By: Anju, Miranda, Puja & Shameela
We will be back soon with the back half of Season 2 later this month. This week, we bring you a group blog post about what it was like to record the #AnsariNotSorry episode. In case you couldn’t tell, we were triggered. Thank you all so much for listening with an open mind. We must do our part to change the conversation around sexual assault/misconduct.
http://www.RAINN.org the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673 (HOPE)
I was nervous going into this recording session because it’s such a fraught topic and I so wanted to do it justice. I didn’t want it to turn into a man-bashing rant,
tempting as that might’ve been. I wanted to try and find a path through all the hot takes and finger-pointing reactions to “Grace’s” story so we can move forward into a new part of the #MeToo conversation. This is an opportunity for all of us to rethink our assumptions about how relationships can, do, and should work and I didn’t want to let it pass us by. Looking back on it now that the episodes have been released, I feel good about how it turned out. I think we raised more questions than answers but that’s how it should be. No one has the answers right now and anyone who claims to is a false prophet. Don’t be fooled.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to write about how it felt during and after the recording but in a very different way from the other ladies. They reacted to discussing this intensely personal and difficult subject with emotional and physical distress and days of recovery, which is totally normal and understandable. I, on the other hand, may be a robot. Maybe it’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to not have strong trauma related to sexual harassment and assault, so talking about those things didn’t trigger me. Maybe it’s because I’m too in my head and have an estranged relationship with those things called feelings. Either way, recording these episodes took less of a toll on me than the others, for which I’m both grateful and a little sad.
When the girls were exchanging messages the next day about how they felt like they’d been hit by a truck and I was just going about my day like nothing, I wondered what was wrong with me. Didn’t I care enough? And I know I do. I know my passion came through in the discussion. But that’s the passion of righteous anger, something that’s always come easily to me. It’s objective. It’s detached. It’s going into battle to champion the vulnerable. It’s not personal. But maybe that’s okay? Maybe that’s just the way I work? Maybe I have to process with my brain instead of my heart because my heart would just be flailing wildly and inarticulately all the time and I wouldn’t be able to function. So, yes, I might be a robot but that’s ok.
I listened to our podcast and I thought, “Wow, how the hell did we do that?” I struggled to be clear in my message. I was triggered, angry, and anxious so I definitely needed the helpings of Crown Royal to get me through. One month removed, restored by the passing of time, I have some thoughts about the complicated nature of last month’s events.
One hundred years ago, women’s survival depended on getting married. Women were for nothing but sex, servitude, and raising offspring. This was the system. Burial of self was standard, pleasing and placating was for survival. Comparison and pitting oneself against other women was normal. Women were without agency, women were codependent.
How far have we come?
There is a contingency of truly liberated women who now have sex for their own enjoyment. There are women who choose not to be married, and some who are married but choose not to have children. Some have children without men. Here is the problem though. We are still raising daughters to believe their value still only lies in appearance, manners, the ability to cook, clean, and whatever it takes to be a suitable partner for a man. Even if parents don’t do this directly, the old survival-linked shame, comparison, and perfectionism messages of yore remain alive and well in toys, clothing, social media, TV and movies, magazines, etc. Girls are to be intelligent but not too intelligent, strong but not too strong, not too much of anything that could damage the fragile egos of males. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists” comes to mind.
I was raised with these survival-linked messages. Unresolved complex trauma left me a codependent. I was raised to believe that love was on the other end of pleasing and placating, notwithstanding my own needs. So I pleased and placated to be lovable and to belong, to survive. I had to fight like hell to figure out and own my story, so that I could remove whatever unhelpful mindsets and habits I had (manifested by the fear of never being enough).
Before I found my strength, I was the kind of girl who would find herself in a situation like Grace’s. I can’t say it only happened once. I didn’t have the sense of agency to stick to my “no” because I was raised to think the validation of men was more important than my own needs.
