Women: Guys are supposed to assume rejection is the same as playing hard to get. If you're with your boyfriend and you tell him you just feel like making out, is he allowed to try to convince you to do more? If you go back to a man's apartment after he buys you dinner, you at least owe him a little something, right?
Stare at those two little letters. Say the word out loud. Think about any time you've wanted to use it and didn't. Imagine what it would have felt like if you had — probably shaky at first, because women aren't taught to say no. We're taught to say, "No, thank you." Or, "Not right now." Or some other qualifier designed to protect whoever we're rejecting. But we're not necessarily taught how to protect ourselves.
In this context, I'm not going to be talking about clear forms of sexual violence and harassment, such as rape and catcalling, but instead about murkier sexual encounters, like the ones we might have on dates or with boyfriends. Like the controversy surrounding Aziz Ansari and the woman calling herself "Grace."
On Jan. 13, "babe.net" posted a story called "I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life," in which an anonymous woman — Grace — recounts a date that devolved into a series of sexual encounters with Ansari that Grace says she did not want to happen. The "babe" website reports the night based on an interview with Grace, conversations with Grace's roommate and texts from Grace's phone.
Grace met Ansari at the 2017 Emmy after-party, they exchanged numbers and he asked her on a date in late September, according to "babe". Grace said Ansari rushed them out of the restaurant, and at his apartment, they started kissing and Ansari undressed them both. In just a few minutes, she told "babe," they had performed oral sex on each other and Ansari had said he was going to get a condom. She was uncomfortable with how quickly things were progressing and told Ansari that they should relax. She told "babe" that she said, "Next time," when Ansari continued asking to have sex with her.
At this point, Grace said, she excused herself to the bathroom to regain her composure. When she returned, she told him that she didn't want to feel forced, and she told "babe" that he seemed respectful and suggested they "chill" on the couch. But at the couch, she said, Ansari asked her to perform oral sex on him again, which she did, but felt pressured and taken aback.
For the rest of the uncomfortable details, just read the article on "babe".
The day after the date, Ansari texted Grace that he had had fun, and she replied with a lengthy explanation of how the evening had gone wrong to her. She told him, "When we got back to your place, you ignored clear non-verbal cues; you kept going with advances. You had to have noticed I was uncomfortable."
Here's the scariest part: He didn't notice.
Ansari apologized to Grace over text and issued a full statement to "babe," saying, "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 am entirely unfamiliar with Ansari's work and persona, but by all accounts from friends and the media, he was known for being supportive of sexual assault awareness and movements such as #MeToo and Time's Up. Grace's report of his behavior has shaken and disappointed many of his fans.
But what are we supposed to take away from Ansari's total obliviousness and Grace's trauma?
Say no. And you don't have to say it politely.
This goes for anyone receiving any level of unwanted sexual attention. Grace told "babe" that it took her a while to assert vocally because she was so shocked by Ansari's persistence. Even when she did voice her discomfort, she stayed in his apartment and continued to participate in sexual activity when he initiated it again.
In a safe sexual situation, no one has to be forceful with their refusals. When you first get intimate with someone, they might not know your body language well enough to pick up on the first non-verbal indication that you're not in the mood or that things are going too far or too fast. But a gentle rebuff should be more than enough to stop any sexual activity you don't want.
But sometimes you can't be polite or gentle. Sometimes you must raise your voice, push someone away and leave the situation.
We also need to be having deep conversations about incidents like Grace's. Don't go on a Twitter rampage, condemn Aziz Ansari to the lowest level of hell and swear off all his content. Or if you do, do all those things only after considering how many men you know — men you esteem or are friends with or have dated — who are just as clueless when it comes to their own actions and how they may have affected women.
Talk to your friends, women and men alike, about consent. If you're in a relationship, especially talk to your partner. Ask them if they've ever felt uncomfortable, whether it was something they did or something that was done to them, and talk about what could have been done better. Confess your own murky experiences.
Coerced cooperation in a sexual encounter is not consent. Consent is not hesitation; it isn't taking a break on the couch to chill. Consent is enthusiastic responses every step of the way. Consent is a yes, with a smile and a flirty crook of your eyebrow.