You’re thirteen years old as I write this letter. Now, I don’t want to be the one to get you to think about anything other than “Fortnite” but, one day, you’ll have serious feelings about a girl. And one day, you’ll play the role of Aziz Ansari.
You’ve never seen Master of None, but you know who Aziz is — remember when I started screaming because a brown guy won an award at the Golden Globes? That was Aziz. Do you remember when, a couple days later, I started screaming because a brown guy violated a woman? Yeah… that was Aziz, too.
Last September, a young woman was thrilled to be going on a date with one of her favorite comedians, Aziz Ansari. After dinner, they went to his house and, only minutes after arriving, he began making moves that made her uncomfortable. She gave physical cues of her discomfort, but Aziz persisted anyway.
When word of this spread, people were quick to label him as a “sexual predator” with the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. They scrutinized his character, shocked to find that a self-identified feminist and advocate for people of color wasn’t as “woke” as he made himself appear.
They completely missed the point. Here’s the thing: Aziz is guilty of sexual misconduct, but that doesn’t make him a sexual predator. His behavior that night mirrors that of many men. The rapist kind? No… your kind. He’s funny. He’s cute. He’s Indian. He’s just like you. He’s been taught to persist in times of struggle and even in the presence of an uncomfortable girl. Just like you.
We’ve seen countless movies together with the same plot: Guy pursues girl. Girl doesn’t like guy. Guy tries to convince girl. Girl is unsure of her feelings. Guy persists. They fall in love. And as much as I want to villainize that whole sequence, even I’m guilty of sobbing over how romantic it is. But when this carries over into the real world, it’s a plot that never works in a sexual context.
Aziz thought everything that happened after dinner was consensual. Sure, he may have noticed a few mixed signals. So all he had to do was follow the movie plot: pursue her, convince her a little more, and, above all, keep persisting… right?
But Jona, if you were approaching a traffic signal that’s switching from yellow to red to green in a matter of seconds, you wouldn’t floor it and speed through the intersection. You’d hesitate. You’d question what’s going on. You’d stop.
You will encounter women who are comfortable with anything. You will encounter women who need time. You will encounter women with a multitude of preferences and when you begin making your moves, you must figure out what she wants — without being a mind reader. It sounds like an impossible task, but there’s a simple solution: talk to her.
If Aziz had questioned the mixed signals, stopped to ask if she was comfortable, he would have avoided the irreparable aftermath. It’s not enough to just “not be a rapist” in situations like this. Aziz’s story is the example we needed: you could write a book called Modern Romance, wear a Time’s Up pin, seem like the world’s most non-threatening guy and still find yourself stumbling into a case of sexual misconduct. Aziz Ansari’s story is a unique one for the #MeToo movement — the chances of you acting like Larry Nassar are slim but the chances of you following in Aziz’s footsteps are dangerously high.
Jona, if you never learn the appropriate etiquette, then you’ll never know when you’re stepping out of line. You’re never going to hear the rules from our parents, since they usually pretend sex doesn’t exist. I understand how this lack of communication makes the idea of talking to a woman about consent even more unfamiliar and daunting. But this is where you get to prove that you’re not Aziz.
Who knows, you might even score a second date.
Lots of love,
The author wrote the preceding article as a letter to her younger brother.