“Babe is for girls who don’t give a f***.”
That’s the blurb at the end of the now-infamous article directed at Indian-American comedian and actor Aziz Ansari on feminist news site Babe.net. Ostensibly, it is a proclamation of support for women’s empowerment and a refutation of the constantly decried “patriarchy.” When in reality, Babe manipulates the narrative surrounding this story, prioritizing clicks and monetary gain over the women they claim to support.
Just to be clear, I am approaching this with the opinion that Aziz Ansari is not guilty of sexual assault. That is because the anonymous “Grace” in Babe’s article never accuses him of sexual assault or rape in the first place. She did have “the worst night of her life” with Ansari. That truth is indisputable, because regardless of your opinion about her story or her actions, it is her subjective truth. She has a right to that. No one experiences the same event the same way; it is the folly of human existence.
With this story, Babe found an opportunity to exploit the plight of a distraught young woman for financial gain, an action that damages Ansari’s career but also the movement for recognition of sexual misconduct and women’s empowerment.
The article does what so many looking to put their upstart site on the map do: add a clickbait title. It reads, “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.” It’s extreme and eye-catching, and it intentionally rides the wave of popularity of stories about Hollywood actors’ sexual misconduct. The article signals its agenda with the author’s perspective of Ansari prior to the accusations, and how those perspectives are strictly opposite the actions Grace remembers. The reporter, Katie Way, argues that men like Ansari (“woke” men, to use the awful term) must hold themselves to a higher standard in terms of sexual conduct, even while their subject showcases a lacking standard herself. Grace fails to use her most powerful tool as a sexual partner: “communication.” “Non-verbal cues” are not enough.
She should have said something earlier if she saw how quickly the encounter was going south. Ansari listens when Grace makes it verbally clear that she is not interested in any further sexual contact, and he calls her an Uber home. Grace snuffs out her own voice, playing the victim at the earliest point possible and exaggerating what was really a bad date. It is unfortunate that on the eve of the second annual Women’s March, in which female speakers with experiences across the spectrum come together to voice their truths about injustice in America, Grace falls quiet.
The tragedy of this misguided effort is that another article on Babe’s site paints a powerful picture of a woman fighting for validation of the sexual assault she experienced. “Lauren says she was raped at a high school party. He denied it. So she started taking screenshots” is a less extreme and more accurately titled article from Babe. I found it recommended under the Ansari article. It is harrowing and tragic in comparison to the Ansari article, particularly because the subject is vocal about her nonconsent and clearly identifies the suspect’s actions as sexual assault. In fact, she is doubly vocal because the accused vehemently denies any sexual activity taking place, contrary to Ansari. Furthermore, Lauren’s abuser is a football player, but never does Lauren feel fear in confronting him with her accusation. Contrast this to Grace, who “felt really pressured” to give Ansari, a small five-foot-six man, oral sex. Lauren couldn’t speak up during the act because she was heavily intoxicated. Incredibly, Lauren Atkins is actually her real name. She shed her anonymity to showcase her desire to be heard. It is a poignant act that leaves Grace’s story feeling unimpactful and artificial.
Babe supports women’s empowerment but posts a story where the woman fails to speak her mind coherently and is, frankly, submissive. Their number one priority should be to showcase how a woman’s voice is often her most powerful tool to incite change. But instead it’s asking men to change, men to make the difference. Babe’s efforts are misguided, led by financial gain, resulting in an embrace of the status quo.
Alex Forghani is a second-year English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.