Allegations against Aziz Ansari demonstrate need for better education

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An anonymous young woman accused Aziz Ansari of pressuring her into sexual situations in an article posted a week ago in the online publication “Babe.” The response has been polarizing as people process the complexities of the situation. Even if you’ve kept up with the news, it might be difficult to form an opinion on what was at best a series of awkward miscommunications and at worst sexual misconduct.

The anonymous accuser’s account of Ansari’s behavior opens up a conversation that is much more complex and ultimately goes beyond one celebrity’s bad date. Regardless of whether Ansari’s actions were predatory or simply oblivious, the situation is part of a larger problem with the way communication and consent are viewed and taught in today’s society.

In a statement from Ansari, released shortly after the anonymous woman’s account was published, he says, “It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.” Ansari’s response reveals how commonplace lack of understanding about consent is, even among men like him who believe themselves to be progressive. Ansari is undoubtedly at fault for putting the woman in an uncomfortable situation, but the evening’s outcome is also a result of our society’s dysfunctional attitudes towards the role of consent and communication in relationships.

There cannot be any widespread understanding of this etiquette unless consent is taught from a young age. From young girls being told that the boy bullying them on the playground is just doing it because he likes them, to the “funny baby onesie” proclaiming “lock up your daughters,” children are inundated with subtly harmful messages about what a relationship is supposed to look like. This perpetuates the idea that boys should be aggressive and teaches girls to put up with behaviors that make them uncomfortable. This pattern only gets worse with time. The teenage boys who refuse to take “no” for an answer or are controlling, possessive boyfriends become the men who think of women as challenges that they can win over with enough persistence. These behaviors normalize lack of consent and unequal power dynamics, resulting in situations like Ansari’s.

The allegations against Ansari are proof that it’s time to rethink our approach to consent education. Only 24 states and Washington, D.C. require sex education to be taught in schools, and of those, only 22 states and Washington, D.C. require the curriculum to include information about “avoiding coercion,” which is still not a guarantee that consent will be discussed. The traditional approach to consent education is to simply tell students that “no means no.”

However, this approach is nowhere near thorough enough to cover what is a complicated and nuanced topic, and does not address situations like Ansari’s, in which one person attempts to express discomfort through a variety of nonverbal cues before finally saying “no.” Adopting a curriculum that discusses consent more thoroughly is a necessary step towards preventing these scenarios. This approach has been effective in the Netherlands, where sex education stresses consent and young adults were found to have healthier relationships than Americans.

Ultimately, to put an end to sexual assault, we must prioritize consent education and hold men accountable for their actions. It is entirely possible that Ansari misunderstood the situation, but ignorance is no excuse. As a society, we need to avoid perpetuating harmful tropes that normalize sexual harassment, and men especially need to evaluate their actions and strive to do better.

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