Fault lines

Aziz Ansari sexual assault allegation sparks strong reactions from feminists on both sides of the issue

Aziz Ansari (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

An anonymous accusation of sexual misconduct against Aziz Ansari has ignited strong responses among critics and supporters. Some have denounced the story as spurious and even irresponsible. But some women are now coming forward to defend Ansari’s anonymous accuser — and to hit back at those who have implied that she shouldn’t have shared her story. In particular, many women took exception to comments from HLN’s Ashleigh Banfield, who delivered a scathing condemnation of Ansari’s accuser live on the air in which she criticized her for not leaving Ansari’s apartment the moment she felt uncomfortable.

“It’s harder than you think to leave when you’re uncomfortable or scared,” noted comedian Samantha Bee on Wednesday night’s episode of Full Frontal. “For example, you’re scaring the shit out of me right now, Ashleigh Banfield, and I can’t leave. And it’s not just Ashleigh. A lot of people are worried about Aziz’s career, which no one is trying to end because, again, we know the difference between a rapist, a workplace harasser, and an Aziz Ansari. That doesn’t mean we have to be happy about any of them.”

Bee added that part of the goal of the #MeToo movement was shifting cultural standards of what is acceptable — for instance by “setting a higher a standard for sex than just not rape.”

“And women get to talk about it if men don’t live up to those standards, especially if that man wrote a book about how to sex good,” said Bee, pointing out that Modern Romance author Ansari considers himself an expert on dating. “I’m sorry you thought you got to choose what experiences we can share or how we react to the shitty ways we have been treated.”

The reporter who broke the Aziz Ansari story for Babe.net, 22-year-old Katie Way, also wrote Banfield a scathing letter in which she described Banfield’s attack on her source as “one of the lowest, most despicable things I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

“She targeted a 23-year-old woman in one of the most vulnerable moments of her life, someone she’s never fucking met before, for a little attention,” wrote Way. “I hope the ratings were worth it! I hope the ~500 RTs on the single news write-up made that burgundy lipstick bad highlights second-wave feminist has-been feel really relevant for a little while.”

Banfield responded to Way’s letter on her show, reading a portion of it live on TV, saying that “if you truly believe in feminism, the last thing you should do is attack someone in an ad hominem way for her age — I’m 50 — and for my highlights.” Banfield concluded saying, “I was brown-haired for a while when I was a war correspondent, interviewing Yasser Arafat, and in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gaza and the West Bank. Google those places.”

While age appears to be one of the primary fault lines dividing how people view how the Ansari allegations were handled, another appears to be journalistic in nature. Banfield is not the only journalist criticize the handling of the story. Noted feminist writer Jill Filipovic, who believes stories like the one involving Ansari should be told, views this case as a “missed opportunity.” In a column for The Guardian, Filipovic wrote, “If anything, we need to talk more about how pervasive power imbalances benefit men and make sex worse for women. Instead of telling this particular story with the care it called for, it was jammed into a pre-existing movement grounded in the language of assault and illegality.” She added, “One of the most gratifying elements of the #MeToo movement has been the care with which journalists have handled these sensitive claims. But little of that journalistic rigor appears to have been applied to the Ansari story.”

Actress Jameela Jamil also weighed in on the story, declining to comment on the specifics of the accusations against Ansari or Banfield’s comments but she did touch on a similar point Filipovic raised: that sex could be violating for a woman even if wasn’t technically criminal.

“[The Ansari story] has indeed sparked an interesting conversation about consent, both technical and more importantly, emotional, and how vital it is to read the room and make sure the other person is not just willing, but damn well enthusiastic,” wrote Jamil in a post on her website. “Especially, in my opinion, if that person is the one to be penetrated. You want to enter them. You best ensure you are a welcome guest, not someone who just begged, pressured, guilt-tripped or harassed their way inside.”

Read the full story at The Daily Beast, Business Insider, and HuffPost.

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