Sexual harassment can be difficult to understand and process on any level: as a victim, as an offender and even as a bystander. Treating sexual harassment allegations with discretion and well-researched judgment is vital. However, they must begin with an understanding that there is no clear interpretation for what defines consent.
Movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp that highlight sexual assault, misconduct and harassment in the entertainment industry are proving that awful behavior does not just happen to private citizens, but to public figures as well.
What these movements should do is make conversations about sexual harassment and assault easier, as well as give victims the confidence and empowerment to speak up.
What these movements should not do is create an opportunity for the media or the general public to interpret the definition of the word consent. Full consent is one big, sober y-e-s. The second any hesitation, discomfort or change of mind occurs, consent is lost. This should be the only way consent is observed in the face of any story, no matter how large or small. The most important thing to consider when assessing these situations at any level is that affirmative consent is not up for debate.
After grasping this point, we can attempt to break down a situation and understand what happened. In the instance of comedian Aziz Ansari and his encounter with a woman anonymized as Grace, this is extremely important to understand. The feminist site Babe.net reported on Grace’s date with Ansari in a way that lumped him in with repeat offenders such as Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore. Though his behavior was wrong, it is still worth noting that this man, unlike that of Weinstein or Moore, was allegedly unaware of his aggressive behavior. Ansari was not fully aware of his alleged wrongdoings after she had expressed it via text the next day. Readers can hate him, believe him, not believe him or react how they please. What they should not do is attack Grace for her decision to speak up. Her decision to speak up was warranted, because she felt that the date was terrible and therefore changed her mind. Nothing can change her firsthand experience that night.
What can be done after understanding consent is to process Ansari’s decisions and pay attention to what he decides to do next as a self-proclaimed male feminist. What can also be done as a bystander is to know the difference between assault and harassment without believing that one is more okay than the other. Instead, try to find ways to minimize the opportunities of both offenses.
Understanding the problem with Ansari’s behavior towards Grace involves his disregard for his celebrity status and the kind of influence he may have on others. The problem was that he needed a better understanding of affirmative consent. This is where there are clear differences between Ansari and Weinstein.
Most of us are bystanders to these movements and celebrity allegations. As such, we have an obligation to seek out and recognize affirmative consent. Further, we need to intervene when others fail to acknowledge it. Practice good judgment when examining these situations only after understanding consent.