If You’re Asking “Why didn’t she just leave” You’re Asking the Wrong Questions
Over the weekend a story was published in which an anonymous women recounts a date that she had with Aziz Ansari that turned into an incidence of sexual assault.
I’m not going to get too deep into the details of the article here; chances are you’ve already read it, and if not, you can follow the link above. But basically, the woman claims that Ansari aggressively pursued her sexually while they were in his apartment after their date, despite her verbal and physical cues that she was not interested. She eventually leaves, and describes it as “the worst experience with a man [she’d] ever had.”
The reaction online has been swift and divisive, with many women chiming in to say that they have had similar experiences with men, and showing support to the victim. Others say that this wasn’t an instance of sexual assault, with many asking questions like, “Why didn’t she just lave?” and, “Why didn’t she just say no?”
These are the wrong questions.
This line of thinking shows a lack of compassion, as well as a lack of understanding of how consent works, and the power dynamics that are often at play between men and women in sexual situations.
Instead of, “Why didn’t she just leave?” we should be asking, “Why didn’t he stop when it was so clear she wasn’t interested? Why did he think it was okay to keep trying to convince her to have sex with him? To grab her over and over, even when she pulled away? Even when she said she wasn’t interested?”
From the way their interaction is described in the article, there could have been no way Ansari didn’t understand that this woman wasn’t interested in what he wanted her to do. She literally pushed him away multiple times and told him she wasn’t interested in sex. And yet he still continued to pressure her, trying to get her to agree to something that clearly made her uncomfortable.
What the people who make statements about how the girl in this article should have just left, been more clear with her “no,” or otherwise protected herself better, don’t seem to get is how difficult it can be for a woman in this situation to do any of these things. Many women have spoken out to discuss similar situations they have been in, where their right to say “no” felt compromised. Power dynamics, fear, a lack of understanding of what is acceptable and normal: these are just a few of the reasons why a woman in one of these situations might not feel like she can just “get up and leave.”
I’ve never been in a situation as bad as the woman in the article, but I have been in a situation where I felt pressured to have sex with a man when I didn’t want to. It was someone I liked quite a bit, and I didn’t really get why he was being so demanding. I thought if I could just make myself clear enough, he would stop acting the way he was and we could move on from it. Instead he just kept trying to wear me down and became moody when I wouldn’t do the things he wanted me to.
I know now that I was being naive in thinking that I could somehow change his behavior. I was also lucky. I was able to leave him and he never bothered me after that. Not all women have the same outcome.
Women are socialized to be people-pleasers and to always be polite. When confronted with a situation where someone is pressuring them to have sex, they may agree to do so just to “maintain the peace.” There is also an issue of safety. Women have to think things like, “Will I be safe if I say no? Will he get angry and hurt me? If I try to leave is he going to become aggressive or try to stop me?”
Then there is the issue of power dynamics. In the case of Ansari, he is a public figure. I don’t know if the woman in question was a fan or possibly in a career that could have been hurt if she got on Ansari’s bad side. But it is entirely possible, even likely, that Ansari’s position of power over her was in her mind. It’s not consent if you use your position of power over someone as a way to coerce a “yes” out of them.
This situation is a clear case a man trying to coerce a woman into doing something she doesn’t want, of being sexually aggressive, and overall being extremely inappropriate. The fault lies with him and him alone. To ask why she didn’t “just leave” is undeniable victim blaming.
If we are lucky, all of these stories of sexual assault and harassment that are coming out will lead to a better future. We will be better educated on what consent looks like, and men will be held accountable for not treating consent as important and necessary. We will create a society where victims are supported and won’t have hate and blame thrown at them for telling their story.
If we ask the right questions, one day stories like these may be a thing of the past.
Grace Carlson is a writer from Washington. She writes about travel, mental health, writing, and books. Sometimes she’s funny, or at least that’s what her mom says. Follow her on twitter @gracieawriter