Cornell defines sexual assault as “sexual intercourse or sexual contact without affirmative consent.” It defines affirmative consent as “clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity” from an individual who is neither incapacitated nor subjected to “coercion, intimidation, force or threat of harm.” However, it doesn’t protect against being pressured, implicitly, into consenting.
This month, Babe.net published one woman’s account of a sexual experience with comedian Aziz Ansari in which she never said no, but she never said yes, either.
During that encounter, an exchange occurred that epitomizes a sexual gray area I like to call “necessity consent.”
Necessity, as defined in criminal law, is a defense for a choice made in an emergency situation to prevent the greater of two evils. Necessity consent is compliance in the face of such a choice.
The accuser voiced to Ansari her feelings about being forced, and he initially responded respectfully.
He then immediately proceeded to request an act she had already repeatedly refused. Feeling she had already pushed back as much as she could without making the situation uncomfortable, she complied.
This was not sexual assault, nor was it consensual. It was a choice made out of necessity. In the wake of the Ansari allegations, I found myself in dozens of discussions with my female peers about this genre of hookup. Every time, without fail, each woman present shared similar experiences, claiming not only was this frequent, but it was expected.
Countless op-eds and social media conversations on the subject in recent weeks support their claim. Women, rather than risk creating an awkward or embarrassing situation, grin and bear sexual experiences that push past their boundaries. Necessity consent appears to be par for the course in modern hookup culture.
Author of American Hookup Lisa Wade came to campus last fall to speak about her book, a quantitative and qualitative analysis of relationships on today’s college campuses. The book’s numerous accounts from students nationwide consistently describe hookups as exchanges of social capital, in which, female students note, men determine the terms. In other words, after hooking up, the man has the power to bolster or bash the woman’s reputation, while women have no recourse. This, coupled with society’s disdain for disobedient women, fosters an environment where reluctant compliance is unfortunately the logical choice.
The Aziz Ansari story does not depict a rape. He did not physically force or threaten his accuser. She chose to stay; and, ultimately, he accepted a verbal “no.” To label it as rape is to diminish the very serious experiences of rape survivors.
It is, however, like all unwanted sexual contact, a violent abuse of power. It is a less sensational, yet still deeply disturbing, manifestation of rape culture.
In situations where one party persistently cajoles the other to participate, necessity is saying “OK” for fear of the consequences of saying no. Individuals who believe genuine consent can be coaxed believe so because they feel entitled to impose their choices on others, and further, to exercise ownership over them. Women comply because they have no desire to find out what happens when they deprive men of what they feel they are owed.
Last year, men recognized the importance of policing other men to create a future where fewer women can say #MeToo. Many were shocked by the revelation that they had been ignorant to womens’ reality. Rape culture is like any other system of oppression; its beneficiaries are blind to its existence and to their role in preserving it.
Consequently, Aziz Ansari seems to genuinely believe his encounter was consensual. Instead of shaming otherwise-feminist men like Aziz for behavior they believe to be normal, we should seize the opportunity to dismantle that normalcy. The conversation of sexual assault broke into popular discourse because women were brave enough to share their stories of disempowerment.
Hopefully, in the next stage of the conversation, men will be brave enough to reflect on their role in taking away that power.
Jade Piñero is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jaded and Confused appears alternate Thursdays.