This is a mess.
In the 3000 word piece, 22-year-old Way shares the story of 23-year-old ‘Grace’, who believes she was sexually assaulted by the Hollywood actor and comedian.
As was Babe’s intention, everybody read it. But within the clumsily written narrative – littered with irrelevant details that, whether purposefully or not, undermined the very integrity of their subject – lay what is quite frankly media gold: The inability to put the story down and move on with our lives.
This was ‘The Dress‘ (the 2015 viral photograph, that had people yelling “it’s blue and black!” or “it’s gold and white!”) all over again. Except far more serious.
“Can you read this?” we asked our mothers.
“What did you think?” we asked our colleagues on Monday morning.
“Am I crazy?” we posted in our group chat, with a link to the story, in a desperate attempt to have our sense of reality confirmed by those around us.
LISTEN: Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright and I have a heated argument about the accusations against Aziz Ansari. Post continues below.
And that is human nature. We are constantly checking that we have not, indeed, gone mad. “Can you smell that?” we inquire. “Is it just me, or…?” we suggest over drinks.
It is why we go crazy in solitary confinement; because we can no longer entirely trust what we see.
So when we read the Babe piece, we desperately searched for our tribe.
Just like The Dress, or a Rorschach test, when a picture is so entirely clear to you, it is near impossible to understand how anyone can see it so differently.
Days later, there have emerged two clear camps. One, sees Grace The Victim. She was coerced and throughout the night expressed verbally and non-verbally, ‘No’. At times, she went along with sexual acts, but her consent was never enthusiastic. In a world where it is estimated that one in three women are subjected to sexual assault, and one woman a week (in Australia) is murdered by a current or former partner, Grace The Victim makes sense.
i cannot overstate how exhausting it is to wake up every morning and be reminded how allergic our culture is to the idea of trusting women
— Hannah Giorgis (@ethiopienne) January 16, 2018
The other sees clear as day, Grace The Agent. Get up and walk out, they think. This isn’t sexual assault, it’s bad sex, and if Grace did not want that, then she needed to be clearer. Consent, according to this camp, is drawn from a number of signals – a lot of which were, in this case, mixed. Ansari is not a mind reader, and if anyone is a victim in this story, it’s him. This does not belong alongside the stories of Harvey Weinstein, given there was no work-related power differential that originally defined the movement. That position, too, makes sense.
This woman went on a date with Aziz Ansari, had terrible consensual sex with him and regretted it then cried ‘sexual misconduct’. See you lying women are why ACTUAL rape victims get second guessed. Sick
— Ashley Nicole (@geeksandcleats) January 17, 2018
You see one or you see the other. And when people feel like their perception of reality is being questioned, they get angry.
Now the story of Aziz Ansari has become a way to gauge some sort of bizarre feminist morality; to determine where exactly one sits on the feminist spectrum. And everybody seems to be yelling.
If you don’t agree with picture number one, you’re a rape apologist. You’ve internalised misogyny. You’re irresponsible, discouraging all sexual assault victims, past and/or present, to come forward. You are part of the problem, siding with the enemy and, according to one viral tweet, you’re simply “an asshole”.
If you don’t agree with picture number two, you’re a feminazi. You’ve betrayed all actual victims, who have ever lived, everywhere. You’re a radicalised, man-hating, fire-breathing dragon, who has undermined the #MeToo movement.
I think men are defending Aziz Ansari because his behavior is really common. I think they see themselves in that scenario, they don’t want to believe that it’s wrong. If you’re having to convince someone to do it, she doesn’t want to. Coercion is not consent.
— Jenjen (@Jenjen19725) January 14, 2018
So I just read the full account of Aziz Ansari’s accuser and….I’m seriously wondering if I’m being trolled. Like is this a troll? SHE VERBALLY TOLD HIM SEVERAL TIMES THAT SHE JUST WANTED TO CHILL AND NOT HAVE SEX. WHERE TF IS THE CONFUSION COMING FROM?
— Raqueletta Moss (@slc______) January 17, 2018
A snapshot of Twitter would have you believe that women – thought leaders who have dedicated their lives to the empowerment of women – are being thrown out of the feminist club, all because of how they read a (frankly) poorly written story.
The jury is not carefully deliberating and weighing up the evidence. We are at war, not allowing a shred of nuance, and telling anyone who doesn’t think what we do to, “Shut up”, lest they do more damage.
Is that where decades of feminism has landed us? At a stalemate, where women just yell at each other to stop speaking?
Could it be, much like The Dress, and much like a Rorschach test, that two things can coexist at the same time?
Could it be that both parties are imperfect? That the story is neither black, nor white, but grey?
The Aziz Ansari and Mark Wahlberg “scandals” prove that feminists think women are frail, helpless flowers who can’t possibly be expected to speak up and assert themselves. I’ve never seen women more unfairly infantilized than they’ve been over the past few days.
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) January 16, 2018
Opinions and nuanced conversations are vital to our evolution. Progress comes from these moments of tension.
But when we become so divided that we’re no longer even talking to each other, when, in many ways, we are on the same team, we all lose.
We all want the best for future Graces. And we want the best for future Azizs.
This extremely flawed Babe story will not be the thing that entirely derails the #MeToo movement.
The biggest threat will be our inability to have an actual, respectful conversation, about one of the most complex issues of our time.