Many of us have been in the uncomfortable position of rethinking and re-examining the meaning of consent with the recent allegations against Aziz Ansari, an American actor of Indian origin. That brings us to the subject matter of what I am discussing – blurred lines.
An article that surfaced on independent media website babe documents the experience an unidentified woman referred to as ‘Grace’ had while on a date with him.
Ansari is a feminist by his own admission, a public supporter of the #MeToo movement, and perhaps most importantly, Ansari has been an inspiration for people of colour aspiring to be actors, comedians, or writers. Aziz Ansari was the brown guy who had ‘made it.’
Responses to the allegations against Ansari have been polarized – many of these have centred around the blurred lines of consent.
Those who have criticised Ansari have grouped him in the same ranks as Weinstein and co. Since October 2017, more than 80 women have come forth and accused Weinstein, an acclaimed film producer, of sexual abuse. This has led to more and more women coming forth with accounts of sexual abuse in Hollywood.
Blurred Lines And Bollywood
It is undeniable that the Indian film industry has its own share of skeletons in the closet as far as sexual misconduct by powerful people is concerned. Tales of sexual misconduct and the “casting couch” surface frequently.
However, Bollywood is yet to see a mass awakening similar to the one its western counterpart has seen. The boundaries of consent in a situation where multiple power hierarchies could be at play, in addition to public figures and celebrities being involved, remain largely unexplored.
As far as Ansari goes, there are also those who have criticised Grace and claimed that her account of a ‘date gone bad’ is an insult to the experiences and victims of ‘real assault.’
Both these opinions are misguided on certain counts but the most important and common critique may well be this – we must understand that a very important aspect of the allegations is that they have forced us as a society to really reconsider what we define as ‘consent.’
Blurred Lines: Black, White, Or… Grey?
Is consent as black and white as a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’? Or is consent possibly a more insidious concept? Is it the absence of a ‘no’? Is the presence of a ‘yes’ enough to justify any sexual encounter?
What is perhaps most important about the allegations is that Grace never uttered an outright rejection of Ansari’s advances, a fact her critics have used to condemn her experience.
However, the original article on babe documents that she showed clear non-verbal signs of discomfort and withdrawal. It also expresses her discomfort with the situation using accounts from friends that she discussed it with the same night.
One cannot simply discount the argument that she feared for her safety due to the multiple accounts of adverse consequences for women who used the word ‘no’ in an explicit form.
In addition to numerous cases of perpetrators turning violent under such circumstances, it is also possible that she was intimidated by Ansari’s status as a public figure and the power he possessed by virtue of it.
Even if we were to do so, however, it still remains to be understood why she felt under pressure and why we, as a society, don’t understand the many forms of consent (or the lack of it).
A Blurred Line Is Exactly That. Blurred
Many women can identify and understand Grace’s predicament because women live in a society that constantly objectifies them, whether that be in advertising, entertainment, corporate culture, or in daily interactions.
Thus, many women have been in situations where they may have felt unable to ask a partner to slow it down, where they may have felt a distinct lack of control over a situation, or simply where they could not bring themselves to use the word – ‘no.’
Grace’s claims and the discussions arising from those claims may be a watershed moment for us, as a society, to have another look at what a consensual sexual encounter between two adults should look like.
The line of consent may not be as permanent and opaque as we think it is. We may have transgressed it on occasion, both as the transgressors, or the transgressed. However, the most important takeaway from the allegations may well be that the lines could in fact, be blurred.