Aziz Ansari was supposed to be one of the good ones.
You may know him from his role on “Parks and Recreation” as Tom Haverford, a trendy goofball who doled out catchy one-liners.
His stand-up comedy was refreshing, with seemingly honest looks at love, rejection, and the modern battle of the sexes. His Netflix show, “Master of None,” feels real — it's beautiful, it’s delicate, it's modern — it’s light-hearted and serious at the same time. Like life.
So when he was accused of acting inappropriately on a date, in an article in millennial-friendly publication Babe, it was shocking to those of us who believed in his feminist sensibilities; he accepted his Golden Globe earlier this month while wearing a “Time’s Up” pin. (Time’s Up is a movement with a tagline “No more silence. No more waiting. No more tolerance for discrimination, harassment or abuse.” Celebrities could be seen supporting the movement with pins and black clothing at the Golden Globes, in the wake of the many sexual assault allegations that came to light last year.)
According to the Babe article, which goes into excruciating detail about Ansari's alleged inappropriate behavior, a woman — whom Babe does not identify, instead publishing her story under a pseudonym — met Ansari at his apartment, where the two had a glass of wine, then walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner, then ended up back at Ansari’s apartment for more drinks. And this is where, the woman says, things went wrong. She says a sexual encounter escalated too quickly, and he ignored her “verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was,” according to the babe.net article.
She pulled away. She says she “turned cold.” She said to him, “next time.” According to the woman’s story, he kept pressing her, even though, using physical cues and careful words, she indicated she didn’t want the encounter to go past a certain point. It’s clear from the narrative that she felt pressured. Why didn't she just leave? She told Babe she was "shocked."
We’ve all been there: We give the benefit of the doubt. We get disappointed. We get scared. Things happen quickly. We don't want to start a fight, preferring passive resistance if we can.
The stakes feel particularly high in this case. Babe’s article is written with a sinister lilt. The woman was allowed anonymity — a delicate concession we often grapple with in the news business — while the person she accuses is a mega-star (his supporters lament his career’s impending collapse). But it is hardly an extraordinary story.
In fact, it feels extremely familiar. And maybe that's the point.
It’s a gray area of sexual consent, to be sure. It doesn't look at this point as if the authorities are getting involved — it doesn't sound like anything illegal happened. Does Ansari deserve the world's hatred? Probably not. Does he deserve to lose his career? I'm not sure.
But does the woman deserve to tell her story? Absolutely. The behavior the woman described is so common. And so is that twisting, sickening, sad feeling a person has after she knows she's been violated.
The only difference between her story and most of the familiar ones is, the man who did it to her is famous. And he seemed like one of the good ones. But don't they always seem like good ones, until they don't?
Our current system of consent is not working. The woman didn't exactly know what to do in the moment. Ansari — if the accusations are true — doesn't seem to know that his behavior was wrong (in a statement, he said the encounter "by all indications was completely consensual").
We need to do better where consent is concerned. The lack of a verbal "no" doesn't always mean "yes."