Fernandez-Alvarado: Let’s talk about the bedroom

The news about Aziz Ansari was beyond uncomfortable. The 3,000-word story of a 22-year-old photographer named Grace — not her real name — is a detailed account of a night of aggressive, selfish behavior by comedian and creator Ansari.

Ansari did not commit a sexual felony, but he did violate Grace by persistently ignoring her non-verbal and verbal cues. I do not think that Ansari should be put in the same category of power-hungry Hollywood men such as Harvey Weinstein.

But this story does force the conversation of what is acceptable in the bedroom. We need to talk about this unspoken power dynamic that appears in many hookup encounters across America. We need to talk about dominates and submissives.

Many people are divided on their opinion of Ansari, and it is due to the fact that many have experienced being either Ansari or Grace in this situation. In a feminist article written by Sarah Hoagland, she describes the power dynamic that is conditioned through day to day interactions in America and how it is mimicked in LGBTQIA relationships. Women and more feminine individuals are conditioned to become submissive under men/masculine individuals, who are taught to inflict and dominate during their encounters. Hoagland states that “one is not born a woman but rather becomes a woman.”

When people ask why Grace did not get up and leave at any point of the night, they are forgetting the submissive behaviors that Grace was conditioned to act in. In situations where there is an aggressive overpower of will, people assume there is only the reaction of fight or flight; but there is also freezing. This is a common response for people who feel like prey in high-stress situations where they will feel numb and unable to move.

For Ansari, readers can label his actions as simply disgusting and aggressive — which they are — but that wouldn’t discuss the issue for the many people that saw themselves as Ansari in this situation. We can’t deny common sexualization of dominant behavior. Ansari was taught this. As a 34-year-old man, his dominate behavior had to have been received as sexy to certain women in the past.    

It should be noted that if a person does enjoy to sexually submit to someone, it does not mean they are accepting oppression, but we need to ask ourselves why it is seen as sexy to overpower and inflict abusive actions unto another person. We also need to ask why receiving this aggression is portrayed as sexy. These forms of questions are negatively received in many feminist circles because it can lead down the path of kinkshaming. We cannot tell people what to be turned on by, but we should be able to have a discussion critiquing normalized behaviors in our society. We have to ask ourselves why domination is so sexualized and how that created a culture where Grace’s lack of response was seen as sexy.

This sexualization of aggressively pursuing women teaches young men to confuse sexual interest with consent. And America’s sex education also lacks conversations about consensual and pleasurable sex for both parties. Ansari is not a young man — he is an adult who cared more about having sex than the comfortability of the young woman he was with. But it happened and we’re talking about it, so what now?

We can begin to teach consensual pleasure-centered sex education that has been renowned throughout Sweden. We can begin to criticize and demand that Hollywood displays sex as a consensual act between two people and not something that one party has to fight for and the other party has to be the gatekeeper of. All answers here are long term and won’t solve the trauma that Grace had to endure during her night with Ansari, but it’s a start.    

In a perfect world, Ansari would have picked up on the non-verbal cues that Grace was showing, and Grace would have felt more secure to speak up on her uneasiness around Ansari. Their night would have ended awkwardly, but it would have left both parties feeling secure. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so all we have left is to talk about these gray areas and make them clearer.

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Veronica Fernandez-Alvarado

Veronica Fernandez-Alvarado