This week, the news cycle has been awash with two names and one of the most powerful and passionate debates to seize the #MeToo movement.
Aziz Ansari – the actor, comedian, star of Parks and Recreation and Master of None and self-titled feminist – found himself the centre of an international furore. A sexual encounter he had from September last year suddenly was fodder for conversation and impassioned op-eds and debate from every corner of politics.
A woman under the pseudonym Grace told website Babe she went on a date with the actor, calling their encounter the “worst night of her life”. Then 22, she told the website she spent much of the night resisting Ansari’s advances with “non-verbal cues”, her body language, she says, extolling how she wasn’t the least bit interested in sex. However, such was the reported dogged determination of Ansari, Grace relented, eventually giving him oral sex.
“Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points,” she said. “I stopped moving my lips and turned cold.”
Most of the conversation that has erupted since has been heavy and muddled, a tug of war erupting between those branding Ansari a sexual assailant and those who assert it was just ‘bad sex’.
Grace did as much as she felt she could to indicate she did not want what Ansari was pushing for. She opened her mouth and spoke, her body language doing a lot of the talking. And in a world where it’s estimated only seven per cent of any message is conveyed through words, should that have been enough?
‘He didn’t get it’. ‘He didn’t see it’.
And the reason it’s hit a public nerve? Because this happens all the time in everyday sex. Exchanges like these shouldn’t be normal. And yet, they are.
Grace has every right to tell her story. It’s a valid #metoo experience, even if there is debate about whether assault occurred or not.
And it’s brought a very important discussion to the surface: the way we perceive sex, talk about sex and encourage sex needs to be looked at.
So, I asked five men what they think about Grace and Aziz Ansari, and how it’s made them feel about sex.
“This shows how confusing [sex] can be”
Jamie*, 27, says casual, everyday sex sees so many of us falling back into our gender roles, consciously or not.
"Men and women both have agency when it comes to sex, but the majority of people fall into what have been their traditional societal roles, where men do the chasing and women are coy/hard to get," he said.
"Men do spend a lot of time trying to read minds and signals when they first meet a woman because it might not be clear exactly what they want."
For Ansari, Jamie says, to have the woman over first, then at dinner and then back at his house, hints to him believing he genuinely thought "she was interested".
"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."
"There's huge pressure on any bloke in their 20s"
"I hate that you're celebrated as a man for sleeping with 50 different women, but a woman who sleeps with the equivalent amount of people gets judged. After reading all about Ansari, I don't know if this has changed my perception of consent but it has reminded me how perceptive you have to be and not selfish," said Andrew, 23.
Listen: The Out Loud team decide where they stand on all things Aziz Ansari. (Post conmtinues after audio.)
"This scares me"
"The one thing that scares me out of all of this is the idea of enthusiastic consent," Jackson*, 23 tells Mamamia.
"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.
"Sleeping with a girl is how you are ranked. If you're a virgin you're laughed at, if you've slept with 100 girls you are a king. I think a lot of it comes from TV, movies and porn."
"Aziz was a dick, but I would consider this 'consensual'"
For 20-year-old Ryan*, this was 'power play'.
"Yeah, Aziz was a bit of a dick. But every indication from what I've seen was what I would consider 'consensual', as a guy. If you're making out with someone and then try take things a step further, and the person you're with says, 'Woah, slow down' then moves over to the couch, I would interpret that as a power play," he said.
"I would interpret it as the woman saying 'I'm keen (moving over to the couch) but we're doing this on my terms. I am in charge of this encounter (slow down)'.
"Maybe she WAS being really obvious with her body language on the night, or in the tone she said slow down but I wasn't there to judge that. I have to judge it from her account on paper and from that account, the only thing I feel is terrified that someone is going to come out to me and say yeah that sexual encounter we had five years ago was non-consensual, I felt violated."
"I think a lot of people have been in that scenario"
Nick, 27*, says it's totally "natural to be unsure" about having sex with someone on the first or second date.
"Maybe you say yes to a drink at their place and then when you're there start getting second thoughts - I think a lot of people have been in that scenario. And while having a drink at someone's house is in no way consenting to shit, you can probably expect it will be a possibility.
"I think differentiating between a hook up you go through with and regret, and one where you are coerced/forced/assaulted into is important - it might not be the easiest thing to spot in the moment but if there's doubt there, you're best erring on the side of caution or risk being in Ansari's situation.
"As soon as the argument is 'consent is a blurry line' I think it's horsesh*t. Consent is a yes. If you think the answer is a maybe, keep it on ice."
We cannot change the way Babe ran that story. We will never unanimously agree about whether Ansari's actions constitute assault.
It's clear that Ansari was acting in an entitled and arrogant and creepy way. But to take this conversation to a productive place, we need to move past having his head on a stake. Because it's also clear that the majority of women have had an experience like Grace's. Which begs the question, how did we get here?
Probably with the fact that from a young age, a pop culture narrative encourages men to chase the women they want, and not stop.
Grease encouraged them to push past resistance ("did she put up a fight?"), 10 Things I Hate About You says to pursue past 'no' and porn told them it is fine to wear a woman down, until 'yes' is all she has left. Movies and jokes tell men that women are hard to read. They say no, but really, they mean yes. They say yes, but really, they mean no. Women are complicated. Women have a lot of feelings. Women can't even make sense of their own feelings. Women are just difficult to understand.
As for us women? Yes, we're watching films like There's Something About Mary, A Walk to Remember, Forest Gump, This Means War too. Women are meant to say no when we mean yes, they say. We have learned the basics of 'playing hard to get'.
Sex is long overdue for a feminist overhaul. Yes, our girls need to be empowered to give verbal consent. But so, too, do our boys need to be taught to pull away if they're unsure, to relieve themselves of the pressure to be the leader of sex, to understand that sex isn't a badge of honour, nor is the woman they take home.
So, if you're tempted to pick Grace apart for her story, let's accept that as a society, we're not very good at sex. That's a problem worth addressing. And the time is now.