About Aziz: Teaching About Consent and Sexual Assault

By: Vanessa Nim

An expose of the “worst night” of a young woman’s life spent with actor, comedian, and self-proclaimed male feminist, Aziz Ansari, has made waves this month within the ongoing social dialogue on rape culture, male entitlement, and sexuality. Published on babe.net shortly following the highly publicized allegations against some of Hollywood’s most powerful men, the anonymous allegations against Aziz have sparked debate on what, to many, seemed like a run of the mill ‘bad date’, but what to many others was a poignant example of the normalization of sexual assault, harassment and coercion against women.

The piece and ensuing controversy has left a sour taste in the mouths of women and others who have had similar violating experiences as the pseudonymous Grace, and has left many wondering: shouldn’t men know better by now?

In this episode of A Matter of Opinion, we explore the simple, yet apparently complicated, world of sexual assault and affirmative consent. Responding to Lindy West’s piece for the New York Times, “Aziz, We Tried to Warn You”, we dive into this seemingly straightforward question: men should know better by now, so why don’t they? 

The Pitch


The publication of sexual misconduct allegations by a pseudonymous woman, Grace, against actor, comedian, and self-proclaimed male feminist, Aziz Ansari, has made waves this year in conversations propelled by the #metoo and #timesup movements. While many have regarded the detailed allegations as nothing more than a run-of-the-mill bad date, the piece has also become a poignant example of the normalization of sexual assault, harassment and coercion.

For many people who have had similar violating experiences as Grace, the piece and ensuing controversy has a left a sour taste in their mouths, leaving many wondering: shouldn’t men know better by now?

In her piece published in the New York Times, “Aziz, We Tried to Warn You”, Lindy West argues exactly this.

Using a summary of the history of affirmative consent ideology, West argues that men have had plenty of opportunity to educate themselves, asserting to Ansari that he should know better by now - that men should know better by now.

So, why don’t they?

As evident by recent statistics, research, movements, and certain high profile cases, rape, sexual assault, and harassment are still prevalent and present today as an everyday issue threatening marginalized groups.

Most commonly, men are the perpetrators in these scenarios, however, when confronted with the harm and problematics of their actions, most men will say they believed the victim consented or otherwise express confusion over what consent is and looks like.

According to Ansari, for example, what Grace claims was “the worst night of her life” was, to him, by “all indications consensual.”

So, why, despite high profile advocacy and many educational opportunities, do men still fail to demonstrate an understanding of what consent is and how to practice affirmative consent? Are men simply ignorant, or is there a deeper problem at the root of this?

West’s argument that men should know better by now is a valid expectation, however, it is also over simplified and unproductive as simply telling men they should have known better seems to do little to actually prevent sexual assault and misconduct.

I believe there’s more to this conversation, and with this podcast I aim to get to the roots of this question and dive into how our culture teaches men about sex and consent and where we’re going wrong.

Pitch References

Willis, Kim. “Actor and comedian Aziz Ansari responds to allegations of sexual misconduct.” Toronto Star, 15 Jan. 2018, www.thestar.com/entertainment/television/2018/01/15/actor-and-comedian-aziz-ansari-responds-to-allegations-of-sexual-misconduct.html.

Further Learning

Auteri, Stephanie. “When Should Kids Start Learning About Sex and Consent?” The Atlantic, 28 Apr. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/when-should-kids-start-learning-about-sex-and-consent/480264/.

In this article written for The Atlantic, Stephanie Auteri writes about the growing scholarly and parental support and the small, but vocal opposition to comprehensive sexual education. Offering an alternative to most common sex ed curriculums, comprehensive sex ed involves introducing aspects of sexuality and sexual health from a young age - even as early as kindergarten - that "includes teachings on boundaries, personal autonomy, relationships, and other aspects of sexual health."

Auteri's article offers insight into alternatives to traditional sex ed and discourse surrounding integration of comprehensive sexual education. In terms of my podcast and research, this provides an excellent beginning into how children are taught about sexuality and sexual health in schools as well as a look into the pros and cons of alternatives, such as comprehensive sex ed. 

Berkowitz, Alan D. “Fostering Mens Responsibility for Preventing Sexual Assault.” Preventing Violence in Relationships: Interventions across the Life Span., 2002, pp. 163–196.

