When one woman’s “bad sex” is another woman’s sexual assault.

18 Jan

 

 

You may have read the story published recently by Babe, in which an anonymous woman, Grace, tells of an evening she spent with actor and comedian Aziz Ansari.

The evening did not go well, with Grace leaving in tears after what she alleges was sexual assault. I recommend you read the article before proceeding with this post, but briefly, Ansari apparently repeatedly ignored Grace’s requests to “slow down”, “chill” or maybe have sex on the next date, and behaved in ways that sound obnoxious, uncaring,  & contemptuous of the concept of consent.

This post is not all about whether or not Grace experienced sexual assault. I am struggling to understand the need some women seem to have to police and control the #MeToo movement, a movement that sprang up as a consequence of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, a movement whose goal is to bring to global attention the extraordinary number of women who have experienced sexual harassment and assault at some point in our lives.  I’ve recently written about this, and the disapproval of #MeToo expressed by celebrity women such as Catherine Deneuve and Germaine Greer, at Independent Australia. 

This post is about the willingness of women to judge Grace. The overwhelming opinion is that Grace had a bad date with a man who was not very good at sex, that it was in no way comparable to sexual assault, and that her piece for Babe is nothing better than revenge porn. We need to interrogate these opinions, because they are lethal.

Briefly, Ansari is, according to The Atlantic:  not just a navigator of the culture of the moment, but also an author of it. He has literally written the book about Modern Romance. He has co-created a Netflix series that is in many ways a sitcomic version of the ideas at play in its pages. He has defined himself, show after show, stand-up special after stand-up special, interview after interview, as a male feminist, as a proud ally—as the kind of person who could both wear the Time’s Up pin and actually explain what it means to wear it. He has adopted the guise of a celebrity who is thoroughly fit for this heady moment, at home in a culture that is ever more feminist, ever more diverse, ever more empathetic.

Grace was excited at being invited out by Ansari, and given his reputation, had no reason to expect the evening would play out as she claims it did.

The Babe piece has provoked angry and/or disappointed commentary claiming that Grace’s story has seriously damaged the validity and authenticity of the #MeToo movement,  Some commentators have gone so far as to state unequivocally that Grace’s experience was not sexual assault.  

In this excoriating piece in The Atlantic, Grace is judged by an older woman who compares her experiences of “dating” with Grace’s account, and finds Grace seriously wanting.

There have been appeals for a more “nuanced and precise” use of language in the #MeToo movement, so that the difference between “bad sex” and sexual assault, the so-called “grey area,” is clarified. I would have thought that saying I don’t want this, I’m feeling uncomfortable,  can we do it next time, and “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you,” as did Grace, is a pretty clear indicator that a woman is not consenting to sexual acts, is in a state of considerable confusion, and that to persist in your demands in spite of her expressed discomfort is a serious matter, rather than just “bad sex.”

The point of the #MeToo movement is that women can reveal on social media, many for the first time, our experiences of sexual harassment and/or assault. This isn’t a legal discourse and it isn’t a literary event: it’s women speaking, frequently from a position of trauma, of our experiences. That anyone should seek to police our language and our tone as we engage with #MeToo seems to me to be an all-too familiar act of patriarchal repression. If you can’t say it “well” you shouldn’t say it at all, is the message.

The call for nuance and precision also alienates women who do not have this skill set, or, in speaking of something so powerfully distressing, are unable to edit their speech to meet these bourgeois requirements. As I said in my earlier piece, #MeToo is basic, in its infancy, and is being used as an alternative to legal systems that consistently and catastrophically fail women when it comes to sexual assault. Yet the minute something gets up that offers all women with access to the internet a platform, somebody is there telling us how we should use it and the manner in which we should speak of our experiences.

Why? Who does this policing benefit?

Many women have disbelieved Grace’s description of her experience as sexual assault. No doubt there are many other #MeToo stories that are disbelieved, however, nobody needs to care whether another woman believes these accounts or not. Another’s disbelief is irrelevant. Women writing opinion pieces based on their disbelief are not police officers recording a report. They are not sitting on a jury. They are not judges and magistrates hearing your case. Their disbelief is their business, it isn’t the business of women who’ve spoken out on #MeToo. The opinionistas were not present. They cannot know the truth of the situation. They cannot contest your subjective truth.

So why, in the name of all the goddesses, do they have such a need to make their belief or disbelief the story?

I see no problem with women writing nuanced and precise deconstructions and interrogations of the #MeToo movement. Language does matter. In fact, it’s important that the movement is theorised and analysed. However, this is a very different matter from demanding that women speaking of traumatic experiences do so in a particular way. This is nothing better than a linguistic colonisation of trauma.

