So, what’s the verdict on Aziz Ansari and consent?

Zoya Azhar ’20

With the recent string of sexual misconduct allegations surfacing left, right and center, and victims feeling confident that their stories will not go unheard, the story of “Grace” and how Aziz Ansari mistreated her should not have come as a surprise to me.

And yet it did. I found myself hyper-aware of how this story unfolded simply because of the Muslim roots that Ansari and I share. I would have been equally interested had it been Riz Ahmed or Kumail Nanjiani or Hasan Minhaj in the spotlight. They’re brown and come from Muslim families, and sometimes I feel I have a vested interest in these people being present in Hollywood. In Nanjiani’s case, he is literally from my high school in Karachi.

I wanted to know exactly how Ansari had messed up. And because of its viral nature, The New York Times’ opinion piece is what I read first. It was misleading to the point where I was almost convinced something was fishy. That was until I read the account on Babe.net. Based on the information we have, Ansari is in the wrong.

Why are there so many opinion pieces floating around, then? Why do feminists suddenly have to defend the #MeToo movement from comparisons to McCarthyism?

Most of the opinion pieces that followed this allegation debate the grey areas of consent, how consent is defined and how one practices consent. The debate, therefore, is how to decide which sexual misconduct allegations to take seriously, when there isn’t a scientific definition of consent.

The safe definition is that consent looks slightly different for each set of partners, with the glaring, across-the-board exception that there should be a “YES” in there somewhere.

But when non-verbal cues and the influence of power dynamics shaped by a patriarchy – that affects all of us – come into play, most people in the Grace-Ansari debate wanted to take the easy route and dismiss the whole matter; if there isn’t a formula to judge sexual assault by, it’s technically not sexual assault. It’s a bad date.

This sounds lazy and wrong.

But how does one decide? The obvious answer is to hold the accused up against the legal definition of consent and take the victim’s story into account.

Why are there still two opinions about the Grace-Ansari story then? It is probably because some people call their bad dates sexual misconduct encounters and others (more worryingly) call their sexual misconduct encounters bad dates.

Maybe down the line, when we have a more egalitarian society, the former problem could surface as the bigger concern. But for now, anyone who mistakes a bad thing happening to them for a bad date, deserves to realize otherwise.