A quick recap of the whole distasteful affair first. A few weeks ago, Babe, a feminist website targeted mainly at youngsters, ran a graphic account of an anonymous woman’s sexual encounter with Ansari. Grace, the pseudonym used in the article, described the encounter as sexual assault. The two had gone out on a date in New York after meeting at an awards show, after which Ansari invited the woman back to his apartment. In Grace’s recounting of what happened next, Ansari forced himself sexually on her in a variety of ways, without her explicit consent. After an uncomfortable few hours, she took a taxi and went home. Grace texted Ansari about her feelings the next day, and he apologised, saying he was under the impression it was a consensual encounter.
The article broke soon after what seemed like the best day of the actor’s life — he had just won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV series for his acclaimed Netflix show, Master of None. Thus, while Ansari probably did not have much of a celebration for his big win, the article had an even more devastating effect on #MeToo, the campaign around which millions of American and other women around the world had coalesced to fight sexual violence, and to support survivors in the wake of revelations about men like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey.
The article split the movement right down the middle. While the younger women and the millennials went for Ansari’s jugular, putting him in the same category as Weinstein, a large number of others felt that the two belonged in separate categories. While branding Ansari a ‘boor’ and a ‘creep’, the latter group, led by writers in mainline publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic, felt that the incident was more a night of ‘bad sex’ than sexual assault. Expectedly, a furious war broke out between the two sides, which continues to rage all over social media.
The way I see it, Ansari was behaving like a typically obnoxious man, and got rightly called out for it. Of course he didn’t pick up on any unspoken threads of communication. Of course he didn’t stop to check if his partner was with him every step of the way. Damnitall, and here I must lead with my chin: how many men do you know who are that sensitive? I also don’t understand why everyone is piling onto Grace after her rather detailed confessional, either. That’s the other distraction: the way people jeered at the Hollywood actresses who spoke up in the immediate wake of Harveygate. “Why now? Why after the deeds were done?”, was the sneering refrain. It’s not for nothing that Simone de Beauvoir called us the second sex. Yes, some women have quietly put up with the stinking shit. They’ve swallowed the most unsavoury stuff, hoping to ride out the nightmare and maybe reap some amount of success, professional or personal. Of course, they’ve considered protest, and then considered just what kind of contempt and censure they would be walking straight into, quite apart from the immediate shutdown of their dreams and desires. So they have just shut up and put up. That may not have been the best thing to do, but what the hell, it isn’t a crime.
But back to Ansari. How indeed the mighty have fallen. Just the other day, he was accepting his Golden Globe award, and we were smiling at his acceptance speech, a nice mix of selfdeprecatory as well as self-congratulatory wit. We, of course, were vicariously sharing his shining moment, as we are wont to do when Indians who have left the shores many decades ago, win some (any) international recognition. Not a peep out of us now that this angel has fallen from grace, and please excuse that turn of sentence — I swear I didn’t see it coming. A friend astutely remarked that we are not quite programmed to easily and clearly say ‘No’. This despite all the strides we have made in all these years. That last sentence comes with a disclaimer though: those strides are being made largely, if not exclusively, out West.
Because, as Shobhaa De said, there are Harvey Weinsteins aplenty in Bollywood, and no woman is rushing to out them. There are Harvey Weinsteins aplenty in every Indian woman’s life: in their marriages, workplaces, coffee shops they like to frequent, in buses, in dark miniplexes, on the roads — you know all the places they lurk. And Indian women know their achche din are nowhere on the horizon. So Indian women, by and large, tend to keep their heads down and go about doing their thing as unobtrusively as possible. When they make terrible choices regarding men, they either sweep the mess under the carpet or just cut and run, hoping against hope that what happened in there will stay in there. You see, we have been the violated sex in more than one way since forever, because boundaries are not a recognised thing here.
But we too have made some strides. And that, to a great extent, is about standing up in protest and outrage, pointing a finger, naming, shaming, filing police complaints, and weathering the storm that breaks on our heads after we stand up. So, let’s cut Grace some slack, shall we? Let’s look at where she’s coming from, because just about every woman has taken that road at some point in her life. Let’s get this clear: all men are not monsters — and all women are not ball-breakers. Let’s also understand that violations are violations, big or small. I think some amount of sifting the chaff from the grain is both necessary and inevitable, while we get to declare loud and clear that time’s up. And in that sifting, many an Aziz Ansari is bound to trip and take a fall. Too bad, guys, that’s the way the cookie is crumbling. Also, many of you had it coming.