Katie Way, the author of the Babe article about “Grace” and Aziz Ansari, is currently being dogpiled on Twitter for a couple of reasons. Mainly because she wrote the article, in huge part because she sent a blistering email insulting journalist Ashleigh Banfield, and maybe a little bit because her piece was sort of amateurish and potentially caused unnecessary damage to Grace, its subject.
I read the email to Banfield and found it a little bit cringey, because Way does attack Banfield for her age and makeup and for being irrelevant, which is untrue (and is also the problem), but I thought her rage was justified. Banfield, wagging her pen at the camera, goes on and on speaking directly to Grace and tells her that she should have this, should have that, and now she’s damaged the #MeToo movement by being a not-good-enough victim of an experience that wasn’t quite traumatic enough to qualify it as worthy of discussion at all. If Way’s email had omitted all of the unnecessary attacks on appearance and age, and had admitted that Banfield’s relevance is a huge problem if she’s going on TV and declaring that a woman sharing her story about being coerced is somehow harmful to the movement, then it would have been perfect.
Not “professional” or anything. Not “respectable.” But perfect. Right now is a time for anger, and it’s regrettable that this anger is sometimes directed at older women, but, hey, maybe don’t victim blame. CC Margaret Atwood.
Anyway, Banfield said this in response: “The reason I want to share that is because, if you truly believe in the #MeToo movement, if you truly believe in women’s rights, if you truly believe in feminism, the last thing you should do is attack someone in an ad hominem way for [her] age or [her] highlights or [her] lipstick because it is the most hypocritical thing a woman who says she supports the women’s movement could ever do, and that’s the caliber of the woman who was given all of this power, and was able to wield this power.”
Noooooooope. Slightly more hypocritical, I humbly think, is the victim blaming. Is the failure to understand that sometimes a woman can’t just leave, sometimes she feels unable to just say outright in harsh language what she thinks, because she’s trying to minimize and not hurt the guy’s feelings, which she has been socialized to do, and he has been socialized to pursue, pursue, pursue, you know, because of the misogynistic culture we live in that allows Trump to be elected president.
In the case of the Babe story, there was more than a ten year age difference between Ansari and Grace, and Ansari is famous and respected and is kind of known for being one of those “feminist” men. Also, she liked him. She probably wanted to have sex with him, maybe not that night, or maybe that night, if he hadn’t turned her off by his hearing “I don’t want you to force me because I’ll hate you,” as an invitation to KEEP GOING.
One more thing on the older feminist/younger feminist divide that is apparently happening here, in this piece Tracy Loxley concludes with, “If there’s one thing I’ve come to dislike about where #MeToo has gone, and the backlash that has emerged, it’s the disconnect between younger women, and those of us who are middle-aged and older. In learning more about Banfield’s history, I can see she sees #MeToo as a godsend, and sees Way and her subject as ungrateful whiners, not to mention a historical blind spot to the gains women before us have won. To us old ladies, Grace’s apparent helplessness has struck a chord, in that she seemed so disempowered to tell her possibly receptive date what she wanted. Then again, it also read like the story of a girl who didn’t know what she wanted.”
I’m not entirely sure what this… means. Rather, I know what it means but I don’t know what I’m supposed to take away from it, apart from frustration. I’ll admit that some of us millennials could sometimes word our thoughts better to avoid sounding dismissive of the work older women have done to create the climate we have now where we can even discuss these things. But I think most of us understand that we’ve come a long way. Do we need to prelude every statement of “We have much further to go,” with, “Not to take anything away from the progress of the past, but…”?
For my part I’m horrified by the apparent inability of some of these women to understand that Grace was trying to communicate what she wanted. Multiple times, either in words or by getting up and walking away, she communicated that she wanted to slow down and probably stop. Not once does Ansari ask if what he’s doing is OK, if she wants to keep going. Where is these women’s shrewd focus on that communication failure? Why characterize him as “possibly receptive” when he hears, “Whoa, let’s chill,” to mean, “keep going”? The inability to understand that if Grace appears to be “a girl who didn’t know what she wanted,” it’s because she liked the guy, respected him, wanted to have sex with him at some point if not that night, and she had to endure him refusing to pay attention to her clear signals, clear even though she tampered down on them to spare his feelings, or her own. Millennials are just asking that the burden of this communication not solely be placed on women. It shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Banfield may be all about #MeToo as a movement SOLELY about rape and other, more minor sexual assaults and harassment, as long as those more minor things are career-stifling, but her inability to acknowledge that being coerced into sex during a date is a huge, very common problem that women who date men have is, in my opinion, an incredible disappointment. Liking someone and having them not take you at your word, not listen to you when you say you want to slow down, ignoring your body-language cues of discomfort (like REPEATEDLY PULLING YOUR HAND AWAY FROM HIS DICK), is dehumanizing. Maybe it doesn’t have a direct effect on a woman’s career but it’s a problem. It needs to be discussed, because, though this sort of thing is comparatively minor, it happens all the time.
