I sent the link about Aziz Ansari’s … sexual misconduct? bad sex? … to my best friend one state away and to my 16-year old daughter, who read it while sitting on the couch next to me. Everyone was snowed in, after all, and had long ago finished every episode of British royal family series we could find.
Bestie, who like me is (just) on the other side of 50, wrote back exactly what I was thinking, and presumed she’d say, too: “So many feels about this. A bad date is a bad date but sexual harassment/assault is different, right?”
Sixteen, meanwhile, was crying out as if in physical pain. “NO!” she kept howling. “NOOOO!” At first, I understood her reaction to be one of a young girl reading for the first time how awful bad sex can truly be, and wondered if I should have sent it to her. But I soon realized she was having a very different reaction: It wasn’t just that Ansari’s behavior was gross, embarrassing, horrible, male: it’s that it was wrong. Like, really wrong.
I watched as she began furiously working at her phone. “[Real name of Sixteen] taking Aziz Ansari down NOW!” she declared, hitting the button that blared the story across her wide Instagram network of friends.
The response from the millennials was immediate. Like my daughter, they were unequivocal: Shock and outrage from male and female friends alike. “Not Aziz!” was the most common reply. “Gross!” “Pig!” “How could he?!” These are not sheltered, easily-shocked children, but sexually and politically aware teens living very much in the world. I shared Sixteen’s friends’ comments with Bestie, and our reactions were again the same: “Um… WOW.”
By this morning Bestie and I had both read the full gamut of published responses, from Caitlin Flanagan’s retrograde IN MY DAY WE SAID NO! piece in The Atlantic to E Price’s account on Medium detailing her own doomed encounter with a man begging for sex, and, like the teens, unequivocally identifying Ansari’s behavior sexual assault. I finally got there as well, but I confess: it took me a day or two. As Bestie said, “I think I just didn’t want to admit at first how much assault I’ve put up with in my lifetime.”
Sitting next to my daughter while the responses poured in, I might not have been smart enough to understand the kids’ vehement responses to the Ansari story. I even, for a moment, felt tender and sentimental: Oh, how cute — they expected better! But I was at least smart enough to know I needed to shut up and listen. Because wasn’t I actually just saying, Oh, that’s just men being…men?
The head push? Check. The hand move? Check. The guy who two minutes ago was laughing at your jokes and now doesn’t even notice — sorry, I meant doesn’t even care — that you are really, really not into this? Check, check, check. I mean, check to the point where women of my generation just chalk this up to men’s general cluelessness when it comes to matters of intimacy.
Or perhaps to the nature of the casual hookup: It’s just sex, and any is better than none, and who are you to want to be cared about, anyway?
But teens today are insisting on something else. Anytime … anytime …you are on the verge of saying “boys will be boys,” you have to re-examine that shit. As Price points out, not noticing that your sexual partner isn’t into it — is, in fact, far from it — is the necessary precursor to sexual assault behaviors of all kinds. I asked another teen I know, “Do you expect to be cared about during casual hookups?” And she immediately replied, “Oh, hell yes.” And then I felt like a complete idiot. Of course you have to care about your casual sex partner — you don’t even know them!
Then I think: Maybe Bestie and I used to be like that, too. Maybe there was a time when we were sixteen and we thought that all the men we slept with would care about us, too, at least for the time we were with them.
So, okay, the reach of feminism is now extending into the bedroom. Why not? We used to accept having our asses patted or pinched in the middle of a work day as part of normal business culture — we certainly no longer call that “boys being boys.” It would never be tolerated today. Why can’t we also call out private behavior that is no longer acceptable? Like, it is no longer acceptable to act like a predatory douchebag with someone you barely know, especially someone who is naked in your apartment. We’ve normalized and accepted this behavior for far too long. Enabled it, even, in the name of…being a good sport/making the best of a bad situation/not knowing enough to expect better.
It’s too bad that it happened to be Ansari, widely regarded as not a douchebag, who got caught on this particular hook. The teens keenly felt the disappointment of watching one of their “good guys” take a fall. But maybe it’s not really so surprising. Ansari’s feminist creds held up until it came to the one place where no douchebag can hide : The bedroom.