Some Thoughts on Sorting Out the Controversy Around Aziz Ansari, Sexual Relations, and Getting Beyond Both Patriarchy and Revenge

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Recent months have seen a righteous outpouring against the pervasive abuse, harassment, sexual assault, discrimination, humiliation, and degradation women are forced to endure in every realm of life. This is extremely positive and takes on heightened importance in light of—and, no doubt, is fueled by—the ugly shock of Trump, a bragging sexual predator, assuming the presidency and using the world’s largest bully pulpit and the power of the state to mainstream vile misogyny (woman-hating).

At the same time, when you have an upsurge like this a lot of different trends emerge and there is a need—sometimes an urgent need—to sort out goals and, relatedly, how to fight. It is in this context that the recent controversy that has erupted over comedian, actor, and writer Aziz Ansari is worth examining.

An Anonymous Exposé Against Aziz Ansari Hits a Deep Nerve, But Also Concentrates Real Problems

A few days after he appeared at the Golden Globes wearing a #Time’sUp button, an exposé accusing Aziz Ansari of pressuring a young woman into sex acts that she did not want took the Internet by storm. This exposé—and its reception—is extremely contradictory.

On one side, the kind of sexual relations described in the piece reflect a whole set of sexual and social relations that oppress, commodify, degrade, and dehumanize women, which dominate the whole society and culture, and which must be radically changed! The criticism of what has been part and parcel of the hook-up culture, and way too long just accepted, is long overdue and a very welcome, if still just beginning, part of the reckoning.

On the other side, however, the method of the article—filled with salacious, subjective, and selectively rendered detail—and the method with which it has been largely received, feeds a very dangerous culture of humiliation, revenge, and the promotion of rumors and accusations as the standard of guilt. At the same time, some of the people who have correctly and insightfully criticized this shortcoming have in some ways trivialized the harm of the sexual relations described and downplayed the depth of the change needed.

Sorting this out requires pulling back the lens and understanding much more deeply the real roots of the problem we face and what must be done about it. The point is not to try to navigate this on the terms on which it is currently being posed.

Instead, we need to collectively dig deeper, going to the roots of what underlies all this, and on this basis, imagine and think far beyond what already exists, to radically different relations, a far better world, and what it will take to get there—a point to which I’ll return.

We Need a Radical Revolt Against This Revolting Culture

There is a reason this exposé struck such a chord. From a very young age, women and girls are shamed about their bodies and sexual desires, taught that their value lies in being sexually “pure” as well as sexually attractive, and socialized to prioritize men’s egos and sexual desires above their own. Men and boys are also socialized in how to view women and sex through the dominant institutions and culture, including the widespread violent degradation of pornography which has gone almost entirely unmentioned in the entire #MeToo discussion. Men are trained to see women as less than human, to see sex as conquest, to take pride in overcoming a woman’s objections to sex, to strip sex of all intimacy, to even be turned on by the humiliation of women.

All this combines to create a culture where not only rape and sexual assault are epidemic, but—as portrayed in this anonymous account—even sex that is technically consensual takes place embedded in dynamics that all too often result in very degrading and dehumanizing experiences for women. All of this must be challenged and changed—and it can be.

Men need to stop reveling in the sexual degradation of women and women need to break with any attempt to “own” or “market” oneself as a sexual commodity. Sex should be based on equality and mutual respect, on appreciating the other person’s humanity, on a shared desire. We need to call out the culture of misogyny and rape, and the hook-up culture that strips sex of real intimacy, equality, and respect. AND, we need as part of this “reckoning” to also reckon with the degradation and objectification of women that is intrinsic to pornography—again, something which thus far has not received anywhere near the attention required.

Right now we need a radical and growing culture of revolt against today’s revolting culture.

Most of All: We Need a Radically Different—and Far Better—World

It is a very positive feature of the current upsurge that people are not only fighting against explicit violations of women’s consent, but also some are beginning to interrogate the content of sexual and intimate relations. However, all this is still far too constrained—too much attempting to find equality for women in the bedroom and the boardroom, in mainstream politics and on screen. Even the best of the discourse and discussions are far too hemmed in by the horizon of “what is,” and fighting for the best terms within that, for equality within existing social and economic relations. But humanity can do so much better.

What has become clear to me through a lifetime process of fighting and learning is that in seeking to uproot these inequalities there is a crying need to bring forward, and a real possibility of forging, radically different social relations as part of a radically different and far better world. Envisioning this, however, requires being radical—as in radix, going to the root of all this—and imagining beyond the horizons of “what is.” And this entails transcending the very limited goal of attempting to achieve equality within—while leaving fundamentally intact—the existing global framework of social and economic relations.

Fighting to eliminate and really uproot these inequalities requires scientifically probing:

What are the relations and culture which underlie and reinforce the toxic ways in which women are demeaned?

How is all this linked to the larger system, the underlying “mode of production” in how we as a society produce the necessities and wants of life, how they bring forth and rear the new generations?

