What The Aziz Ansari Case Tells Us About Rape Culture

By Olivia Neal, Content and Style Editor

Since the news broke about Aziz Ansari’s sexual assault allegations, people throughout social media have had a hard time talking about it. Some are angry, taken aback, and sad. Some are confused about how to categorize the story. Some don’t want to look too close at a complicated situation. But there’s one sentiment I’ve heard that I think is important to talk about: many are saying that if we call what Aziz did assault, then we’re saying that the majority of women (and many who are not women) have been assaulted.

It can be difficult to examine the experiences of others when you’re not ready to come to terms with your own negative experiences.

First of all, isn’t that the point? No matter how you name them, these actions are so prevalent that survivors all over the world are coming forward and saying #MeToo.

But secondly, it makes sense that people who have been through what “Grace” described in her interview are hesitant to classify it as assault. It can be difficult to examine the experiences of others when you’re not ready to come to terms with your own negative experiences.

It’s easier to identify this problem on a large scale. Once you notice them, things like rape culture, toxic masculinity, and the failings of the justice system often become obvious. You see them every day in new stories, advertisements, and firsthand experiences. #MeToo reflects the massive rate at which sexual assault and harassment are happening, and have always been happening, and it has become very hard to ignore.

[T]he reason that this problem is so massive is that survivors have been told repeatedly throughout their lives that their experiences are insignificant, or that they are at fault.

The growing visibility of this issue is good. The people who come forward to share their truths about sexual violence make it easier for the next person. Through their bravery and honesty, we can create a community of healing and hold perpetrators accountable. That work is important. It has been a long time coming, and the movement continues to grow every day.

But of course, the reason that this problem is so massive is that survivors have been told repeatedly throughout their lives that their experiences are insignificant, or that they are at fault. By nature, when something like this happens to you, it can be incredibly difficult to separate what you know to be true on a broad scale from how you feel about your own situation. Even if you can look out into a sea of survivors and tell each of them that they are heard and that it wasn’t their fault, it can still be incredibly hard to believe it yourself.

Even if you can look out into a sea of survivors and tell each of them that they are heard and that it wasn’t their fault, it can still be incredibly hard to believe it yourself.

The same goes for other types of trauma, such as intimate partner violence, abuse from a family member, and too many others to mention. These abusive acts are connected by the presence of manipulation, which drives one’s desire not to come forward. These types of violence don’t take place in a vacuum; there are messages being conveyed every day that are not incriminating themselves, but encourage others to commit acts of violence. And those same messages cause cognitive dissonance among survivors who have been told their safety and wellness don’t matter, and that their interpretations of the situation are wrong.

It’s okay not to know how you feel about your own negative sexual experiences.

These incidents are messy. They’re complicated. Each one is different. Each person responds to it differently. They often feel conflicted or confused. It’s human nature to compare your experience with others, and when it doesn’t look like the ones you’ve heard about, it can be easy to dismiss it. When the political is made up of millions of very personal, intimate stories, many reject it to avoid categorizing their own stories as political.

It’s okay not to identify with the survivors’ stories that you see on T.V. or hear about in activist circles. It’s okay not to know how you feel about your own negative sexual experiences. It’s okay to be afraid to talk about it. It’s not up to anyone else to tell you what you’ve been through.

What’s important is that we acknowledge the stories that we hear, even when they’re messy, because they all reflect what’s going on in our culture. The next step is to change the messages that people are receiving that blur the lines between sex and violation. And in that fight, every voice counts.

 

Aziz Ansari image from: http://www.instyle.com/news/aziz-ansari-babe-net-sexual-misconduct-reactions