The Problem With Aziz Ansari’s Apology

Other | Tuesday 16th January 2018 | Hanna

Another big shock to rattle the entertainment industry in lieu of the #metoo outings is the allegation against comedian Aziz Ansari, who received a Golden Globe for his celebrated Netflix-series Master of None on January 7th.

Ansari wore the Timesup pin in recognition and solidarity to the #metoo-movement, and his comedy is known to acknowledge the struggle of women in society, such as his jokes in his Netflix special on “creepy dudes being everywhere” and story-lines on work-place sexual harassment in Master of None

The woman, known as Grace, gave a full account to of the events that resulted in the sexual misconduct claims, taking place a year ago, after a date she and Ansari went on (original article). In it, are also included the text messages exchanged between Grace and Ansari the day after the incident, where Grace communicates to Ansari how uncomfortable she felt about what transpired the night before and stating that his behaviour had upset her. Ansari replied to her text stating that he was sad to hear it and that “it would never be my intention to make you or anyone feel the way you described. Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry”.

In the original article, Grace also talks about how she battled with drawing the line between “an awkward sexual encounter” and “sexual assault”. This will probably be the struggle for a lot of people reading Grace’s account, as many will recognize themselves in having been in similar situations. As shown in the letter signed by 100 French women protesting what they call the “witch-hunt” resulting from the #metoo-campaign, a real fear is being voiced over what happens to free sexual expression if “correct behaviour” becomes policed and opposing opinions censored.

However, what must be acknowledged about the Ansari case is that in his apology he says that he believed what took place after the date to be “by all indications consensual”. The truth of the matter is that it was not, and Grace’s staying in the situation should not be equated to her consent.

We can entertain the possibility that Ansari thought the situation was consensual and this might relief him of some culpability, but not all. If Ansari was aware of her discomfort, the situation was unforgivable – if he wasn’t, it emphasizes the dire need for the discussion that is taking place about boundaries and an acknowledgement of the painful experiences around it.

The discussion on the slippage between “awkward sexual encounters” and “sexual assault” is both a public and private matter and that makes it all the more difficult to discuss, and attempts to explain and understand causes should not be looked at as excusing the behaviour. However, apologies like Ansari’s that clearly remain oblivious to what really went wrong are rather useless since change never came from ignorance. We might not know yet how to have this conversation, but if we keep talking, maybe we’ll get there.