He was the kind of guy who proudly wore feminist pins on his backpack. He wooed me our first night together by educating me on how to use proper gender pronouns and lamenting over the struggles women face. While not very cute and much shorter than me, he was dangerously funny. I told him, gasping for air between his jokes, he reminds me of Aziz Ansari, my celebrity crush. It was exactly what I wanted. Until our second night, when I suddenly changed my mind. I thought he got the hint through body signals and suggestive comments to deflect his advances. Instead, sticking true to my comparison, he followed in Aziz’s footsteps. He just didn’t get it. We slept together and I went home, disgusted, confused and, more than anything, furious with myself for not saying “no.”
I was painfully reminded of this night while reading on the controversy behind Aziz Ansari that unfolded over the last week. A young woman detailed the experience of a date with Ansari gone bad and some are calling it sexual assault. While she engaged in sexual activity without force, she gave body signals she wasn’t into it, asked to slow down and Ansari said all the right things while somehow simultaneously pushing her. Comment sections are filled with “Why didn't she just say a firm no, and walk out?” or “Why did she go home with him in the first place?” They’re valid questions that I too asked myself after the second night with my own Aziz, who I’ll call Sam.
Sam was being his usual charming, funny self but I just wasn't feeling it. So while he hovered over kissing me, I pulled away and said exactly that. “I’m just not really feeling it right now.”
He replied with “Of course, let's relax.” He stopped kissing me, but didnt stop hovering like a dog begging for a meal. Had he not understood what I meant? A couple minutes later he was kissing me again.
“Just...lets take a break” I said. He nodded, smiled. Of course, anything to make me comfortable was his implication. I was offered water and we talked about movies some more. So it struck me as odd when his hands were on me again. I tried to keep it at “just kissing” by going rigid and moving in ways that wouldn't allow our bodies to intertwine, but he was oblivious. At this point, I went along with it and let him strip me and do his business. Not enthusiastically. I just went through the motions to get it over with, so I could go home and shower him off of me.
Later, when a friend asked why I didn't just get up and go or make myself more clear, I instinctively replied “He’s a nice guy and I didn’t want to be rude.” As the words escaped my mouth, it struck be how silly it sounded.
In both the cases of Sam and Aziz, it wasn’t sexual assault that happened. That's where I stand in the debate. But I think there is another issue at the heart of the story, something more deeply rooted. Both Aziz’s accuser Grace and I thought saying “No” would be rude, as if denying access to our own bodies is somehow rude. Looking back, I see the absurdity in this. But, in the moment, it felt natural. It’s survival mode.
This is something women are conditioned to feel early on. It’s our job to be polite, to make those around us feel at ease. So when we want to deflect something, “No” turns into “Let’s chill for a moment.” When asked on dates we aren't interested in, we rarely make that clear. Instead we follow up “no” with “I think I’m busy that night” or even make up imaginary boyfriends as excuses. We shouldn't need an excuse to say no.
For those wondering if this is a sign of weakness inherently embedded in women, think again. It’s a defense mechanism, conditioned to prevent violence - the survival mode. While I doubt Sam or Aziz would have grown aggressive had they been explicitly denied, reactions like that aren’t long shots. If you wonder what's the worst that could happen, history shows rejection can be a matter of life or death. Just a few years ago, Elliot Rogers revealed how serious the risk is.
In 2014, Rodger's went on a shooting spree as revenge for all the women who rejected him. He was angry he’d been turned down and couldn't find a girlfriend, stating still being a virgin was the worst thing ever. So he killed as a response, leaving behind a youtube video explaining his motives. That’s the worst that can happen. And this isn’t a marginal incident. Women leaving their husbands and being killed as a result is so common that the cases hardly make the news anymore. Those viral facebook post of men being denied over messenger and suddenly throwing disgusting slurs at the woman they seconds before were calling beautiful aren't funny. A Google search of “woman killed for rejecting man” will keep you busy for hours just with the cases from the last couple months across the country. That's the everyday reality of being a woman exercising her autonomy. That’s what can happen when we say no.
So if you’re wondering why Grace didn't say no and leave the scene, or why I naturally found it easier to go through the motions versus leaving, it’s because of this subconscious survival mode. Sometimes it’s easier to play along and hope they sense your discomfort than to project it on them and risk aggressive repercussions, or even worse, risk another Elliot Rodgers. Things don't have to be this way though. Men and women alike can take steps to change this culture. For one, if you feel overall safe like I did with Sam, don’t be afraid to say no. It is not our job to coddle someone's ego. There is nothing rude about owning your own body. And men, don’t be an Aziz. Perhaps you too are nice, funny and a feminist. I bet you’re a good guy. But, as this case of Aziz has demonstrated, good guys are equally as oblivious as the bad ones to our language, the language of rejection we women have adapted. Learn it, read it and respect it.
Moving forward, we all need to ask our partners point blank for consent and need to express if we grant it or not clearly. Teach kids young that this is how it’s done so we don't have any more Sam and Aziz mix ups or a need to snap into survival mode just to go on a date. We need to stop teaching our daughters that it’s rude to say no as if their bodies are public access spaces, and stop teaching our sons that sex is the end all be all goal to fulfill their man hood. More than anything, good guys with your feminist buttons, keep on being good guys. But please, reflect in the mirror and make sure you practice what those buttons stand for because there's no point in us women learning to say no, if you won't learn to hear it.