Is it really just a bad date?

Have you heard about this little thing that happened with Aziz Ansari? You may have missed it. If you need a recap, here you go.

Suffice it to say, I’ve had several interesting conversations on social media about whether or not the woman who went on a date with Ansari was sexually assaulted by him. I’ve even had other feminists say to me that it was simply a “bad date” and that Ansari doesn’t deserve to have his name dragged through the mud. He’s not Harvey Weinstein, after all.

I’m not a fan of mud in general, nor am I a fan of dragging someone through it. What I am a fan of is calling out problems that exist in our society. You know, like the problem of minimizing women’s experiences when they walk away from a “bad date” feeling violated.

When I read Grace’s account of her evening in the company of Mr. Ansari, it wasn’t something I have to imagine–because I’ve been there. I’ve had a man be sexually aggressive and miss (or ignore) my cues that I wasn’t into it. I’ve had a man ignore what I’ve actually told him and just keep pressuring me to consent after reassuring me that everything is OK. I’ve had that ugly cry in the car on the way home and that humiliating shower. And I’ve told myself that what happened to me wasn’t that bad.

The problem is that viewing things through a lens of “not that bad” is that it’s just armor we all suit up in. We minimize our own experiences because, if we don’t, then we have to come to terms with some very, very uncomfortable realizations.

To say that this woman merely experienced a “bad date” is to disregard her experience. And it brings up a larger problem for me. If this is just “ordinary” sex, then our ordinary is awful. If this was a normal sexual encounter with a man where he used his partner as a prop in a self-serving sexual fantasy and put his partner’s pleasure and comfort way down on his priority list, then that means this kind of sex is normal. And that’s terrifying.

There are terrible things that happen in the world. Women sold into sexual slavery, women being raped and mutilated. So maybe being coerced into sex doesn’t seem so bad when you look at it from that point of view. But I’m unwilling to look at sexual violence through that lens. To me, having a man place your hand on his penis repeatedly when you tell him you aren’t into it and having Brock Turner feel entitled to assault an unconscious woman behind a dumpster in a dirty alley both come from the same screwed up, misguided place.

Most people want to look at sex crimes as something deviant or abhorrent. What I think we all need to come to terms with is that sexual violence isn’t a black and white issue. There’s a lot of very uncomfortable gray area that needs to be explored.

The response to this story has helped me realize this is a topic that is difficult to discuss. The lines are blurry for a lot of people. Grace has called what happened to her a sexual assault, and maybe we resent that because it forces us to view our own sexual experiences in a different light. But I say it’s OK that we don’t agree. Conversations about tough topics were always going to be a part of the #metoo movement. They are necessary and important conversations to have. We don’t fail when we disagree. We fail when we choose not to have the conversation in the first place.