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Addressing Aziz

With the recent publication of a detailed narrative, Aziz Ansari has become the latest publically implicated celebrity in a national movement against sexual assault that has been making headlines since October of last year. Writing anonymously, the victim described what she called “the worse night of my life,” only to see swaths of other women decry her experience as merely a night of consensual, albeit bad, sex. Amidst this latest controversy, it has become clear that the MeToo and Times Up movements have catalyzed incredibly difficult conversations around intimacy. But as more stories are shared, we are faced with the project of outlining nuances to these issues.

With cases like Harvey Weinstein, it was easy to summarily categorize him as a misogynist and predator. However, when it comes to Ansari, whose career was built on confronting racism, misogyny and homophobia and whose exposed interaction felt complex and upsettingly common, our clear-cut categories fail us. Women have defended the comedian, saying that what happened wasn’t sexual assault and calling it so is dangerous. Yet, even if Ansari never crossed the line into what could be classified as criminal, something about his pursuit of the victim was invasive. Rather than simply chalking this up to Ansari’s social intelligence alone, it is important to recognize that, within our culture, it’s nearly impossible for men to avoid an unhealthy relationship with sex. With violent and exploitative pornography currently acting as a common sex education provider, it’s unsurprising that men—even well-intended ones—internalize a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies and often commit forms of assault without knowing. While this is in no way an excuse for transgressions committed, it does stand as a reminder of where some of these harmful norms stem from.

There is a difference between sex that is simply unfulfilling and sex that is violating and unwanted. Yet this distinction seems to have gotten lost, as evidenced by the number of women defending Ansari by claiming their lives have been full of experiences like the one described in the anonymous tell-all. Just because these types of encounters are common doesn’t mean they are healthy or free from critique. What is needed at these crossroads are nuanced and frank conversations about intimacy and the social failings around it. To be clear, sexual assault is a crime that needs to be addressed, but the cycle of trauma and public accusations isn’t solving larger issues that propagate sexual violence. In order to undo poisonous socializations that often lead to pervasive unwanted sexual experiences, we must stress the importance of restorative justice and critical unlearning processes. These solvencies should take the form of men recognizing harmful ideals they have internalized around intimacy and working constantly to undo them as well as setting up a better system by which to educate younger generations about consent.

For Duke students living on a campus with twice the national average of sexual assault, communication and accountability are the bedrock of building a safer and healthier sex life. Sex doesn’t have to be something to tiptoe around and agonize over; with the right tools and language, it can be discussed in a healthy way and consensually enjoyed. There are resources on campus, like The Duke Men’s Project, that provide resources for improving and fixing the relationship with sex and power that so many men have. Beginning these open conversations about accountability and sexual violence is an important step towards eliminating the issues that the MeToo movement has brought to the surface. Ultimately, the biggest components to battling our status quo are a willingness to engage in honest and thoughtful dialogue around what violence we have accepted as normal, and a desire to make a change for the better.


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