The story of Aziz Ansari and “Grace” is playing out as a sort of Rorschach test.
One night in the lives of two young people with vintage cameras is crystallizing debate over an entire movement. Depending on how readers were primed to see the ink blot, it can be taken as evidence that the ongoing cultural audit is exactly on track—getting more granular in challenging unhealthy sex-related power dynamics—or that it has gone off the rails, and innocent men are now suffering, and we are collectively on the brink of a sex panic.
Since the story’s publication on Saturday (on the website Babe, without comment from Ansari, and attributed to a single anonymous source), some readers have seen justice in Ansari’s humiliation. Some said they would no longer support his work. They saw in this story yet another case of a man who persisted despite literal and implied cues that sex was not what a woman wanted. Some saw further proof that the problems are systemic, permeating even “normal” encounters.
Other readers saw a man unfairly persecuted. They saw bumbling attempts at courtship, and some miscommunication. Ansari claimed as much in his statement: “It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.” As Caitlin Flanagan argued on Sunday, if Grace felt earnestly threatened, she could have simply left. Flanagan described the “clinical detail in which the story is told” as “intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari.” With this story, the writer and the woman on the date have “destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing.”