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Asserting Agency in a ‘Woke’ World: The Long Journey Uphill

Posted by Prerna Singh in Sexism And Patriarchy, Staff Picks
January 18, 2018

The internet, as usual, is on fire once again over an article published on babe. The article is about a woman’s encounter with a noted comedian from the POC community, Aziz Ansari. This encounter did not go well and ended up with her feeling violated by the acts of the said evening.

I haven’t been on many dates, and the ones that I have been to hardly ever escalated into anything I didn’t want or prefer, mostly because I find it hard to connect with a person and get comfortable enough to take things forward in a short period of time. I tend to walk out as soon as possible, but that’s just me. I know it makes dating hard which it shouldn’t be. But again, I have never been on a date with a celebrity that I admired and loved.

However, while reading the account of the woman ‘Grace’ in the now-viral piece, I could feel her shock and resentment growing with each line. It was too real, too horrifying. I could almost sense the hostility people are capable of displaying when they feel entitled to something and don’t get it. And it gets harder to choose sides when the lines that define consent and intimacy get blurred beyond recognition.

“He Said, She Said!”

The woman in this account has chosen to stay anonymous, and for obvious reasons. I feel like laughing in those people’s faces who are blatantly saying she did this for publicity and attention. Nobody knows who she is, except Aziz. How can she get any sort of publicity out of this, considering the fact that there isn’t any name or face attached to this account?

Source- Yahoo
Source: Yahoo

Aziz Ansari has responded to the allegations. He has said that in the moment, he felt it was consensual. Risking to deviate from political correctness, I would say I believe him too. Why? I have my reasons.

The power dynamics that have been at play in our society have by large obfuscated the idea of consent to something that is tough to wrap our heads around, despite being on the receiving end of harrowing experiences. One thinks that being a ‘certified woke bae’ will bring a different angle to Ansari’s behaviour when such situations present themselves, but alas.

The idea of asserting one’s agency has been so diluted and toyed around with, that one feels out of touch with what exactly it is that they are feeling. This exact feeling is brilliantly summed up in the now-viral short story published in The New Yorker titled “Cat Person“. Read it when you can, it is hauntingly accurate.

Intimacy And Its Aspects

Now, coming to the point where ‘Grace’ agreed to visit Ansari’s house, engaged in sexual activities and realized she is not comfortable, a lot of people have been slandering her for the fact that if she was so uncomfortable, why didn’t she leave? And these people include women, too.

The very fact that asserting one’s agency in sexual situations is tough for most women should be enough to understand why she lingered. I do think she should have stormed out when things went downhill because clearly, Ansari was being incapable of understanding her discomfort, but it is easier said than done.

Aziz Ansari

This is eerily similar to the cases of abusive marriages/relationships where people shift the onus on the woman and ask why she didn’t leave. Because the conditioning women are generally brought up with tells them it might get better. It takes time to undo centuries of damage.

People have been saying that Ansari wasn’t being hurtful, he wasn’t being violent, he wasn’t trying to inflict pain on her. This establishes the black and white boundaries that we have set for sexual behaviour and assault.

Is it assault only if the other person gets hurt physically? Is it violence only if the other person is left bleeding and begging for mercy? Hell no. There is a reason why the societal mandate shifts quickly when it comes to a survivor who decides to speak out vis-a-vis a person who went through extremely violent situations such as assault and rape and succumbed. In the case of the former, it is always, “It wasn’t that bad, she didn’t die.”

Do people have to die to prove the point that most sexual misconduct starts early with smaller things – verbal harassment, slight touches, groping, which all spiral into murkier heinous incidents? Think.

Asserting Agency In A Woke World

As a friend of mine aptly said, it becomes harder to speak about assault and misconduct when the perpetrator is perceived as someone who’s considerate and an ‘ally’. There is a paradigm shift when ‘woke’ people refuse to bring into practice what they preach. It just doesn’t suit their ‘image’.

I am sure Grace would have undergone the same kind of shock once she realised that Ansari wasn’t the kind of date she was expecting. But our conditioning has very deep-reaching roots. It will take an enormous amount of unlearning to actually make people realize that what sort of behaviour is acceptable and what sort isn’t. And it will have to start with the perpetrators, though it requires a lot of effort from the other side as well.

To begin with, let’s shed the idea of “playing hard to get”. This is the 21st century and it shouldn’t be a place where someone has to think that if the other person is interested but not yielding, then they are playing hard to get. If a person is comfortable with you, things will get better – trust me.

Any person, at any moment, has the right to stop indulging in any sort of sexual activity if they are not comfortable with it. If they are not ready for something you thought they would be, just let it go. Hammering around will get you nowhere.

Sensitizing people about intimate behaviour is tough, but not impossible. A ‘yes’ to coffee doesn’t mean a ‘yes’ to any beverage that you might have to offer. And one can stop sipping the cup of coffee any time they feel like they don’t want to anymore. Just because someone is spending time with you doesn’t mean they are willing to have sex with you. If they are, it will happen on its own and no one has to force it.

If someone feels like the other person is getting uncomfortable, just ask. One nudge is enough. It goes to show that you are kind and considerate.

To assert one’s agency in these challenging and confusing times, one needs to identify where agency lies. If it lies in your ‘no’, use it. If it lies in you walking out, do it. If it lies in taking it slow, say it. Do not judge yourself. But the toughest challenge is to imbibe this in the minds of those people who have been conditioned to accept certain kinds of behaviour. It wasn’t a bad date, it was humiliation.