In the midst of the #MeToo movement, advocacy for consent has become louder than ever. Seemingly untouchable men have been unraveled and outcast because strong women and men alike have vocalized their testimonies of sexual trauma at the hands of an ever-increasing list of household names –– Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Larry Nassar –– and now Aziz Ansari.
In case you missed it, one of these cases is not like the others.
The fairly recently published testimony accusing Ansari of sexual misconduct has raised a plethora of questions about the vocabulary surrounding sexual misconduct and the line between heinous crimes like Weinstein’s and seemingly well-intentioned but non-consensual acts similar to Ansari’s.
The accusations took the world by surprise, not only because of Ansari’s comedic nature, advocacy for minorities and support of the #MeToo movement, but because Ansari, in a way, represents the Everyman. The court of public opinion quickly banged the gavel to condemn obvious predators like Spacey and Nassar, but many individuals have found themselves in ambiguous circumstances like Ansari, causing many to hesitate in casting the first stone.
While the accusations against Ansari do not demand legal action, they have alarmed many due to the familiarity of the scenario –– we are taught that “no” means “no,” but many take silence at face value, or no value at all, until after the fact.
The events that took place on Sept. 25, 2017 during the anonymous woman’s date with Ansari were obviously not enjoyed or consensual, but because of them, important conversations have been fostered about consent, communication and boundaries.
First of all, sexual trauma is sexual trauma, period. No matter the situation, no matter if they said yes initially: it is the duty of each individual to ensure that the other person is actively and voluntarily participating in the activity taking place.
According to vocabulary.com, the Latin verb “consentire,” from which we take the word “consent,” literally means “to agree” or “to feel together,” emphasizing the value and importance of every action we take playing a part of a collaborative process.
There have been whispers of fear among men who see the recent findings on Ansari to be stirring hysteria and oversensitivity as to what constitutes sexual harassment or trauma.
Specifically, I have heard many males comment that they are afraid that women will choose to engage in sexual activity, and, if discovered, claim it was rape in order to safeguard themselves.
If the man’s primary fear is being accused of rape, the conversation needs to continue, if nothing else, for the millions of women who have been sexually assaulted by individuals who had no fear to begin with. The irony of these recent revelations is increasingly bittersweet — men are now on the cusp of tasting the same paralyzing fear most women feel on a daily basis.
This anonymous testimony will undoubtedly be put on a shelf that holds other sex scandals that are now collecting dust, but Ansari’s has changed the direction of #MeToo, and has sparked a conversation about the amount of agency women have in similar situations.
Emma Gray, a senior women’s reporter for The Huffington Post, noted that the conversation currently being circulated is not only worth talking about — it is vital to growing from the current circumstances of women.
“Behavior need not fall under the legal definition of sexual assault or rape to be wrong or violating or upsetting,” Gray said. “We step into interactions, sexual or otherwise, with different ideas of what constitutes a violation.”
What happens next starts with you. We cannot afford to step on eggshells on this sensitive topic; real change starts with everyday norms changing. The problem isn’t “somewhere out there,” it’s in our student center, our sidewalks, our classrooms. Being informed and practicing affirmative and enthusiastic consent not only protects individuals, it also ensures that both parties are wholly enjoying the experience within the boundaries they establish.