This article, Alan D. Berkowitz compiles a plethora of studies pertaining to educating and socializing men in relation to rape culture and sexual assault. The piece provides an in-depth analysis of existing research on the topics and provides a rationale for the methods best shown to foster men's responsibility for preventing sexual assault. Berkowitz includes a look into program formats, essential program elements, developmental perspectives, as well as a discussion on "future directions" for the field of sexual assault prevention programs for men.

Berkowitz article provides an exhaustive look at existing research on sexual assault prevention programs and how men can be taught to take responsibility for preventing sexual assault. Both these points covered by Berkowitz are relevant and useful to my podcast as it not only provides analysis of research but it also provides concrete measures that be used to teach men about sexual assault and consent. In my podcast, I would use this source as a resource in a discussion on how the issue of my topic - why don't men know better by now - can be addressed.

Doshi, Vidhi. “A Woman Interviewed 100 Convicted Rapists in India. This Is What She Learned.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 11 Sept. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/09/11/a-woman-interviewed-100-convicted-rapists-in-india-this-is-what-she-learned/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0f145947bfad.

In this article for the Washington Post, Vidhi Doshi presents the story of Madhumita Pandey who, following a highly publicised gang rape of a woman in New Dehli, interviewed over a hundred convicted rapists at the Tihar Jail in New Delhi. The article includes quotes from Pandey as well as additional contextual information to illuminate the significance of her work. Pandey discusses her findings and suggests that societal and cultural norms are a large part of what causes men to rape. 

Doshi's article on Pandey's study is heavily revealing about what causes men to rape. Although this particular source is focused on India, I believe there are several parallels between the sociocultural gender beliefs Pandey uses to characterize India and those in other countries. For my podcast, I would use Panday's findings, in combination with additional research based in the other geographical areas, to illuminate the significance of sociocultural gender norms in causing and preventing rape. 

Friedman, Jaclyn. “I’m a sexual consent educator. Here’s what’s missing in the Aziz Ansari conversation.” Vox Media, 18 Jan. 2018, 9:30am, www.vox.com/first-person/2018/1/19/16907246/sexual-consent-educator-aziz-ansari.

In her essay, "I'm a sexual consent educator. Here's what's missing in the Aziz Ansari conversation", Jaclyn Friedman outlines three issues she believes are missing from the social conversation surrounding Ansari. Adapted from her book Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All for Vox Media, Friedman's essay not only grapples with the specifics of the Ansari conversation, but also about our cultural conversation on sex, consent, and sexuality as a whole. Friedman lists three issues she see's in our cultural understanding of consent and, specifically, in the U.S. sexual education system: (1) a lack of priority on sexual education, (2) a misunderstanding of the impact of affirmative consent (and the importance of well-taught affirmative consent), and (3) a neglect towards the importance of women's pleasure. 

Friedman's article is highly relevant to my podcast topic as it discusses affirmative consent education in direct relation to the Ansari allegations and conversation. However, since this essay is a popular source, it only provides a highly condensed version of a complex conversation. As such, this article would be useful as a primer on affirmative consent education, but should prompt further research into the topic (perhaps through a look at the author's book or other publications and research). 

Government of Ontario. “Sexual Education in Ontario.” Ontario.ca, 7 Sept. 2016, www.ontario.ca/page/sex-education-ontario.

This webpage outlines Ontario's updated Health and Physical Education Curriculum. The page provides a general "at a glance" look at the curriculum, as well as topics by grade, sexual health education by grade, what's changed and information on teaching the curriculum.

Introduced in 2015, Ontario's new sex education curriculum made waves and was perceived as progressive or even radical. Because of the high-profile nature of this update, this source outlining and providing resources on the new curriculum is useful to my podcast as it will be helpful in analyzing how children are currently being taught about sexual health and how emphasized consent and sexual assault prevention is even 'progressive' curriculums. 

For my podcast, I would use this source in tandem with additional curriculum examples as well as with geographic statistics on sexual assault to see how what children learn in school impacts their experiences and behaviours later in life. Particularly, I will look to see how progressive sex education affects rates of sexual assault and rates of men who commit sexual assault. 

Graybill, Rhiannon. "Critiquing the discourse of consent." Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, vol. 33, no. 1, 2017, p. 175+. Expanded Academic ASAP, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A491250359/EAIM?u=yorku_main&sid=EAIM&xid=8cb854b6. 

