The Aziz Ansari-Grace episode, recounted in a Babe article has spurred an outpouring. It was the subject of two Atlantic articles (referenced in my last blog post), multiple New York Times Op Eds (the competing “Aziz Ansari is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader” by Bari Weiss and “Aziz We Tried to Warn You” by Lindy West) as well as a scathing on air denouncement by anchor Ashley Banfield, followed by a scathing letter from Katie Way, the writer of the original Babe article (presumably written out of an angry defensiveness of Grace), followed by another denouncement by Banfield.
Right off the bat, if a woman says she feels assaulted by an encounter, I’m inclined to take her word as representative of her feelings about the incident. Now, that may not hold up in a court of law or public opinion, but those are her genuine feelings, and must be taken seriously. Grace, I hope you get the help and support you need. Ms. Way, I wish you had taken your journalistic duties more seriously, both to the issue, to Grace, and to the accused Mr. Ansari.
Secondly, the incident brings up important issues about consent and ways that many women say they feel coerced or manipulated by certain men. The MeToo movement is an important reckoning of gender relations. I hope it reaches all levels of society.
Thirdly, I’m perfectly happy to let women continue the discussion and listen to their consensus on all these issues. All the commentators in the first paragraph were women, important to note.
But as a psychiatrist, I wonder whether the talk about ‘affirmative’ or ‘enthusiastic’ consent misses the mark.
Of course, both parties in a sexual encounter should be willing participants. Anything short of that would cause discomfort or trauma.
But shouldn’t we be aiming for something deeper – what I would call “compassionate relating”? In other words, being sensitive to the possibility of causing harm? Specifically, this calls on men to be more compassionate, to be mindful of the needs of women. Not just in sex, but in the workplace, and all other settings where men and women interact.
Wouldn’t that be civilized?
Then we could get past the confusion about what is appropriate consent, and get to the more important question: “What is compassionate relating?”
What do you think? Is this obvious – or is this being missed in the blame game that’s going on right now?
~ Mark Twain