Aziz Ansari is an asshole, and Caitlin Flanagan is also an asshole

Aziz Ansari standing against a blue background after receiving the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy at the 2018 Golden Globes

Certified Woke Bae and terrible sexual partner Aziz Ansari (Photo credit: Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock)

[Trigger warning for sexual assault]

Much of the country has been talking about the recent exposé by a woman, pseudonymously known as Grace, who went out on a date with comedian Aziz Ansari and ended up getting persistently and aggressively pursued, and aggressively kissed, fingered, and dry humped, plus a weird thing where he kept sticking his fingers down her throat, over her objections. In a statement Ansari released in response, he doesn’t dispute her account of the events of the night — he just noted that he’d thought she was into it.

Grace said she hasn’t had any contact with Ansari since the day after and had worked to process her feelings and move past it, and it was only the Golden Globes that brought it back to the front of her mind — watching him win an award, Time’s Up pin firmly in place on the lapel of his all-black tux, a “certified woke bae” and and self-described feminist who persistently shoved his hand down her pants after she specifically asked that he slow down. So she said something.

There have been a lot of analyses and responses, many of which I’ll get to later on this blog. But then Caitlin Flanagan decided to jump in — because of course she did — being, as is her way, the fucking worst. So here’s some stuff about “The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari.”

The world in which it constituted an episode of sexual assault was so far from my own two experiences of near date rape (which took place, respectively, during the Carter and Reagan administrations, roughly between the kidnapping of the Iran hostages and the start of the Falklands War) that I just couldn’t pick up the tune. …

I was a teenager in the late 1970s, long past the great awakening (sexual intercourse began in 1963, which was plenty of time for me), but as far away from Girl Power as World War I was from the Tet Offensive. The great girl-shaping institutions, significantly the magazines and advice books and novels that I devoured, were decades away from being handed over to actual girls and young women to write and edit, and they were still filled with the cautionary advice and moralistic codes of the ’50s. With the exception of the explicit physical details, stories like Grace’s — which usually appeared in the form of “as told to,” and which were probably the invention of editors and the work product of middle-aged women writers — were so common as to be almost regular features of these cultural products. In fact, the bitterly disappointed girl crying in a taxi muttering, “They’re all the same,” was almost a trope. Make a few changes to Grace’s story and it would fit right into the narrative of those books and magazines, which would have dissected what happened to her in a pitiless way. …

Those magazines didn’t prepare teenage girls for sports or stem or huge careers; the kind of world-conquering, taking-numbers strength that is the common language of the most-middle-of-the road cultural products aimed at today’s girls was totally absent. But in one essential aspect they reminded us that we were strong in a way that so many modern girls are weak.

Here’s what my 40-year-old issue of Teen would have said about it. Ah, those were the days. I realize that “back when men were men and women were quiet” is kind of her brand, but it’s beyond stale all the way to gross. Her romanticization of a time when “the signal rule about dating… was that if anything bad happened to a girl on a date, it was her fault” is grotesque (and not because that’s still, in large part, a common attitude today, and something that #MeToo is having to struggle to counter). If she’d gone on to say that such an attitude is wrong and unwelcome in modern society, that would be one thing. But she only used it to accuse modern women, women who expect better behavior out of modern men, of weakness. (#MAGA)

Was Grace frozen, terrified, stuck? No. She tells us that she wanted something from Ansari and that she was trying to figure out how to get it. She wanted affection, kindness, attention. Perhaps she hoped to maybe even become the famous man’s girlfriend. He wasn’t interested. What she felt afterward — rejected yet another time, by yet another man — was regret.

Yes, how ridiculous it was for her to hope for “affection, kindness, attention” from a guy she was on a date with. Don’t most of us put on our cutest outfit to go out with a guy we have stuff in common with in hopes of getting hands in our mouth and a rough fingerbang? While Flanagan says that Ansari couldn’t read Grace’s mind, it looks like she herself isn’t so limited — she can postulate that maybe Grace was really motivated by a superficial desire for a celebrity boyfriend, and that what she really felt was rejection and regret — not, as Grace had said, discomfort and violation.

