Challenging Coercive Consent is a Necessary Part of #MeToo

The rapid growth of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements against sexual harassment and assault was both a promising and stomach-churning end to 2017. Their success in creating a platform and means of justice for survivors is a promise to many women — especially those in the entertainment industry and other professional settings in the U.S. — that people care and are listening, and that things can and will get better. 

But they also made the threat of assault and violence and its ties with power and influence by men over women hypervisible, exposing a culture of dominance and entitlement.

Now, “Babe,” a new, Buzzfeed-esque media offshoot of “The Tab,” has attempted to create space within the movement for numerous other women by telling the story of “Grace,” a 23-year-old woman who says 34-year-old actor and comedian Aziz Ansari repeatedly pressured and coerced her into numerous activities, despite her expressed discomfort, which Grace attempted to explain in further detail to Ansari over text messages the next day.

Although Ansari confirmed her experiences, the article is a rushed, amateurish and flawed piece of journalism, and there has been significant backlash to the article’s composition, content and integrity. Certainly, this demonstrates the importance of care and precision when writing on challenging and sensitive subjects. The momentum and power of a complex movement like #MeToo, and the trust and support it has extended to victims, could be easily threatened by an article like the one from “Babe.” However, as we acknowledge this, we must not fail to consider the issues Grace’s story reveal about the way rape culture influences the way individuals navigate sexual interactions, even though it’s uncomfortable.

“Babe” boldly holds a man accountable for being selfish and entitled and expecting a woman to put his sexual interests before her own. While the online article is full of strange details and language that have led many to write it off, the piece shines an uncomfortable but important light on a greyer kind of sexual interaction that, for many women, may be all too familiar. The movement that has made it safer and more acceptable for many women to come forward about assault also has the power to change the culture of gender and power that enables those assaults and revolutionize sexual interactions.

New kinds of conversations are happening in public discourse and on social media as a result of #MeToo. If we accept the challenge, these may have the power to ultimately shift and improve our understanding of consensual sexual experiences as reciprocal, mutually desired and equally pleasurable. Sexuality should be freely and liberally explored, experienced and expressed by all who desire to do so, and that necessitates that the boundaries of every individual be respected and affirmed.