Let's Talk About Mindy Kaling's Support of Aziz Ansari
In January 2018, the now-defunct website Babe.net published an explosive article about a young woman and her sexual encounter with famous comedian Aziz Ansari. The woman, referred to only as “Grace,” described going back to Ansari’s apartment after a date, at which point she said the comedian pressured her to engage in unwanted sexual activity, even as she gave “verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was.” Grace referred to the night as sexual assault, and called it “by far the worst experience with a man I’ve ever had.” Grace’s testimony added nuance to the “#MeToo” movement, showing how misogyny and male entitlement can negatively color women’s sexual experiences and cause them lasting pain.
Many media outlets criticized Babe.net for their irresponsible reporting. (Grace was eventually doxxed.) The story contained unnecessary editorializing and failed to fully contextualize the murky issues of consent raised by the encounter. Regardless, the story opened the floodgates of public discourse, especially about whether her experience qualified as assault, or merely a “bad date.” The story neglected to consider the ways our culture has failed both women and men in the way we talk about consent and communication. It was framed in national news as a sort of reckoning for the #MeToo movement at large.
This past February, writer and actress Mindy Kaling reignited the debate surrounding Ansari and the future of his career when she published an Instagram post showing her ticket stub from his Los Angeles comedy show. It was captioned: “Funniest shit ever. ❤️” Kaling, known as a feminist and advocate for women’s issues, had, perhaps unwittingly, inserted herself into the center of the controversy.
Many of Kaling’s fans reacted angrily upon seeing the star publicly support Ansari. One of her Instagram followers commented, “As a survivor, this is disheartening. I believed you to be a champion of women.” Kaling wrote back, saying “I am a champion of women. I am also a champion of my friend and do not believe they are mutually exclusive.” Since then, Kaling has maintained public support of Ansari. Just last week on a Daily Beast podcast, Kaling called Ansari “a really wonderful person.” She praised his new standup act, in which he reflects on the accusations made against him. Kaling said "[H]e really talked about that situation in a really vulnerable way,” she continues. “And it was one of the reasons that I wanted to post about it. Because I thought it was just really bold and honest and admirable.” Some of Kaling’s fans also showed their support for her stance and for Ansari.
Indeed, during a standup set in New York City, Aziz said, “I hope it was a step forward. It made me think about a lot, and I hope I’ve become a better person… If that has made not just me but other guys think about this and just be more thoughtful and aware and willing to go the extra mile and make sure someone else is comfortable in that moment, that’s a good thing.” His decision to speak openly about the allegations and take responsibility for his actions put him in direct contrast to other famous men who have faced allegations of sexual assault and refused to apologize or admit any possibility of wrongdoing.
Regardless of how you feel about Kaling’s support of Ansari, there’s a lot to be learned from Ansari’s mistakes.
Specifically, Grace’s story demonstrates the vital role of mutual consent in preventing painful or traumatic sexual experiences and building positive ones. The best way to ensure you have consent? Ask! It’s preferable to discuss consent before a sexual experience starts, as racing hormones tend to get in the way. That said, it’s also great to check in with your partner throughout a sexual encounter.
Pose questions like “Are you okay with this?” or “Does ____ feel good?” or “Do you want to try ___?” and really listen to how your partner responds. It’s also important to observe your partner’s body language. If they express a hint of doubt or hesitation, slow things down or stop entirely. Another important aspect of consent is communicating your desires by asking for what you want in bed, even if it feels really vulnerable.
Grace’s story also brings to light the deep systemic issues that complicate sexual power dynamics between men and women. While these problems won’t change overnight, stories like hers help initiate important conversations that propel us forward. In the meantime, do your part by being a thoughtful, respectful sexual partner, and ensuring every sexual experience you partake in is consensual.
Currently, only nine American states that offer sex education also require discussions about consent. But when people know better, they do better. Education around consent should be commonplace because building consent skills is the best way to make sure you and your sexual partners have enjoyable experiences everyone can feel good about. Sometimes, talking about consent can feel awkward, taboo or just plain scary. But at the end of the day, the only way to avoid miscommunication is to communicate!