After the firestorm surrounding the Babe.net story about “Grace” and her encounter with Aziz Ansari, CNN Opinion asked writers for their views on a complicated question: How to date in 2018? The views expressed in their written contributions, and in the social media posts contained in this article, are solely theirs
Jaclyn Friedman: We need to re-humanize sex
My fervent hope is that #MeToo will scare men into finally paying attention to women as people, whether that means realizing that they probably don’t want to be hit on at work, or finally paying attention to what their female partners are experiencing during sex.
And I hope that women will finally have the space to prioritize our own needs and boundaries and desires both in the workplace and between the sheets. No more excuses about not being a mind reader or women who aren’t forthright enough: We need to rehumanize sex, so that all of us, regardless of gender, approach it as a creative collaboration, as opposed to a zero-sum game. So that we all learn that good sexual citizenship means showing up and paying attention to our partners the whole time, not treating them like a challenge that can be surmounted.
So here’s to men keeping their d**ks in their pants (and their d**k pics on their own phones) until they’re explicitly requested. Here’s to yummy, mutual dirty times, flirting that’s actually fun for both parties and sex that feels great because no one’s afraid or erased. Sex that everyone’s excited about because everyone’s pleasure is equally important.
Jaclyn Friedman is a writer, speaker and activist, and creator of the books Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape and What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety. Her podcast, Unscrewed, was named one of the Best Sex Podcasts by both Marie Claire and Esquire.
Poorna Jagannathan: While Harvey set off outrage, Aziz has set off thought
First of all, thank you, “Grace” and Aziz. So far, most of the conversation on sexual violence has been along a strong binary: a clear victim-predator setup. And no doubt, the predator is egregiously wrong.
Then this comes along and suddenly you’re on “Team Grace” or “Team Aziz.” This interaction, which Ansari believed was consensual, doesn’t fully follow the binary we’ve established. Which is why it’s actually just as culturally significant – it opens up the conversation of everyday sexual interaction, bringing out the nuances of consent and of male/female desire.
Yup, I’m grateful. You can imagine what’s a more productive conversation to have with my son: “Hmmm, best not to drug and rape your date” or “Make sure you’re looking for a verbal or non-verbal ‘yes’ every step of the way.”
So dating in 2018 – I’d go by “yes,” “no” and “it’s complicated. Very.”
Consent is sexy. First off, get consent. Even when you’re in a long-term relationship. I live in California, where the beautifully radical “Yes Means Yes” law was first implemented. And affirmative consent is deepened by this notion of “enthusiastic consent” I read about, which I love. It’s the idea that you’re checking in with each other verbally and non-verbally, making sure you both are into it.
A “no” is a stop sign. It’s not a slow-down-so-we-can-start-right-back-up sign. It’s a sign that you check in, ask your partner where they are at and what they’d like. Respect that boundary and stick with it.
It’s complicated. Even with your “yes” and your “no,” there’s still stuff we have to we have to look at and unbundle. Imagine spending more time getting to know each other, engaging in much more foreplay. Imagine that the woman gets as much time as she needs to understand and explain what pleasures her (sometimes one thing works for her and sometimes it doesn’t and that’s OK). And imagine if both participants agree that they are having sex, even if they stop after just the woman has an orgasm.
All of this is far from what we have now. I’m not sure how to bridge the experiences, but I do know that while Harvey (Weinstein) set off outrage, Aziz has set off thought.
Poorna Jagannathan is an actress and producer best known for her portrayal of Safar Khan in the Emmy-nominated show “The Night Of.” In response to the 2012 gang rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey, she initiated and produced the play “Nirbhaya,” written and directed by Yael Farber.
Roxanne Jones: If they don’t want to talk - actually talk - about sex, say goodbye
The biggest takeaway of the Aziz Ansari story is that women and girls have to learn to talk, out loud, about our sexuality. It’s time to shed the Victorian-era notions still clinging to women – even those who call themselves feminists – that make it shameful to tell a man exactly what we want sexually, and how we want it.
It’s dangerous to rely on non-verbal cues or mind reading to tell a guy you’re OK with oral sex (giving and receiving) and making out on the couch but you do not want to go all the way, as did the woman who called herself “Grace” in the Babe.net story about her date with Ansari.
Speaking up is difficult but there is no better time than this #MeToo moment for women to find their voices, not just to expose real predators who sexually harass and assault women, but overly zealous men, as the Babe article portrays Ansari to be, who may think “yes” to a date at his place automatically means “yes” to sex.
Ansari released a statement saying that the sexual encounter “by all indications was completely consensual” and that he was “surprised and concerned” when he heard that “it wasn’t the case.”
