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The #MeToo Movement: Blurring the Lines of Consent

The difference between a “no” that is implied and one that is spoken. / PHOTO/ Flickr Creative Commons - Claudine David
The difference between a “no” that is implied and one that is spoken. / PHOTO/ Flickr Creative Commons – Claudine David

By Boris Mullayev

Published: March 21st, 2018

The #MeToo movement has taken the nation by storm. The movement spreads awareness of the self-evident belief that women have the birth-given right to decide who touches their body and who cannot touch their body—as well as the right to feel completely comfortable at all times and across all situations. These are crucial mentalities that support a healthy self-esteem and lead to female empowerment in society, but are some women taking this too far? Is it leading some women to play the victim role (“I was too shy to tell him to STOP touching me.”) and then being overly eager in hurling criminally-charged accusations towards men?

#MeToo spread like wildfire since it first hit the internet in October, shortly after public accusations of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct. The hashtag was designed to bring mindfulness to the serious issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault—especially in professional settings. The movement led to safer, more relaxed work environments where women no longer have to endure uncomfortable moments of unwanted, inappropriate, and repeated sexual advances from men.

This movement was long overdue as a vital antidote to counteract the poisonous, prevalent rape culture that has normalized and trivialized forms of sexual abuse. The overlying theme behind this relatively new cultural phenomenon is that women’s issues matter. Men may claim that women have equality, but we still need cultural progression that must occur before complete equality becomes a reality for women and sexist micro-aggressions (such as mansplaining, slut shaming, victim blaming, sizeism, and objectification) cease to exist.

Harvey Weinstein’s public case inspired (and continues to inspire) further public accusations against many power players in Hollywood—resulting in not only destroyed careers and shattered hearts but also in a positive trend in American culture that is finally taking women’s issues more seriously.

One of these more recent public accusations was towards American actor Aziz Ansari. The celebrity met a 22-year-old woman (currently anonymous) at an Emmy Awards after-party and exchanged numbers with her. After a week of trading flirtatious texts, they head to a dinner date and later go back to his home. Although she initially gave verbal consent and demonstrated this consent by performing oral sex on the actor, afterwards she sent non-verbal signals that she was disinterested and felt uncomfortable. Yet, Ansari remained persistent in his sexual advances. On one hand, verbal consent was clearly given, but on the other hand, there were non-verbal cues that silently screamed, “NO! STOP NOW.”

In his defense, Aziz wrote, “Clearly, I misread things in the moment, and I’m truly sorry,” claiming that he was oblivious to the body language she was expressing. This sexual harassment accusation has been made public. As a result, Ansari is now a figure of controversy with a stained reputation that will haunt him forever—almost compromising a bright career.

This incident raises several questions worthy of exploration: “When is a yes actually a yes?”, “How strong do non-verbal cues have to be in order for them to legally constitute as an overt expression of refusal to engage in sexual activity?” and “If a woman sends strong signs of romantic interest but then doesn’t walk away from a sexual encounter or verbally protest – despite feeling uncomfortable – then to what extent is the man legally held accountable for unwanted sexual advances?”

These areas of the law do not necessarily have clear, black-and-white answers. “Aziz Ansari Is Guilty of Not Being a Mind Reader” answers the NY Times, insinuating the actor to be innocent. Whoopi Goldberg agrees. She attempts to resolve the complicated issue by suggesting that relying on passive, non-verbal body language signals to fend off sexual advances from men is not effective enough because they can be too vague and subject to misinterpretation; in contrast, verbal communication (such as “LEAVE ME ALONE”) is as clear as a red traffic light.

Goldberg also suggests that women should be careful to not accidentally display physical interest towards men if they do not want to receive sexual advances. “The line is very, very clear. If you are not interested in having a physical relationship, then say ‘good night’ after dinner. Don’t go to their apartment because it is quite possible that you going to someone’s apartment may make them feel that you are comfortable with [having a physical relationship],” Goldberg explains on The View.

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2 comments

  1. A large part of me too is patronizing to women. It makes it seem as if women should be treated like special needs children

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