Babe.net is Trash. But Ashleigh’s Monolouge is Fucking Dangerous

On Tuesday, January 16th, Headline News Ashleigh Banfield criticized “Grace,” the 23-year-old woman who shared her traumatic experience with babe.net; a date with Aziz Ansari. Banfield accused Grace of tarnishing Ansari’s character and trivializing the #MeToo moment. The searing monologue diminished to “a bad date.”
Banfield said Ansari was “overly amorous” and that she didn’t leave right away. Banfield said she was an active participant, by her own description. Grace detailed the various times she told him she wasn’t ready and would try to move away. Ansari grabbed Grace almost every time she attempted to move away from him, but only recoiled and let her go when she said: “All you men are the same.”

Banfield called the experience unpleasant because it did not send her to the police, affect her workplace, or her ability to get a job. “So I have to ask you, what exactly was your beef? That you had a bad date with Aziz Ansari? Is that what victimized you to the point, of seeking a public conviction, and a career-ending sentence against him? Is that truly what you thought he deserved for your night out? Let me be clear. If you were sexually assaulted, you should go to the police right now. ” Banfield recalled her own experience of sexual assault and harassment and referred to Grace’s actions as appalling. “You have potentially destroyed this man’s career over [a bad date].”

As a victim of sexual assault, I was not empowered by Banfield’s monologue like the general consensus. I was appalled.

I was sexually assaulted while I was on a date in college. I didn’t leave the date right away because I didn’t want to date to end, just the advances that eventually turned into an assault. I didn’t go to the police because I was worried about my safety if he was found not guilty. I didn’t go to the police because I was still grappling with the fact that something like that could happen to me, and I had no idea how to put it in words to anyone but myself. I didn’t go to the police because I didn’t have proof, and it would be my word against his. I didn’t go to the police because it is a very hard crime to convict.
I was a junior, so it didn’t impact my “workplace” or “ability to get a job.” It did, however, impact every subsequent romantic and sexual relationship I’ve ever had with a man. It had a severe impact on the way I viewed my own father, whenever the topic of Bill Cosby came up. It impacted my ability to sleep at night. It impacted my mental health. It impacted my ability to focus in class.

I am furious that Ashleigh Banfield oversimplified the fact that Ansari disrespected someone’s refusal to engage sexually because she didn’t leave right away. Banfield is also making an extremely hasty assumption that this event didn’t impact Grace’s performance at work. She’s also assuming that Grace doesn’t deal with this in the workplace.

I’m furious that Banfield claims Grace ruined his life and career, but still holds to the notion that he didn’t do anything wrong. If Ansari is just bad at sex, as Banfield claims Grace is said herself, why would this embarrassing factoid impact his career? What does it have to do with him as an actor?

I’m furious she makes this claim, because she, on some level, has to understand what he did was wrong, but chose to insult a young woman anyway, simply because he won an award.

I’m furious her rant was promoted without an ounce of criticism from other news organizations, aside from Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

I’m furious at total and complete strangers clapping along in the comments section where the rant is published.

But most of all, I’m fucking furious she probably thought her “Hollywood blackball/blue balls” was charming and witty.

I could tell from Banfield’s monologue alone, that she relied heavily on the think-pieces cranked out by The Atlantic and The New York Times. Grace’s account of the story sounded more like a case of coercion and forcible touching, rather than a “bad date.”
A producer from HLN invited the author of the piece, 22-year-old Katie Way, onto the show. Her response is more or less how I would expect a 22-year-old to act.

It’s an unequivocal no from me. The way your colleague Ashleigh (?), someone I’m certain no one under the age of 45 has ever heard of, by the way, ripped into my source directly was one of the lowest, most despicable things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Shame on her. Shame on HLN. Ashleigh could have “talked” to me. She could have “talked” to my editor or my publication. But instead, she targeted a 23-year-old woman in one of the most vulnerable moments of her life, someone she’s never f—— met before, for a little attention. I hope the ratings were worth it! I hope the ~500 RTs on the single news write-up made that burgundy lipstick bad highlights second-wave feminist has-been feel really relevant for a little while. She DISGUSTS me, and I hope when she has more distance from the moment she has enough of a conscience left to feel remotely ashamed — doubt it, but still. Must be nice to piggyback off of the fact that another woman was brave enough to speak up and add another dimension to the societal conversation about sexual assault. Grace wouldn’t know how that feels, because she struck out into this alone, because she’s the bravest person I’ve ever met. I would NEVER go on your network. I would never even watch your network. No woman my age would ever watch your network. I will remember this for the rest of my career — I’m 22 and so far, not too shabby! And I will laugh the day you fold. If you could let Ashleigh know I said this, and that she is no-holds-barred the reason, it’d be a real treat for me.

Thanks,
Katie

Banfield noted that this email provides us an insight of the caliber of the weapon used to destroy Ansari’s career. The story has been in circulation since Saturday, January 13th. Despite the cries of a wounded career, Ansari has yet to face any repercussions from the events outside of disappointment. Ansari has also yet to take any legal action against babe.net, nor did he refute Grace’s retelling of events.

