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    10 Thoughts On Grace, Aziz Ansari, And Girls Who Don't Give A F _ CK: Notes From A Sexual Literacy Educator

    We have a long ways to go—and there’s no better indication of this than the current conversation about a young woman, Grace, who published a story titled "I Went On a Date With Aziz Ansari. It Turned Into the Worst Night of My Life." In her account to Babe, Grace insists that she gave verbal and nonverbal cues to Ansari who either ignored or bypassed them. But both Ansari and Grace have different experiences of their time in his apartment, as is evidenced in Ansari's note to her after she tells him she cried the whole way home. "I'm so sad to hear this ... Clearly I misread things in the moment and I'm truly sorry." The difference in their experiences, perspectives, and feelings are the very things we need to be talking about when we're talking about consent. So, too, do we need to talk about HOW to talk about these issues.

    1. So Who Gives a F_ _ K?

    The title of Babe’s article on @AzizAnsari was off-putting and sensationalist, but it was really no different than many of the other attention grabbing headlines on the website whose tagline reads, Babe: For Girls Who Don’t Give a Fuck. As someone who teaches sexual literacy and consent to young people—and who trains teachers to talk about consent in schools—I do give a fuck. I give a fuck about how this problematic and poorly constructed story in Babe is received—and what we can learn from both the story and its reception. Unlike Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic, I’m not going to start with the claim that Ansari’s career has been destroyed. Nor am I going to insist he’s the victim here. Instead, I’m going to do what I advise others to do when faced with a young woman coming forward with a complaint of sexual assault: I’m going to believe her. I’m going to believe that she felt uncomfortable when she said she did. I’m going to believe her when she says she felt distressed. I’m going to believe her when she says she cried all the way home. I’m going to believe her when she says she offered verbal and nonverbal cues. I’m going to believe her when she says she felt confused about whether what happened was an awkward encounter or a sexual assault. And then, like the consent educator and feminist who gives a fuck that I am, I’m going to say some other things that need to be said.

    2. Nope. The Movement Isn't Derailed.


    Stop thinking that the Babe story or Grace’s allegation undermines or derails the #MeToo movement. Of course they don't. The movement is enhanced whenever we’re drawn into conversations about consent, what it really means, and where responsibility really lies. We haven’t been particularly good at having such conversations—especially at the national level—and now that we’ve started, we can’t get weak-kneed and run away the moment things get messy or confusing. The pendulum has been stuck for so long in one place (where men who assault women have enjoyed impunity) that we’ve not only normalized men’s violence against women, but also normalized blaming women for assault. So, yes, the pendulum is swinging the other way now. While some may choose to see it as moving too far in the other direction, I see Grace's story and all it's unearthing as a necessary corrective force. At some point, we’ll find equilibrium, but talking about what’s messy and confusing will be required along the way, so we best buckle up.

    3. Dear Babe Editors: / Via

    Whenever a news story about an allegation of sexual assault is presented to readers as a pornographic narrative, it runs the risk of undermining the integrity of the writer, the editors, and possibly the claim itself. In this case, that’s what happened. Cue in first responders: @BariWeiss of the New York Times, Caitlin Flanagan (@CaitlinPacific) of The Atlantic, and @SonnyBunch of The Washington Post. The Babe writer's choice to focus on unnecessary details about Ansari’s “claw” move and all his other moves made the account read like it was designed to titillate the reader, mock Ansari, or make Grace feel better about how gross she felt by making Ansari seem grosser. It read as opportunistic and poor journalism, and all journalists should be wary of the pitfalls of exploiting their subjects, especially if those subjects have experienced some form of trauma. Babe's editorial team shouldn’t be surprised about the public’s derision about these aspects. It's well earned. In the future, they should write better stories that actually serve the issue and the movement—and not the number of clicks they can get. In spite of their tagline, they should give more of a fuck.

    4. 2+2 Does Not = 5

    Grace said she did “most of the talking” during dinner and felt comfortable enough to talk about a variety of issues. In the Atlantic, Flanagan points out that since Grace also felt comfortable enough to pick out her clothes, call a cab, and much more, she should have been capable of slapping Ansari. Both Flanagan and Weiss assume that if a woman demonstrates agency and uses her voice in one or several arenas—that her self-assurance and agency should automatically extend to the sexual arena. The truth is, it doesn’t. There are plenty of powerful women who have a tough time communicating effectively with their intimate partners in the bedroom. There are plenty of vocal feminists who haven’t yet found their voice in the bedroom. There are good reasons for this which have been well documented by @PeggyOrenstein, @JessicaValenti and the brilliant and nuanced Jaclyn Friedman (@JaclynF) and many more. While girls and women continue to make strides in many arenas, they continue to be conditioned and expected to please their male sexual partners at the cost of their own feelings. We need to demand so much more of men and boys than we currently do--and we need to stop scorning young women for not knowing or being better.

