Millions are talking about the comic actor Aziz Ansari’s actions during a sexual encounter with an anonymous woman who felt wronged on their date night. Her grievances were publicized by an article in the online magazine Babe. And as many have noted, the article is similar, in its subject matter and public reception, to another recent viral sensation––the fictional New Yorker story “Cat Person.”
“Each describes an evening that a woman in her early 20s spends with a man in his 30s, and the tension in each comes from the disjuncture between what the woman feels and what’s going on around her,” Anna Silman wrote at The Cut. “Each describes a sexual encounter that might safely be described as bad: uncomfortable, filled with misunderstandings, and ultimately, for the woman, upsetting.”
And each resonated with many people eager to extend the #MeToo conversation beyond criminal sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace.
Anna North explained this desire at Vox:
Despite a growing conversation around enthusiastic consent, most everything in American culture still tells men that they should be pushing for as much sex as possible at all times. The idea that men have more sexual desire than women still goes unchallenged, leading too many men to believe that a lukewarm yes is all they’re ever going to get, because women don’t like sex that much anyway. Boys learn at a young age … that it’s normal to have to convince a woman to have sex, and that repeated small violations of her boundaries are an acceptable way to do so—perhaps even the only way.
Jill Filipovic touched on related themes at The Guardian:
Girls are raised with a contradictory set of expectations: Be kind and acquiescent, but also be the brakes on male sexual desire. We are taught to reflexively say yes except for when we’re supposed to definitively say no, but we don’t learn how to know when we want to say either …
In a perfect world, Grace would have walked out the door. But women are so strongly socialized to put others’ comfort ahead of our own that even when we are furiously uncomfortable, it feels paralyzing to assert ourselves. This is especially true when we are young …
Men aren’t morons, and they know as well as anyone that a woman who is silent, physically stiff, or pulling away is not exactly aflame with desire. But they also know that we are collectively invested in a social script wherein men push to get sex until women acquiesce. And so they push, even when they know it’s unwelcome, because they can.
I agree that men are too often socialized to be sexual aggressors who meet all resistance as an obstacle to overcome––or if you’re of another perspective, that inborn aggression in men is too seldom mitigated by socializing them to “do unto others” rather than to “catch as can.” And cultural critics should probe flaws in sexual culture even when they don’t implicate rape, sexual assault, or workplace harassment.