A guy once told me: “This is our second date. The third date means we’re having sex. That’s the rule.” I was shocked but at least he was honest. So was I: “There won’t be a third date. It’s been fun,” I responded. We laughed and remain friends today. No playing coy, no mind reading. No games. When it comes to dating, both people equally are accountable for setting the tone.
My friends and I have rules: 1) Public place for the first date, feel him out. 2) If and when you do go to his place, or yours, set up a “rescue call or text” later that night. This gives you an excuse to leave quickly, if needed. I use a code word if I’m in trouble and need help. 3) And, of course, if things get totally out of control, try to stay calm, speed-dial 911, then fight like hell to get away.
I wrote a column in 2013 advising my college-age son to get a text message from women to indicate they had consensual sex. Just in case, as in the Ansari story, the woman goes home feeling violated because he failed to read her non-verbal cues. I got a lot of criticism for that piece but I still stand by it.
When it comes to dating in 2018, let’s talk about sex. And if your partner doesn’t think that’s sexy, say goodbye.
Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has worked as a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete.” She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia’s Praise 107.9 FM.
Robby Soave: Be sensitive, drink responsibly, seek maximal consent
What allegedly happened to “Grace” in Aziz Ansari’s apartment was unpleasant, but almost nobody believes it was sexual assault. Most of the pundits who weighed in called it bad sex or worse, but not anything violent or criminal. Grace herself disagreed; she told Babe.net that “after a really long time,” she came to view the experience as assault rather than mere awkwardness. Ansari released a statement that said he thought the encounter was “completely consensual.”
We need to draw distinctions between uncomfortable encounters and non-consensual ones. For all the good the #MeToo movement has done to expose monsters like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, advocates should take care not to redefine all flawed sexual episodes as assault.
Such caution is desperately needed on university campuses, where modern dating culture is defined by casual, alcohol-fueled hookups. Some of these incidents cross the line into rape, and should be dealt with harshly. But many others are messier, and guys are sometimes punished severely for conduct no worse than Ansari’s. As an education reporter, I’ve covered case after case in which administrators wrongly expelled students – often young men of color – after a sexual partner complained about an imperfect encounter.
The University of Findlay, for instance, kicked out two athletes because a female student claimed they raped her – even though a number of witnesses, according to the lawsuit filed by the two athletes against the university over their expulsion, said they not only heard her give consent, but also recalled her bragging about the encounter afterward.
A spokesperson for the university told the Washington Examiner that they would “vigorously defend the process and our decision.” The case is still pending.
We should teach young people to be sensitive to their partners’ needs, to drink more responsibly, and to seek maximal consent. But we don’t need to reach for our pitchforks every time someone falls short of the modern ideal.
Katie Anthony: Consent has a cost
You need to know that when you take her back to your apartment, there is a part of her that wonders if she’s going to die there. Not every time, not every woman. But enough of us, and often.
The threat of harm is a flip of the coin with deadly stakes. A 2017 CDC report found that half of murdered women died at the hands of a current or former partner (or their family or friends). With this knowledge, we know we must say no; we also know that resistance could cost us our lives. Say no; go along. Be strong; be easy.
For eager partners, the situation is just as complex. Romantic comedies demonstrate that “no” really means “convince me.” You might steamroll a woman’s resistance because you hear “wait,” as the next line of a common sexual script: She’s a good girl, I will seduce her. When she stops protesting, you thinks you’ve persuaded her into pleasure when it’s just as likely that you pushed her into silence. You may have no idea how scary you are.
You’re worried about being accused of monstrous acts; she’s worried about staying alive. Not every woman, not every time. But enough of us, and often.
Judy Gold: We need to teach kids how to have real human interaction
So here we are. It’s 2018. Men are still used to getting what they want, and women are still socialized to please. It’s great that we have this moment and this movement. Let’s not waste it. Right now, girls need to be taught that it is OK to assert themselves, and to trust their guts. If you feel uncomfortable, it’s not your imagination – it’s real. Act on it. Speak up.
In this country we value celebrity, money and status. We elected a President who derides women, discounts marital fidelity and has been accused of sexual harassment. Trump has denied these allegations. What kind of message do we give young women when, no matter what a man says or does, he can still remain the leader of the free world?
Why, in situations like the one described between “Grace” and Aziz Ansari, do we focus on the reaction of the woman, rather than the behavior of the man? And what is the message we give women when they are judged and shunned after sharing their stories on social media?
