By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Heidi Stevens tackles the Aziz Ansari controversy. She says, "We're at loggerheads over whether her story deserved to be aired, whether it belongs in #MeToo, whether it was a lousy date or a sexual assault or something in between. What we should be talking about is how to make sure fewer of those dates take place, now, and years from now."
I'm raising two sons and a daughter, and I don't want any of them to have a date like Aziz and "Grace" had.
I don't want my boys to define a good date as, "Come hell or high water, I climaxed."
I don't want my girl feeling such a profound need to be pleasing, and safe, that she stifles her own voice in favor of too easily dismissed nonverbal cues and an "I'd rather not hate you."
I don't want to live in a culture that gave way to the night described in that now-infamous article. But I'm all too aware that we do.
"Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling," the 23-year-old known as Grace told the website babe in the article, "I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life." "I know that my hand stopped moving at some points. I stopped moving my lips and turned cold. ... I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn't interested. I don't think that was noticed at all, or if it was, it was ignored."
I've been on that date. Most women I know have.
We're at loggerheads over whether her story deserved to be aired, whether it belongs in #MeToo, whether it was a lousy date or a sexual assault or something in between.
What we should be talking about is how to make sure fewer of those dates take place, now, and years from now.
If any good is to come from the Aziz/Grace saga, we need to get comfortable hanging out in the gray area for a while, the area between "lousy date" and "sexual assault."
But how? First, by acknowledging some truths. I've read a lot of them in the days since Grace took her story public, launching a discussion about consent, gender and #MeToo that might just move the needle, if we can set aside our need for clear-cut villains and victims.
One: "Girls are raised with a contradictory set of expectations: be kind and acquiescent, but also be the brakes on male sexual desire," Jill Filipovic writes in The Guardian, in the best piece I've read thus far on the topic. "We are taught to reflexively say yes except for when we're supposed to definitively say no." Be game, that is, but not so game that you veer into slut territory.
Two: "In a perfect world," Filipovic writes, "Grace would have walked out the door. But women are so strongly socialized to put others' comfort ahead of our own that even when we are furiously uncomfortable, it feels paralyzing to assert ourselves." We stigmatize women for being too assertive. We punish them for not being assertive enough.
Three: "The idea that men have more sexual desire than women still goes unchallenged," Anna North writes in Vox, "leading too many men to believe that a lukewarm yes is all they're ever going to get, because women don't like sex that much anyway."
Author Peggy Orenstein is brilliant on this. Her 2016 book, "Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape" (Harper), encourages parents to talk to daughters about acknowledging and prioritizing their own desire and pleasure so sex doesn't take the shape of something boys and men do, and girls and women have done to them.
We need to acknowledge that we're still socializing boys and girls with gender expectations that are decades old, even though dates look nothing like they used to.
We need to talk up enthusiastic consent, when both parties are equally eager, when no one's wearing anyone down, when no one's being worn down. We need to empower our girls and boys, both, to say, "Oh, hell yes" as well as, "Oh, hell no." We need to help our girls and our boys listen for both.
This training is going to have to take place, largely, at home.
We're nowhere near universal, comprehensive sex education in our schools. We're up to our eyeballs in entertainment and media shaped mostly by the folks who expound and exploit the very messages we need to disrupt.
It's daunting. We're haunted and embarrassed, many of us, by our own experiences that fall somewhere between "lousy date" and "sexual assault."
We're shaped, still, by the messages we grew up surrounded by. In "Girls & Sex," Orenstein interviewed dozens of young women ages 15 to 20 about intimacy.
"Usually the opposite of a negative is a positive," one young woman told her. "But when you're talking about girls and sex, the opposite of slut is prude, both of which are negative. So what are you supposed to do?"
Blow it all up. Start over. Acknowledge, once and for all, that this way isn't working. This way that leads to Grace and Aziz and far, far too many women and men nodding in recognition at their story, even as they recoil at its reception.
We can do better. Let's get going.