    5. Men: Ask Different Questions


    Most teens start my consent classes knowing very little about the emotional side of the sex. They can tell you about biology, puberty, reproductive organs, STI’s, pregnancy, but ask them what sort of language they might use to give and get consent or how they might express their preferences, and they’ll draw a blank or laugh self-consciously. As a society, we have failed to talk about the emotional side of sex at almost every level—in the classroom, as parents, in our culture. And in our failure to have meaningful conversations about sex (which are now thankfully happening), pop culture, patriarchal norms, and porn have filled in the gap. As most of us already know, porn sexualizes coercion, force, and the lack of consent. So do many movies and songs. Many might insist there is nothing inherently wrong with this, except that so many teens turn to porn as a source of sex education. And we're all influenced by our culture. A lot of heterosexual porn features men asking questions like: “Is it big enough for you? You want this, don’t you?” But these sort of questions are not designed to elicit honest responses. They’re designed to soothe male anxiety or do something else I can’t figure out. The questions that often get posed by men during sexual intimacy are actually non questions or presumptions, which brings me back to Aziz Ansari. Rather than asking, “Where do you want me to fuck you?” which presumed that Grace wanted to fuck him, what might have happened had Ansari asked, “Grace, do you want me to fuck you?" or "Grace, do you want to fuck me?” Or what about: "Grace, what do you want to do with me tonight?" or "Grace, what makes you hot?" You get the gist.

    6. Consent and Cues

    There has been enough compelling research done on gender socialization and nonverbal cues that would suggest that not only do males and females employ different nonverbal cues, but also that they ascribe different meanings and weight to them. What can be totally obvious to one gender can be totally missed by another. So it’s not unreasonable for Grace to think she gave Ansari non verbal cues. It’s just unreasonable for her to think Ansari noticed or got them. I believe Ansari when he wrote that by all indications he believed the sexual activity was consensual. I also believe him when he writes: "It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned." But his believing that everything was consensual doesn't make it so. The gap in their experiences and what they believe happened points to the work that needs to be done to better understand and unlearn gender role training; it points to how much more we need to learn about consent, effective communication, patriarchy and more. Patriarchal culture has long protected men's behavior in the sexual arena and instead blamed women for being being too provocative, too quiet, too loud, too prim, too slutty, too responsible. So it has been unsurprising but distressing to see the vitriol directed at a young woman who has been blamed for not speaking, ruining a career, and derailing an entire movement while Ansari seems to bear little to no responsibility in the sexual equation. While Weiss seems outraged at the possibility that we're undermining women by not expecting them to speak on their own behalf, she has no trouble denying agency to men who can also use their mouths to speak and ears to listen. She writes, "If you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you." Why? Does she think men are incapable of asking questions? That they can't control themselves? That's a pretty low bar for men if you ask me.

    7. For the Confused:


    Here’s one reason why Grace’s story might have been met with so much support from younger women who are just out of college: Long before the movie The Hunting Ground took the country by storm and more students began speaking out and demanding consent education, feminists, activists, and policy makers were talking about sexual assault, sexual harassment, policies, laws, and patriarchy. The combination of their efforts along with our focus on high profile rapes, the election of a predator president, movies and books on the subject, and increased media attention on rape culture--and women and men breaking silence--has brought us to the tipping point. We're now tipping. On many college campuses across the country, the focus (at least in theory) has moved away from teaching young women to stay safe and protect themselves to teaching young men to not sexually assault, harass, or make assumptions when engaging in sex. The conversation around consent has shifted from "no means no," which erroneously placed the onus of communication on one person—usually the woman in a heterosexual relationship. As we all know, this led to a great deal of victim blaming. Now, with the shift towards "yes means yes"—and the insistence that consent is consent only when it is affirmative, active, continuous, and enthusiastic—the onus is now and necessarily also on men to ask, check in, listen, and be attentive to their partner's verbal and nonverbal communication. When in doubt, they need to be asking more.

