Monday, January 22, 2018

Power Imbalance Can Exist Outside the Workplace

In her bitchy tirade against Grace on CNN, Ashleigh Banfield says:

By your description, your sexual encounter was unpleasant. It did not send you to the police. It did not affect your workplace or your ability to get a job. So I have to ask you what exactly was your beef that you had a bad date with Aziz Ansari....If you were sexually harassed in your bad date because his actions mitigated your ability to do your job, you should definitely speak up and loud, because that happened to me too and it stinks. 

In her editorial in the Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan writes: Was Grace frozen, terrified, stuck? No. She tells us that she wanted something from Ansari and that she was trying to figure out how to get it. She wanted affection, kindness, attention. Perhaps she hoped to maybe even become the famous man’s girlfriend. 

The idea I get is that these two successful women see Grace as a pathetic loser whose main interest in life is getting attention from a man and only because he's a celebrity.

The idea is that Grace's career wasn't threatened, so she had no right to complain. I feel people can complain...even if their situation doesn't involve violence and even if their career isn't threatened. So I've been on Grace's side.

But yesterday I suddenly thought about something.

Who are we to say that Grace's career and/or aspirations weren't threatened?

According to the Babe article she's a young photographer.  She initially met Ansari at a 2017 Emmy Awards after party. WHY was she there?  Was she a fangirl hoping to mingle with celebrities?  Maybe. But she could have been there for career reasons as well. She could have been networking.

Now I don't think it would have been okay for Grace to pursue Ansari just for the sake of networking. Then she'd just be using him, and I don't like users.  But she could have been interested in him in a crush-way and at the same time hope that good-career things might result from their interactions.

Networking is a huge part of many careers. I think it might be true for many careers, but I think it's especially true for any artistic careers—writers, actors, painters, photographers, musicians, etc.  I know this, because I'm a failed writer.  I don't think my writing is incredibly awful. I think the main reason I failed is because I suck at networking.

But...anyway.

I think the things that happen to artists at celebrity parties and celebrity dates DO matter to their careers.

We can feel sorry for the damage that might have been done to Ansari's career, but how about the potential damage to Grace's career or the fear she had for her career? Grace's inability to give Ansari a direct, forceful no was probably partly due to fear of losing his affection.  But she might have also feared backlash career-wise. What if he talked about her to his friends?  What if she gained a reputation as being difficult...moody...a prude...a-waste-of-time? Now I'm doubting any of these fears were thought about consciously.  I think it was probably all more subconscious. I think, though, that it influenced her reactions in the situation.

What if there were no career issues in the situation? Would it not matter then?

Well, I think it still matters.

I wouldn't go as far to say it should be illegal. But I do think it's immoral to use any type of imbalance of power to take advantage of someone.

Power imbalances can come in a variety of forms: boss-employee, teacher-student, physically strong person-weak person, wealthy person-financially struggling person, high status person-lower status person, and....

Sometimes it's just one person having more affection and/or interest than the other person.

Ansari definitely had more power than Grace, and he tried to take advantage of that. Ultimately he kind of failed. At least he wasn't able to obtain his ultimate goal for the evening. I think that's pretty awesome. 

Imbalances in power are part of life. There's no way around them. I think we just have to make sure we don't take advantage of it.  Using people is distasteful, but it's even worse when we have power over the other person.

Now where I'd be on Ansari's side is if Grace had been a happy, willing camper throughout the evening. Let's say there was no hesitations. There was no moving her hand away from his penis. There was no asking to slow things down. Let's say she had been a happy, horny participant; then later came back and said he used his power to take advantage of her.  Then I'd be saying, Fuck you, Grace. We CAN be blamed for using our power to try to take advantage of someone. We can't be blamed if ALL verbal and nonverbal cues indicate the other person is having a grand time too.

But that's not the story of Grace and Aziz Ansari. Their story is about a successful celebrity who had power over a young (probably-aspiring) photographer.  He wanted a one night stand. She wanted something more and different.  They battled. She lost a bit, but I think Ansari lost more.  And I'm very glad that he was the one to lose more.