I want to talk about the Aziz allegations, because I think it’s worth putting thoughts out there. I’d like to emphasise that I’m not aiming to grandstand, to throw out some pointed think piece to put people in their place. My experiences aren’t relevant enough for that, there are better voices to listen to. Still, some conversation (is that what it’s called when I put words out into an echo chamber?) is better than none.
With all the allegations flying around right now, I’m sure everyone has a list. Some desert island top five of celebrities who you’re only wanting to hear squeaky clean things from. That may not even be the best way of putting it, ’cause frankly we all want to continue to believe that our faves are beyond issue. However, this ever-relevant piece by Ijeoma Oluo stands true. Anyway, I’ve got a bunch of dudes that I really, really don’t want to hear shit about. Aziz was on my list, as I’m sure he was for most. He’s made some great television, written a well-received book on dating, had compelling stand up bits and half-staked his career on the notion that he’s one of the good guys. It’s to the credit of his work that a bunch of people likely responded to his allegations with oh, is that it?
Pieces like this from the New York Times: Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader. Seeking to find fault in the victim’s behaviour, her lack of verbal rejection or conviction in getting the fuck out of an uncomfortable situation. Making it her problem that she wasn’t more direct in avoiding an unpleasant interaction. I get it. I want to keep on enjoying his material guilt free. The most prevalent reaction I’ve seen online has been that’s not assault. It’s just bad sex. I get it. I understand this reaction 100%. Why? Because I’ve been Aziz before.
I can recall a number of times in my early sexual experiences where I entirely ignored clues of disinterest. Whether this was out of ignorance or wilful desire, there’s no question that I was placing my wants over the comfort of others. Taking a soft “no” as a “not right now”. Slipping my hand between a partner’s legs and being rebuffed, only to try again ten minutes later. Pushing for sex when I got the sense she wasn’t interested, but I was. I don’t think I ever pressured a partner enough that she relented and gave in to get it over with. I did, however, fail to create a sexual environment where enthusiastic consent was imperative. I’m certain that I’m not the only guy who could admit as much. In fact, I’m quite sure that similar stories are likely more of the norm than we’d care to admit. I’m sure many guys wouldn’t even see fault with my behaviour. That’s why there’s fault in how Aziz acted. That’s why the culture of sexual consent in our society needs a major restructuring.
My initial response to the Aziz allegations was resigned frustration. As I said above, I’ve been there before. I’d hoped that someone like Aziz would be better than that, which clearly was hoping for too much. I was embarrassed that Aziz, who was 33 at the time, was behaving like a 21 year old. I was embarrassed that this behaviour in my mind was classified as that of a typical 21 year old. Unlike most of the allegations that’ve come out, this one has resonated with me the most. Why? Because these aren’t the shocking actions of a serial abuser like Harvey Weinstein. According to many of the female voices I’ve heard, they’re pretty run of the mill. That’s why it’s important men listen to what’s being said and swim in how it makes them feel.
If they’re not embarrassed or frustrated, maybe they should look at why that is. This movement marks a departure from what we all considered normal and a necessity to explore past experiences for egregious activity. We need to look at what we’ve done in order to learn how to be better. It’s important to sit with guilt, to use it to recalibrate both expectations and behaviour. The system is broken and fixing it is gonna take wilful intention and education.
Do I think Aziz is a monster who deserves to be stripped of his career? Honestly, despite what I’ve said today, I don’t. I think his story deserves to be out there as a cultural learning moment. I think he needs to have a long look at his past experiences and create meaningful change from here on out. I think if his heart is really where he’s made it out to be, that he should use his platform to admit fault and be a role model for the great many men who think he did nothing wrong.
As for me, I’ve spent years trying to unlearn what I took for granted. I’m not done yet. The movement may be called Time’s Up, but for a bunch of us it’s just begun.