So you may not believe some #MeToo stories. So what? You don’t have the right to decide if Grace or anybody else was sexually assaulted or not. You have the right to your opinion, and that’s all.

Maybe you call it bad sex. Grace doesn’t, and she was there.

By far the best piece I’ve read on the Grace/Ansari evening is this one. The author writes:

If we begin to call all sexual assault what it is, we will have to voluntarily admit more pain into our lives, pain that we have up to this point refused to let in the door. If we call this kind of sexual encounter an assault, then women who have been weathering what they call bad sex will suddenly have justification for the icky feelings and shame that follows them home in the cab.

Could this be why so many women have mocked Grace? Because they’ve called sexual assault “bad sex” and Grace isn’t playing that game?

I don’t know how else to explain it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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29 Responses to “When one woman’s “bad sex” is another woman’s sexual assault.”

  1. 8 Degrees of Latitude January 18, 2018 at 7:31 pm #

    Jennifer, I agree with you. Speaking as a man (as I must) I see the issue quite simply: It doesn’t matter who you are; if a woman with who you would like to have sex is unwilling, for any reason at all, to do so with you, then that spells “NO”. The matter of #metoo is drawn into the argument, inevitably. I agree with Catherine Deneuve: I do think there’s a danger that the reasonable demand on men to control themselves will lead to the sort of new puritanism that I think would negate many benefits of modern social progress. But that conversation is for another time.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. sam jandwich January 18, 2018 at 8:58 pm #

    Thank you once again Jennifer, I find myself saying, and I’m so sorry we have to go through this yet again.

    I want to live in a society whose bureaucratic and legal systems can operate from a standpoint of good faith in humanity’s having the ability to make overwhelmingly good decisions… but by gods sometimes I’d really like for the legal test for rape to to be upgraded from that of “consent” to “unequivocal mutual agreement”, since it seems there are so many people who will not learn any other way…

    … and “preemptive minimization of our experiences” is a devastating thing to read, KatyKK*-( We can but do better.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson January 18, 2018 at 9:04 pm #

      Thanks, Sam. Yes, we have to go through this yet again.
      I share your dream, however, it seems to be receding faster every year.
      It’s difficult to stay hopeful.

      Liked by 1 person

      • samjandwich January 19, 2018 at 11:02 am #

        Maybe… but at least you’re doing something about it! That’s the most important thing.

        Overall I’m quite happy to see the MeToo movement arise, as an example of things having to get worse before they get better.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson January 19, 2018 at 12:17 pm #

          Sam, Sabine in the comments has linked to a Barbara Kingsolver piece on this which is worth a read.

          Liked by 1 person

          • samjandwich January 19, 2018 at 2:48 pm #

            Got it, thanks!

            Actually what I found really interesting was that the majority of “upvotes” are for comments complaining that”she went home with him didn’t she? What else did she expect would happen?”, and “how are blokes supposed to know she doesn’t want it if she doesn’t say no?”. There’s yer problem right there.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Life after Sixty-Five January 18, 2018 at 9:28 pm #

      I like that – “unequivocal mutual agreement”.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Angelika Oetken January 18, 2018 at 11:05 pm #

    Good comment! Flirting is mutual. In contrast, sexual assaulting is one-sided.
    But please remember: all sexes are victims of sexual assaults. And they are committed by all genders.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mish of the catlady ascendancy January 18, 2018 at 11:23 pm #

    I found that article from one of your tweets today, Jennifer. I still can’t get it out of my head. It’s certainly one of the most thoughtful (and uncomfortable) pieces I’ve seen about the whole Ansari/Grace issue.
    I really, really do not want to go there. And that in itself explains so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. townsvilleblog January 19, 2018 at 3:49 am #

    Jenifer, I am so happy that I’m 62 years of age and my courting days are long gone. I am happily married, with an adult child. In the 20th century we formed relationships in the old fashioned way, there was no expectation of sex until many, many dates had passed. I have never had sex, so I don’t know whether or not I’m good at it, when I was virile (a long time ago) I made love with my partner, wife. This 21st century seems to be ‘yank’ driven to me, all their bad habits are conveyed via their violent and sick movies into our once beautiful country. In my day women were respected and cherished, not attacked by mindless creatures that men have become (in general it seems) I’m disgusted in the lack of standards this century has produced, and I wish that I had never heard of the USA.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson January 19, 2018 at 7:42 am #

      Hi Shaun, I sometimes feel such sorrow that so many of us have had our sexuality controlled by rules & expectations that actually make very little sense.
      Sex is an extraordinary human experience, ruined for many by religion, & fear. This is heartbreaking. What a loss.

      Like

  6. Sabine January 19, 2018 at 8:48 am #

    Thank you for this. I find it incredibly hard to realise how women put women down over this.