What is the relation between the way capitalism turns everything into commodities to be exchanged for profit and the commodification of women’s bodies through things like the sexualized degradation of the massive porn industry, the global sex slave trade, and even most advertising?

Specifically, what is the relationship between the system of capitalism-imperialism and all these patriarchal institutions, relations, and culture?

What is the relationship between all of this and the most intimate interpersonal relations and sex?

Is it enough to “equalize” women’s position within this society and system, or is more required? Can humanity get beyond all this, and what will it take?

There are answers to these questions, but they require work—and grappling. They require science—that is, on the basis of evidence, digging into the underlying and driving dynamics that have shaped the origin and historical development of the oppression of women and that, on the basis of correctly grasping those real dynamics, indicate the possible pathways to change it. They require engaging with the work—and the method—of Bob Avakian and the New Communism, a whole new framework of human emancipation.

Avakian has built upon the profound advances of previous communist theory and revolutions, but also learned from their shortcomings, including criticisms raised about how these previous revolutions approached (or at times actually neglected or seriously underestimated) the necessary struggle to transform sexual and gender relations. Avakian’s New Communism scientifically comprehends insights and criticisms of feminists, and developments in other streams—in science, history, art and culture. This means that, for the first time, there is a thoroughly scientific understanding of how an actual revolution can be undertaken that fully unleashes the fight against all forms of oppression of women and does so in the context of putting an end to the long darkness of humanity divided into masters and slaves—which is the only way it can really succeed.

This work is tremendously illuminating—see for yourself!—and a great thing for humanity’s struggle and chances to prevail. I urge everyone to get into this, and if you are getting the importance of this moment and this movement, then there is no better place to start than by digging into the compilation, Break ALL the Chains! Bob Avakian on the Emancipation of Women and the Communist Revolution.

Rumors and Guilt upon Accusation Work Against Liberation

Having gotten into what is very positive about this current upsurge and having pointed to some important ways this must go even further—by going even harder at the culture and institutions that give rise to this degradation and digging into the new work done by Bob Avakian on the emancipation of women and the communist revolution—it is necessary to examine some real problems that have emerged which lead away from liberation. Some of these problems are pronounced in the debate around Aziz Ansari.

First, the standard of “truth” that the Ansari exposé relies on and with which it has largely been met is extremely destructive, contributing to the growing culture of rumor, smear, and “guilt upon accusation” (and in this case, accusation of something that is not and should not be criminal). Truth is objective and must be determined by evidence, not rumor, accusations alone, subjective feelings, or the unfounded principle of “always believe the woman.” While most accusations from women are truthful, it is simply a fact that not all of them are, and the truth of any one claim has to be assessed against the evidence, subject to examination and challenge, and not merely attributed or derived from the overall veracity of the phenomenon as a whole. The long and brutal history of mere accusations against Black men by white women leading to terror, imprisonment, and outright lynchings serves as bitter lessons of the harm of allowing mere accusations to be treated as proof of guilt.

Tear Down Patriarchal Culture and Institutions, Not Individual Men

Ansari is not accused of anything criminal and yet his entire persona and career, including what by any reasonable inference based on available information appears to be genuine concern with the degradation faced by women, is being eclipsed by this accusation. Some say that Ansari hasn’t suffered through this, but this is disingenuous. If we recognize that the humiliation and social isolation of public shaming that is most often visited upon women constitutes actual harm, we cannot pretend this means nothing when visited upon men. To say this out loud these days is to be accused of normalizing sexual assault, i.e.: “Why so much concern for these men, what about all the women whose lives have been destroyed?” This is wrong; it is not a zero-sum game. We should not be choosing sides between women and men while accepting the world as it is, we should be fighting to radically change the world to get rid of injustice and oppression of all kinds.

Some justify this destruction by saying that men will never learn unless there are consequences. But this is premised on the very wrong assumption that you change social and sexual relations by frightening and punishing men. All this takes as a given the notion that men will want to degrade and objectify women and sees, therefore, the need to punish and frighten men out of acting on those impulses. However, these are not innate impulses and we must fight to end the culture and the institutions—and most fundamentally the system—that has given rise to all the degradation and misogynist revenge that is such a part of the world today.

A Challenge

It is very positive that so many are raising their heads and voicing their outrage against the widespread oppression and degradation of women that has been accepted for far too long. This fight must be taken up by even more people (including men!) and it must go even further and become even more determined. At the same time—and this will, in fact, strengthen this fight—people must strive to apply the right methods, not merely to tear down individuals, but to radically change the culture, as part of bringing about a whole different world.

Sunsara Taylor is a writer for Revolution newspaper and an initiator of RefuseFascism. She is initiator of Stop Patriarchy and sits on the Advisory Board of World Can’t Wait. She has written on the rise of theocracy, wars and repression in the U.S., led in building resistance to these crimes, and contributed to the movement for revolution to put an end to all this. She takes as her foundation the new synthesis on revolution and communism developed by Bob Avakian.


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