This is why I’m glad that Way’s piece exists. I’ve been seething all week, but I’m glad. I’ve muted SO MANY men and women who think that a woman going home with a man means she is legally obligated to have sex with him and legally obligated to never ever complain about his, at best, lack of consideration for her. I’ve muted so many victim blamers and slut shamers, but there are always ten more to pop up like freaking Whack-A-Mole. I’m still glad this happened. If #MeToo didn’t include this story, if we decided as feminists to only focus on instances where consent was clearly absent, we wouldn’t be pushing forward towards a brighter, kinder future for everyone to enjoy however they want to.
This from Laurie Penny goes into how this story AND the backlash that’s been heartily fueled by it push #MeToo forward into fighting for sexual liberation for EVERYONE. Sexual liberation for women requires access to contraception and abortion, AS WELL AS women feeling as though they can go on a date with a guy, go to his house, even, and he’ll respect them and their boundaries. If women are afraid of their potential partners, they aren’t sexually liberated. This isn’t new, not at all. Penny wrote this in September of last year, and there have been plenty of others like it before. But in the wake of the Babe piece, there are more pieces from more sources more clearly connecting that the burden of communication and ensuring consent are not only women’s responsibility is an essential tenet of feminism. “This is not an anti-sex movement gone off the rails. It is a pro-sex movement just laying the tracks,” from this by James Hamblin. “It may feel like the rules shifted overnight, and what your dad called the thrill of the chase is now what some people are calling assault. Unfortunately, no one — even plenty of men who call themselves feminists — wanted to listen to feminist women themselves. We tried to warn you. We wish you’d listened, too,” from this by Lindy West. “If #MeToo somehow brings about a world in which sex has to be excellent and much-wanted in order to happen at all, bring on the puritan dystopia,” from this by Sady Doyle.
The one thing I disagree with in Penny’s piece and in others that have highlighted that requiring men to pay more attention to their partners is an important part of this new women’s movement are the complaints about Way’s piece. On the one hand, I do agree that it needed some trimming. The wine part at the beginning just doesn’t need to be there, for example. On the other hand, the lurid play-by-play that some suggest lacks integrity for a sexual assault piece, I think may actually be essential here. I think it should have been written and edited more carefully, definitely, but even in some pieces that begin by criticizing this aspect of the reporting, the author ends up pulling details from the play-by-play to explain why and how this encounter is coercive and where there is nuance and why it is important to discuss it. It’s possible that with a more experienced and tactful writer the same thing would have been achieved but without leaving Grace as exposed as she’s been, but, I doubt it. I think this story has made so many people angry because it’s a very common experience, and now plenty of men are panicking that they, too, will be held to account for coercing or trying to coerce women. No matter how tactfully the story was told, it would have caused the same backlash. I think, anyway.
A bit more on the backlash:
Here is Katie Way’s pinned tweet.
Speaking of prison life, doing stuff like this piece is basically why I'm pursuing journalism, please clap https://t.co/lnSFBu277O
— Katie Way (@k80way) January 8, 2018
Read through the responses, if you can stomach it. Her crime is being rude to a prominent journalist, which I’m absolutely certain 100% of the people screaming at her or even simply casually mocking her have done. There are also a couple of tweets from me, at the grossest of people I saw there, just saying “fuck you” but with extra vowels. I wish I could have been more eloquent, but I was mad. I was also not brave enough to reply directly in praise of the part of her email about Banfield that I liked. I was the only dissenting voice, apart from two people who liked this article she wrote on prison life, and one person telling her the dogpiling would eventually pass.
Twitter is a gross place.
We also did a thread, here:
I'm grateful for this thread partly because everytime I've seen someone do respectability politics with Katie Way's email, the comments are dotted with men itching to give a confident, angry 22-year-old woman a stern talking to. And it's gross. https://t.co/KiOoygoGzP
— Sisters Switch (@SwitchSisters) January 18, 2018
jumping off of a Nora Reed thread on how they think Way’s email kind of rocks because it shows sexual assault survivors that their rage at the frankly disgusting victim blaming Banfield and other prominent, older women have done is shared. Survivors whose stories resemble Grace’s aren’t alone. Katie Way is prepared to, somewhat clumsily, sure, lash out on their behalf. That, too, is why Way’s original piece is so important. A lot of people have had this experience. For many of them, Grace’s date with Ansari is how their rape started. After the piece, many more people went through their memories of uncomfortable, possibly traumatic sexual encounters, and realized that they had been coerced and/or raped. And they aren’t alone. And it isn’t right. Just because what Ansari did wasn’t AS BAD as what plenty of other men have done, it’s not to be dismissed as “revenge porn” or “attention whoreing.” It’s integral for anyone who is interested in having sex without hurting anyone to see stories like this, to learn from them. Grace liked Ansari, I’ve said before, and I’ll repeat. She probably wanted to have sex with him. Instead, she went home crying and traumatized. We need to dissect encounters like this to begin to change the culture.
I am all about reaching out to older woman and for celebrating all that they have accomplished with fewer resources, but right now what I’m seeing is a 22-year-old woman whose career is just beginning being shouted down from all corners, even though her piece has been a jumping off point to discuss the central point of having a feminist movement at all. There will always be time for measured critiques of how she wrote the piece and why she wrote it and why she wrote that email, but right now, I’m on her side.