This week, Dahlia and Amy dig into the latest “feminist” backlash against the #MeToo movement in light of Babe.Net’s Aziz Ansari—a story which showed how a celebrity who banked on his male feminist allyship ultimately doesn’t want to respect boundaries around consent. Then they talk about the sentencing hearing for former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University physician Larry Nassar, who has pled guilty to child molestation, and the systemic failure of powerful organizations to protect the vulnerable. Plus, another Petty Political Pminute on Trump’s terrible tweet about this year’s Women’s March and the latest in the Mueller investigation.
WATCH: A quirky, fun rom-com in it’s third season, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, explores mental health issues in a way that’s not often portrayed on television. Bonus: the show is set in the San Gabriel Valley!
READ: The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett is a collection of short stories about real women who were in relationships with killers. It’s dark, but fascinating.
LISTEN: Reyna Tropical features the founder and editor of She Shreds magazine—the only publication focused on women guitarists and bassists—Fabi Reyna, and DJ and producer Nectali Diaz, aka Sumohair. Their latest track, “Niña,” should be looped forever and ever.
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DAHLIA: Welcome to Backtalk. This is the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Dahlia Grossman-Heinze, Senior Engagement Editor at Bitch Media.
AMY: And I’m Amy Lam, Contributing Editor at Bitch Media.
DAHLIA: Every episode of Backtalk starts off with our favorite pop culture moment. Amy, what has been your favorite pop culture moment?
AMY: Well, my favorite pop culture moment is kind of meta, and it’s really about the Bitch world, [laughing] actually. So, I’m not in the Bitch offices right now. I’m sitting back in my little recording closet in Mississippi. But the last time we were recording it up, I was in the Bitch office in Portland, Oregon, and we had–I know you remember this–we had to pause for a moment because there was like funny sounds coming from the next room, and it was actually Patricia Romero, our Community Programs Coordinator packing up Bitch orders with her tape gun.
DAHLIA: [laughs] Yeah!
AMY: And her tape gun was making funny noises. And our intrepid Producer Ashley was like why does this sound like farts?
DAHLIA: I know where you’re going with this!
AMY: I know you know where I’m going with this. And then we had this moment where I was like it’s OK that we’re hearing farts on our podcast because farting is feminist. And I think we all need to recognize that and hold that into our hearts. And it should be like a slogan that we wear on all of the t-shirts, on all of the stickers everywhere. I’m so tired of being worried that my farts are disruptive or unwelcomed.
AMY: So, my pop culture moment is about a moment that we had a couple of weeks ago [chuckles] and declaring once and for all that farting is feminist, and I’m here for it. [laughs]
DAHLIA: Amy, can I tell you? One time someone took the fall for my fart.
AMY: [screams] Oh my god!!!
DAHLIA: I was like 12 or something. I was hanging out with a bunch of other 12 year-olds, and we all were carrying something. And I leaned over to pick it up, [laughing] and I farted. And then everybody was like, “Who did that? Who did that? Who did that?” And I was like, all right Grossman, you’re just gonna be an adult. You’re gonna say you did it. And I was about to say, “It was me,” and then someone else was like, “It was me.” And I was like, whoa! Taking the fall.
AMY: Woooooooooow! Who was that hero?
DAHLIA: His name was Patrick.
AMY: Shout out to Patrick. Thank you.
AMY: But you enter a new age where like we are not ashamed to admit that we emit gasses.
DAHLIA: You know, we all have bodies. They’re all gross. Yeah, that’s what I’ve learned about, knowing a lot of medical students, is that everybody’s body is gross in the same and different ways. But all gross.
AMY: [laughing] OK. What is your pop culture moment?
DAHLIA: I’m a big fan of the show Grace & Frankie on Netflix, but I’m a huge fan more of Lily Tomlin who plays Frankie on Grace &Frankie. And Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda were on The Today Show promoting the fact that there’s a new season of Grace & Frankie, and here’s what happened.
[recorded clip starts with everyone laughing]
KATHIE LEE GIFFORD: You guys were real friends on and off camera, right?
HODA: How long have you two known each other?
LILY: 50 years.
HODA: Oh my god. Long time!
LILY: I knew you before your first facelift.
KLG: What? What did you say? I really did miss it.
JANE: Never mind.
KLG: I really did miss it.
LILY: Never mind. We don’t need to hear that.
LILY: I was just kidding.
JANE: I know.
KLG: Now we’re getting into it. People really do—
JANE: Who are you, Megyn Kelly?
LILY: Oh, that’s right. I forgot she was there.
DAHLIA: I love that so much because one, I love that it’s so clear that Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda are good friends. They’ve known each other for decades. But I also, like that they went on The Today Show, and they made fun of Megyn Kelly who hosts The Today Show.
AMY: I really, really, really appreciate this petty axe that you have to grind with Megyn Kelly.
DAHLIA: She’s bad. She’s a bad lady.
AMY: She is, but I love, every time there’s negative things about Megyn Kelly, you’re pouncing on it, right? Ready to let everybody know.
