Asking Why The Woman In The Aziz Ansari Story Didn't Just Leave The Situation Entirely Misses The Point
In the days since Aziz Ansari was accused of alleged sexual misconduct by an anonymous 23-year-old woman — a photographer who reportedly went on a date with Ansari after meeting him in September 2017 at the Emmy Awards — there's been a huge variety of responses from the public. While some have expressed support for the woman and others shock at Ansari's alleged behavior, there's one common (but not totally unexpected) response that is especially problematic and harmful: asking why the woman didn't "just leave" if she was uncomfortable.
According to her alleged account — which was originally published in a report by website Babe — the woman went back to Ansari's apartment after a dinner date, where Ansari allegedly began kissing and touching her. From there, the woman claims the two continued to hook up, with Ansari allegedly "pull[ing] her hand towards his penis multiple times throughout the night" and persistently attempting to engage her in sex, the Babe report claims. This, the woman claims, allegedly happened despite her continued verbal and nonverbal cues that she was uncomfortable and not interested in having sex — in Babe, she claims she actually said the word "no" aloud at least once.
Ansari responded to the allegations with a statement published in The Hollywood Reporter, saying the sexual activity they engaged in was "completely consensual" by all indications and he was surprised to hear she didn't feel the same. He said in the statement, "I got a text from her saying that although 'it may have seemed okay,' upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned."
To many, it might seem like a no-brainer for anyone to "just leave" the moment you feel uncomfortable rather than comply with whatever it is someone wants you to do. However, as unfortunately too many women know, getting up and walking out the door when you're uncomfortable isn't so simple. "'She should’ve just left if she was uncomfortable' is easy to say for those of us who are not in the situation," Dr. Danielle Forshee, a psychologist who specializes in high-conflict situations and tragedy, tells Bustle.
Should women feel empowered and able to leave an uncomfortable or dangerous situation? Yes, absolutely — but the reality is that there are so many factors at play that may keep them from doing so, and it's asinine, victim-blaming behavior to fault anyone for not handling things a certain way, like by leaving.
In an Opinion piece for the New York Times, Bari Weiss criticizes the woman for relying on nonverbal cues instead of taking action or speaking up more strongly against Ansari during the alleged encounter: "If he pressures you to do something you don't want to do, use a four-letter word, stand up on your two legs and walk out his door," she writes. But to assert that nonverbal cues aren't an important component of consent, and that only a verbal "no" or physically leaving are valid forms of rejection, can be extremely harmful and dangerous.
"It is imperative for men to be more aware and astute of women’s body language and nonverbal behaviors."
"The statement that 'nonverbal cues don’t count' is a myth," Forshee says. "Nonverbal cues do in fact count for more than half of our communication while the content of what we say is less than [ten] percent." In fact, nonverbal cues should be taken just as seriously.
"With the current state of affairs, it is imperative for men to be more aware and astute of women’s body language and nonverbal behaviors," Forshee says. "They should take these cues as seriously as they would verbal communication."
In an ideal world, women would have no problem firmly asserting themselves any time they feel uncomfortable, but in the actual world, that's not always an option — and it's extremely problematic to place the blame on someone for how she did or did not react in any given situation. Even if you think that you might have handled a certain situation in a different manner, it doesn't matter: there's nothing to be gained by asserting your opinion on what a woman "should have done."
Although what allegedly happened between Ansari and this woman might not fit into your idea of what sexual misconduct look likes, the whole point is that sexual misconduct can take place in many forms, and in varying degrees. It's irresponsible and regressive to claim that this type of alleged encounter isn't "serious" enough to report, or assert that it detracts from the #MeToo movement instead of further legitimizing it.
Ultimately, the only thing that matters is how the woman felt in the moment, and how her experience affected her afterward. Whether or not you agree with how a woman handles things is irrelevant: what is relevant is the fact that, for many women, sexual misbehavior is all too familiar — and that is what we need to be talking about.