Twenty-four hours ago — this is the speed at which we are now operating — Aziz Ansari was a man whom many people admired and whose work, although very well paid, also performed a social good. He was the first exposure many young Americans had to a Muslim man who was aspirational, funny, immersed in the same culture that they are. Now he has been — in a professional sense — assassinated, on the basis of one woman’s anonymous account. Many of the college-educated white women who so vocally support this movement are entirely on her side. The feminist writer and speaker Jessica Valenti tweeted, “A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction. But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.”

Twenty-four hours ago, Aziz Ansari was still the type of guy who offered to just “chill,” because “it’s only fun if [they]’re both having fun,” and then immediately demand a blowjob. He was the kind of guy who repeatedly asked where she wanted him to fuck her after she expressed that she didn’t want him to. We just didn’t know about it yet. And we don’t know how this will affect his career — unlike other #MeToo accusations, Ansari’s doesn’t involve workplace harassment, and there hasn’t exactly been a flood of statements from the Hollywood elite giving any indication one way or the other.

We do know that many of the feminists who have spoken in support of the #MeToo movement have taken Grace’s side. But unlike so many other accusations of sexual harassment and assault, this doesn’t have the usual kind of “his side” and “her side” — he doesn’t dispute her account of their date, and she doesn’t dispute that he thought everything he did was okay. The two sides are a debate — and not an uncommon one — about whether what he did constitutes assault, whether she should be criticized for not immediately leaving, whether her objections were explicit enough to be accepted as such, what a man’s responsibility is to pay attention to a woman’s nonverbal signals, whether he should be let off the hook because of his inability to read her mind. Of any of Valenti’s tweets that Flanagan might have quoted, that one was possibly her most bizarre choice, because it was basically indisputable — a lot of men really are characterizing Ansari’s actions as everyday and reasonable, and a lot of women really are saying that society’s everyday-and-reasonable is not okay.

I thought it would take a little longer for the hit squad of privileged young white women to open fire on brown-skinned men. I had assumed that on the basis of intersectionality and all that, they’d stay laser focused on college-educated white men for another few months.

It’s unsurprising, considering Flanagan’s self-acknowledged hatred of feminism, that she’d pull out any accusation that she could throw at feminists who are calling Ansari out and objecting to behavior like his. She can’t even bring herself to dispute the fact that feminists have been going after powerful white men for months now, but she seemed to take a certain amount of glee in pulling out “privileged” and “intersectionality and all that” to vilify criticisms, and critics, of a college-educated man with a decade-long career and a net worth estimated at $18 million and a Golden Globe that’s not two weeks old for taking “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you” as a lighted sign for the exit to beejertown.

Allegations against the comedian are proof that women are angry, temporarily powerful — and very, very dangerous.

I realize that writers usually don’t get to write their own headlines, so I won’t ding Flanagan for this personally. But I can still criticize the implication that women are suddenly drunk on power and taking men down indiscriminately, but that once the Purge has ended, we’ll go back to letting our boss low-five us without complaint. That if we shelter in place for just a few more hours, it will all blow over and celebrities will once again be allowed to ignore “no,” on account of not being a mind reader, with impunity.

That it’s histrionic and vindictive to let women know that they might get unwillingly dry humped on a date with Woke Bae Aziz Ansari, and to let men know that while they’re happily oblivious to our discomfort (or pretending to be), women have been historically socialized to be polite and delicate in our objections, and that we prefer not to be raped by a man who may abruptly turn violent upon being turned down (which never happens, of course), so men would do well to maybe read the room once in a freaking while and not assume that she’s cool with it just because she’s not biting your dick off.

But don’t worry about it — women are only temporarily powerful. And dangerous. If we just ride it out, everything will go back to normal, and “no” will mean “convince me,” and only mind readers will be responsible for their actions.


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12 comments for “Aziz Ansari is an asshole, and Caitlin Flanagan is also an asshole

  1. Angie unduplicated
    January 17, 2018 at 10:27 am

    “Temporarily” may well be a real thing. When job after job is automated and the economy tanks, I suspect that precariously and unemployed men will be doing whatever it takes to steal our jobs and destroy anything resembling feminism.

    Still can’t comprehend female defense of men who are still stuck at “I” in the alphabet and haven’t progressed to two-letter words. It doesn’t take a mother to understand this level of dumbass.

