Saturday was just another day of aimlessly scrolling through my social media feeds. It was the usual Trump drama, this time with #shithole. Then a headline grabbed my attention:
Shock & Disappointment
My immediate reaction was shock at the title. Read the anonymous account shared on babe.net with discretion. The harrowing details made me want to puke in my mouth, and the story left me disturbed. For her protection, the publisher gave the victim, a 23-year-old photographer, a nickname: Grace.
The allegations are super disappointing. The 34-year-old comedian and actor Aziz Ansari has time and time again expressed awareness and solidarity with important social issues, like cultural visibility in media and racial bias. He has also claimed to be a feminist and a male ally. He even wore a #TimesUp pin at the Golden Globe Awards.
— The Guardian (@guardian) June 8, 2015
When I watched him accept the award for his show Master of None, I was genuinely happy for him. I was excited to see another desi make it in Hollywood, but these allegations sour my perception of him. Did he really believe in the meaning behind the #TimesUp pin he wore at the Golden Globes?
Disappointment aside, Grace’s story is all too common for women. There are men who ardently claim to be “nice guys” and “woke male feminists” but will be the first ones to act creepy and engage in problematic behavior. I can relate to Grace’s emotions and thought processes, because I’ve been in her position before.
Relating to Grace’s Story
I had a male friend who I once greatly respected, and I used to believe that he respected me as well. He knew I wrote about social problems and politics. He would say things along the lines of “Sarah, I love learning about feminism from you.” This ex-friend would frequently claim to support women’s rights. He would invoke the strength of his mother and female cousins when we would talk about gender issues in conversations.
I later learned this was a ruse to play up his “good guy” personality. One day, at a party, he made advances with which I was okay with in the beginning. But when he tried to have sex with me, I straight up told him no. Yet, this ex-friend relentlessly persisted and kept trying to get my clothes off. I gave verbal and non-verbal cues to not take the situation further, because I was uncomfortable. He still tried to pressure me into sleeping with him. Finally, a mutual male friend stepped in and told him to back off. This ex-friend did not appear remotely interested in respecting my agency to decide for myself.
A few days later, I realized what had happened to me. I asked my friends — as Grace did — if I was overreacting. All of them agreed that I was sexually harassed. Thankfully, nothing crazy happened because my guy friend stepped in to help me, but it’s so sad that he had to do that. My guy friend’s agency overrode mine in the eyes of this “good guy.” It didn’t matter that this ex-friend claimed to “support women,” when he couldn’t even respect my decisions. After all, when you try to support someone, you aim to empower their agency, not diminish it.
Since then, I have cut this ex-friend out of my life. That event was a grim reminder that there are self-proclaimed “nice guys” and “male allies” who don’t really care about gender equity. They will post hashtags on Twitter and wear pins in solidarity. But these actions are just performative allyship. It’s easy to say you care, but it’s a thousand times more meaningful to act in line with those words and principles.
Performative Allyship & Fake “Woke Baes”
Men who engage in this type of allyship theater do so for two reasons. First, it’s a quick way for them to feel as if they’re not a part of the problem. This is a false belief, because rape culture is perpetuated by both men and women. We are all responsible for creating safe atmospheres for all genders to engage in consensual sex. A lot of times fake “woke baes” want to boost their vanity without putting in the work or self-reflection required to do this.
Another reason for performative allyship is to attract women and gain mass approval. These actions aren’t just insulting to women; they hurt men just as much. They reinforce the stereotype that all men are just sex-crazed animals, that men have no control over themselves.
I believe that feminism can help both men and women. However, performative allyship cheapens the hard work of actual male allies, who work towards gender equity. Furthermore, allyship theater by male feminists isn’t just about being disingenuous. It’s betraying women who gave their trust.
I truly believed in Aziz’s commitment to embodying the “woke bae” mindset. It sucks to see people you used to respect betray your trust and support. I think about how Grace may have felt after her encounter with him. Like many of us, she probably admired Aziz and his work. How could she have known that a vocal supporter of the feminist movement might not care about her agency?
Consent, Coercion, and Rape Culture
When Aziz paints himself as a loveable, sweet person in his comedy specials, how could Grace predict that he might push her into a scary situation? Even if this woman was blinded by Aziz’s fame, his alleged actions against her are not okay. If someone trusts and respects you, then basic human decency requires not taking advantage of that.
From Grace’s account, she gave verbal and nonverbal cues to him. She recalls telling him that she did not want to have sex and moving away from him. In that kind of a situation, Aziz would had to have known what was going on.
“Heterosexuality often presents sex as something that’s done to women. But when you think about it, if what you’re doing isn’t being reciprocated—if someone’s not touching you back, if you’re having to move their hand to places—something’s not okay.” https://t.co/LQWBV3nC0z
— Broadly (@broadly) January 17, 2018
While Aziz probably won’t go to jail over something like this, his alleged actions are still horrible. Some have said this story is another case of bad sex. However, it doesn’t erase that this woman trusted a man who appeared to be a “good guy,” and he allegedly took advantage of that.
Grace’s story reminds us that rape culture seeps into our lives through every possible inlet. Men who identify as allies and feminists, as Aziz does, need to reflect on their actions. Our media, popular culture, and pornography tell men to have sex aggressively while women are often taught to act docile and just take it.
I hope Aziz Ansari takes time to realize what he might have done wrong and how he can do better. That kind of self-reflection isn’t easy or quick.
The day after Grace’s account was published, Ansari released a statement in response. All I can say is “meh” because as writer Teresa Jusino stated, “he expresses concern, but doesn’t seem to own that he might have done anything wrong.”
I hoped that he would take more accountability, but this is something Aziz must figure out on his own. We can be socialized to perpetuate rape culture, but we can also unlearn this and do better.
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