Oh Aziz. One “bad date” has sparked so many conversations, it’s hard to know where to start.
Let’s just get this out of the way: the core root of the problem that is being addressed with #MeToo and #TimesUp is how much sexualizing women has been normalized. Rashida Jones put it best, “there is a difference between sexuality and sexualization” and I think the problem for decades (centuries? millennia?) has been that women have been so greatly sexualized that men have completely confused sexualizing women as an expression of their sexuality.
So let’s get right to it. What is sexualization? Sexualization is objectification. It’s treating sex and people like an object to be conquered. Sexualization is being fine with looking at leaked celebrity nudes because they are there, even though they were stolen and never meant for you. Sexualization is ignoring someone’s “No” because it goes against your “Yes”. Sexualization is harassing a woman for rejecting you, calling her a “bitch” or “ugly” because she isn’t interested in you. You are sexualizing someone when you are more concerned with your control over them than their wellbeing. Sexualizing a woman is not an expression of your sexuality, it’s an expression that you’re an ass.
The difference between Aziz and Harvey Weinstein (because that’s the new default comparison. “Don’t lump him in with Harvey” the scared men cry) is that every woman has been in a situation like the one “Grace” was in. Hearing about what Weinstein is accused of is hard, disgusting, heartbreaking. Hearing about what Aziz is accused of is horribly relatable.
And it is part of the same conversation. It all boils down to the same sticking point: men have so overly sexualized women for so long that they no longer see women as people but as conquests. And they’ve confused this over sexualizing of women as an expression of their sexuality.
Aziz described his night with “by all indications, completely consensual”, “Grace” described her night as “the worst of her life”. How can we have such polar opposite experiences and have them both be right? Well, when you live in a world where sexualization is normalized, and consent has a “gray area”, two people can be involved in the same experience and walk away with completely different takes on the event.
There was a lot at play during this “bad date”, decades of “socializing” that put Aziz and “Grace” in this room where they had such polar opposite experiences and interpretations. “Socializing” is the nice term used to politely explain the psychological conditioning behind our behaviors. It helps justify things like implied consent – she came back to his apartment after all, so what did she think was going to happen? It teaches this dangerous theory that women are playing hard to get so when they tell you “No” you are supposed to keep going, they don’t really mean “No” they are just playing hard to get. Socializing also teaches women not to embarrass men or be cruel in your rejection, let them down easily and don’t hurt their feelings. It also has taught us that the main goal of dating is sex, as opposed to trust respect, or a connection that can lead to a companion.
And so you end up on a “bad date” where both verbal and non-verbal expressions are ignored by the man as he continues to pursue sex and the woman doesn’t get up and leave because she has learned that it is both easier and probably safer to just defer to the mans desires and get it over with. Because the date ended in sex the man sees it as a success, and the woman is left with a whole mixture of emotions and confusions. All of which she will now be blamed for.
It’s clear from “Grace”’s story that we have a long way to go with how we view sexuality and consent. Until men finally acknowledge that women live in a very different world and men have a responsibility to change their words and their actions, we won’t get anywhere. As long as the default response to accusations of sexual misconduct is to defend the man and question the woman, we won’t make progress.