Critics claim the movement has gone too far. But young women have already started to imagine a new reality of sexual equality
Strap yourselves in, kids: it’s about to get bumpy. The cautionary tale of Aziz Ansari has split the room. The comedian has become an emblem of something – whether that’s aggressor, hypocrite, bad shag or wronged man only Netflix can decide. Whatever your stance, it’s hard to deny the heterosexual boat has truly been rocked. Men are scared. What are the rules? Where are the lines? Who’s even in charge here? Women are getting cold feet: “The movement’s getting out of hand”, “She went too far with this”, and the real kicker – “What an insult to real survivors”.
No one said a sexual revolution was gonna be easy. But the Ansari fallout should be seen for what it is: collateral damage of a bigger, brighter historical movement, and not its final destination.
Let’s get real about what a social movement actually is. It does not come organised, strategised, streamlined and clean. It does not come neatly presented by experienced journalists and authorised by legal ombudsmen. It’s messy. It’s chaotic. It ebbs and flows and expands and retracts because it’s a human phenomenon. It takes place in the streets and in unofficial publications, and is propelled, most crucially, by a collective imagination. And historically, the imagination of a movement is led by the young. This is where we are now: the hard bit, the exciting bit, the bit that counts.
Donald Trump in the White House mobilised us; Harvey Weinstein’s fall and the #MeToo movement vindicated us and demanded our testimony. Now, thanks to Cat Person or Aziz Ansari or 2,000 years of terrible, unacceptable sex, we should be allowed to conceive of a new sexual landscape without fretting about one comic’s career or emasculating a generation of men in the bedroom.
No one is coming for French men’s handcuffs. Mesdames, he can still throw you around the bedroom and pull your hair if that wets your whistle. The endgame is not filling the jails with innocent “rapists”, but more fun, more joy, more sex even, of the good kind. You know, the kind where both people get to come.
Women do not cope well with male discomfort. Perhaps the fear of possible retribution unsettles us. Deep down, we know better than to shake the hornets’ nest. The feminist comic Deborah Frances-White brilliantly sums up the genetic disposition of women when faced with danger: not “fight or flight” but “freeze and friend”. And so, before the backlash, comes the caution. If you listen closely enough, we’re being told to rein it in. The most persuasive voices are the maternal ones – respectable, measured elders, like Caitlin Flanagan in the Atlantic. She admits her reaction is generational, but unpicks each action of Ansari’s accuser “Grace” as shallow, desperate, cruel, weak.
Ansari’s actions are left unexplored. No need to tell him: bad luck, son, you chose the wrong moment to claw a millennial you picked up at an industry party. No matter he was riding high off the back of a feminist movement that gave his un-macho, female-ally persona the platform to make him rich and famous. Of course that’s gonna sting in the back of a cab, with the bad taste of unwanted cock in your mouth. The poor girl didn’t even get to finish her dinner. No, Flanagan could not relate to the new world this girl imagined for herself, or the community of young women who received her testimony with empathy. Instead she recalled an era where girls would physically fight off unwanted sexual advances, perversely reminiscing about an old kind of “strength” instead of yearning for a new kind of freedom.
Women enter sexual encounters with an unbelievable raft of quiet concern
It is no coincidence that Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” is the seminal speech on social justice, or that John Lennon’s Imagine is its theme tune. Dreaming, imagining, longing are not just pastimes of the aimless poet but the secret weapon of every purposeful social reformer. The vital mental agility of young women – the ones we mock for their “safe spaces” and their “triggered” responses – keeps their pain near, not because they prize victimisation but because they exist closest to the new reality their hands are beginning to shape – they keep their trauma present, as they actively purge the culture of harm in that last, unpoliceable realm, the space between the sheets.
“All women have been a little bit raped,” said the comedian Amy Schumer. And we all laughed. Because it’s true. What to do about it, exactly? That’ll take a minute. Forgive us for not having the blueprint written and mailed out to everyone – we’ve been a bit busy doing 66% of the world’s workfor 10% of its income.
So the new man’s journey has begun in earnest, and with a bit of a jolt – though, to be fair, he had been procrastinating for a while. He will have to keep looking, beyond the verbal and nonverbal cues of his intimates, piecing together a new sexual conduct from messaging he receives in cultural corners: the news, comedy, music, conversation, his sisters, his friends, his colleagues.
It need not be the death of sex. Women enter sexual encounters with an unbelievable raft of quiet concerns: violence and rape on one side of the spectrum; shaming, pregnancy, a debilitating bout of cystitis on the other. If we can continue to live a sexual life alongside our private fears, he can incorporate the consideration of her genuine enjoyment into his repertoire. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I really do believe in him.
Let’s at least permit ourselves to picture life in a new reality, wandering the spaces men roam freely – a strange pub perhaps, or India, or the nighttime. Imagine going to a nightclub on your own just because you like the music. Imagine boarding a bus, not noticing it was full of men, because you were enjoying the view. Imagine a really good orgasm as standard. Imagine the decent bloke you know being the norm, not the exception. Imagine the movement you were a part of that changed everything. Imagine. Imagine. I dare you.
• Sarah Solemani is an actor, writer and activist
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK