The #MeToo movement, which brought the problem of workplace sexual harassment and assault into sharp, painful focus, is now bringing the glare of attention to the question of consent.
A New York photographer sparked the discussion anew this weekend with allegations of an uncomfortable sexual encounter with comedian and actor Aziz Ansari.
The 23-year-old woman, speaking anonymously to the publication Babe, said her date with the Emmy Award-winning actor — who for years has been doing comedy routines about the absurdities of dating — left her feeling “victimized.”
The woman said she met Ansari at an Emmy party in Los Angeles last year, after he collected a comedy writing award for his Netflix series Master of None. Later that month, she said, the two went out on a date in Manhattan that ended with her leaving in an Uber and following up with a text to Ansari, expressing dismay.
“I just want to take this moment to make you aware of [your] behavior and how uneasy it made me,” according to the publication, which said it reviewed the text messages sent and received to a number registered to the comedian. Ansari responds: “Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.”
Ansari issued a statement today confirming the basic details of her account: that they met at a party in September of last year, exchanged numbers, texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. They had dinner together, and afterwards, ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications, he said, “was completely consensual.”
“The next day, I got a text from her saying that although ‘it may have seemed okay,’ upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable,” Ansari wrote in a statement. “It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.”
“I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture,” he wrote. “It is necessary and long overdue.”
The woman describes a hurried dinner at Grand Banks, an Oyster bar on a wooden schooner on the Hudson River, followed by a walk to his apartment two blocks away on TriBeCa’s Franklin Street. Once they arrived at the apartment, she claims events escalated in a way that made her uncomfortable.
“In a second, his hand was on my breast,” the woman said. When Ansari told her he was going to grab a condom within minutes of their first kiss, the woman voiced her hesitation explicitly. “I said something like, ‘Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill.’”
The woman describes repeated acts of physical coercion, in which Ansari pressed her to perform various sex acts. Sometimes, she complied, other times, she sought to avoid him. The publication said she used “verbal and non-verbal cues” throughout the evening to signal her distress.
At one point, the woman said she spent five minutes in the bathroom to compose herself. When she emerged, Ansari asked if she was okay. “I said I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you,” the woman reportedly said.
Ansari invited her to “chill” on the couch — a comment the woman interpreted as the end of their sexual encounter. She said she was wrong.
“He sat back and pointed to his penis and motioned for me to go down on him. And I did. I think I just felt really pressured,” the woman said. “It was literally the most unexpected thing I thought would happen at that moment because I told him I was uncomfortable.”
Once she left the apartment, the woman remembers tearing up in the hallway as she waited for the elevator. On her way home she texted a friend, “I hate men.” The woman said Ansari’s comedic persona, as the sensitive guy who’s attuned to societal issues like racism and sexual assault, is one reason why she didn’t leave the apartment sooner.
“I was stunned and shocked,” the woman said. “This was not what I expected. I’d seen some of his shows and read excerpts from his book and I was not expecting a bad night at all, much less a violating night and a painful one.”
The story spurred furious debate on Twitter about what constitutes consent in a dating context — and whether the woman’s account rose to the level of sexual misconduct.
Actress Izzie Steele, who appeared most recently in the sci-fi thriller The Black Hole, called the Ansari account as both “heartbreaking and horrifying.”
Melinda Taub, a comedian, author and writer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, talked about the need for men to recognize boundaries.
Sady Doyle, author of Trainwreck: The Women We Hate, Mock and Fear, which examines the nation’s obsession with Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and other female celebrities who become fodder for TMZ, challenged those who described the accuser’s account as “ambiguous consent.” She acknowledged that, while boundaries can sometimes be hard to suss out, men can simply ask.