  2. AM
    January 19, 2018 at 6:44 am

    While there are sensitive and thoughtful responses out there, the cruelty and belittling attitudes towards ‘Grace’ in many media responses (and comments sections) has been disturbing. I read her account and what came across loud and clear was distress. How has this person coped with the onslaught that’s been going down since? Does anyone care about that or is punishing ‘Grace’ the first instinct? A lot of the focus has been on personal ‘agency’, and how she was apparently so lacking in it. How about we all pay more attention to basic decency and consideration of others. Being on a date and in someone’s apartment etc. does not mean you relinquish rights to respect and care. It’s possible to consent to some things and not others. But this account is a prime example of why consent proves problematic for so many women. Not saying ‘no’ outright immediately, or even giving an initial enthusiastic ‘yes’, doesn’t mean you say ‘yes’ to anything and everything that might come after that. Agreeing to sex should not mean losing control over what happens after ‘yes’. Saying ‘no’ immediately (loudly and clearly) may deprive you of an enjoyable experience (or possibly endanger you). And so women often wait and see – not to play silly games – but because there’s a need to negotiate and gauge the level of safety.

  3. Chemkeeder
    January 21, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    OK, this is an interesting set of problems but before I am ready to label the “date” as a teachable moment, I’d like to know the facts.

    The present record is limited not to a direct statement by Grace, but instead to a distillation of her report to a neophyte reporter (who sought her out) who works for a Murdoch financed vehicle which seeks eyeballs via its credo of “girls who don’t give a fuck.” This is not a recipe for creating a clear record of what is and is not in dispute.

    The author Caperton blithely assumes that the story babe published is both complete and accurate because Ansari has not disputed it. There are many pr reasons he might decline to do so apart from wanting to tacitly admit.

    It’s hard to say whether he will ever state what his facts are. For that reason I would urge people, including the author, not to brand him in derogatory terms. We just don’t know what happened let alone what his intentions are. As the saying goes, “ don’t believe what you read in the papers.”

    • Angel H.
      January 22, 2018 at 12:58 pm

      Do you not know where you are?

    • January 22, 2018 at 4:23 pm

      Nah, I’m comfortable staying with “asshole.” If the babe.net had it even partly right, that was some assholish behavior for a first date. Unless Babe left out the part where Grace and Aziz negotiated consent play on the way to his apartment — in that case, I owe him an apology.

  4. chemkeeder
    January 22, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    Yes. I know exactly where I am and what I think.

    Even if I believe the accuser, there are several important caveats: first, the article is not a witness statement. Other #metoo statements have been made directly by the victims or their lawyers. [The Weinstein piece in NYT was an article, but because it referred to many victims, each of whom suffered the same abuse, none was suspect. Moreover, NYT also later sought out and published non-victim corroborating evidence against Weinstein].

    Here, we have only the victim’s information filtered by a dubious publication which is using Grace and the incident to boost its value – this is, after all, a Murdoch-financed site. As the recent Flanagan posts point out as matters of fact, babe.net has articles which infantalize its readership, and which pay a whole lot of favorable attention to rape fantasies.

    Grace was not served by a description of the intimate details, but babe.net was. Why include the nature and number of specific sexual contacts, which help babe.net [by including the prurient and salacious, nearly pornographic, details] but do a disservice to Grace?

    Second, the article, for all its length, is confused and confusingly written. I would like to know as a reader why Grace went out with Ansari, and more importantly, why she went back to his apartment, and why she thought sex was a good idea, if she thought that at all. Many assert that women in her position take these steps for fear that the man will become angry etc, but this case is best made out of her mouth. As written, the article concedes the contact, but does not explain it. Because Grace never explains herself, her portrait is left being that of the helpless person sans agency.

    Finally, a strong advocate looks at weak points. I would like to know why Grace did not erase her social media comment about Ansari, which was discovered, and which lead to her outing. The reporter never asked her about her post about Ansari, and what its purpose was.

    • January 22, 2018 at 4:17 pm

      I will concede that we don’t know exactly what the details are because of babe.net’s salacious writing. That’s not to say that it wasn’t as bad or traumatic as recounted, or that we should assume that it’s exaggerated — just that the nature of the writing itself makes that hard to discern. babe.net really did do her a disservice.