And why continue to call it “social” media, when we are bereft of real human contact? When young people would rather text than pick up the phone and hear someone’s voice, when they are deprived of real “social” interactions, how does this generation become adept at picking up non-verbal cues from another person?
How do we teach our kids to date in this day and age? It’s up to us parents and caregivers to communicate with our children, to talk face to face, to make eye contact, to hold them accountable for their words and actions, and to teach them the meaning and power of the word “no.”
Judy Gold is a stand-up comic in New York, actress, writer and winner of two Emmy Awards. She is the host of the podcast “Kill Me Now,” available on iTunes or at judygold.com/podcast. Follow her on Twitter @JewdyGold.
Naaz Modan: In 2018, #MeToo needs more nuance
Aziz Ansari’s case brought to surface the nuances of the #MeToo movement that seemed to have gotten lost beneath the rubble of fallen men who were once powerful. Until now, the social media campaign was a sweeping statement – if you experienced sexual assault in any form and wanted to come forward in show of solidarity with other women who lived through experiences similar to yours, you would say #MeToo.
The phrase is representative of every experience from an unwelcome kiss or grope to rape, and new allegations against Ansari pick at the gaping hole in this kind of umbrella movement: the failure to differentiate between rape and sexual assault. In response to the allegations, Ansari released a statement saying that he believed “by all indications” that the sexual activity was “completely consensual.”
Although #MeToo seems to have precipitated an astounding amount of positive and much-needed change, it ran the risk of conflating a very complex conversation of consent, assault, harassment and decency while undervaluing the overwhelming experiences that a rape survivor endures. While #MeToo was integral in punctuating the need to dismantle rape culture, from it has risen a false equivalency between lesser forms of sexual assault and rape.
The latest account against Ansari published on Babe.net shows the amount of work left to do in educating not only men, but also women like writer Katie Way – the story’s author – who make it easy for rape survivors to feel overlooked or misunderstood in the process.
In 2018, this means that survivors – and women in general – have to have many difficult conversations with significant others, family members or close peers who may not fully understand or know how to navigate the extent of physical, psychological and emotional damage serious sex crimes inflict.
Naaz Modan is a content editor for Muslim Girl, a publication focused on Muslim women’s issues and empowerment.
Moira Weigel: If we want to date better, we need to be honest with ourselves about power
This week, I kept thinking about Sharon Stone. Specifically, I kept replaying a clip from an interview she did recently with CBS. When host Lee Cowan asked her if she had ever experienced sexual harassment in Hollywood, the actress laughed out loud for 10 full seconds.
The jaunty way she throws back her head reminds me of a phrase a feminist political theorist taught me a year or two ago, for talking about rape: “Telling war stories.”
The point the theorist was making is that the opposition that most writing on the subject sets up, between agency and victimhood, is a false one. “Slapping him” or sucking it up are not, in fact, a woman’s only options. Telling what you suffered, or laughing about it, can also assert power.
I remember the first instant I saw the #MeToo hashtag; without any other context, I knew immediately what it meant. Part of the strangeness of this moment is that for many of us there is no new information, not really, just a new way of talking about the obvious – together, in public.
This week, the clashes over the Aziz Ansari story highlighted that women of different ages may have different attitudes toward the conversation unfolding. Most of my friends and I agree that, from a journalistic perspective, Babe.net did a lot wrong.
But it also strikes us that the anger that many older feminists seem to feel toward younger feminists right now may stem from an understandable desire not to be criticized for the strategies they used to make it through their lives. It is painful to be told that experiences you decided were no big deal, in order to move on, were in fact a big deal, and should haunt you.
Historically, feminist movements and moments have been defined along generational lines. We are currently seeing a split between older women I would broadly characterize as liberal and millennial women who, like millennials in general, are moving left.
In an age of crisis and stagnation, young people raised on hyperlinks and hashtags tend to see social problems as connected. Where an older generation said: Here is what you, individually, should do to make the most of that (bad) situation, a younger generation replies: The whole damn system is guilty as hell, and we are sick of it.
What does all this mean for dating? One thing I learned writing a book about the history of dating is that sex and love have always been tied up with economics and power.
It is all well and good to say that there are no more rules, anymore, regarding romance. But in a society where women are consistently paid less than our male peers, and more and more women lack access to contraception and abortion – not to mention decent health care, parental leave, and childcare – straight women are in important ways not the equals of the men they sleep with. A culture that conditions men to believe that manliness comes from treating women as objects, and teaches women always to be agreeable, both reflects and reinforces this inequality. Bad and sad and criminal encounters follow all too often.
