Reflections on the “Grace”/Ansari problem
A friend writes (I mean, a friend literally writes):
I think there is something to dig into around the Ansari thing. My son won’t let it go. I get a flood of texts from him every day about this issue, and it is clear he and his bros are incensed by the whole story. And the commentaries just keep showing up. From their point of view Grace should have left the apartment, period, the end. This is only a story because Ansari is who he is. I on the other hand — old and well beyond that period in my life when the fire of passion and seduction burns so bright you can’t see straight — think this episode has tapped into something that hasn’t been addressed in all the Weinstein-ian “metoo”-ness, a sort of the elephant in the room. There is a revisiting of relations between males and females at that deeply personal and intimate level once again as it was in all that consciousness raising that I was part of back in the late 60s. A new face on that thorny, complicated zone? Progress, or more of the same? I think something new is emerging but I am not certain what that is, or if it really is an emergence at all.
Have you asked [your son] what upsets him so much about the whole matter? One of the things I’m curious about is what men feel threatened by in all this. What do they think they’d be giving up?
It seems to me that the men on Twitter who agree that Ansari is a dick are being honest and upfront about the fact that men’s sexual motivations are often predatory. (Some men’s motivations.) Until they grow out of it, until they get bored and find another interest in life. (Again, some men.)
I’m talking about bird-dogging. The guys entering into the discourse on Twitter aren’t saying bird-dogging is good or bad; they’re acknowledging that it exists and that it’s what Ansari was doing.
Bird-dogging is transactional behavior. It’s about seeing a target, going after it, getting satisfaction — a satisfaction that has nothing whatever to do with sex — and going on to the next one. That’s what Ansari was doing: getting Grace’s attention at the party, eyeing her, meeting her glance, texting her so she’d have a message from him by the time she got off the plane.
All that is a way of saying to Grace that he’s interested in her, curious about her, and because she’s young and naïve, she doesn’t know that all it really means is that she’s this week’s project. If she knew that, she wouldn’t have responded. And Ansari knows that. So he does his moves. He could have walked up to her at the party and said, “Hey, do you want to f*ck some time?” But he didn’t do that. That wouldn’t have been fun for him. That wasn’t what it was about. It was about suckering a young woman into thinking something else was going on. Why? I don’t know.
To men who collect women like this — and literature and popular culture are both full of them — the MeToo hashtag is threatening. They don’t want to see bird-dogging demonized. And the Ansari business is particularly threatening because they don’t want bird-dogging talked about and analyzed either. They think if it’s talked about, young women will get wise and stop being such easy targets.
Bird-dogging men want to be allowed to go on bird-dogging — doing it without interference or comment— anywhere they like, any time they like, even at the office, even when they’re supposed to be family men, even when they’ve made millions trading on their image as woke, sophisticated feminists and satirists — as, in other words, the very sort of guys who would treat a woman as a person and not as a configuration of dick-receptacles.
The men who are incensed by criticism of Ansari counter by accusing Grace of another sort of transactional behavior. That’s the fault of Babe and the reporter. The reporter didn’t bother to elicit anything about Grace’s motivation because she doesn’t see anything wrong with transactional behavior. (Neither does her editor, who didn’t see anything wrong with running a companion piece to the article about Grace on how much traffic the article about Grace had brought Babe.)
Because the reporter ascribed a shallow motivation to “Grace,” we’re beginning this story with a picture of Grace’s motives as transactional (she was “excited” by Ansari’s celebrity). That may or may not be true. I don’t think it is because of how things played out. If that had been all that was important to Grace, then anything that happened between her and Ansari would have been fine.
Alternatively, if Ansari had been just a guy she’d met about whom Grace knew nothing more than his manifest behavior in the moment, she would have ditched him much earlier. As Andrea Grimes pointed out, here on Medium, she didn’t not walk out earlier because Ansari was a celebrity, but because she was expecting the person he had pretended to be to make an appearance.
Grace thought Ansari was somehow not being himself with her because his behavior didn’t jibe with who he’d told her and everyone else he was. (I’m referring to his persona as a satirist and author, not the character he plays on television.) When she finally twigged to the fact that he was being himself, she left. But she was upset in the way people are always upset when they discover that something they took as genuine behavior was just someone manipulating them.
I think the two groups who are angry — the men who don’t want to have to give up bird-dogging and the women who, like Ashleigh Banfield, don’t want to listen to the younger women — are really in sympathy in a way. I think the women of our generation (and that’s tricky, because 3 or 4 years is a generation in terms of “feminism” and what we call it) also thought it was okay to approach sex in a purely transactional way. I mean, didn’t we make it all about orgasm?
That didn’t seem transactional to us. But in retrospect, maybe it was. Maybe we didn’t see this coming down the pike because there was a factor which we, in good faith, didn’t take into account — because our thinking is fundamentally less transactional than men’s. I’m talking about the bird-dogging again. I remember that coming as a surprise. I remember not having thought in those terms.
The women like us, who don’t want to hear from younger women that a “Grace” situation is bewildering, are fighting for the right to keep applauding ourselves for having fought for orgasm-equality — among many, many other things. The younger women writing on Twitter and in essays and blog posts about this, who identify with Grace, seem to be saying, “F*ck your orgasms. We thought relationships were supposed to be about more than that.”
It seems as though Grace is saying, “I thought it was going to be about a meeting of minds, and then maybe we’d have sex; so I was waiting for that guy to show up.”
W e who are of a generation for whom “I’m horny” passed for courtship — because we were all supposed to be equals — are saying, “No, no, it’s all about consent and empowerment and the right to say no. So you should have said no, and because you didn’t you’re sh*tting on our movement.”
Jessica Valenti sees that there’s a connection between Ansari and Weinstein because all of it’s about bird-dogging, about seeing women as trophies. Also, it’s about hypocrisy (which I think Ansari is certainly guilty of), which has been women’s chief enemy all along and the most effective weapon against us.
I think the piece by Molly Fischer in the Cut was a very quiet, gentle admonition, a suggestion that she wishes some of the older women like Banfield would shut the fuck up and listen to the younger women. What she did in that piece was to accuse — implicate — herself by describing her own transactional sexual behavior in early youth.
It sounded like she was likening herself to the bird-dogging men; and she was; but when you got to the end, you found out she was also comparing both herself and those men to the feminists who made sex transactional, too, because they made it all about orgasm and self-discovery.
I ’ve read a couple of things suggesting that guys behave aggressively about sex because they’re afraid of being “friend-zoned.” Last night, I went on a date with my husband, and after the movie and over dinner I ran this theory by him. He said that a guy who says he doesn’t want to be friend-zoned is really saying that not-being-aggressive hasn’t worked for him, hasn’t gotten him what he wanted. Which was to get laid.
And then I got it. “Friend-zoning” someone is the only polite way women have of telling a guy they’re not interested. It’s code for “No, I don’t want to get sexual with you.” So we’re back to the same thing: men being unwilling to take “no” for an answer.
What I want to know is what this bird-dogging is all about (and also whether it’s a purely het/cis phenomenon; and I don’t want to hear about that from Andrew Sullivan). And the guys who find this interesting and not threatening are among those who might tell us — or at least start a conversation about it. So I for one want to hear from them.