OPINION: The hideous normality of the Aziz Ansari date encounter

Aziz Ansari
Nights like Grace's are so common, we don't even think the shitty feeling afterwards is unusual, writes Sarah Templeton. Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: On Sunday, a colleague sent me an article about a Hollywood sexual assault. I'm sorry to say that my initial reaction was, "Oh God, another one," and even worse, "Will this even get read? We've heard enough."

"Take a look, it's powerful," my colleague said, and so I did.

I read from top to bottom, and felt my stomach flip as a woman, my age, documented her experience about a date with comedy actor Aziz Ansari.

I recommend you go read it, but if you don't have time, here's the cliff notes version.

Writing for Babe, Grace, 23, said she went on a date with Parks and Recreation star Ansari in which they had dinner and shared a bottle of wine. They went home back to his place, where Grace became uncomfortable as things started to move quickly.

"In a second, his hand was on my breast," she wrote, before describing how he undressed them both before grabbing a condom.

"I said something like, 'Whoa, let's relax for a sec, let's chill,'" Grace wrote. 

She said she made her discomfort clear in that she barely moved, pulled her hand away from his penis several times, stayed silent as he forced his fingers into her mouth and then into her vagina. She was shocked, and said she froze. Finally she left, and cried all the way home.

I wrote up the article, posted it, and prepared myself for the comments. I knew there would be criticism. But I wasn't quite prepared for this.

OPINION: The hideous normality of the Aziz Ansari date encounter

It must be lovely to live in a world where every sexual experience you have is so black and white. But this hasn't been the case for me, or any of my female friends in their early to mid-twenties.

We have normalised nights like Grace's to a point where we don't even recognise that shitty, sinking feeling afterwards is unusual.

"He wasn't a nice guy, and the sex was not okay," we tell our friends.

"I think it was sexual assault," we never dare admit.

Grace told Babe: "It took a long time for me to validate it. I was debating if this was an awkward sexual experience or sexual assault. And that's why I confronted so many of my friends and listened to what they had to say, because I wanted validation that it was actually bad."

And that's the crux of it - we go through life telling ourselves these experiences are normal.

"Oh I've had that happen - it's so annoying," we say to each other. "Take the ECP, have a bath and watch a nice movie. You'll feel better."

And eventually, we do feel better. But that doesn't make it right.

It's not unusual 

One night at university, I met a guy at a party. He seemed nice and he was cute  everything you could possibly want in a fun, drunken hook up.

But once we were back at his place, things moved with lightning speed. "I don't want to have sex," I told him. "You sure?" he asked.

I was unhappy and yet felt guilty. I felt that because I had gone home with him, there was no reason I could give for saying no.

And here's what men don't understand. There's a question that every woman in this situation is asking herself: what would happen if I said no?

Consent is not black and white. There is the consent given willingly, and there is the consent  that women give for their own protection.

But in the end I left without having sex with him. I went home, put on pyjamas, and cried myself to sleep.

The next day I told a friend how I was feeling. "That's so shitty but it happens," she said. "You were both drunk - in a couple of days you won't even remember."

Another friend of mine took a guy home from a university party, and had consensual sex that night.

In the morning, grappling with a hangover and with a dawning realisation he was a bit of a douche in the cold light of day, she didn't want to have sex with him again.

"I kept saying no," she told me.  "But it was as if he thought it was a game. Like some weird type of foreplay to have to break me down to say yes.

"And I relented. I felt like because of the first time we did it, there was no reason why I could say no."

The conversation is only just starting

We have normalised these interactions as a way of coping. We have stopped talking about them because they're so regular, so normal. Shitty, but normal.

But I'm talking about it now, and so is Aziz Ansari's date Grace. Women are waking up to the fact that these encounters shouldn't leave us feeling this way. That changing our minds is okay, and leaving shouldn't make us feel afraid.

As women, we need to stop telling our friends that guy was just an asshole and laughing it off. Men need to stop buying into a script in which they push until she gives in.

And if you see these stories of harassment and abuse and sigh, "Do we really have to hear another one?", just know that this conversation is just getting started.

Sarah Templeton is an entertainment reporter for Newshub.