Rhiannon Graybill's article, "Critiquing the discourse of consent", published in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion offers a brief but unique perspective on the impact of affirmative consent activism/education/policy. Responding to the mainstream use of affirmative consent in institutional policies and awareness/advocacy campaigns, Graybill's piece "offers an intersectional feminist critique of consent discourse" that encourages an introspective look at the true impact affirmative consent has on our understanding and practice of consent. In her piece, Graybill offers three critiques of affirmative consent discourse and it's implications: (1) the assumptions of accessibility to consent, (2) the appropriation of consent discourse, and (3) how consent as the only standard neglects the importance of sexual pleasure. 

Graybill's critique is relevant and important to my podcast topic for several reasons. For one, it provides a discussion on our cultural understanding of and conversation on consent. But more critically, it offers an underrepresented perspective on this conversation; Graybill's critique challenges the popular opinion that the enforcement of affirmative consent is the answer to reducing or ending rape and sexual assault. As my podcast has been driven largely in part by my opinion that affirmative consent education is the answer, this piece offers a challenge to my own believes and provides me with direction for deeper analysis. 

Kitzinger, Celia, and Hannah Frith. “Just say no? The use of conversation analysis in developing a feminist perspective on sexual refusal.” Discourse & Society, vol. 10, no. 3, 1999.

In their article for SAGE Publications' Discourse & Society, Kitzinger and Frith analyze the usefulness of "refusal methods" (i.e. "just say no") in date rape prevention and argue that these methods of prevention are counterproductive to the overall goal. Using conversation analysis and their own data, Kitzinger and Firth assert that other forms of sexual refusal, such as silence, weak acceptance, or compliments, are forms of refusal that are, in other scenarios, culturally normative and accepted examples of non-consent. That is, this article explores how although we have culturally normative ways of refusal that do not involve an explicit "no", these types of refusals are not accepted within cultural definitions of sexual consent.

In light of the Aziz Ansari expose, Kitzinger and Firths data and analysis provides a unique insight into our understanding of consent and how it differs from our general cultural understanding of consent that would be useful in discussing why our culture, in general, views Aziz's behaviour as "normal". Tying this more specifically to my question, "men should know better by now, so why don't they?", this article would assist in exploring the cultural reasoning behind why men don't display an understanding of consent within their sexual relationships and interactions, which is necessary as background information to finding practical and effective ways to teach boys and men about consent and, hopefully, changing these cultural ideologies overall. 

Ministry of the Status of Women, Government of Ontario. “Statistics: Sexual Violence.” Ministry of the Status of Women / Ministère De La Condition Féminine, Ministry of the Status of Women, Government of Ontario, 4 Mar. 2015, www.women.gov.on.ca/owd/english/ending-violence/sexual_violence.shtml.

Organized by the Ministry of the Status of Women in the Government of Ontario, this page provides an outline of statistics on sexual violence in Canada. The page lists a number of statistics related to sexual violence including estimated rates of incidents in Canada, the frequency of incidents reported to authorities and prevalence by type, form, perpetrator and victim. 

This source, in combination with additional sources found for statistics in other countries, is highly useful to my podcast as these statistics help outline and illustrate the significance of my topic and the nuances of sexual violence. However, while this source was one of the more encompassing government sources I found for Canadian statistics, a few of the pages sources appear to be dated (some are from as far back as 1993). As such, additional research would be required to confirm more recent facts.

Murphy, Heather. “What Experts Know About Men Who Rape.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Oct. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/10/30/health/men-rape-sexual-assault.html.

In her article, "What Experts Know About Men Who Rape", published in the New York Times, Heather Murphey's dives into existing research on what causes men to rape. Murphey outlines a number of interesting findings researchers have come across, namely that men who rape possess a disconnect between a lack of consent and rape (that is, men who rape admit to nonconsensual sex but do not believe what they did was "real rape"); and that men who have raped do not believe they are the problem. 

Murphey's collection and summary of sexual assault research provides a great look at what drives men to rape. This works as an excellent source for my podcast as it deals directly with the issue the Ansari incident presents: men don't believe they are the problem. As this is a popular source rather than a scholarly one, this would be most beneficial used in combination with additional sources, possibly gained from the studies and researchers Murphey cites. 

