What the Aziz Ansari case does for the #MeToo Movement

The Ansari article is a landmark in the #MeToo movement and, for some, it’s a breaking point. People are split on whether it opens up a wider conversation or if it was just a bad date, and whether the movement has overreached with its self-righteous sense of justice.

While it’s easy to get swept up in the fury of the social movement’s storm, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing that it has gone too far because for that to happen, it must have already achieved its goal: to end sexual assault and harassment in all forms.

This is still the country that elected a self-proclaimed pussy grabber as president, allowed Brock Turner off the hook with only three months in jail for “20 minutes of action” and, out of 1,000 sexual assault perpetrators, will only see six in jail, according to a study by RAINN. This is still the country where 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted then be asked what they were wearing. This is still a country running rabid in rape culture, a country that wonders where our wildest dreams can’t fathom the world without the fear of sexual assault.

All of this goes to say, our work is nowhere near done, let alone going too far.

That being said, I’m sad to see such a poor show of journalism be the starting block for this new conversation. I wish it’d come from a more reliable news outlet than Babes Net. I wish Babe.net actually allowed Ansari more than six hours to respond to the allegation. I wish the piece read with some objectivity rather than be an unfortunate hybrid between a TMI confessional, an opinionated editorial and hard hitting news piece.

So Aziz, you acted ignorantly and selfishly, but that is not means for social pariah or exile. You are the object of bad journalism and the product of a failing society.

But regardless of its disappointing origin, this conversation is important. If we’re to topple the hierarchy of sexual assault, we have to tackle the base layers, which starts with awkward, selfish and unintended encounters gone wrong. I’m a strong believer in the idea that when one person shares their experience as accurately as possible, it’s courageous and it empowers others to do the same. It’s like when one student in class asks the question everyone has been too scared to voice; it frees everyone.

And of all the voices that were freed by this first account, the one that hit home for me was not one of the many pieces written by women in similar positions but by a man. A man who admitted he saw himself as Aziz. He recognized a time he had been coercive, had mistaken reticence for a challenge to be overcome; had fallen into the grey space.

And he fixed his behavior, changing his idea of consent to be as much his job as his partners, start to admit his faults and have the uncomfortable conversations with his fellow male friends.

This kind of self recognition, understanding our part in the problem, is vital. We all have a part to play, and it starts with delving into our personal actions and behaviors.

It starts with how we define consent as more than a simple phrase because obviously it’s more nuanced than an enthusiastic “yes” or an obstinate “no.” It starts with recognizing our own part in the problem: allowing ourselves to rationalize and invalidate smaller instances such as sexist comments or groping. It takes indifference towards many small behaviors to give permission to the worst violations.

And as a society, we need to practice faith in this movement and keep working at it, even and especially when the going gets rough. No social movement in history has been easy or certain; only in retrospect do they look inevitable. As we continue onward, we must honor and believe in that inevitability and not stop working for it.