After #MeToo and Aziz Ansari, it’s time to talk about what consent really means

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The floodgates of assault allegations burst open last year after a damning investigation into Harvey Weinstein — and after him, numerous powerful, and before untouchable, men have fallen as well.

But in January, the #MeToo movement took a turn after a relatively unknown site, Babe, published an account by a woman known as “Grace.”

“Grace” calls a date night with actor and comedian Aziz Ansari “the worst experience with a man I’ve ever had” and emphasizes that what happened that night, from her perspective, was sexual assault.

But this story takes a sharp departure from the numerous reports that have come before it. It’s not about men who abused their power in the workplace, and it doesn’t involve numerous victims.

Babe, instead, relies one woman’s tale of a date with someone she liked before he became aggressive upon returning to his apartment.

According to Grace, Ansari ignored her (voiced) concerns and repeatedly tried to pressure her for sex. After she told him she didn’t “want to feel forced,” Ansari suggested the pair “chill on the couch.” It was then that he reportedly “sat back and pointed to his penis and motioned for me to go down on him.”

Eventually, Grace left his apartment in tears.

Ansari, in a statement released after the Babe piece was published, said he was “surprised and concerned” to learn the encounter hadn’t been completely consensual.

The response to the piece was swift and divisive.

Some have called it painfully relatable — and for our culture to understand these incidents, too, are assault.

Others have called it unforgivably irresponsible journalism and “the worst thing to happen to the #MeToo movement.”

I don’t think either accusations are completely true — while Grace’s story is all too common, Babe’s storytelling damaged its narrator’s credibility and looked weak in comparison to the meticulous products of other sexual misconduct reports.

Nevertheless, this piece has easily enabled a growing narrative — that the #MeToo movement has gone too far, that the public sphere’s reckoning is a witch hunt against men who aren’t mind readers.

Despite this, the conversation is still necessary and probably more applicable than those around the reprehensible actions of the world’s Weinsteins.

Above all else, Grace’s experience tells the same story so many women, including myself, have endured rather than enjoyed. What she calls “sexual assault” is what many would call a “bad date” — and in the process, forces women to reexamine these experiences.

In doing so, her narrative shows how power dynamics can be tricky to navigate — the mainstream is finally catching up with what feminist literature has been examining for decades.

So many cues played into Grace’s decision making. While Ansari may not have thought so, he was in a position of power over his date. Beyond his manhood, his fame added more pressure onto the younger Grace.

Older feminists have accused Grace, and millennial women, of being weak — if she didn’t like it, why didn’t she just leave?

But Western womanhood has changed drastically since then — no longer is so much at stake from a sexual encounter.

It’s not so black-and-white, either. Grace liked this guy, and sex may have been a potential in the future — just not right now. Her internal conflict was to balance her desire to stop the encounter with her desire to please Ansari — again, something all too common among women.

I don’t think the #MeToo movement is done for, at least not yet.

But I do think it’s time to talk about consent, and the power dynamics inherent in hooking up.

While Grace and Ansari’s encounter may not have been as censurable as those involving Weinstein, encounters like theirs need to end, too.

No one deserves to leave a date in tears. No one deserves to feel like less. Time’s up.

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