If we want to use our capacity for love and intimacy to form a better world, we must be attentive to the power dynamics that pervade sex – and acknowledge that they do not stop at the front door.
Lucia Brawley: This is a great time to think about what it means to empower yourself
How to date in 2018? Thankfully, I’m off the market, but as a feminist, I am still processing how to feel about “Grace’s” story.
A Facebook comment that really stood out to me said that women like Grace don’t leave or speak up because they are taught by the patriarchy not to recognize their own power. I can identify with that.
However, it is women of color, the most oppressed people in our society, who have taught me to recognize my power, both by their example and by explicitly holding me to a higher standard of personal responsibility. These women who have mentored me do not have the luxury of being infantilized. They have to advocate for themselves clearly because too often no one else will.
This is a great time to think about what it means to empower oneself as a feminist. Part of it means holding men to account for sexual assault as the #MeToo movement has begun to do. But part of it is also exploring and embracing our own inherent power.
Some have praised Grace for her courage to speak out after the incident as a positive feminist step. But if she had found the courage to speak out clearly during it, we might have avoided conflating a long overdue conversation about rampant sexual assault in the workplace with a separate debate on what constitutes “feminist sex.”
Women have often been shamed into not exercising their power to speak up. Those days are over. I hope we use our power wisely.
Lucia Brawley is a co-founder of amp.it, a new digital media network for cosmopolitan youth, and an executive producer of two-time Interactive Emmy finalist, “Take Back the Mic: The World Cup of Hip Hop.” She has performed in theater, film and television in New York, Los Angeles and Europe and was a political organizer for the Obama presidential campaigns. She is also the author of the Consenting to Lead Facebook group and a graduate of Harvard with a master’s in acting from Yale. Follow Lucia on Twitter @luciabrawley.
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Peggy Drexler: When it comes to dating, the age of taking without asking is over
My prediction for dating in 2018: More talk, less action. #MeToo has demanded accountability from thousands of men who’ve acted badly for far too long. But just as critically, #MeToo has encouraged more women to speak up, and to know how to do it, and when. It has encouraged more men to listen. And it has enabled everyone to understand more clearly what defines sexual harassment and assault, and when to know if you’ve crossed a line (hint: if you have to wonder, you probably have).
A few things #MeToo is not: a “witch hunt” (thanks, Liam Neeson) or a means to defining a “spectrum of behavior” so that women can know when they have a right to feel violated (wrong there too, Matt Damon). It’s not a guarantee of good dates, or even good sex. There’s a trial and error aspect of dating, and post-#MeToo, you will still meet jerks; you may be one yourself. And there is no replacement for women using their own voices to express their needs, wants, desires, or total lack thereof. That’s what was, sadly, missing from the Aziz Ansari “exposé:” a woman who knew how to stand up on her own two feet and walk right out of there. Hopefully, #MeToo will continue to nurture this sort of woman, who should be all women.
Because when it comes to dating, the age of taking without asking is over, as is the age of taking what you can get.
Peggy Drexler is the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.”
James Gagliano: My warning to my dating-age children
Blessedly, I am married to my best friend.
Therefore, when I think about how to date in 2018, I direct those thoughts toward my adult children. And in the post-Weinstein wake of galvanized voices rising to a crescendo, I recently added my own #MeToo story.
While generally well-received, I did encounter some who dismiss these accountings as “cries for attention” or become indignant with the notion that a man may be co-opting, for selfish purpose, the sacred domain of truly victimized women.
To these critics, I say: my story is just another example of how pervasive the scourge of inappropriate conduct and sexual assault is within our society. My story shows it can happen to anyone.
And then the Aziz Ansari story hit the airwaves and confirmed some of my worst fears.
As former law enforcement, I was well aware of the pitfalls of taking every related accounting at face value. Our system of justice is predicated on the presumption of innocence. And, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides protections against arbitrary, yet-to-be-proven accusations.
In my opinion, this is where the honorable movement may have entered into “Jump the Shark” territory.
So my warning coda to my dating-age children is this:
To my sons, be respectful and be gentlemanly in all potentially amorous interactions. Remember, the Don Draper era of flirting is over. And your intentions are no longer as equally powerful as someone else’s perceptions. Be righteous and be cautious.
To my daughters, as the fairer sex, your ranks have been exploited and victimized since time immemorial. Please know that I am here. Unfortunately, not every victim has had a support network to rely on. You do.
Your “no” means no. And if God forbid someone attempts to take advantage of you, as difficult as it may be, come forward and hold them to account – lest you be complicit in their future depravations.
I pray that you will never have to recount your own #MeToo.
James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and a retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John’s University in Queens, New York.