About Aziz: Lessons for Boys on Sexual Assault and Consent

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. 

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 represents 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). 

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. 

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.