The striking thing about the Aziz Ansari situation is how familiar it feels. If the story, as relayed by his accuser were to have extended over a period of a few days, it could very well have been an episode of Master of None – a meet-cute centered on a shared interest in photography leads to several dates, which include the main character clumsily trying to get laid. I’ve little doubt Ansari would’ve treated it with the nuance fans of the show, of which I am one, have been accustomed to.
Of course, this fictionalized version would include the woman, you know, actually wanting it, despite initial misgivings. This basic narrative can be found in any number of examples from the entertainment industry in the last 30 years. Women are prizes to be won by plucky male protagonists. But in the specific real-world example referenced above, it’s pretty obvious the woman didn’t actually want it, and was worn down by persistent and coercive attempts by Ansari.
That Ansari is a powerful multi-millionaire is almost, though not entirely, besides the point. This situation, a first date between a man and a woman who don’t really know each other has to be more applicable to women than Harvey Weinstein-esque situations. Anecdotally, I know far more women that have experienced the latter than the former. Within the context of the perils of dating, it’s both ironic and fucked up that Louis CK so adequately summed it up:
A woman saying yes to a date with a man is literally insane and ill-advised, and the whole species’ existence counts on them doing it. I don’t know how they…how do women still go out with guys, when you consider the fact that there is no greater threat to women than men? We’re the number one threat to women. Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women.
It’s a harrowing and, despite the source, completely valid thought that I’m not sure I considered or understood until I was in my 30’s, married, and blessedly done with dating. To me, dating was mostly horrible, largely because I didn’t particularly like myself, and was a bit socially awkward. Any reticence on the part of someone I was interested in entailed an immediate cessation of efforts, followed by varying degrees of pitiful self-loathing.
I can’t imagine doing anything like Ansari did and not coming away with the thought that, no, this person is not into me. I would be mortified. But apparently he wasn’t able to comprehend that a woman could possibly not want a handsome, culturally relevant, “woke” multi-millionaire. But again, this type of situation goes beyond the numerically privileged and powerful few and extends across class lines in terms of cishet female/male dating.
(The vast majority of people who read this have not and will never meet me. You are right to consider that perhaps I’m not being completely forthright in the broad description of my personal experiences and may want to extend that line of thinking to any asshole like myself who moralizes on the internet. I know I do. On a related note, I’ve wrestled with writing about #metoo and its adjacent topics for a while now. If you think the last thing anyone needs is another cishet male meditating on it, that’s perfectly understandable and I’m aware this is a valid criticism.)
Men are scared. “How,” they wonder, “can I navigate this changing landscape? Everything I say can be put under a microscope – not all men are serial harassing rapists!” they whine. I’m of the opinion that it shouldn’t be too difficult. If you’re interacting with a woman, ask yourself if what you’re going to say might be interpreted as something that may make the recipient uncomfortable. If the answer is yes, don’t say it. Even if the answer is no, maybe still don’t say it. That flirting is now fraught with more peril than in the past should be the least of anyone’s concerns within the overarching discussion of contemporary and historical gender violence. If anything, it should make one do a little self-introspection and consider how they approach those they are sexually interested in.
Good Men are accustomed to being granted the right to be judged on their own actions. A priori judgment is unconscionable. Such Good Men don’t do such things – after all, we live in a post-race, post-gender meritocracy where everyone should be, and generally is, judged on the basis of their character and actions. Perhaps that hasn’t always been the case, but surely in 2018, we have arrived. After all, there’s been a black president and a woman won the popular vote, despite not winning. Why should the Good Men have to answer for the behavior of Bad Men?
In all seriousness, I can’t imagine a group of people (cishet males) less deserving of a privilege so long denied to other groups, especially given the disproportionate amount of violence and destruction they’ve wrought over the past few millennia. When they perceive they are not getting the benefit of the doubt, or *gasp* persecuted, they lash out and cry “not all men!”
It’s here that I leave “they” as a pronoun” and turn it into “we.” I identify more with a man wrongfully accused than a woman being raped/assaulted/harassed. This is an extreme privilege: at no point in my life have I ever been concerned with being the victim of rape/assault/harassment. And this process of identification is where many stop in their stunted quasi-analysis. I know of no evidence to back this up, but I think most (certainly not all) cishet men think along these lines – we’re just not concerned with being victims.
Take, for example, TJ Miller, a shitty comedy person and even shittier human. He is alleged to have raped a former girlfriend, something he vehemently denies. We will never know for certain whether or not Miller did what he’s accused of. We weren’t there. Due to this, Good Men will claim to be agnostic to what actually occurred. Unless there’s a conviction, the only supposedly objective way of knowing for sure, there’s no reason to ruin this man’s life with slanderous accusations. Hell, this could happen to any one of us!
These Good Men are deserving of scorn for not using an essential tool, one of our few saving graces as a species – empathy. They are only able to put themselves in the shoes of those they identify with. They think of how fucked up their life would be if they were falsely accused. This is easy to do. However, they are unable or unwilling to extend that consideration to those they have a hard time identifying with. Any reason for doubt will immediately seized upon. Moreover, they are able to creatively ascribe any number of nefarious motivations to reporters of rape/assault/harassment, in an exercise that can roughly be described as an inverted type of empathy.
Perhaps it’s not that simple (though I think it generally is). One could suppose that a man may have an adequate amount of empathy, but isn’t persuaded that patriarchy or rampant rape/assault/harassment is a huge issue or just isn’t pervasive enough to be a big deal. If this is the case, the gap is intellectual and not necessarily empathetic. They could be presented with statistics, but unable or uncaring to sufficiently comprehend the methodology and results. Of course, it doesn’t have to be any one particular thing. Lack of empathy and dismissal of research are mere strands in a larger web of ignorance, myopia and selfishness.
Shitty men are finally getting a small bit of reckoning. Honestly, it’s pretty benign. Dave Chappelle accused Louis CK’s victims of taking “everything from him,” which is fucking nonsense. Sure it might be hard for him to work right now, but none of his wealth, possessions or ability to maintain a privileged lifestyle was “taken.” He’ll probably be back in a few years with a triumphant return to Netflix.
Ansari will probably get to do a third Season of Master of None, though he may want to wait a few dozen news cycles for his story to get buried under the unending avalanche of bullshit that is our culture. His situation has enough of a grey area that it likely won’t affect him too much. A Google search will show just how polarizing it’s been across various media outlets, blogs and social media. He’ll be back sooner or later, none the worse for wear.
If you’re consuming the various stories and thinkpieces related to #metoo, and your first instinct, how this will affect you, is followed by hand-wringing over potentially innocent male victims and fear of interacting with females within a new and scary social landscape, you suck. Stop being a fucking child. Do better.