National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “Info & Stats for Journalists.” National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2015.

Created by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), this Media Pack details a berth of information and statistics for journalists reporting on sexual assault in the US. This includes definitions, legal information and statistics on a variety of topics pertinent to sexual assault including what constitutes sexual assault, campus sexual assault, and child sexual abuse. 

Most relevant to my podcast, this document also includes statistics about sexual violence and information and statistics on people who commit sexual violence. This information is useful in showcasing the significance of my topic (i.e. it showcases how widespread the issue is and who is most affected by it) as well as in analyzing part of my focus question about why people, specifically men, commit sexual assault. One issue with this source is that it is only relevant to the US, so additional resources from other countries may be useful to help paint a fuller picture.

Senthilingam, Meera. “Sexual Harassment: How It Stands around the Globe.” CNN, Cable News Network, 29 Nov. 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/11/25/health/sexual-harassment-violence-abuse-global-levels/index.html.

Published by CNN, Meera Senthilingams article provides a broad look at sexual harassment rates across the globe. Using information from a variety of sources including UN Women, Actionaid and UNICEF as well as interviews with global experts on the topic, Senthilingams article provides global statistics on sexual assault as well as brief analysis on the significance of the data and causes of high rates of sexual assault. 

In relation to my podcast, this article is helpful as it adds a global perspective to my exploration of how boys are taught about sexual assault and what causes sexual assault. While a global perspective may open up too many doors for a short podcast, I find that there are many similarities across the globe in terms of what causes sexual assault. For example, for almost every geographical area discussed in this article mentions patriarchal society and disrespect for women as a leading cause of sexual assault. In my podcast, I will likely build on information from this article with a deeper look into the areas with highest rates of sexual violence and the lowest to see what is done differently to affect change.

Sexual Violence Prevention Workgroup. The State University of New York. www.systems.suny.edu/sexual-violence-prevention-workgroup/. Accessed 10 Apr. 2018. 

This source is a website for the Sexual Violence Prevention Workgroup at The State University of New York and includes information on policies created by the group for the university on preventing sexual assault and responding to reports of assault. In addition to these policies, the site includes a definition of affirmative consent and information for students. 

This source is useful to my podcast as it provides a definition of affirmative consent as well as examples of how a university works towards preventing sexual assault. These will assist me in explanation affirmative consent and showcasing it being used in official policy. Although this source does not directly explain how boys are taught about sexual assault, it can be used indirectly in analysis of how institutional polocy affects culture (particularly campus culture) and rates of sexual assault. 

Teach Consent. Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance. teachconsent.org. Accessed 10 Apr. 2018.

Created by the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Allience, the website teachconsent.org provides a comprehensive guide to teaching children about consent. The website provides general information about teaching consent - including why it is important to teach children about consent; in-depth guides for parents and facilitators; and additional resources about working with teens, encouraging healthy relationships and preventing violence.

In relation to my podcast, this website is helpful in learning about how educators and professionals recommend teaching about consent. Since my podcast is exploring how boys are being taught about sexual assault and consent, this source is useful in understanding a healthy and effective way to teach consent and provides a proactive solution to the problem I discuss. 

West, Lindy. “Aziz, We Tried to Warn You.” The New York Times, 17 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/17/opinion/aziz-ansari-metoo-sex.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion.

Lindy West's opinion piece, "Aziz, We Tried to Warn You", written for the New York Times, tackles the idea that Aziz's behaviour is "normal", asserting to Aziz, and other's like him, that they should know better by now. Using most of her article to list the evolution of affirmative consent ideology and research throughout the decades, beginning in 1975 with Susan Brownmiller's, "Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape", West outlines a brief summary of the predating information that has been available to men and argues that there is no excuse for men to not understand affirmative consent. The issue, she posits, is that "unfortunately, no one - even plenty of men who call themselves feminists - wanted to listen to feminist women themselves".

Serving as the basis for my podcast episode, West's piece is an excellent example of the opinion that men should know better by now, that they should understand affirmative consent and be able to practice it within their sexual relationships. In my podcast, I will be using West's piece as the jumping board for my episode as I will be responding directly to the opinion of the piece, questioning why men don't understand, or rather why they don't display an understanding of, affirmative consent and what we can do to teach better teach boys about consent, sex, and respect.