They said, “the lines were blurred.” They said, “well, it’s not really abuse if he didn’t rape her.” They also said, “she should have run at the first chance she got,” and, “how difficult would it have been to have just kicked him in the nuts?”
They clamoured and they prophesied, but they refused to take into account, even for one moment, the absolute entitlement of the man responsible for the situation where “she should have just run away/kicked him in the nuts”
Aziz Ansari and ‘Grace’s’ accounts of what happened the night they were together have been dissected and published in articles with speed greater than our ability to comb through them. But you know the one thing each side wholeheartedly agrees on? That this looked normal; it sounded like, tasted like, smelt of any average sexual encounter.
A female friend, when she first heard the story, was confused whether it was sexual assault or not. While reading Babe’s expose, she looked up from her smartphone and stuttered – “But, this... happens, right?”
She’s right. It happens. With far greater incidence than you will know.
So, here’s the million dollar question – does that make it okay? Does that validate sexual encounters where skewed power dynamics enable one side to ask – repeatedly, persistently, obstinately – for sex, while the other side “mumbles” and “moves away” (in Grace’s own words) until she is worn down by attrition?
“I was 18. He was 27,” says a female friend. I’m going to call her A, because A’s account is as noteworthy or as little worthy of note as you will accredit it.
“He was older than me – like how Aziz Ansari was older than Grace. He was from Bengaluru, while I live in Delhi. After months of talking only on Skype and through text messages, he paid me a visit on my birthday. I didn’t want sex because it was only the first time I’d ever seen him – but he initiated it. In the middle of it, I started crying, visibly uncomfortable. He stopped and moved away – and then, the minute I’d stopped crying, he came back to me and started to touch me again.”
‘A’ says that she “gave in” at this point.
‘A’ recalls how she didn’t acknowledge this as abuse until some years later, when she saw a movie called Trust.
‘A’s body had felt violated at the time – but her mind had not defined it. She recalls feeling wretched when she reads Grace’s account.
“That guy still wishes me on my birthday and I never respond. He feels he did no wrong – that everything was consensual. Why is everyone asking why Grace first consented and then withdrew her consent? Why do they argue that she took days to end things? Just remember that while you question the girl on her behaviour, the man still doesn’t know that it was abuse. He just thinks it was awkward sex.”
That’s right, because it couldn’t possibly be explicit sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse has to look and sound a certain way – someone has to scream, kick and cry out a guttural ‘no’. Someone has to be a heinous monster who avoids, ignores and wilfully forces himself on her, all the while smirking through the act like an 80s Bollywood villain. How could it possibly look and sound like a friend you trusted, a boyfriend who got too drunk too fast and penetrated you too far too fast, shushing your “please, not now’s”?
I was in my early twenties when a boy I liked forced himself on me. We liked each other, but, just out of a relationship, I wasn’t keen to start anything up at all. One night, having had too much to drink at a party he’d thrown for his birthday, I passed out on his bed.
I woke up in the middle of the night to feel an uncomfortable pinch in the space between my legs. My ‘crush’ was struggling to force himself on the girl he ‘liked’, even as she lay unconscious. I mumbled, managed to push him off and passed out almost immediately afterwards.
Long story short? I was told the next morning that he’d really wanted to. “But how could you do this to me?” I asked, bewildered. “How could you ask?” he sounded aghast, continuing to detail the many times we’d kissed before and how this was, then, was a perfectly natural progression.
I said nothing. I just left. Violated. Distraught.
A friend – I shall call her B – reached out to me on Facebook after I’d posted the original Babe post. When I asked her about her thoughts, she recalled a night from years, when she was studying in class 11.
“I had gone to a house party at a friend’s and we were a little drunk. I was sitting next to this guy who I knew from school, when suddenly he inched closer to me and without warning, kissed me on my lips. When I tried to stop him, he held my hand so that I wouldn’t move. I somehow pushed him back and ran out of the room. I never told anyone out of embarrassment.”
“A guy I knew very well once spent the better part of several days begging me for sex. I was visiting from out of town, and staying in a house where he lived with several other friends of mine. Every night that I was there, he begged, bothered, asked, cajoled, coerced me for sex. He whined and touched me and followed me from room to room. He talked about how much he missed me and how much he wanted me. My discomfort was palpable. I said no many times.”
Price goes on to recount:
She speaks of the point at which she ultimately “gave him what he wanted” –
“...I still gave in. I gave him what he wanted. Well, I gave him something, anyway — after lots of begging and changing what he was asking for and trying to negotiate my “no” down to a passive “okay”, he managed to wheedle a miserable, unenthusiastic, brief encounter out of me. It was obvious I didn’t want to engage in it, didn’t enjoy it, and couldn’t wait for it to be over. But still. I guess he would say I consented. I didn’t consent. I said no and then I said no and then I said… fine. I’ll do this one thing. If you’ll just please leave me alone.”
Price concludes of her encounter that she “gave in because he was relentless and exhausting and manipulative and because saying “no”, and holding that “no” in the face of someone deeply resistant, is exhausting. And dispiriting.”
E Price’s story is similar to a young colleague’s, whose first sexual encounter ever was made up of someone “pulling out his penis before I could so much as back off.”
“He was two years senior to me and I was a ‘fresher’ in college. I was glad he wanted to hang out with me, but one day when we were alone in his car, he proceeded to kiss me. I kissed him back and before I knew it, he’d unzipped his pants and pushed my hand on his penis. Even as I pulled away, he pulled my hand back and in fact, started touching me too, telling me it was fine. I finally got away with a non-committal, despairing handjob. It was only when I got home that I realised how violated I felt.”
What gave Aziz Ansari – according to Grace’s account – the right to make her feel safe one moment and then follow her around the very next, determined to wear her down, break down her resolve, quite certain that he’d be able to? At one point, Grace mentions telling him that she “doesn’t want to feel forced” because then she’d “hate” him. When Ansari backs off and then makes a move on her again, his response is telling – “Doesn’t look like you hate me now.”
Are we really going to sit around discussing a woman “not leaving at the right time”, not pushing someone off “aggressively enough”, and sifting her actions through litmus tests, when we should be addressing the problem — someone unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer?
How hard is it to pause for a minute, take a breath and ask “would you like to…?” instead of jamming and ramming into a non-compliant body?
(We Indians have much to talk about these days. But what would you tell India if you had the chance? Pick up the phone and write or record your Letter To India. Don’t be silent, tell her how you feel. Mail us your letter at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll make sure India gets your message.)