Aziz Ansari's story highlights the need for "yes means yes"

Exploring the issues with the norms of consent

News articles about Aziz Ansari.

When the headline popped up on my newsfeed that Aziz Ansari had been in a less-than-consensual sexual encounter, my first thought was “please, not another one.” 

But after looking into the issue, it’s apparent this situation is much more complicated than what’s on the surface.

To sum up the available details of what happened: Ansari went on a date with a woman referred to in the original Babe story as Grace (name changed for privacy). At the night’s end, the two participated in intimate relations and while Grace later admitted she felt uncomfortable with the situation, she never gave Ansari a verbal “no” cue to indicate she wasn’t interested in taking it any further. 

According to the same article, Grace said Ansari texted her the next day and told her he’d enjoyed their night together. Grace responded negatively, telling Ansari, “you ignored my non-verbal cues; you kept going for advances.” 

He then responded to his date explaining he was upset there had been a miscommunication.

In a statement released since the story in Babe was first published, Ansari states “we went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual.”

By Grace’s own account, it seems understandable there could’ve been a disconnect in communication. After all, the duo wasn’t overly familiar with one another at the time of the incident and non-verbal cues are often harder to interpret than direct verbal cues.

While sexual assault doesn’t seem to be the defining issue here, it really highlights issues with currently standing consent laws. 

The rules of consent most of us were taught growing up was that “no means no.” But Ansari’s case highlights why that standard can be problematic and ambiguous. Even so, it must be understood  the absence of a no isn’t a yes.

Current Ontario consent laws highlight the ability to say no to sexual encounters throughout policy.

Consent laws aren’t set in stone and there have been some steps made towards changing them from this currently confusing and complicated definition.

Most notably, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law in 2015 which changed sexual assault policies on NY university/collage campuses to incorporate “no means no” to “yes means yes.” 

Promoting the ideology that “yes means yes” is an attempt to make affirmative and enthusiastic consent the standard for any sexual experience.

This baseline rule for consent makes a lot more sense. Having someone enthusiastically say yes leaves much less up in the air than waiting for someone to say no.  

Stigma around this law seems to claim that “asking permission” makes a potential sexual activity no longer sexy. However, from my own experiences and from much discussion with those around me, this has proved the exact opposite.

Back to Ansari and Grace — if the norm was enthusiastic consent, it would’ve been much more apparent that the lack of any enthusiastic consent was a cue to halt any further advancements. But because this idea of “no means no” has been so deeply ingrained into society and into our minds, there was an issue of miscommunication.

We’re making progress with more and more states signing “yes means yes” into sexual assault policies. But we still have to focus on making cultural changes and maintaining social norms that can change the existing ideas of consent from absence of “no” to enthusiastic/affirmatory consent. 

Ansari’s story highlights the issues with consent laws and the way we think about sexual relationships as a society. Once we decide the absence of “no” isn’t the same as an enthusiastic “yes,” these sort of uncomfortable and problematic sexual standards will change.


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