What this email reveals isn’t her “caliber,” but her level of immaturity. Banfield was correct, though, in that Way’s ad hominem attack against her was sexist and ageist. Way could have benefited from taking a moment to cool off and tell the producer that she wasn’t interested in coming on air because she believed Banfield made a bad-faith argument and didn’t read her article, but she didn’t. This is Way’s first gig out of college, as evidenced by her LinkedIn profile — and I sincerely hope that this will be a teachable moment for her. I also hope she apologizes to Banfield for her tactless remarks about her age and appearance.

As one becomes more seasoned in the industry they work in, they start to handle criticism with dignity and tact. But Banfield has been in the industry for years, so she may have forgotten what it feels like to have her work torn apart when she first started. Way’s email is more of a reflection of Way’s professionalism as a 22-year-old woman. Not her power as a journalist at a small publication.

Babe.net’s editorial decisions deserve some criticism as well. There are details that could have been omitted from the story. What seemed like scene-setting to Way, seemed trivial to most. For example, Ansari pouring her a blend of wine she doesn’t like. While the story makes it clear Grace explicitly said “Let’s slow down,” “Next Time,” “I don’t want to feel pressured,” the story could have used more editors to condense the story and better define what happened: making it clear to the average reader: Aziz Ansari, a stand-up somehow comedian doesn’t know how to read a room. Aziz Ansari doesn’t seem to fully understand the importance of enthusiastic consent, making his persona as a feminist performative. And finally, rather than taking a moment to build on the conversation around the topic of consent, babe.net published an article highlighting the media pickups they received.

Kaitlyn Tiffany from The Verge says as such, that the site’s little-known presence and the poorly written structure, all contributed to the scrutiny of Way’s piece. But like Kaitlyn Tiffany points out, if the article were published anywhere else, we might not be criticizing Grace today. The details that people like Caitlin Flanagan and Bari Weiss, and chose to focus on are much different than the story as a whole. The same could be said for Banfield.

And I can’t help but agree with Kaitlyn Tiffany, “Their refusal to judge the information provided by the Babe story on its own merits, and the vitriol they have greeted it with, is disturbing, especially on the part of experienced journalists. It’s far more egregious than anything its odd framing and missteps warranted.”

It’s important to note Banfield applauded those who lead the #MeToo movement, and that Grace came in and ruined it for everyone. The specific stories Banfield is likely alluding to are the ones published in The New Yorker. The Washington Post. The New York Times. You know, “Real publications.” Had the story been framed in a different way, say, by The New York Times, Banfield might not have shamed Grace for ruining someone’s career, especially when there is no evidence of a ruined career. Ansari did not deny anything in Grace’s account, and he still has not faced any professional repercussions. If the news cycle and social media is any indication, the world has his back. Not hers.

Banfield definitely should call out Way, but she should also absorb the other choice words Way had for her. Perhaps, ask her to elaborate further on “…add another dimension to the societal conversation about sexual assault.” Banfield could have revisited the article, after seeing the email, to find out why Way hopes she comes back thinking of it differently. Perhaps she’s alluding to the fact that Banfield, perhaps, in a moment of tension, didn’t think how bad it sounds to say “You didn’t lose your job or suffer in the workplace. What’s the big deal?” Because as a seasoned professional, Banfield should know better.

Hearing such phrases from Banfield brought me back to a dark place. The very words Banfield used were the very words I was afraid of hearing, thus, the reason it took me so long to speak up: Why were you dressed like that? Why did you go to his house? Why didn’t you leave right away? Why didn’t you press charges? Guess you weren’t assaulted after all, and if you were, it was all your fault. Buck up!

Banfield is also careless in her characterization the #MeToo movement. It was created by a black female activist almost eleven years ago to connect with survivors. Long before hashtags were even popular. White women, famous white women, though, were what put the movement in the spotlight. Banfield focused on how these women worked tirelessly to make their offices a safer place but seemed laser-focused on the topic of sexual assault. Many of the men on the Shitty Media Men list didn’t commit assault, but they engaged in behavior that was hostile and inappropriate. Glenn Thrush may not have assaulted anyone, but he engaged in behavior that made young women upset and uncomfortable, especially when they were in a vulnerable position. Ashleigh, would you tell those girls crying outside of a bar in Arlington, Virginia to shut up and get back to their desk because Thrush didn’t rape them? I sure hope not.

Would you tell a woman whose work was plagiarized by a man to shut up because nobody committed a crime? I hope not.

By shaming Grace for sharing her experience, Banfield is ultimately telling women who have shared similar, traumatic experiences that they should not tell their stories publicly unless they meet certain criteria.

Grace’s story adds a new layer to the conversation. The fact that Aziz Ansari’s actions are common says a lot of how little we understand what consent actually means and why it’s so important. Grace’s story could have been a starting point for the older generation to gain an insight as to what millennials like Katie Way and Grace consider consent, and why they think this kind of consent is important. But they didn’t. Instead, they shamed someone who was affected by it because they believed she was overreacting. If anyone is “ruining #MeToo for everyone,” it’s the commentators like Ashleigh Banfield who as gatekeepers of the movement.

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