Amanda Alcantara said it best in her Lily article: “Is consenting about “wanting” or about “letting”? Unfortunately we are very often coerced into sex. And almost all women have had an experience where they have “let” someone be intimate with them without actually wanting it. To acknowledge that wouldn’t be to wage a war against men, but to unlearn the misogyny that we’ve been taught and uplift women.”
How far do we have to go?
Men would have to evolve to understand that they are not entitled to sex, servitude and offspring. They would have to understand that women don’t need them (women would have to understand this too). We would have to understand what is behind the shame based gender norm that drives toxic masculinity: “Do not be perceived as weak”. We would have to work to teach men that women’s equality is not men’s weakness.
We would have to routinely believe victims of sexual assault. We would have to regularly shift our culture until rape is no longer a part of it. Men would have to witness man after man suffering the full consequences of sexual misconduct. Men would have to be scared. Women would have to be equally represented in all places of power or MORE, seeing as how men as a people group are slow to serve anyone but themselves in higher office. We would have to have laws that protect the health, well being, and power of women, including equal pay and health care.
Until then, we have work to do.
I remember when the Aziz story broke knowing in my gut we had to talk about it. In season 1, we talked about sexual assault in our 1 in 6 episode, but this seemed different. When we recorded that episode, there was some heavy conversation afterwards; that is partly why we knew we needed Shameela this time around. My most vivid memory of planning this episode was trying to figure out a way to say ‘we need to talk about it despite our palpable trauma.’ And for that, my sisters on this podcast are among the bravest I know. Thank you for saying yes. It is difficult to talk about your pain in general, but to use that experience for…infotainment (for lack of a better term) is a different decision. In the end, I am glad we did it. What we recorded reflects that we have experience with sexual misconduct/assault and we didn’t have to re-live or go into details about it. We did a thing. We did a good thing.
Some other things I felt when reading and talking about the Aziz situation that we didn’t get to touch on in the show: Disappointment: Here was one of the few Brown men in Hollywood with power and influence and it turns out he is just a regular skeez. And I can say skeez and you can hold him in esteem, it is fine, our life experiences are different and color our perspectives differently. Shame: Aziz doesn’t claim his Brown-ness and has indicated that he may not be wholly comfortable being the representation flag bearer (a choice I am trying not to judge in the age of Orangemort). Yet, still in this America if a Brown man does something, all Brown men are asked to answer for it. Anger: HOW DARE HE PASS HIMSELF OFF AS A FEMINIST AND BE SO INSISTENT ABOUT PUTTING HIS DICK IN HER MOUTH?
Guess I am still working through that last one.
This was never a conversation about assault or accusing Ansari of being a rapist. This has always been a conversation about consent. What do we as a culture understand about consent? Do we look at it as something that men seek from women in order to green light the pursuit of their personal pleasure? Or do we look at it as a mutual experience that evolves, allowing for each person to freely express their desires and to course-correct when a boundary is identified? Do we even recognize that both people have a right to desire? Woman’s pleasure is not secondary to a man’s, nor is it shameful. How do we engage in conversations before, during, and after sexual encounters that take into account the significance of what both people want?
Empathy is the name of the game. Empathy is what allows us to hear another human’s story and to stand in their experience without judgment. We must stop long enough to listen. Especially when there’s been hurt. Especially when a narrative arises that contradicts your own beliefs. Stop long enough to listen. Check the litany of prejudices and personal biases that naturally get triggered when someone presents an opposing view. Remember that creating space for another human’s story does not invalidate your own; it simply allows for both stories to co-exist.
Remember that supporting someone who has been hurt does not mean vilifying the one who hurt them; it just means allowing their story to sit side-by-side with what you thought you knew. And when it’s necessary, apologize—wholeheartedly respect their feelings and accept how your actions impeded upon their personal boundaries and caused harm. What will you lose? A rigid understanding of who you are. What will you gain? A more complete picture of who you are in the greater context of your relationships.
You are powerful enough to bring pleasure; you are powerful enough to bring pain.
Wield this power wisely and with sensitivity. Remember that your power does not have to dominate to be legitimate. Your sense of agency will only amplify when you let others claim their power too.