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.
In the most recent season of Louis C.K.’s hilariously depressing series Louie, the titular character takes his 16-year-old daughter to a matinee of a “celebrated 1960s play” that stars the dream lineup of Michael Cera, John Lithgow and Matthew Broderick (sadly, this play does not exist and was created for the purpose of the show). During an especially dramatic moment in the performance, Louie looks over at his daughter, Lilly, and notices her messing with her phone. Immediately after the curtain falls, he commences a familiar tirade about her (our) entire generation sacrificing their engagement with the real world in favor of a screen-based lifestyle. In a moment uncharacteristic of the show, Lilly snaps back, explaining that she had been reading up on the play’s production history in order to better understand what was happening onstage. Louie’s reaction is priceless — equal parts pleased by his daughter’s appreciation of the play and shocked by his own false assumptions about her.
In Master of None, viewers meet a more thoughtful and mature Aziz Ansari. Ansari’s hyperactive rants about bed sheet thread counts and Kanye West are mostly absent, replaced by honest depictions of relationships, family and workplace strife. In the ten-episode Netflix original series (which Ansari co-created with Parks and Rec producer Alvin Yang), Ansari plays Dev Shah, an artistically struggling but financially stable actor in New York City. Dev and his cohort deal with the hyper modern — prowling review sites to find the best tacos, to the everyday — moving in with a significant other. Most often, however, Ansari and Leung’s storylines find a narrative sweet spot that is silly and poignant, such as when Dev seeks out the most polite, but strategic, way to offer a Father John Misty ticket to potential dates over text.
Relationships are hard. Many a TV and melodramatic movie have tried to portray this, and some have been sort of successful — think Blue Valentine or The Squid and the Whale. That being said, it always feels like something’s missing when I watch most romantic dramas. I don’t mean to discredit the aforementioned works and their creators in any way, I’ve just never really seen anything that holistically encapsulates what I feel like I’ve experienced. Blue Valentine understands the struggle of trying to force a relationship to work, but I’m not a middle-aged married man with two kids.