Hi! First off, you guys are amazing!! Thanks so much for creating a space for black folk to celebrate our sexuality, on our own terms. I saw your post on twitter inviting a discussion on consent. I wanted to reach out because I've been struggling to draw the line between consent and non-consent specifically in light of the recent Aziz Ansari situation. I'm seeking some clarity.
Thanks in advance for reading and I'll get right into it. Me and a couple of friends were sharing our 2 cents on the situation (where we believed everything went wrong, how this situation could have been improved, whether or not we think Aziz is a bad lover, etc) In my opinion (which is based off the Babe.net article) Aziz's behavior isn't sexual assault but at the same time, his behavior seems predatory and therefore shouldn't be deemed ok.
What bothered me most about what he did was his persistence; this woman didn't want to engage in what Aziz was trying to do. This was clear from her cold reaction to his kisses, her moving her hand away from his dick after he put her hand there several times, and her comment that she didn't want to hate him and that if they had sex, then she would hate him. I think his persistence, despite her recoiling, is very problematic, but I wouldn't consider it sexual assault per se.
Why I struggle to call this sexual assault is that it seemed like this woman had power in this situation (she had the power to put the situation on pause when she went to the bathroom- I found myself asking, why didn't she just leave here?). She power to say no, but just didn't say anything (until she finally made the "I don't want to hate you" comment). On the other hand she didn't return the kisses and moved her hand away from his penis- those are clear signs of NOT wanting to participate in the activity Aziz was initiating.
And why didn't Aziz notice her non-participation in the kissing, her discomfort with the speed he was going, etc--> A good sex partner should recognize these things in the person(s) they are physically intimate with.
I guess what I'm looking for is some insight. I don't want to victim blame, but at the same time I feel like I am victim blaming when I say that this woman had power in this situation and should have exerted it if she didn't want to do what Aziz was trying to do.I also am aware of how predatory Aziz was in this situation, so I view his actions as not ethical in this encounter. I apologize for the length, but I just needed to get some outside advice.
Thanks so much and looking forward to your words of wisdom and insight!
Thank you so much for this question. We apologize for the delay, honestly we've written and re-written a response several times. This is such a complicated issue and it's the reason we wrote the post you saw on twitter. So again thank you for your question and there's no need to apologize for the length, it's a lot to get out. Thank you for sharing your thought process, a lot of people are asking the same questions and trying to make sense of the Aziz situation but also situations they've experienced in their own lives.
I think that the way we are socialized in our gendered society grooms us to all be inept during situations like this. Those of us who are raised and socialized to be feminine are given messages since childhood to be polite, not be too aggressive, to follow directions, and to follow the lead of men. As children we are told to ignore our inner gut reaction and instead to sit on someone's lap, give or receive kisses from, spend time with, or do tasks and activities that we don't want to. As we grow, we are told that boys who are mean to us like us, that men can't control themselves sexually, that men are violent, that sex is something we owe men, that if we go on a date with a guy, wear certain clothes, or go back home with a guy we should expect that they want sex, and that we shouldn't expect to always feel good/ pleasure in our sexual experiences but instead make sure that the man orgasms. There are so many different ways that these messages are drilled into our minds. All of these messages make it really difficult for us, in a nuanced and complicated moment to advocate for ourselves, take action, assert our boundaries, to leave, just say no or stop, and to not go along with an uncomfortable, non-consensual situation. I can think of numerous situations in my life where I told older women that I felt weird about certain men because they hugged too long or gave me a weird feeling and they would dismiss those claims and insist that they are friendly and practically family. Again teaching me to ignore my inner gut reaction and to not act on it. Growing up I definitely felt pressured to go along with sexual experiences and in my head told myself things like "I really like this guy", "I've led him on so I can't leave now", "I'll just give him a blowjob so I don't have to have sex", "He's a really nice guy, I know he's doing this because he likes me", "what's wrong with me, why am I not into this, I do like him", "what will he think of me if I don't do this" and I could go on.
And so on the outside looking in, it's easy to say why didn't you just leave, but in actually a lot of us stay in relationships, friendships, work situations, etc that we don't want to be in. We've been told it's the "right" thing to do. Also if you have a history of abuse, it can be even harder for you to be able to assert your boundaries. And, while Aziz is very little in stature and might not seem like a threat, there have been too many cases of women who have been attacked, raped. and killed for rejecting a man's sexual advances. All of this may be going through someone's head during moments like this and a lot of us end up having survival sex just to appease the person and make sure we get home as safely as possible.
On the other hand, those who are raised and socialized to be masculine are told that they can't cry, can't express their emotions, have to be tough and rough. Most of the signs she was giving Aziz requires emotional intelligence. We know that we (read: patriarchy) have cut men off from understanding and expressing their emotions and that makes it very difficult for them to be in tune with other people's emotions. Reading body language, reading between the lines, checking in to see how someone is feeling, checking in to see how you're feeling are all things that women are raised learning how to do and men are not. I've talked to women who express that they are giving their husband the silent treatment, and the husband isn't even aware that something is wrong! As men are raised they continue to receive messages that they think with their penis and not their head, that they can't control themselves sexually, that girls will play hard to get, that it's their job to initiate sex, that they need to be persistent, that rejection means they're less of a man, and add to that all the messages from porn that depict aggressive, penis centered sex. Everything from children movies where prince charming kisses the sleeping princes (which isn't consensual) to movies that show women being mad and aggressive and the guy grabbing her, kissing her, and she resists at first and then gets really into it - affirms these messages for women and men. So when it comes down to a sexual experience where someone is being resistant, men often think this is a part of "the chase" and that they're supposed to be persistent. They also learn that they don't have to think, check in, read cues, once their dick is hard.
This is how we've been doing sex in America forever, this is not a country founded with a principle of consent - just look how they took land from, raped, and killed Native Americans - so now we are asking for a culture of consent and we're realizing it's not as easy for everyone to understand. Getting to a culture of consent means raising women to trust and use their voice and for people to respect it. And raising men to be emotionally expressive for themselves and emotionally aware of others. I think that as long as we don't have these things, there will be too many more situations like the one described in the Babe article.
We want to point out that even though we are using gender binary and heteronormative language, similar sexual scipts may appear in queer sexual expereinces.
We hope this provides some insight!
Dalychia & Rafaella