Ms. Geek Speaks: Etiquette, Ethics and Aziz

I’ve heard that a gentleman never kisses and tells, but what about women? Certainly there is a tradition of kissing and telling under a pseudonym, but in the case of Grace versus Aziz Ansari, we have an anonymous woman giving a description of her brief entanglement with Ansari, supposedly because she was upset that he wore a Time’s Up pin at the 75th Golden Globes where he won Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy.

Grace found sympathy under the wide wings of Katie Way who writes for Way’s article, “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worse night of my life,” joins her previous articles: “God, sobriety, Mario Kart: Just a list of things we’ve pretended to like to impress a crush,” “Am I high as shit, or do these celebrities low-key look alike?” and “Sorry, but Kendall Jenner can’t model for shit.”

To sum up the article, Grace met Ansari at a party, not an intimate party between friends, but a large event. After some flirtation by text, they go out on a first date. She prefers red wine, but drinks white wine per Ansari’s choice. They eat and she takes photos of the food; they drink. They end up at his apartment. Ansari kisses her. Grace does claim she’s feeling uncomfortable because this is going too fast.  Instead of saying so, she says something like “let’s chill.”

Then, she claims he undresses her. One wonders if she didn’t help, but we don’t have Ansari’s side. He undresses. He performs oral sex. She performs oral sex. At this point, you almost want to stop reading.

Ansari is, by her account, asking her where she wants to have sex (in more vulgar terms). She finds this difficult to answer because she doesn’t really want to have sex. She admits that she mumbled. She gave nonverbal signs. Eventually, she does say, “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you,” and Ansari calls her transport.

Way is obviously sympathetic but forgets what all good detectives and story writers know: One must find the motive. What is Grace’s motive? She’s angry that Ansari wore a pin and presents himself as an ally to the Time’s Up movement. However, why did Grace decide to stay with Ansari when she was feeling uncomfortable about how fast things were rolling? Was she hoping for another date? Had she had similar experiences with men?

Most importantly, Way didn’t ask: Is this news? Is it ethical to print an account of a personal interaction that doesn’t seem to involve a criminal act? Does Way know what constitutes sexual assault or rape in the area where it occurred? Why didn’t she go over the elements of sexual assault with Grace? Did Way consider that by publishing this account she might taint any legal action? And did Way or her editor ask themselves: Is it okay to publish what seems to a revenge essay?

The Washington Post has had several opinion essays, including one that addressed etiquette. Elizabeth Bruenig’s piece, “The Aziz Ansari Debacle Proves It’s Time for a New Sexual Revolution” notes that it is “unclear if the woman meant that she was sexually assaulted by legal standards, which would be difficult to argue based on her recounting of details, or if she meant to communicate that the encounter had simply seemed worse to her than an ‘awkward sexual experience,’ as she put it.” Grace is unclear on this point and the writer is as well because she didn’t ask critical questions.

Bruenig continues, writing, the piece was “immediately taken as evidence that the #MeToo movement has gone too far and has begun to reinforce the view that women are infantile and helpless.” Bruenig feels that “Demanding an expansion of empathy and responsibility when it comes to sex isn’t regressive; it’s a sexual revolution in its own right. It is silly to think we could have needed only one.” But Bruenig is again placing the responsibility on Ansari who she admits “didn’t commit a crime” but she advises “if you are kissing someone and they’re barely responsive” and especially if Miss Unresponsive says something like she doesn’t want to feel forced, then you should get Miss Unresponsive her coat and call it a night. That’s as opposed to Miss Unresponsive getting her own coat and calling it a night. And, one has to add, performing oral sex doesn’t really come under unresponsive.

Further, Bruenig’s reasoning is flawed. She doesn’t know etiquette.

Yet, while becoming just another social interaction stripped sex of much taboo, it’s still subject to the everyday pressures of etiquette, which can be just as binding. If a guest were lingering too late after a party, or a lunch partner boring you, or an acquaintance pestering you to borrow your umbrella, you wouldn’t scream or shout or slap them, and you likely wouldn’t abruptly leave. You would likely try to be subtle and transmit certain signals without a confrontation. You would likely go along to get along. You would likely grin and bear it. You would likely do this because that’s what we do in workaday social interactions, and sex is one of those now.

In the first chapter of “Emily Post’s Etiquette: Manners for a New World” (18th edition), the guidelines for living are: respect, consideration and truth. If you continue on to the second chapter, you’ll see there are “magic words” and while most people have the first one down because it is “please,” there is also “the courteous ‘No’” and in that section which is highlighted by a larger font than “please” or “Thank you,” one is told not to equivocate.

“Honesty is one of the bedrock principles of good manners.” So if a guest remains too late, you tell that person gently and say you were glad they came. When a lunch partner is boring you, you say you would prefer to talk about something else. If an acquaintance wants to borrow your umbrella, you say “no.”

A slap or scream is actually the way to stop further unwanted physical contact, otherwise known as self-defense. In the name of full disclosure, I have slapped a hand and I have screamed or yelled at a man for being too aggressive. And there were bad dating experiences as well when I see I should have done things differently. 

Saying something like “let’s chill” as Grace did, doesn’t mean “no.”  “To chill” can mean many things and you won’t find the meaning in Merriam-Webster because there “chill” is only a noun. So check out YouTube and the Urban Dictionary. Note there’s a difference between other usages of “chill.”

For some people “let’s chill” means, skip the prelims and let’s have sex. So then we are back to the problem of Grace sending mixed messages. Taking off your clothes and staying while the man takes off his is a mixed message if you already think things are moving too fast. Engaging in oral sex is a mixed message. It could be foreplay. Not being able to respond to a question like where do you want to have sex is also a mixed message. If things are moving too fast, do not take off your clothes. Do not stay when he takes off his clothes. Do not perform oral sex.

If one’s interpretation of word usage differs and the dictionary can’t help, then imagine how non-verbal forms of communication might differ as well between generations, regionally and even within subcultures. This is why saying “No” is important. “No” doesn’t mean “yes.”

Instead of asking what Ansari did wrong. Let’s ask what did Grace and others like her do wrong and how can they avoid awkward situations in the future? Can one be honest instead of being evasive? Does mumbling help clear communication? There doesn’t need to be a confrontation if one is polite but assertive and learns to say “no” and assess how to avoid similar problems in the future. 

#MeToo shouldn’t be about policing dating behavior, but that’s an opinion that doesn’t govern Twitter or Facebook. Ethics, on the other hand, is something the media should be concerned with. The Babe article is being debated amongst journalist. Publications shouldn’t use #MeToo as an excuse to publish accounts about private non-criminal sexual behavior. One can only wonder: Has the public discussion encouraged Babe and other publications to seek out and consider publishing more accounts about non-criminal sexual encounters between unnamed women and named celebrities? Will we then move on to the normal guy? Will publications stop asking the question: Is this news? And instead, just think: How can we get more clicks?

Emily Post (1872-1960) died before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. She didn’t have to worry about a gossip hotline like Twitter but scandals was something to worry about. The Emily Post Institute has brought manners forward, and the basic principles behind etiquette can serve one well. Those principles should apply to private and public lives and ethics should continue to apply to media outlets, even in the wilds of cyberspace.

With this hook up generation, both Grace and Ansari learned the dangers of being alone with someone they do not know well. Perhaps the take away should be to slow down, get to know someone before kissing, undressing and considering oral sex. Maybe there is some wisdom getting to know someone in group activities and spending time to learn about another person before considering being alone with them.


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