Over the holiday weekend, Aziz Ansari joined the ranks of Hollywood heavyweights reduced to water cooler whispers after reports of their alleged sexual wrongdoings became public.
In the case of the Master of None star and creator, the blow was dealt by “Grace,” a 23-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer who anonymously shared the story of her date with Ansari (“ the worst night of my life”) with little-known site babe.net.
In the account, Grace describes how Ansari rushed through their dinner date and brought her back to his apartment. After arriving at Aziz’s home, Grace was shocked by how quickly his sexual advances escalated, telling Babe, “It was really quick. Everything was pretty much touched and done within 10 minutes of hooking up, except for actual sex.” The article goes on to describe Grace’s attempts to thwart Aziz once he tells her he wants to have sex and the discomfort she felt throughout the evening. After a prolonged period of discomfort, Grace asks the actor to call her a car, which he does. Read Babe's description below:
Throughout the course of her short time in the apartment, she says she used verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was. “Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points,” she said. “I stopped moving my lips and turned cold.”
Whether Ansari didn’t notice Grace’s reticence or knowingly ignored it is impossible for her to say. “I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn’t interested. I don’t think that was noticed at all, or if it was, it was ignored.”
The following day, Aziz sends Grace a text reading, “It was fun meeting you last night.” Grace responds by telling him that their date wasn’t fun for her, and details the many instances in which she had felt uncomfortable. Ansari texts back, telling Grace, “I’m so sad to hear this. Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.”
Shortly after Babe’s report was published, Ansari released a statement responding to the allegations and his characterization:
“In September of last year, I met a woman at a party. We exchanged numbers. We texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. We went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual.
The next day, I got a text from her saying that although 'it may have seemed okay,' upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said."
Since the story began circulating just days ago, it seems everyone has an opinion on the piece, and no two are quite the same. Op-eds have flooded the web, their aims ranging from angry attacks of millennial whistleblowing to critiques of the reporting issued by Babe.net itself.
One of the more aggressive takedowns of the article comes from The Atlantic via Caitlin Flanagan, who condemned Ansari’s accuser of being too tepid in her refusal of his advances. The writer describes the exposé as “revenge porn,” insinuating that the story is an abuse of power and of a movement that is being used to “humiliate” rather than vindicate.
The Huffington Post issued a much milder response to Babe’s piece, explaining that the essay should serve to broaden our discussion and perception of consent.
“Behavior need not fall under the legal definition of sexual assault or rape to be wrong or violating or upsetting,” HuffPo’s Emma Gray writes in the aptly titled “On Aziz Ansari And Sex That Feels Violating Even When It’s Not Criminal.” The necessary gray area of a two-sided story makes us eager to assign blame to a single party, but perhaps fault lies with neither, and is instead product of a society in which consent is viewed as a “yes” or “no” question.
In The New York Times’s dry op-ed, writer Bari Weiss calls the essay “the worst thing that has happened to the #MeToo movement since it began in October,” and, like The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan, accuses Grace of placating Aziz and issuing few concrete, verbal objections to the behavior she now admits made her uncomfortable. Weiss also condemns the story for its misdirection of #MeToo’s original focus on imbalanced power dynamics, noting that Aziz (while famous) has “no actual power over the woman—professionally or otherwise.”
On Tuesday, Jezebel weighed in, calling out babe.net for its mistreatment of both the victim and the report itself.
“Because of the amateurish way the Babe report was handled (her wine choices; her outfit), and the way it was written with an almost prurient and unnecessarily macabre interest in the minute details of their interaction (“the claw”), it left the subject open to further attacks, the kind that are entirely, exhaustingly predictable,” writes Jezebel’s Culture Editor, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd.
The site claims that the essay’s echo effect across the Internet is product of its ineffective reporting, and that the piece ultimately “ended up opening up a conversation that did us no good at all.”