The Aziz Ansari accusations may not be about rape, but they are about rape culture

While the #MeToo movement has resulted in man after man being outed as rapists, serial harassers, or general creeps, we would be mistaken to view this as a kind of culling. The truth revealed via #MeToo is not that there are a lot of bad men in this world (though, of course, there are many), but that all men, in this culture, are socialized in a particular way, and that socialization is what leads to men’s disrespectful, unethical, and too-often violent treatment of women.

On Saturday, babe published the account of a then-22 year old woman named “Grace” (a pseudonym) who went on a date with actor and comedian, Aziz Ansari.

According to Grace, The comedian rushed through dinner before bringing her back to his apartment, where he immediately kissed, fondled, and performed oral sex on her. Grace said she felt uncomfortable at how quickly things escalated and voiced her hesitation, though she did reciprocate a little bit, leading many online to respond with frustration at the framing of Ansari’s behaviour as nonconsensual or predatorial.

Indeed, the two never do end up having intercourse. No rape takes place. Ansari was not violent. But it is exactly this that we should be paying attention to. We need not try to frame Ansari as a rapist or a “bad man” in order to be critical of his behaviour.

And, moreover, the reality is that the actor’s behaviour is completely normal. Men grow up in this culture learning that they should pursue women relentlessly and women learn that this behaviour is “romantic.” Young men often treat sex like a game or a contest, seeing how much “pussy” they can “get.” Men also learn that the goal of sex is their pleasure — an idea that is reinforced through industries like prostitution and pornography, wherein truly the only point of a sexual encounter is a man’s orgasm.

In this situation, Ansari displayed a complete lack of concern for his date’s feelings and desires. “He probably moved my hand to his dick five to seven times,” Grace explained in the piece. “He really kept doing it after I moved it away.” Throughout the evening, Grace would pull away, and the actor would push forward, continuing to press for oral sex or intercourse. She left the date in tears, saying she felt “violated.”

Many people have read this story and responded with frustration, viewing the situation as nothing more than a “bad date,” or by asking why Grace didn’t just leave the apartment. For The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan presented Grace as partially responsible for the way the date played out. What happened, according to Flanagan, was the result of a lack of communication and differing expectations — a young woman chasing a famous man, hoping to finagle a “boyfriend,” versus a man who just wanted to get laid. Grace’s anger and hurt, Flanagan argues, is a result of feeling rejected and a desire to get revenge. And while indeed Grace may have felt “hurt,” to interpret those feelings as silly or irrational is irresponsible and dishonest — it assumes Grace is naive, and should have expected her date to treat her as nothing more than a vessel onto which he could project his desires. I mean, goodness, what woman wouldn’t feel hurt at learning their date has no interest in them as a person? It isn’t exactly naive to expect to be treated as a human being.

Flanagan responds to Grace’s comment — “You guys are all the fucking same” — by asking, if “this has happened to her many times before, what led her to believe that this time would be different?” But this kind of “boys will be boys” response is exactly the problem and is exactly why men have become accustomed to behaving in disrespectful, predatorial ways towards women, often without even realizing they are doing anything wrong.

At the risk of being accused of being “too nice” (something I am rarely accused of), I don’t want to vilify Ansari. I don’t think he is a particularly bad or dangerous man. Rather, he is a completely normal man, who has been socialized as all men have been under patriarchy.

I have been in countless situations like the one described by “Grace.” I have sometimes framed these experiences “grey rape,” because, while feeling disrespected, pressured, coerced, or even violated, there was technical, eventual consent. Women give in to male pestering for all sorts of reasons, sometimes because the man in question is a man they like and don’t want to offend or alienate, sometimes because they simply feel tired of politely fending of advances. The notion that men should pressure women into sex is so normalized in our culture that it’s treated as a cute joke when husbands do it to their wives, as though they are children begging for a cookie. But this behaviour isn’t harmless — it is rape culture

It is about how men view and treat women, it is about our notion of “romance,” which often is connected to dominating behaviour on the part of men; the romanticization of male control, jealousy, and even violence; and the notion that men should be the pursuers and that women must always be playing defense. It is about the idea that men “need” sex in order to survive and that they are incapable of controlling their desires.

How can we expect men to stop behaving like this when we are constantly normalizing and reinforcing this behaviour? While, indeed, individual men need to be held accountable for their behaviour, what also needs to happen is a cultural shift — one that all of us are responsible for participating in. We need to change our understanding of sex and courtship rituals; stop treating men as mindless animals, driven by uncontrollable sexual urges; stop normalizing the idea that “consent” is as simple as agreeing or acquiescing; and challenge the ubiquitous objectification of women, which reinforces the idea that women are things that exist for male pleasure or titillation.

Someone like Ansari is no criminal. He is not even a “bad” man. He is a product of our culture. And if we want to end rape in this culture, we need to address all the ways predatorial behaviour is normalized, not only violent situations and not only literal rape.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.