Women can't say no because many don't know how to

JANUARY 17 ― Reactions to the Aziz Ansari date disaster have been varied ― but what bothers me is the notion that the woman involved was “playing victim.”

“Why didn't she just say no?”

Ah, armchair observers are perhaps the bane of the Internet. It's easy for us outside observers to see things in a way someone actually involved in the situation might not.

I'm annoyed with the women going around saying: “Oh I was taught to stand up for myself.” “I wouldn't have let myself get into that situation.” “That woman is just making herself a victim.”

Ansari to his credit has responded with a statement that, unlike those comments, did not attempt to deflect any blame to the woman.

He didn't realise that his actions were inappropriate; he says he will do better. So I'd rather take him at his word and move on from the incident and instead, look at the bigger picture ― the problem with how men are conditioned to treat women.

Many have asked, why wasn't the woman direct? Why didn't she just say no and leave? Why did she even get herself into such a situation in the first place?

It's because not all women have the good fortune to be raised to believe in their own agency. As children, women are expected to be pretty, to be obedient, to be nice.

Yet at the same time, women are supposed to know when to turn off the “nice” switch as soon as they get older.

To immediately know how to morph into battle mode when threatened or, hey, learn self-defence so they can be protected from “bad men.”

Thing is, there is no warning sign for “bad men.” It's funny men such as Liam Neeson are complaining about a Hollywood witch hunt when it's really just an up-ending of the status quo. So many of the things that were once tolerated are now seen in their proper light as simply unacceptable.

There's a difference between a hungry young actress sweet-talking a casting agent into giving her a role and said casting agent saying, spread your legs for me or your career is going nowhere. And yet, there are people who think they are one and the same.

Coercion as part of the mating ritual is an unfortunate bit taught to men. It's even romanticised ― stalk the woman, perpetually harass her into dating you, forcibly push her up against a wall, don't take no for an answer. Get her tipsy, lower her inhibitions and hope she lowers her standards.

Many women are conditioned to learn these things are the norm; but it doesn't mean that conditioning can prepare them emotionally. Suppressed feelings often only come to the fore after an incident.

For instance, when your boss feels you up during a cocktail event ― how could a woman respond without creating a scene or jeopardising her career? Screaming when a mugger takes your purse is a different thing from screaming when your boss has his hand under your skirt in a bar.

It's the 21st century and only now are we learning that men haven't been taught the proper lessons about consent. That it must be explicit. That no matter how dorky or “unromantic” it might be, bluntly asking a woman “do you want to (insert activity here)” is the safest way to go. If she doesn't say an empathic yes, assume it's a no. It can be that simple.

As much as it's important for women to empower themselves, it's also important for men to understand their own roles have changed.

We are no longer beasts, caught in outdated mating rituals that might bring harm to either party. Talking can be sexy, as can transparency and the confidence in knowing that all parties are invested in whatever's going on. Sex should be safe ― in every way.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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