Though it probably never should have seen the light of day, Babe.net's account of a hookup-gone-wrong between comedian Aziz Ansari and an anonymous woman who claims he sexually assaulted her offers an instructive snapshot into modern sexual politics. Feminists and conservatives alike have made this point.
Most observers have agreed Ansari's alleged behavior did not actually amount to sexual assault. But look past the reckless assault allegation, and the rest of the story speaks to something else. Ansari's aggressive physical advances seemed to be predicated on the assumption that sex is the normal (or at least a normal) outcome of first dates between millennial urbanites. That aggression betrayed, perhaps, a sense of entitlement which compelled him to push forward despite signals of hesitance from his female companion (which, it seems, could almost certainly have been stronger).
The normalization of transactional sex — the sort of sex in which people mutually agree to engage for physical fulfillment with no relationship implied — has come as a consequence of the sexual revolution, which in turn was largely driven by feminism. Some contemporary feminists have argued participation in casual, transactional sex is empowering for women, who have been liberated at last from patriarchal social conditioning, allowing them to approach sex with the same sense of detachment men have long exhibited. Equality.
In the case of Ansari's encounter with his accuser, the pair were barely acquainted and spent little more than a single shared meal in one another's company before the comedian hoisted her onto his marble countertops, removed her clothing, and promptly suggested retrieving a condom.
"Everything was pretty much touched and done within ten minutes of hooking up, except for actual sex," the woman told Babe.
For this young woman, Ansari's pace was too fast, and his regard for her hesitance was too low.
On college campuses, students pejoratively refer to women who spend the night with their sexual partners rather than leaving after intercourse as "shackers." Read this for a primer if you're so inclined, and absorb the impact of lines such as, "You finish, and she tries to cuddle. Not a chance."
But is the kind of cultural agreement between men and women that Ansari seemed to be acting upon benefiting either sex? Feminists may continue insisting such casual sex is natural and good and that the emotional consequences stem from a persistent, and perhaps incorrigible, inability on behalf of men to fully respect women's bodies—an attitude rendered by lingering notions of patriarchy. In that sense, the feminist movement would conclude there is more forward progress to be made.
But now is probably as good a time as ever for progressive feminists to honestly contemplate whether the proliferation of casual sex — the kind that comes with no strings attached — marks an achievement or a setback for modern women. If women try to emulate the detachment to sex men seem to find so easy, do they end up unsatisfied at best, and wounded at worst?