Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How to Deal with Aziz Ansari and all His Friends

This is not really about Aziz Ansari - its about him and all his friends, even the nice ones. You can read the original account here. Then, lets talk about a few key questions that arise out of that account of a date night and:

1. Why many men (and some women) think this is a normal date;
2. Why 'no means no' is of no help in these situations (and by extension, why we seem to disregard non-verbal cues when it comes to sex, but we see and notice and give them importance in every other part of our lives);
3. What can we do better so that these accounts are fewer and fewer. 

Aziz Ansari didn't rape anyone. But this one statement misses the bigger picture. We are a generation of women who no longer want to be faced with this  kind of situation. And we want men never to want that kind of sex. The kind of sex that is taken by a man. The kind of sex that allows for Ms. Deneuve's 'persistent bothering.' The kind of sex that women don't want, but after enough unrelenting and coercive behaviour, we 'consent' to, just to get it all done and over with. Maybe that's not rape, but is that the goal of sex? Is that the environment we want to say is acceptable for ourselves and our future generations?

1. Imagine a world where sex is not something women hold and men take. That's the world I try to live in, but do you? Do any women? A world where sex is a not violent pursuit with notches on a belt to be had, sex to be 'given up', and men to be taking it where they can get it. And yet, here we are. What men find normal about the Ansari situation is that men are taught to pursue sex unrelentingly, persuaded that women should be reluctant, or at least not overly willing to engage in sexual activity, and that its going to take some time, effort and insistence to get her into bed. Given this 'understanding', men play the role of the taker, the aggressor, the closer. Women play the role of the gatekeeper, with innumerable analogies to closed/open legs as measures of her willingness. We see this played out for us all across the media spectrum: from romantic movies to thrillers, porn (oh, and especially porn) to daily show banter. When Donald Trump says you can grab women by the pussy, he's simply making it known that this is what men do: men grab women whether they like it or not. 

2. 'No means no' is nice, in theory. But it doesn't work for the whole story. Because what that means is that unless a man hears a clear and vocal, and often repeated, (and, in a few women's experiences, has to come with some forceful pushing) men will not stop this pestering, aggressive, persuasive, coercive, behaviour. 

But what about non verbal cues? When did they fall out of style? Why are non-verbal cues so difficult to perceive as soon as sex is involved? We do it on a daily basis: noticing people's facial expressions, reading body language, looking at eyes, faces, gestures, breathing... but introduce sex and all of a sudden, the only thing that matters is if a person yells no. This is ridiculous. 

However, it is precisely because we have been conditioned to think that women will naturally shy away from sex, that non verbal cues are not given enough importance. She turned her head? Who cares. She doesn't seem interested at all? Doesn't matter. She isn't participating? Well, at least I'm getting mine. 

'No means no' also ignores power dynamics between the sexes that, given recent conversations, people seem to believe disappear altogether in the bedroom. I have always argued that equality begins in the bedroom and in the courts, fundamental centres of justice in both the private and public spheres. In the case of Ansari, for those stating that his date should have:

"Said no, and left"
"Got up and left"
"Told him to stop,"

Let me tell you something that you may or may not understand (and that largely depends on whether you are a man or a woman, and what kind of power you wield): the power of being taught to be nice and to want to be liked is stronger and more ingrained in women than any recent teachings about no meaning no. 

Since the dawn of time women have been taught to be pretty, to be nice, and above all, not to offend, not to anger, not to be a nag, and to try to be liked, no matter the cost. We desperately want men to like us. We want boys to like us. And if he wants something, and we don't, how can we let him know, in the least disrupting way possible? This is especially emphasized in the bedroom, with all its vulnerabilities, all its sexuality, and all the teachings of roles to embody, roles that make it far more difficult for a woman to say no. 

Saying no is not as straightforward as we would like to imagine, or what 'no means no' advocates would like to teach. You know what women think of when they think of saying no? We think of what will happen after that. Will he get upset? Will he make me feel bad? Will I hurt his feelings? Will he hurt me? Will he stop talking to me? Will he not like me? What if he doesn't listen? Will he argue with me? Will he let me leave? What if he doesn't let me leave? Maybe I should just let him do this. Maybe I should just get it over with. Then I can leave.

There is a major problem when women feel such fear in saying no. Indeed, we need a larger conversation about why women feel so afraid of saying no and how men can ensure that women don't feel this fear. You'll see a trend throughout this that might seem a bit unsettling because its so foreign: Men need to be more aware of the person they are having sex with. 

Because, and this is my main point: sex is not a one-sided affair. Sex is a mutually enjoyable, to be had by all, consented to by all, give and take and given again experience. This is what it should be. This is what the best sex is. When, even if its not that great, both parties wanted it, both parties were aware of the other person, and no one felt coerced or pushed into anything. 

3. So, how about we teach enthusiastic consent, where you have sex with a person who also wants to have sex with you. Not, maybe they want to. Not, they want to because I pressured them into it. Not, they want to because it took an hour of convincing. Not, I've been taught women like pressure and unrelenting persisting pushiness, but rather enthusiastic consent, where both parties are saying: hell yes, or, yes please, or f**k yeah.

How about we teach awareness of non-verbal cues too? Like: oh hey she didn't say no, but she's not at moving. She's looking away. She's not responding to me. He's not into this. He keeps turning his head. He doesn't even want to touch me. Maybe I shouldn't keep going. I should check in with my partner. Actually, I should stop.

Let us completely upend the 'rules' of courtship that treat men like animals and women like voiceless creatures. 

Imagine the sex we should be teaching. Imagine if we taught that orgasms are for both men and women and everyone should be getting one. Imagine if we taught that pleasure is for both parties, equally. Imagine if we said that all experiences matter, and that caring about the other person involved in sex is AS important as our own pleasure. Maybe then we would have less taking of sex. Less pushiness. Less relenting masquerading as consent. And then we'd stop the debate around Aziz Ansari. Yeah, he didn't rape anyone. Yeah, it was a bad experience. But yeah, that shit should not have happened if both men and women were taught a different kind of sex, of pleasure and of consent.

Does it mean less sex? Maybe. Maybe at first, as we undo the shitty sex-ed we've been taught by media, schools, porn and our idiot friends. But then, it will be followed by amazing, fun, happy, still sometimes awkward, but fully consensual sex. And for all the distractors who think this means that every second you have to check-in, remember what I'm saying: non-verbal cues count. Also, a little 'you like it,' or 'are you okay' checking in never hurt anyone. 

And that's what I want, and what the  new generation of women and men want. So move over older generations. Move over anyone who thinks that dates with Aziz Ansari and his friends should keep going on like that. Or get on board. You may have some much needed fun too. 

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