The return of Aziz Ansari: Has he paid his dues?
Megan Orr // Opinions Editor
If you’re like me, you probably spent most of 2017-2018 gasping and crying as more and more beloved actors, comedians and directors were accused of sexual misconduct. Gasping because, “Nooo! Not him too!”, and crying because, #metoo. It’s a tender, fragile and incredibly complicated issue. If you’re uncomfortable with reading about sexual assault, read no further, dear friend. I don’t take it personally.
When an article, posted on Babe in early 2018, spoke about the worst night of a young woman’s life on a date with Aziz Ansari, I was shook. He is Parks and Recreations’ loveable, if not idiotic, Tom Haverford from Pawnee, Indiana – he can’t be a predator! Not to mention the creator and star of the critically-acclaimed show, Master of None, that touches on many difficult subjects, such as racism and sexuality. So… is he a huge hypocrite? An anonymous “Grace” described the evening where Ansari, at the very least, sounded like a complete douchebag, and, at worst, sexually coerced and assaulted her. In a post #metoo world, it seems like everyone is either a victim or a perpetrator. That’s practically true, with approximately one in four North American women experiencing some form of sexual assault in their lifetime, and with 10 times more women being assaulted than men.
In 2018 #timesup on men in power continually taking advantage of women. With all of the stories of sexual misconduct (an understatement, in many cases) continually rolling out over the course of the last year, there is no denying the seriousness of this societal issue. As mentioned, many Hollywood favourites have fallen before our eyes: Casey Affleck, Morgan Freeman and Louis C.K., to name only a few (Here’s a comprehensive list by Glamour, updated as of June 15, 2018). But something sticks out about Aziz Ansari’s story that has split fans and feminists alike.
In a prepared statement after the allegations went public, Ansari said, “It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.” What this debate brings to light is a multi-faceted and complicated issue about more than just the alleged assault, but also about what consent looks like. Everybody can chant along that no means no, but people get a little more quiet when we start to talk about how yes doesn’t always mean yes either. The young woman’s recount highlights the nuanced intricacies of sexual encounters and how often things aren’t as black and white as yes and no.
This also brings up the question of whether or not what happened can truly be considered assault, and who gets to decide what those parameters are? It sure as shit isn’t the crusty old men in charge, but then who is it? Well, it’s “Grace”. If she says she felt violated, then she was. It doesn’t matter that Ansari didn’t know, or even if he should’ve known, it matters that she felt that way. That’s the thing about rape culture, and the excuse of men’s “sexual needs”, it works to invalidate women’s experiences and feelings.
So, with Ansari only now, some eight months after the initial allegations against him, returning to his regular routine of performing stand-up, the question becomes: has he done his time? Did the punishment fit the crime? He’s back to speaking on a stage, making jokes about “self-righteous wokeness,” while “Grace” is perhaps still reeling from their encounter. Sure, he isn’t an accused rapist, and doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with the other men in Hollywood who have committed such atrocities, repeatedly, but has he really made reparations for his actions? Has he learned anything? Have any of us?