Ruibal column: How do we make this work?
When allegations came out against Kevin Spacey, the crew behind “All the Money in the World” dove into a Hail Mary 10-day reshoot. Every bit of Spacey was replaced with Christopher Plummer. The movie came out on schedule with an entirely new lead actor.
In “Project Runway” terms, mentor Tim Gunn would call this a “make it work” moment.
But how does one “make it work” when a new wrong seems to be exposed each day? How do you take the torn fabric of our culture and make it into something usable?
The latest (as of publication) addition to the “Men Who Have Done Wrong” list is actor/comedian Aziz Ansari. Before then, James Franco. Before then, some other name that was barely off the tip of society’s tongue before dissolving into another.
In an account given to the site Babe.net, an anonymous woman claims a date with Ansari was the “worst night of her life” after the actor repeatedly ignored her body language and some verbal cues that she was not interested in the sexual acts he kept pursuing.
Op-ed pages have been ablaze with discourse on if the allegations demean the #MeToo movement of exposing sexual assaulters in high power, or if such allegations are exactly the kind of behavior the movement was supposed to bring to light, acknowledge, educate and then distinguish.
The #MeToo movement ignited after the long-running sexual abuse producer Harvey Weinstein perpetrated against actresses came to public light in October 2017. Most, if not all, sexual assault isn’t about sex. It’s about power. And men like Weinstein in positions like Weinstein were exposed left and right for using the power and influence they have — the ability to make or break a star at will — to pressure, force and abuse women into unwanted sexual acts.
The woman who came out with the allegations against Ansari wasn’t an acting student or aspiring actress. She was a woman like me, like you, or any other woman in your life. And she had a really bad date with a guy who was too aggressive and unaware. The Babe expose tells a story women are all too familiar with. It’s a story many women experience, have to face the morning after — the days and months and years after — and figure out how to “make it work.”
Which leads back to the original question, how do we, all of us, move forward with this? What happened has happened, and there’s no point in dissecting detail after detail of the woman’s experience with Ansari or any other woman’s experience. A skeezy actor can’t be replaced with another and reshot. The ink is dry.
“I was debating if this was an awkward sexual experience or sexual assault. And that’s why I confronted so many of my friends and listened to what they had to say, because I wanted validation that it was actually bad … I believe that I was taken advantage of by Aziz,” the woman said about Ansari. Outside of the court of law, it doesn’t matter where you or I think this experience lands on the meter of inappropriateness. We have to go by her experience and what she truly felt out of that situation. The story is newsworthy based on the level of celebrity Ansari has.
But the discussion and acknowledgment of what is consent and what behavior is appropriate is needed on all levels to “make it work.” And its needed on both sides.
I’ve written before about a self-defense class I took and how a large portion was devoted to being comfortable with confrontation and saying “no.” I stand by that an effective tool for women is having experience saying “no” sternly and definitively. No person’s feelings come before your safety.
That’s where you come in, men. If a woman you’re with seems uncomfortable, no matter how much dinner cost or how much wine you poured, its important to respect that. If they seemed into it at first but then recoiled, your cue isn’t to lure them back. You aren’t a snake charmer. We are all humans who have to recognize and respect other’s safety.
Former PI editor Randy Essex wrote in an editorial on the subject that sex isn’t something done onto another person. It is something two people engage in together. It can’t ever work without that communication.
Sallee Ann is Engagement Editor at the Post Independent. She is continuously trying to just make it work. You can email her at email@example.com.