    8. Empathy Not Vilification


    I can appreciate the frustration expressed by fellow feminists who may think that Grace's story is entrenching and perhaps even building a support base around women who say little on their own behalf during a sexual encounter. But that’s not what's happening here. Grace is a young woman who felt so unsure of her own voice in the sexual arena that she had to check in with friends for validation about her lived experience. A sign of youthfulness? Probably. A sign of insecurity and self-doubt? Likely. Grace is like a lot of women who might feel more empowered to raise their voices only when they feel more comfortable and safe to do so. Women--and especially young women--should not be vilified for this. In fact, no woman should be vilified for this. Do we want all women and girls to be able to speak their truth and raise their voices during challenging moments or when they feel sexually uncomfortable? Of course we do. But we have to make allowances for the fact that many women and girls haven’t practiced this muscle, especially in the sexual arena. They have been conditioned not to. They've been conditioned to look and act sexy rather than be sexual beings. That doesn’t mean that all girls and women are passive and without agency. Of course they’re not. But we can't deny socialization--and the very real effects it can have on us. Nor can we deny that the law, our justice system, and culture have long protected predators and harassers and that reality has kept many of us--victims and bystanders alike--silent until now. To deny any of this won't get us anywhere. I work with plenty of girls who are brilliant, engaging, strong, compassionate and assertive. I have also worked with many young women who could argue fiercely on their own behalf over a grade but not stand up to a mean friend or an abusive boyfriend. There are profound contradictions that exist in women--just as they do in men. Empathizing with Grace doesn’t mean we’re not championing women’s voices and agency. Nor does it mean we're holding up her story as the story to emulate. It just means that we're acknowledging that her experience mirrors the lived experiences of countless others--and that we want so much more for girls, women, and their partners. We need to open up the possibility for her voice--and so many voices like hers--to get louder, clearer, and stronger. To the older feminists who are writing about her story or now reading open letters to Grace on television: Denigrating her, denying her, bullying her, or attempting to replace her own words with your own won't make her go away. Take a cue from her pseudonym. Deal with the contradictions here--and with her story--with a semblance of grace.

    9. But what About Aziz?!

    chris 論 [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons / Via

    I gasped when I read that Ansari expected oral sex after Grace expressed her discomfort. I gasped because it was shocking to me. I gasped because I’m a huge fan of Ansari's and was pained that he could be so obtuse. I'm a fan who recognized both self-absorption and callousness alongside his customary cleverness: "Does a second drink count as a second date?" Even though many of us like Ansari's work and his stand for social change, we need to hold him--and ourselves--to a higher standard. We need to be teaching boys and men about not only consent, but also about effective and caring communication. This isn't always easy when boys and men are bombarded with relentless toxic messaging about what it means to be a man, how to please a woman (by taking her, pressuring her, and eventually wearing her down), and about how to treat and view girls and women (as objects). Many of the heterosexual teen boys I work with are genuinely baffled about how to approach girls they like. They’re baffled about what to say and not say. They’re confused about what constitutes sexual harassment—and what all the fuss is about consent. They’re clueless about digital ethics, too. In my classes, I talk to boys about the difference between masculinity and toxic/violent masculinity in the hopes they’ll one day be able to create their own template for what it means to be a man. I talk to them about the violence they might see in pornography and remind them that porn is not a source of real sex education. I talk to them about objectification and about the importance of seeing and relating to girls and women as whole beings. I talk to them about harassment and about the kinds of pressures they, too, face as boys. I also talk to them about consequences--the kind they may face when they choose to privilege their own pleasure over someone else's needs. I talk to them about what might happen when they choose not to ask and when they choose not to listen--or when they choose to combine alcohol with sex. I talk to them about power, gender role training, consent and the responsibility we all must shoulder if we want to create justice in the world and in the bedroom (or wherever it is that people have sex). At the end of my classes, I often ask students what they wish for, and most of them say they wished their whole school could be having this same conversation. Right now it may seem that the whole country is having this conversation, though some are wishing we weren't having it at all. But I'm glad we're having it. We need to not only for ourselves, but also for young people. As for Aziz Ansari, it may seem to some (or many?) that he has been destroyed. But we have only to look to Ansari's own statement to see where he stands on the matter. He's not broken. He's not destroyed. In his own words, he's standing with the movement: "I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue.”

    10. Moving Forward

    As a sexual literacy educator, of course I think education is an answer. But it’s not the only answer, as many of us are adults long out of school. But that doesn’t mean we have stopped learning. Many of us are now learning new language and frameworks for old stories. Many of us are opening up ourselves and our own relationship history and present to a new kind of scrutiny. Many of us are discovering a new appreciation for the people we once were or feeling regret for the people we weren't. It’s not always comfortable. It can be messy and painful. But it can also be rewarding and hold the promise of increased accountability to one another. So let’s keep talking. Let’s keep listening. Let’s keep learning because we really do give a F _ _ K. I know we do.