Aziz Ansari: are we missing something?

So Aziz Ansari went on a date with a woman (going by the name of ‘Grace’); they went back to his place and by all accounts, he got a bit frisky and then a bit pushy. That doesn’t reflect well and it’s a shame for him that he can’t read signals well. Or perhaps, as is the case with some men, he just wasn’t raised to appreciate the needs or thoughts of women. Women were there primarily to serve and comfort.

It would certainly be great if this kind of behaviour diminished – or more than anything, the thinking behind it. It would be great if (heterosexual) men grew up wanting an equal relationship with a person who is a woman. But that would require more mothers to stop idolising their boys.

Anyhow, the big question is… if a couple go back to someone’s home after a date and the man pushes for sex, does this constitute sexual abuse? I believe that it does not. The main reason for this is as follows:

Since things got more equal, there’s been a growing trend of boys and girls hanging out and being friends and saying that it’s all just nice and innocent and equal and everyone is ‘cool’. And the consequence of this is that people deny the grey area between – that is the ever-present sexual potential between men and women.

Denial of the grey area can go wrong for both men and women. I once hung out a lot with a young chap who I adored, and when I raised the question of anything happening between us, he was in complete shock. Crikey, don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to return to the ‘good old days’, but when we escaped rigid courtship, chaperones and such the like, we also relinquished something useful and honest.

If a man goes on a date with a woman and, after a few drinks, they go back to his place together, it would be expected that they are going to do some sexual stuff. To be honest, as a woman, I might myself be a bit disappointed or even upset if I’d had a nice evening with a man and we came back to mine and he then rejected my advances.

If as a man or a woman, you are bold enough to go back to someone’s house after a date, then you need to be bold enough to set the other person straight if you didn’t mean that you wanted to have sex. Of course, male and female sexuality operate in different ways. Both sexes are fully capable of self-control, but biologically speaking, the man plays the active role, and the woman plays the passive. Maybe therefore a man’s desire (i.e. his erect penis being presented to you) can feel like something intimidating. But -not wanting to sound mean because I appreciate that Grace was upset by her experience- it’s worth bearing such possibilities in mind before allowing the situation to develop.

So dealing with an overly-keen date after (wilfully and intentionally) going back to someone’s flat after a date is pretty innocuous compared to some other situations women find themselves in. Sadly, some of these situations cannot been pre-empted or avoided. But when making decisions about what they do, there is a risk that women confuse two important, but distinct questions: a question of personal safety, and one of morality.

Allow me to draw a comparison between a woman’s safety and the safety of a cyclist. Both find themselves in a position of fundamental unsafety. A woman can be raped by a man, just as a cyclist can be knocked down. It might be wrong for that driver to cut you up, just as it’s wrong for that man to touch you without your consent. But morality will not keep you from harm.

We shouldn’t be putting ourselves in danger simply to prove a point. We can still prove that point anyway: yes, protest and campaign and seek to educate people and instigate positive social change. Do what you can to adjust the moral imbalance. But if you want to keep safe, you can actually make some pragmatic choices. Like, don’t walk through the park alone at 1am; don’t go to a dodgy area wearing a miniskirt; don’t get rat-arsed without any safe plan of how you’re getting home. Taking steps to avoid sexual assault doesn’t mean ‘they’ve won’.

If we expand on the cyclist analogy, there are two reasons that a person might find themselves being victim. One is physical vulnerability, such as being short, frail, or having an impairment. The other is due to discrimination and xenophobia, such as being of a particular race, religion or sexual orientation. Being female can fit into both categories. Physically, a woman might be an easy target because she is not as strong as a man and because (quite frankly), she has a vagina to be penetrated. She might also be a victim of discrimination because vast numbers of men in a particular society hold misogynistic views about women and consider it almost their right to molest, use and abuse women.

It is the latter that needs to be wiped out. And things are changing, slowly, subtly. (As a caveat: we can only speak for our own society, and support those in other societies who share our battle. Such matters are of course culturally subjective and sensitive).

However, because of their physical vulnerability, regardless of misogyny, women will always be potential victims of sexual abuse. I want very much not to sound flippant here. I mean this in the sense that life can bring us many good things but some of us will have to deal with bad things. And if you’re female, sexual abuse is one of those bad things. Just the same as how if you’re male, one of those bad things might be macho violent attack from members of your own sex (something pretty unique to the male sex).

Why will women always be potential victims? Because society will always have deviance. That’s to say, there will always be messed-up, desperate, cynical, angry people in the world; people who exist on a sub-level, beneath the mainstream. People who do things which serve their dysfunctional needs; do things which ordinary folk wouldn’t dream of – things which are anti-social in the most literal sense.

Men penetrate and women are penetrated. And in this way, a woman can be made victim in a way that a man cannot. Women are always at risk from deviant men. We cannot expect these men to cease to exist because while their prevalence may vary year-on-year, culture-by-culture, deviance is an unavoidable –perhaps even necessary- part of our social existence.

A bit of honesty will go a long way – honesty about what it is to be a woman and a man, and honesty (and caution) about the fact that sex might always pop up. This equip us to make pertinent and fair arguments for sexual equality.