Aziz Ansari is Guilty — Of Breaking the Highest Law
The truth is that consent, in the moment, is not enough.
The Aziz Ansari episode is generating a crazy amount of press. And from multiple angles. Because it doesn’t fit the typical #MeToo narrative. It’s not about workplace harassment. It’s more like a date that took a very wrong turn.
The upshot: This past September Ansari went on a date with a woman we know as Grace. The date ended at Ansari’s apartment. They engaged in various sex acts. Ansari perceived these acts to be consensual. She later said she was uncomfortable, and that she indicated her discomfort through verbal and nonverbal cues. She blames Ansari for not picking up on these cues at the time.
The commentary has divided into two camps: Those who blame Ansari for his actions that night and those who blame Grace for her actions after that night.
In the first camp, you’ve got Katie Way, who wrote Grace’s story for Babe. This view argues that Ansari was a jerk, boorish, inattentive, and like too many men, selfish. After all, Ansari has actually been an outspoken opponent of sexism. He’s criticized sex-crazed men in his comedy monologues. As Vox reports, “On Master of None, Ansari and his writers routinely touch upon sexist power imbalances.” Shouldn’t he have known better?
The other camp is mystified by Grace. Did she expect Ansari to have read her mind? Writing for The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan went so far as to call the Babe story “3000 words of revenge porn.” So she didn’t have a great time that night. Well, don’t date him again! How dare she now destroy Ansari’s career?
Both of these perspectives have some truth. And yet both miss the point.
“No Strings Attached” is a Lie
It’s highly doubtful that a judge would find Ansari guilty of sexual assault. Grace’s account of the evening makes clear that she could have ended it at any time. At one point Grace said she “excused herself to the bathroom,” where she spent about five minutes “collecting herself in the mirror and splashing herself with water.” Why not just leave?
Ansari is not a criminal, but he certainly is a cad. Yes, shame on him. He didn’t break any man-made laws, but he did violate God’s law (Hebrews 13:4). And as for Grace, she feels degraded because she was degraded. As she chose to be. So shame on her too.
When the #MeToo movement overlaps with the hook-up culture, we’re forced to reckon with society’s false assumptions about sex. Here’s the problem: People treat sex as if it carries no moral weight, as if it isn’t something special. From that perspective, there can only be two kinds of sex: consensual and non-consensual.
According to modern progressives, the only reason a person would feel degraded by a sexual experience is if it wasn’t consensual. So if Grace feels degraded it must be because Ansari assaulted her. But there’s another possibility: Grace feels degraded because casual sex is itself degrading. It’s inherently selfish. It’s about getting pleasure without giving commitment. At best, it’s mutually selfish — each taking from the other. Each using the other as a means to an end.
And yet this “no strings attached” mentality doesn’t cohere with Grace’s experience. Because it doesn’t cohere with how God made the world. Sex is deeply bonding. It involves a high level of vulnerability and openness. As Pastor Tim Keller writes, “Sex is for whole-life self-giving. … Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, ‘I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.’”
To use it to say something less — something far less — is degrading. Always has been. Always will be.
“Consent” is Not Enough
Grace’s story on Babe was quickly viewed by over 2.5 million readers because so many women resonated with her experience. They too have had sexual encounters that left them with feelings of regret, of being used, of feeling pressured and disrespected.
Which is tragic because on the one hand feminism tells us that women are as entitled as men to the pleasures of intimacy apart from commitment. But perhaps we have too glibly assumed women’s experience with casual sex will be the same as men’s? There’s a mountain of data that says it isn’t.
The truth is that consent, in the moment, is not enough. Commitment enhances the pleasure, especially for women. If feminists care about advancing the happiness of women, not just forcing them into a man-sized box, their best bet is to encourage women like Grace to call an Uber from the restaurant and go home.
Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).