1973, a year when World Trade Center was inaugurated, investigation on the Watergate Scandal was in full swing, Oil crisis had just commenced. And in closer home Democracy was saved by the landmark judgement in the Keshavanand Bharti case which outlined the Basic Structure Doctrine in the Indian constitution. The God of Cricket Sachin Tendulkar was born. Amongst all these things that surfaced in the year 1973, there was another important incident which occurred, the word ‘Sexual Harassment’ was also born. Not that sexual harassment or assault wasn’t exercised before but its existence was recognized by christening it. It was in the report “Saturn’s Ring” authored by Mary Rowe where this word was coined. In the year 1975 about eight activists from Cornell University were brainstorming in their office about what to write on their posters, it is then where the word was used again and eventually brought out into public domain.
45 years later, i.e, in 2018 this term is excessively used and debated upon because of the recently erupted Aziz Ansari Controversy. On January 13th a website named Babe.net published an article “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life” in which a woman anonymously named ‘Grace’ alleges Aziz of sexual harassment, misconduct and of him asking her for sexual favors despite Grace giving verbal and non verbal cues of not being interested in the act. The article 3000 words long describing word to word what happened between the two on the date night.
This incident surfacing three months after the Investigation on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry by Harvey Weinstein and some others is what calls for both attention and concern equally. It was on October 2017 that New York Times came up with an investigative report of all the women sexually harassed and assaulted by Hollywood Mogul and the owner of Miramax entertainment, Harvey Weinstein. The report even had names of some of hollywoods A-listers. It was after this revelation that Alyssa Milano posted a tweet urging women all over to post with the hashtag ‘Metoo’, if they have ever encountered and come under the net of sexual abuse and then went on to sleep. Not anticipating that the mere post would turn into a movement with millions of women sharing their stories and experiences of harassment, abuse, assault, exploitation and some of the other problems which have no name but are all under the sexual umbrella.
It is important to link the Aziz fiasco with the much talked about #Metoo Campaign. The campaign spoke about sexual harassment at workplace. About how most of the people with power misuse it for sexual gains and intimacy. The Aziz case here has once again awakened the question of consent. Grace mentioning time and again in the article that she tried to give him cues which expressed how she just wanted to chill there and not indulge in sex or any sexual activity. All figures here point towards Aziz because he recognizes himself as a ‘Feminist’. Aziz also wore a ‘Times up’ pin to the Golden Globe Award which meant standing in solidarity with the Metoo survivors and victims. All this just a couple of days before Babe published the article.
Aziz defended himself within 24 hours of the article being posted, saying he has taken this to his heart and is saddened by what Grace had to go through. He also says he couldn’t read the signs which grace was trying to send him, I.e, to not go ahead with intercourse. Further stating that whatever happened that night was consensual . It is interesting to note all this coming from someone who has taken a stand on racism and sexism. Also not to forget the book ‘Modern Romance’ which is a well researched account on modern romances co authored by Ansari and NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg.
There is a burning debate going on now about consensual sex. How to understand that a woman is consenting to what is happening? What if a woman agrees to having sex before but during the process is showing the red flag? She should be firm when she says ‘No’ but what about the times when ‘No’ isn’t firm because the person pressurizing is her boss or someone on whom she is dependent. What if she only mumbles a ‘no’ or when she says ‘not now’ , ‘I am not comfortable’ or any such other statement. Then the very simple answer to all these questions is ‘No’. Whenever a woman is hesitant to what is happening the answer is ‘No’. When she has given her consent initially but is hesitant later, the answer is ‘No’. When she says ‘No’ whether it is a mumble or stern, then again the answer is ‘No’.
It is further enlightening to know that many women after reading Grace’s account could relate it to their own lives and dating experiences. It is not just glamorous women or Hollywood stars who fall prey to such instances it is our sisters, cousins, mothers, friends, co-worker and almost all women we know or know of or have spoken to at least once and even the ones we have just passed by while boarding a train or on our evening walk. The United State’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Report says about 79% of the victims of sexual harassment are women and the remaining 21% are men. Also 51% of these victims are harassed by their supervisors according to the report.
Many people are of the opinion that Aziz Ansari case not be brought under the #Metoo campaign as it dissolves the purpose of the debate. And this lets me wonder as to what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual assault ? Is it only the nonsensual sex? Or the blurry lines where consent changes to no consent and the blurry lines between any sexual activity and sex. For many people the contours of what constitute sexual harassment remain murky. And this uncertainty can be corrosive. There is a spectrum of behaviour ranging from staring to passing lewd comments, forced kisses, opportunistic gropes to the penetration of penis. And all this comes under harassment if the person isn’t comfortable with it. I am sure every woman must have felt the pressure of someones eyes on her while she was out in the dark and even in broad daylight.