I stand with Grace: This is why she didn't leave Aziz Ansari's house right away

When she did not define her situation as assault or rape, then why was she met with a defensive stance that in turn vilified her?

 |  5-minute read |   20-01-2018
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I’m quite a conflicted individual. I’m seething with rage I do miserably to contain; I get into altercations with people littering, find myself in a heated political discussion every night at dinner and was once gifted a T-shirt that says “feminist killjoy”.

I share my opinion cuttingly on my Facebook feed and I drunk dial people to call them out on their privilege. I attend rallies, read literature, and try to live my life as true to my principles as I can. It’s as exhausting to be me than be around me, and that’s quite a feat. But I was catcalled yesterday, and I said nothing, hurrying along the sidewalk and jamming my podcast louder. I’ve been pushed against a wall by a friend I have repeatedly expressed my lack of interest in, only to laugh and make jokes about my breath to avoid being kissed. I’ve received a shoulder rub from a colleague with a habit of slipping his hands down your shirt, and all I uttered was a weak excuse of untidy files to flee.

Feminist-suffragette-ball-of-rage 0, tool-of-the-patriarchy 1.

When "Cat Person" was published, I felt the kind of warmth that spreads through you when the dark and twisted underside of the feelings you tucked away are brought to light and explained in words you couldn’t find. When the Aziz Ansari exposé made its way to my inbox, I felt a sense of cringey belongingness with Grace, and felt my body grow with overwhelming thanks and understanding – I remember thinking “she said it, I can’t believe she said it”.

master-aziz-690__011_012018085614.jpgPhoto: Master of None/Netflix

The subsequent response, the articles, the comments, the conversations, felt like acupuncture needles the size of my grandmother’s knitting tools deflating my insides and leaving me feeling, well, winded.

Questions regarding the account are multiple, but the one that lingered in my mind was “Why didn’t she leave?”. It’s been asked by the most reasonable of my friends, some women and mostly men, and to me it’s haunting in my inability to definitively answer it. It feels like the entire account of her experience, the entire explanation of his pushing immediately lost the spotlight because “she could just leave”. I want to fire out a response of why she didn’t leave, explain with authority why I just laughed when my friend decided to squeeze my boob in public as a joke. I want to explain why she didn’t leave, why I didn’t scream, why my friends don’t make a scene. But I have no neat explanation.

Simply having a door to your side, no gun to your head or knife to your throat doesn’t guarantee you the freedom to leave. I know that because I’ve lived it, I know that because I’ve talked to women who’ve lived it. There is a fear, and a need to de-escalate. The need to smile, the need to laugh, the need to make sure things are happy, things are okay, that the man’s feelings aren’t hurt.

In situations like this my body is alert, my eyes are sharp, my words are weighed and my laughter is loud. Along with the adrenaline causing my fingertips to vibrate, it feels almost like fight or flight. But my fight is flight, and my flight is fought non-aggressively.

I haven’t felt the conscious fear of being beaten or raped or hurt in these situations - I’ve been comfortable in the belief that I will be okay, in that physical sense of the word.

So, what fear is it? What is the driving force of me coddling the men around me as my space - physical, emotional and psychological is being invaded? What word should I assign it? Does a word even exist? I don’t know to be honest, but in the crescendo to the “whore” in "Cat Person", it became real, and in the response to the Ansari debacle, it became validated and grew bigger and darker, like a black hole sucking up a bit more of my hard-earned light.

What I can offer, in place of a beautifully researched and worded explanation that I feel ill-qualified to attempt, is the contention that perhaps it’s our inability to find safe spaces as women that makes us so weary of leaving or making a scene. Perhaps it is in the repeated violations of the safe spaces that we do create - by friends and acquaintances, with touches and with words, that we’re living a fear that is animated and invisible, that makes us pick survival over principle and then vilifies us for it, as if we don’t vilify ourselves enough. The one time I did, in fact, stand up to unwanted advances this year, I was met with rage and physically being pushed back by the safest person and space I had ever known. It’s in that violation that fear grows, with a gruesome history spanning centuries to back it up. 

Coming back to Ansari, no he isn’t a mind reader. Grace may not have walked out, but she said no. She expressed her discomfort multiple times. For a man who has made his millions off sensitivity to race and gender, I’d expect him to know better. I’ve expected a lot of men to know better. But yes, men aren’t mind readers.

But when Grace spoke, not characterising her situation as assault or rape, why was she met with a defensive stance that in turn vilified her? She wasn’t asking us to read her mind, she was telling us, as have many women, women trying to explain the experience of women, only to be mansplained or chucked in with the yellow wallpaper before they’re told “I’m here and I’m listening”.

One day I would like to grow into the kind of person that tells the creep to stop staring at her ass, but until the day comes where I sense a space safe enough to be aggressive, a place like my dining table or my private Facebook feed, I’ll continue patting myself on the back for glaring at the man who stared at my legs and licked his lips.

Also read: Dismal reality of Indian women in the age of Time's Up movement

Writer

Saba Sodhi Saba Sodhi @sabasodhi

PhD student at Bournemouth University, studying journalism and gender.

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