BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. This week, the latest #MeToo revelation led to a new discussion about the gray areas of consent. The man at the center of the commotion, comedian Aziz Ansari.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The story told by the woman who calls herself “Grace.”
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: -- in the website babe, “I believe that I was taken advantage of by Aziz…. It was by far the worst experience with a man I’ve ever had.”
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: After having dinner, the two went back to Ansari’s apartment but the woman says Ansari became too aggressive, pulling her hands toward his genitals multiple times.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ansari has built his career on being tuned into the particulars of dating dynamics and feminism, both in his book, Modern Romance and, of course, in his comedy, as in this exchange on his show, Master of None, when his character, Dev, learns that his collaborator, Chef Jeff, has been accused of harassing women.
ANSARI AS DEV: People on our crew have come up to me and said you’ve been inappropriate with them.
BOBBY CANNAVALE AS CHEF JEFF: What people, what are you talking -- women?
DEV: Yes! So you’re telling me none of this happened?
CHEF JEFF: None of this happened!
DEV: I don’t know, man, that’s hard for me to buy. I mean, why would these people make it up?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Vox staff writer Caroline Framke wrote on the controversies that flared after the piece, which centered on the recollections of Ansari’s date, appeared on babe.net. Some of the critiques focused on the journalism.
CAROLINE FRAMKE: According to one of their editors, Babe gave Ansari, I think, about 5-1/2 hours to respond on the Saturday of a holiday weekend. Usually you give someone about 24 hours to understand the allegations and respond to them.
I think the one critique that has complicated the conversation so much is how the story was told. I heard some confusion afterwards from people who genuinely couldn't remember, even having read it, whether it was written from her perspective or whether it was written by a reporter, which is a sign of confused editing. [LAUGHS] A lot of the details given were irrelevant stuff, like their wine choice and that Ansari ordering white when she wanted red, details about her outfit, with an editorial interjection that, quote, “It was a good outfit.” After the fact, some editors at Babe defended it, saying that it was sort of a mashup of their existing style, which is profane and for girls who don't give a -- you can’t say that on the radio -- with more traditional reporting, but the results left both the report and the source open to the kinds of questions that you don't want when you publish something like this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm. Let’s now move from the critique of the way the article was written to a critique of Grace's behavior. In The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan called Grace’s account “revenge porn” and she decried what she considered to be the excesses of the #MeToo moment in which Aziz had been, in a professional sense, assassinated on the basis of one woman's anonymous account. In The New York Times, Bari Weiss asserted that the account trivializes what #MeToo first stood for.
CAROLINE FRAMKE: Caitlin Flanagan had a line that said Grace had destroyed a man who didn’t deserve it. I haven't seen anyone calling for the cancellation of his show, I haven't seen anyone calling for him to be thrown in jail, nothing like that. Mostly what I've seen is a call for a conversation from people who believe Grace’s account, but what I think they latched onto was something that has been bubbling up for some time, the sort of has #MeToo gone too far, is it taking down people who don't deserve it, do we need to slow down?
I think last week, Andrew Sullivan had a thing in The Cut about it’s time to resist the excesses and people are lumping together all these different kinds of behavior into the same equally insidious pots. I don't think that's true. I think women are perfectly capable of distinguishing between a Weinstein and an Ansari.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But she used the word “assault.”
CAROLINE FRAMKE: She did.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s not harassment, it's not intimidation, even. It’s assault!
CAROLINE FRAMKE: Yes. What Grace’s story is about, and I am not even sure that the Babe report itself understood it, is sexual consent in intimate relationships in a way that none of these other cases have been. But it has been misunderstood by some critics as her making something out of nothing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There was something. My reaction when reading it is -- she was treated badly. What I didn't understand is why she didn't -- leave. My concern isn't about degrading the #MeToo movement. Coming from where I sit, as a -- maybe the last wave of, you know, second wave feminism is the infantilization of women for so long, and now they're speaking out but they’re not speaking out directly to the people who should hear it, in the moment.
CAROLINE FRAMKE: It is about how tricky consent is in the moment, how one party maybe understands it differently and doesn't feel comfortable saying so. And that's a huge problem. Why didn’t she say no, why didn’t she leave? These are really important questions that need answers, and those answers are not going to be easy because another thing about the story that I think has sparked so much uproar is that it is incredibly ordinary. My coworker, Anna North at Vox, wrote a really great piece about that, how, if this story qualifies as assault then so many others do and that terrifies a lot of people, both the people who’ve experienced it and the people who maybe didn't realize that’s how it was coming off or that’s what it is, ‘cause people can relate to this story in a way that they couldn't with something like Harvey Weinstein inviting famous actresses to a hotel room or Matt Lauer locking someone in a, an office. These are extreme examples. This is -- not extreme. That makes the reactions more extreme, I think.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The choice of words seems to have taken on even more significance than before. You can see that I would have had less trouble with Grace’s story if she hadn't used the word “assault” --
CAROLINE FRAMKE: Mm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- if she’d used the word “intimidation.”
CAROLINE FRAMKE: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE] I remember having this trouble initially with headlines in the beginning. I didn't want to just say “harassment” when it also included assault. I have started to use “sexual violence” much more frequently because that seems appropriately grave and also encompasses a lot of different kinds of behavior. But when we’re talking about these gray areas that don't have labels, it becomes much more difficult to call them out. It becomes much more difficult to talk about them. And that's, I think, what we’re seeing here with this Ansari story. People are much less sure how to label this than anything else. But if anything is going to change, that's exactly what's worth digging into. What is this? How do we fix it? Why did she not feel comfortable in the moment saying anything? Why did he feel totally comfortable in the moment pushing further? These are the conversations to have. These are the worst, hardest, most personal conversations. And I think that's freaked a lot of people out, and it freaked me out. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Caroline, thank you so much.
CAROLINE FRAMKE: Thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Caroline Framke is a staff writer at vox.com, and her recent article is called, “The controversy around Babe.net’s Aziz Ansari story, explained.”