“I thought I was one of the good guys. Then I read the Aziz Ansari story.”
That is the title of an anonymous article posted this week on the website Vox, in which the writer tells the story of his encounter with a woman he calls Julie.
In the piece, he details how their texts, their flirting and their interactions led him, one night, to her house and later, her bed.
He was 22, and at 22, “toxic masculinity praises sexually active men”. He wanted to be one of them.
He lay on her bed, they began kissing, he took her top, then her bra, off.
“At some point,” he writes, “I went down on her.
“I don’t remember any verbal cues to stop, but what I do remember is a significant nonverbal cue: She wasn’t making any sound. No moans, no breaths, no words. She seemed stiff. But I kept going…”
It took him “too long” to ask if she was okay.
“‘I don’t think we should have sex,’ she told him. ‘We’re friends, and I think having sex will make things complicated.’
“I responded almost immediately. ‘I don’t think it will make things complicated. I’m totally fine with figuring that out later.’ I kind of laughed, I think, because I thought I was being charming.”
He went on:
“She never physically stopped me from touching her. At the time, I took that as a sign that she actually wanted me to continue. Her verbal objections, I convinced myself, were her poetic way of telling me she liked me enough to want to be in a relationship with me.
“If I hadn’t stopped when I stopped, I would have committed rape. But in that moment, it didn’t feel that way — it felt normal. I had convinced myself that she still wanted me despite her objections.”
In the back and forth that has followed the Ansari story, where the actor and comedian was accused of assault by some and coercion by others, the debate about whether bad sex constitutes sexual assault has been riddled with nuance.
Listen: The Mamamia Out Loud team on everything to do with Aziz Ansari. (Post continues…)
Though public discourse hasn’t agreed on much, one idea has many parties on the same page: We have a problem with sex. Men have a problem with what constitutes good sex for women.
Articles like the one in Vox today are important. Many rapists do not know they’re rapists. Many men don’t realise their conduct is improper; that some of it may flirt with the lines of assault.
Many men who are the problem don’t realise they are, in fact, the problem.
When Mamamia interviewed anonymous men following the story’s fall out, one man said in the case of the Ansari story, there was a sense that because the woman went to dinner, then back to his house, there was a chance she was “genuinely” interested in sex.
“It doesn’t excuse the way he behaved once she came back to his house, which seemed a bit ignorant of what her actions were saying, but also shows how confusing it can be. What he did (based on her account, which is the other issue, because that’s all we really know about the situation) doesn’t make him a predator – I reckon it just shows that he’s human.”
Another spoke of his realisation that “enthusiastic consent” is crucially important.
"That's what I've been taking from it. How, for example, you could be having sex with someone who is consenting but not enthusiastically consenting, and that's on you. It really shows how carefully you need to read signals, signals you might actually miss if you've been drinking."
As the anonymous Vox writer contends, the fact he considered the sexual experience "normal" is the bedrock of the problem. He saw the cues. He just thought it was his job to push past them, to change her mind, to quell her confusion.
"With Julie, I was aware of her verbal and nonverbal cues. But I had been socially conditioned to believe that women would want to have sex with me if I could convince them."
And the more stories we read like these, the better. Because sexual assault is rarely a monster hiding in the bushes ready to pounce. Sexual assailants walk the street like you and me.
To read the Vox story in full, click here.