      To your fifth paragraph: I can’t speak for Grace, of course, but I’m going to assume that she went out with him and went back to his apartment because she wanted to. She probably didn’t expect that nice-guy-Aziz was going to maul her when they got inside. (She didn’t appear to think that sex was a good idea at all, if we can judge from the article.) Going up to a guy’s apartment isn’t an invitation for unwelcome sexual contact, and Grace’s agency in choosing to go up to his apartment doesn’t lessen the impact of what happened when she got there. And even if she’d planned to go back to his place and have sex with him, she might not have been planning to have THAT kind of sex with him, and that doesn’t invalidate her agency either.

      Sure, it would be informative to know those motivations, but the fact that we don’t doesn’t discredit her. There’s nothing contradictory about her choice to go back to his apartment, whatever her motivation, and her feelings about what happened next. Geography is not consent.

    • Angel H.
      January 22, 2018 at 4:25 pm

      Tl;dr: The victim’s story wasn’t told in a way that you would’ve liked it told, so fuck her accusations. Amirite?

      Let me go back to my first question: Do you not know where you are? I asked this because, as a feminist site, Feministe will always give the victims of sexual assault the benefit of the doubt. Many of the site’s followers and its contributors are sexual assault survivors themselves, so if you wish to continue on this path…

      Beware the giraffe.

      • chemkeeder
        January 23, 2018 at 11:08 am

        Angel H.: No, you are wrong, quite wrong.

        My complaint is with the writer, editor and article, not the source, who I think was badly used by the former parties. [I do think that we cannot understand what happened without knowing the accused’s facts, and that for that reason the allegations can validly spur discussions, but they cannot be the basis for determining what the accused likely intended or did. He has admitted only to sexual contact, has claimed in a vague way that nothing seemed amiss, and seems to say that there was consent to something. He neither admits nor denies the specific charges the article makes, and he does not offer facts of any sort].

        The fact that this is a feminist website surely does not mean that it is credulous or salutes babe.net, which, as another writer has pointed out, publishes articles which infantilize females and it gives too much space to the supposed allure of rape fantasies. (Although the author Caperton derides the author Flanagan of that piece, one can verify the articles on bae.net for oneself. Don’t overlook that it is intended to attract readers by posing as the girls who “don’t give a fuck” site but I am sure that its staffers care very much what the funder Newscorp think.

  5. AM
    January 25, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    The public debate on consent in sexual relations, sparked by the Babe report, has long surpassed that article. It’s proved to have a purpose beyond two people’s individual experiences, though I’m sure the reality of having one’s story ‘out there’ must have been painful.

    Re accuracy or one-sidedness: Ansari’s follow up (to the date) text to Grace said that he thought it was “fun” meeting her. Her reply details some of the behavior that distressed her. He apologizes – he’s “sad” because he “misread” the situation. His later public response says “[sexual activity] by all indications was completely consensual”. These responses have the effect of shifting the sole responsibility for a miserable experience onto the person who experienced the misery. So nothing about his behavior might have been even a little bit questionable, require examination and need to change? The implication is that he just “misread” things because of her signals – an understandable mistake. Publicly, he wrongly portrays Grace’s discomfort as a delayed reaction that happened “upon [her] further reflection”, even though she stated in her text that she cried going home. It strains credibility that he genuinely believed the evening had gone well, and that he had no idea of her discomfort until she told him the next day. My own experiences have shown how woeful men can be at facing up to and acknowledging how and why things went badly wrong, including attempts to sound casual and ‘normal’ in follow up contact. My verbal and non-verbal cues were understood – confirmed when I (later) asked why unwelcome advances had continued – but I couldn’t get answers on ‘why’.

    In terms of some of the public response, my question is: who decided that sexual agency can be reduced to a categorical ‘yes’ or ‘no’ that must be given immediately; otherwise you’re ‘weak’ and shouldn’t ‘complain’? Language and physical cues should allow for a greater repertoire of exchange. Being ambivalent about sexual relations, and being able to place limits on the extent and type of intimate contact is every person’s right.

    • Grommet
      February 1, 2018 at 12:55 am

      The point remains: we don’t know what happened. Your speculation may be right but there is no way to know.

      • AM
        February 2, 2018 at 7:42 am

        The point is, we can read their words directly in a text exchange and a public statement. This is not anyone’s speculation. In Grace’s own text, she gives explicit examples of the kind of behavior she objected to.

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