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Vicky Mochama: Recent Aziz Ansari story brings to light an essential part of #MeToo
This is what the rumour mill looks and sounds like. If the account is less than perfect, it is because the events occur in less than perfect reporting conditions.
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Over the weekend, a website, Babe, published a detailed account by a young woman who claims that comedian Aziz Ansari sexually assaulted her on a date.
The young woman, given the pseudonym Grace, met Ansari at an Emmys after party in September. The two went on a date where, in a variety of ways, she says Ansari ignored her verbal and physical cues, and coerced her into sexual acts. Afterwards, she sent him a text describing her discomfort.
For context, Ansari is a comedian and television star; he is the creator of Netflix’ s Master of None and was in the cast of NBC’s Parks and Recreation. He has publicly advocated for feminism.
After the story went public, Ansari issued a statement saying, “It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned."
He went on to add, "I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said."
The story brings to light an essential part of #MeToo: This is what the rumour mill looks and sounds like. If the account is less than perfect, it is because the events occur in less than perfect reporting conditions.
In this case, we have a plausibly true story of consent under siege.
These are the stories that reporters have collected and followed up on to expose the predatory behaviours of powerful men like Weinstein, Lauer, Spacey and more. Before the end of 2017, they are the kind of stories that would have ended up as blind items (i.e., not naming names) on gossip blogs. They are the kinds of stories that, for a brief moment, women shared as part of a spreadsheet of “Sh---y Men in Media.”
These stories are whispered because they cannot safely or responsibly be shouted.
But, as Jezebel’s Julianne Escobedo Shepherd points out, reporting on sexual assault has become a type of “general interest prestige reporting.” Babe and Grace set out to tell a story of hypocrisy from male feminists and a relatable story of coercion and consent. But turning a rumour and a personal story into responsible reporting requires more work.
That is not to say that Grace’s story is not true. Rather, it is to insist that her experience deserved more rigour. Without it, the website left her open to the criticisms and attacks that many people who report sexual assault face.
We are being challenged to reconsider rumours and gossip. Instead of seeing them as girlish pettiness, we have to re-evaluate what they communicate about power and consent.
To turn the whispers into societal change, however, the media that reports them must also think about the power they wield.