, even though she removes it every time. During this time she uses many (indirect) verbal and non-verbal cues to express her discomfort. He then asks her for sex, to which she replies “Next time,” trying to avoid the situation. She explicitly voices that she does not want to feel forced.
They sit on the couch, and when she feels he has finally stopped and everything will be okay, he asks her to perform oral sex on him. Which she does, because she feels pressured. He gets up, bends her over, pressures himself behind her, and asks where she wants him to fuck her. At this point, she finally says no. They sit on the couch again, where after watching an episode of Seinfeld, he tries one more time to undo her pants and finger her. She leaves the apartment and goes home crying.
She messages him the next day, telling him how the experience had been awful for her. He apologizes. He’s honestly confused because he thought the whole experience had been consensual.
Sexual assault or bad date?
These situations did not happen to me, but they happened to someone. The last one happened with “Grace,” a New York-based photographer, and it describes her encounter with the actor and comedian Aziz Ansari.
Grace told this story to writers at Babe.net, which sparked a lot of discussions regarding what is sexual assault, and the implications of this to the #MeToo movement. There were articles published on The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Medium.
Recently, an anonymous writer posted an article in this publication entitled “Please Leave Mr. Ansari Alone.” The writer argues that calling what Grace went through as sexual assault degrades their literal “as-per-the-legal-definition way” sexual assault experience. In their opinion, what Grace had was nothing more than a bad date.
But here’s the thing about bad dates: they are normal. They (unfortunately) happen way too often. It’s sad. A waste of time. But the author was right: they are not the end of the world.
Boring talks? Bad date. Wrong drink? Bad date. Someone talking about their ex non-stop? Inviting you to go to a funeral? Bringing a friend? Bad date, bad date, bad date.
I vehemently oppose accepting as normal any situation in which a woman is the target of unwanted, repetitive sexual advances.
Bad dates make you want to leave early, yes. But just so you can laugh about them with your friends over some pizza and beers. However, they do not include you going home crying in a cab because someone tried to make a sexual advance on you without your consent and tested your boundaries repetitively until you felt pressured to engage in a sexual act you never wanted.
That’s not a bad date. That’s sexual assault.
The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”
Describing what Grace went through simply as a bad date normalizes the situation.
As a feminist, I vehemently oppose accepting as normal any situation in which a woman is the target of unwanted, repetitive sexual advances.
You know what else shouldn’t be normal? Asking a victim of sexual assault to accept their situation as ordinary. It’s wrong to write an article that tells my younger sister that if she has her boundaries tested and feels traumatized, she should just move on because it could have been worse, because “that’s what guys do; they act without thinking.” It’s wrong to imply to my male friends that it is acceptable to not ask for consent and insist on a sexual move.
I will not accept this. I will rebel against this patriarchal culture and scream to everyone I know: “STOP normalizing situations of abuse!”
The writer’s argument for why Grace’s situation was not sexual assault is that describing her situation as sexual assault degrades their own sexual assault experience, which involved actually having to push someone away after saying “no” and “stop” multiple times.
To the writer, I’d like to say the following: I’m really, really sorry for what happened to you. Your situation sounds horrible, and it should never have happened. And I’m really sorry that reading about Grace makes you relive what happened to you. However, this is not just about you.
This is not a competition of who suffered the most.
Your sexual assault experience does not invalidate someone else’s. In general, people should not use their personal experience to delegitimize others’.
You don’t really know how Grace felt after that night. You can’t say that what she went through was not that bad, just because you think your situation was worse. The fact that Grace received an apology does not invalidate her claim of sexual assault. This is not a competition of who suffered the most. At least, it shouldn’t be. And the only way we will fight the patriarchal culture is if we stand together and not shut each other down.
You could possibly argue that your situation was objectively worse than Grace’s. Yet that doesn’t make her situation any better. It’s still a serious issue that deserves attention and a deep discussion about what consent is. Calling her situation sexual assault does not invalidate or diminish your experiences or your feelings. Maybe it suggests that we need more terms. Or maybe, as Kozlowski suggested, that doesn’t matter at all, because discussing the term only distracts us from the real problem.
At the end of the day, all these situations are a result of the patriarchal culture. A culture in which women are educated to please men. They are educated to be complacent, passive, submissive, and only resort to the “no” in the worst-case scenario. A culture in which even in the last case scenario, they are still scared of saying “no” out of fear of the encounter escalating into physical violence. A culture in which men take “no” as “try harder”, and insisting, through the use of different persuasion techniques, becomes part of the game. A culture that puts the responsibility on women to be more careful, dress appropriately, do something to stop sexual assault, but refrains from putting the responsibility on men to ask for explicit consent.
Aziz Ansari did not create our patriarchal culture alone. However, he is part of this culture. We all are. We are constantly repeating sexist behaviors and comments, even if we don’t mean it. But we need to stop. And that happens when we call people out on their sexism and they finally start paying attention to their actions.
I will not leave Mr. Ansari alone. And neither should you.
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