In the last 24 hours, I’ve read three articles about Aziz Ansari. The first is the Babe.com article, in which a young woman accused him of sexual assault. A second article, from The Atlantic, in which another woman discusses the events described in the first, and claims they are not sexual assault. And finally, a third article from KatyKatiKate.com, in which a third woman explains that events like those described in the first article have happened to her, and while she hadn’t considered them sexual assault, that doesn’t mean they aren’t. (I’m over simplifying all three, so please go check them out.)
With all three fresh in my head, I started wondering about victimhood. I don’t mean that in this “I don’t like the word victim,” or “we’ve become a victim culture,” I mean legitimate victims. In the past four months or so, we’ve had many victims come forward, and naturally, when something’s wrong we look for someone to blame. Now, in all of the cases that I’ve heard that have popped up in the past few months there have been clear predators, anyone who’s defending Harvey Weinstein, or Kevin Spacey, is part of the problem. I don’t know if Al Franken was as maliciously intent as those others, but what he did was wrong, and he needed to own up to it, and step down.
With Ansari, maybe he knew what he was doing was wrong, but this is definitely the most ‘grey area’ story that I have read in these past months. So it got me thinking, assuming Ansari is telling the truth, and he didn’t get that she wasn’t into it, didn’t pick up on her non-verbal cues, is he a perpetrator? If he’s not, is she still a victim? I wonder if it’s possible for someone to be a victim without a perpetrator.
Let me run a scenario by you, something that I used to do as a boy, into young adulthood. I think most would be hard pressed to call me a perpetrator in this scenario, but I’m not sure that doesn’t make others victims. When I was 13, I was one of the tallest boys in my class, I already had some facial hair, and acne, and I was about 6 feet tall. I was also the oldest in my class, and so I lumbered over many of the other kids, but especially the girls. I constantly had crushes on the girls, and would ask them out regularly. One of my problems was, that I didn’t know how to take a hint.
I would ask, “Do you want to go to the movies on Friday?”
Usually I’d get back, “Um… I can’t I have to… (insert polite excuse here)”
I didn’t get it, so I’d say “how about Saturday?”
Now, I just wanted at that point in my life, to go to the movies, maybe hold hands, or kiss them. I knew about sex, but really hadn’t connected it with my interaction with girls. I literally meant no harm.
But as a 33 year-old, I now know, that from a very young age, girls are warned about predators, and told about them, likely by that age they had encountered some to whatever extent, and so a giant kid, who they find creepy and unattractive won’t stop asking them out, is probably terrifying. I think back, and I have to imagine, I was the physical embodiment of everything a young girl has been warned about. Despite not having any bad intentions, or really any awareness of myself.
So were those girls victims? Not of assault, but I think they were of harassment, definitely of intimidation. How can anyone argue with that?
On the other hand, was I a predator? I don’t think so.
It’s a level of nuance that I’m not sure this current wave of awareness has. Obviously, if someone knowingly assaults, or intimidates, or harasses, they should be punished, and corrected, but perhaps there are the unknowing harassers and intimidate-ers, who need to be corrected, and educated, but not necessarily punished.
I think one of the fears that has come out, is that if we don’t listen to a woman, we risk falling back into the same old routine, and so we’ve taken that to mean that we must take her side against the person who made her feel whatever way. There are cases when that is obviously true, but then there are cases like mine, or maybe Aziz Ansari’s in which you can hear the victim, have empathy, or sympathy, and help them make it as right as possible, and hopefully correct this going forward, but not necessarily have such a black and white stance.
What are your thoughts and opinions on these more nuanced stories? Are my ideas way off base? Let me know below in the comments.