    Have you seen this excellent opinion piece by Barbara Kingsolver? (Just don’t read the comments)

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/16/metoo-women-daughters-harassment-powerful-men

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 19, 2018 at 9:30 am #

      Oh, many thanks for that link. I LOVE Barbara Kingsolver’s writing.

      Like

  7. paul walter January 20, 2018 at 4:18 am #

    I found reading the Atlantic article helped me find my bearings as to the events raised here. I’ll add that much of it was interesting, some seemed pretentious waffle and wondered whether it was not a little disjointed.

    I’ll take the coward’s way out and suggest it was another case of a younger person being duped by an older, more cunning operator. Reminds me of my own younger days, advised to avoid certain folk and blundering into associations with these to an eventual humiliating financial and psychological cost.

    All you can say in the end is, another case of an inexperienced person learning the hard way that all that glisters is not gold… as Alanis Morissette sings, “You learn and you learn”, ( although I’ve always have thought “Thank U” a more mature, considered song on a similar subject about experience and growing up).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 20, 2018 at 9:59 am #

      I’m not overly fond of Alanis’s music, PW.
      I would agree with your take on this, except that there seems to be an long-running epidemic of women, inexperienced and experienced, finding it out the hard way, as evidenced by the #MeToo movement. So something else is at play as well.
      Hope the new year finds you well and optimistic, my friend.

      Like

      • paul walter January 20, 2018 at 3:51 pm #

        I really wonder at the guy involved. an emotional vacuum.

        Perhaps it is cultural in many cases…the dominant image seems to be an atavistic one from an earlier era, where men must take control; a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

        The woman is overwhelmed in her womanly, frilly way. This compelling display of masculinity and she succumbs a-quiver as an inevitable organic response. Intrinsically helpless as she is, she returns to the kitchen and the bedroom as the hunter sallies forth to club another impressive woolly mammoth over the head, as the active participant in the relationship.

        I suspect part but not all of the problem relates to learned behaviours wed to previous but increasingly rapidly changing and obsolesced economic modes. Post industrialisation is only the latest of many morphings over the last few centuries, the time of growing up in households where mum stayed home dependent and dad went to work as breadwinner and decision maker, the last of the old style of sexual division of labour, is still a living memory and a mode of communication. If communication mechanisms and the behaviours symbiotic are inscribed a newer set of responses in keeping with new modes of living may not have had time to properly emerge in response to change yet.

        And you know what, I don’t think things are going to change that quickly because of the emotional “churn” that goes with ungoverned change.

        Coming from a different trajectory, it does seem feasible that some men and women have always adjusted to chaos better than others, is that an evolutionary device? Whether this is the default state of affairs or not, I couldn’t say.

        I don’t like Morissette much either but always thought that line, “thank god for consequence”, from Thank U. was a beauty.

        Like

      • paul walter January 20, 2018 at 10:02 pm #

        Well, I was sort of saying that it is not just young women who find out the hard way but young people in general. Like it or not, at this stage in evolution much of the human being is still very subjective and that includes predatory and exploitative. We think we are out of the Dark Ages? No. Not for some time yet either. Some time will have to have elapsed before the more apelike and subjective of our tendencies are bred out of us. If ever.

        I just hope that genetic engineering combined with the current disposition does not have the species as zombies or robots in another century and yes, I am as optimistic as I have ever been, especially since my youth (what a f-cking mug he was!!).

        Like

  8. doug quixote January 20, 2018 at 8:00 pm #

    After reading the Babe account, it is clear that from “Grace’s” viewpoint she was uncomfortable, rushed and in over her depth.

    A “bad date” is how I would describe it, the only similarity with Weinstein and the Me Too movement is that it involved sexual activity with a “star”.

    Tha it has achieved notoreity is sad and only prurient interest has given it currency.

    “Grace” would justly be dismissed from the Me Too conversation.

    She is entitled to tell her story, but as Catherine Deneuve and Germaine Greer have pointed out, hetero sex is in enough trouble without every failed sexual encounter being parsed and debated by the world at large.

    Like

    • paul walter January 20, 2018 at 10:04 pm #

      I reckon the guy sounds like a prick. I agree with what you say, but see it just a shade darker.

      Like

      • doug quixote January 20, 2018 at 10:41 pm #

        Yes, a prick indeed. But as they say, a stiff prick has no conscience. 🙂

        Like

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  14. lizroselee January 23, 2018 at 9:52 am #

    Thank you for this. I have read several pieces on the article in Babe and became more and and more conflicted. This has put it all in perspective for me.

    Like

  15. krissycoconuts April 8, 2018 at 6:30 pm #

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    Like

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