Hollywood’s Nice Guy

On January 7th, Aziz Ansari made history, being the first Asian-American to win the Best Actor category, for his role as Dev Patel in his Netflix original series, Master of None. Just days later, news would break that Ansari was accused of “sexual misconduct,” a very generous editorialization of the events that took place.

In a piece written by the female-centric tabloid babe.net, 23-year-old “Grace” recalls a date with Ansari in September 2017, just more than a week shy of the breaking news regarding allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

Grace details a night in which Ansari repeatedly ignored all explicit verbal and non-verbal cues that she wanted to slow down. He continuously gave and asked for oral sex, forcefully kissed and groped her, and kept ask where she wanted him to “fuck her.” The latter of which, he said even after he agreed that sex would only be fun if they “were both having fun.” The night ended with Grace in tears her entire car-ride home.

After receiving a quasi-olive branch from Ansari the following day, Grace let him know that he made her uncomfortable. Ansari apologized and told her he remembered the night differently. They never spoke or saw each other again until the Golden Globes.

Thirty-one hours after “Grace’s” story was released, Ansari’s representatives issued a public statement, in which he recalls the events being consensual, without disputing any of Grace’s claims in the piece.

Caitlin Flanagan published a piece on The Atlantic’s website, where she recalls her own experience of being *almost* date raped, and not being able to relate to Grace’s story, simply because she is “too old.” Flanagan goes on to criticize Grace for going to his apartment and drinking with him alone, harkening to advice from a bygone era because girls would get “carried away.”

She criticizes Grace for not being strong enough to say no. She criticizes Grace for accepting a date at an expensive restaurant. Flanagan also made the assumption that Grace wanted something from Ansari, and was upset she didn’t get it. This assumption appears to be based upon the first two paragraphs, where a tipsy Grace tries to chat up Ansari.  Flanagan concludes that Grace didn’t get what she wanted from him, and sought out to humiliate Ansari, a brown man, going against everything feminists have come to understand about intersectionality. Because, why are feminists attacking men of color, amirite fellas?

The New York Times’ Bari Weiss defends Ansari. Weiss poorly summarizes Grace’s account, in which she told him she wanted to slow down and not have sex on three separate occasions. Weiss barely addresses the fact that Ansari repeatedly plowed through her psychical attempts to move away. Weiss torched Grace for not providing Ansari verbal cues– despite the fact that she did. Weiss also takes Grace to task for not leaving the apartment sooner, reducing her experience to bad sex. In the same formulaic fashion of anti-feminist journalism, Weiss concludes he think-piece by criticizing the feminist movement. Why are feminists criminalizing socially awkward men? That’s not the future I want as a woman!

The fact that Grace didn’t leave the apartment when things turned south doesn’t matter. Grace could have stayed out of politeness. Or confusion. Or drunkness. Or maybe even fear. After all, by her account, he wouldn’t let her move away from him. Maybe she was scared of what would have happened if she tried to leave in the middle of one of his advances.

And who is to say why Grace talked to Ansari despite him initially brushing her off? We can’t get into Grace’s head the nights she interacted with him. And we definitely can’t get into Ansari’s head that night either.

A lot of Grace’s critics were appalled that she would dare come forward about a “non-story,” accusing her of tarnishing his reputation. But, it’s important to realize why is these allegations against Ansari are “newsworthy.”

In 2015, when The Daily Beast sat down with Ansari to discuss the debut of Master of None. He was willing to answer almost anything, except for the allegations about Louis C.K., a friend and mentor to Ansari.

“I’m not talking about that,” Ansari brusquely replied.

This was particularly striking, because as reporter Marlow Stern highlights, in the seventh episode of season one, titled “Ladies and Gentlemen,” Dev and his friend Denise make a citizen’s arrest after catching a man masturbating on the subway, incidentally, similar to the allegations against Louis C.K.

The theme of exposing creepy men continued in the fifth episode of season two, titled “Dinner Party.” When discussing the making of the episode with Vulture, Ansari points to the accusations against Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes, “Okay, what if this is one of those types of guys and we just get the audience to love him? And then pull the rug out from under them at the end and reveal that he’s actually not a good dude?” Ansari, is the lovable guy, who we recently found out, might not be who we all thought he was.
Ansari’s stand up routines often touch the subject of creepy, overly sexual men as well, portraying himself to be a shy, socially awkward square that respects women and is bewildered the concept of dick pics.

One would think someone like Ansari would understand non-verbal and verbal cues. Especially if being a “woke bae” is integral to their brand. However, this story, unfortunately, illustrates that even people we consider “nice” and “woke” to the idea of consent, might not actually be all that understanding of consent at all.

As Emily Reynolds and Jessica Valenti highlight in The Guardian, men often think women are playing hard to get and need convincing. As Reynolds points out, Ansari’s behavior exists on a spectrum of abusive behavior. Behavior, at least I believe, he could have performed his entire sexually active life and was never challenged until that very moment.

Despite Weiss and Flanagan’s cries, nobody is criminalizing Ansari’s behavior. They are, however, taking a man who claims to be a feminist to task. A feminist, who, ignored explicit non-verbal and verbal cues from someone who wasn’t interested in sex. Ansari might have been Hollywood’s “Nice Guy.” But that doesn’t mean he should get a pass for creepy behavior.

If we continue to give likable goobers like Aziz Ansari a pass, simply because what they did “wasn’t criminal” — enough New York State law tells us otherwise — we will have to dismiss anyone who has ever felt uncomfortable as a result of inappropriate behavior, as well as the person engaging inappropriate behavior. And that’s a dangerous precedent to set.

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