This is like a really great moment. I really love it too, and I really love seeing not just their pettiness but just seeing two older women on television with jobs and just being themselves and not having to, I don’t know, cater to some other type of gaze. Because you and I, we watch a lot of television, we watch a lot of films, and we’re always talking about representation. But I really feel like there’s a dearth of older women on screen.
AMY: We see old men all the time. We see old men looking like goblins, and it’s totally fine. They can age. You know what I’m saying? They can age and have all the wrinkles and everything, but I think for older women, I mean we’re speaking mostly about white women because there aren’t that many even older women of color on television or on movies, but they’re under a lot more pressure to age in a specific way. And it’s just great to see them on screen just being themselves and having fun and having jobs. I’m always about giving employment to people who are under-represented.
DAHLIA: Yeah, that reminds me of when Carrie Fisher was doing interviews about the Star Wars movie that she was in, and I remember someone asked her like, “Was it hard to convince you to get back into being Princess Leia?” And she was basically like, “No. Because it’s a job, and I’m a woman in Hollywood. And jobs aren’t everywhere for me.”
AMY: Exactly. So, and actually I’m super excited about the new season of their show, which name I’m blanking on. [laughs]
DAHLIA: Grace & Frankie.
AMY: Grace & Frankie. ‘Cause it started last week, right?
AMY: So, I’m really excited to binge the fuck out of it.
DAHLIA: Yeah, I’ve already seen all of it.
[cutesy bells ring]
AMY: We wanna try out a new segment where Dahlia and I argue about pop culture shit. [laughs] But the thing is that we haven’t thought of a good name for it yet. So, right now, it’s just going to be called Amy Versus Dalia. And in the first edition of Amy Versus Dalia what are we gonna do?
DAHLIA: I know it sounds like we’re—I mean we are very good friends—I know it sounds like we agree about everything, but Amy and I get into some arguments over Slack. And so, now we’re bringing them to your ears.
OK. What we’re gonna argue about is this: A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece for Bitch that is The Five Episodes You Need To Watch To Kickstart Your Obsession With Black Mirror. And the five episodes I picked were San Junipero, Hang the DJ, Black Museum, 15 Million Merits and Nose Dive. And Amy immediately got on Slack yell at me about how those were the wrong five choices.
AMY: Well, I’m going to expose Dahlia right now, OK?
DAHLIA: Don’t expose me! Oh god.
AMY: Because— I’m going to. Because she had to watch all the episodes before she chose these, OK?
DAHLIA: Well, that’s how I know they’re the five best ones to start your obsession.
AMY: [laughs] Oh my god. That’s such a fair argument.
AMY: So, I think my feeling about this was because a lot of these episodes that Dalia chose are from the newer seasons, and I am actually a stand of like the first season. I really loved the episodes that were more based in the UK or were more about English culture, I guess, or focused in that way. I felt like when it started to move over the pond and cast American actors, like the episode, let’s see the one—
DAHLIA: Nose Dive has American actors, yeah.
AMY: Yeah. Exactly. I was so annoyed with Nose Dive. It was just like too on the nose, I guess, pun intended. And I think that the reason for me that I felt like the first season was just impeccable, I felt like. And you did include one of the episodes from there, 15 Million Merits starring our super fave Daniel Kaluuya. But I think The National Anthem and The Entire History Of You were so smart and so well done. And the first season was the one that hooked me, and I think the first episode of the first season—the one with the pig; I’m not gonna say anymore in case nobody’s seen it—but I think it’s like speaking so much about culture and not so much about technology per se, but about how media permeates culture and how it drives us to feel certain things and not turn away even though we probably should and not want to watch things that are gratuitous. But I just love the first season. I think it’s just so smart.
And also, the first season was from 2011. So, I think I also, place my mind in thinking like well, what was the landscape like in 2011? And for that time, the shows that were aired then are so innovative and so interesting, and I think that’s why I was just like I was like your recs should include all of the first season, all the three episodes of the first season!
DAHLIA: Obviously, we’re at a stalemate between each other. And so, in our in our new arguing segment, the tiebreaker is going to be you, our listeners. So, we’re gonna embed a little way for you to vote on our post for this episode of Backtalk over at Bitch Media. And then hopefully, we’ll be able to read the results in our next episode and then argue about something else all over again. So, I don’t know how to summarize exactly our different arguments, but Amy’s argument is first season is what you need. And my argument is there are spread-out episodes that really capture the Black Mirror ethos that aren’t in the first season.
AMY: And also, an addendum to that is the second episode of the second season.
AMY: I just wanna say ‘cause these are from the early years: White Bear, it’s the one about the woman who wakes up, and she doesn’t know what the fuck is going on. Like if you’ve seen that episode, you know how fucking powerful and amazing that episode is. I’m just saying before it came over the pond to America and got sanitized, and the show got dumbed down I think. And this last season wasn’t that great. I’m just saying, OK, as like a weirdo person who loves this dystopic things onscreen because I’m like a masochist, I think. [laughs]
So, that’s why I love it so much, and so, please go to the Backtalk post on BitchMedia.org and let us know what you think.
DAHLIA: Yeah, it’ll say who is right, Amy or Dahlia?
DAHLIA: And you can only pick one.
[cutesy bells ring]
DAHLIA: In this week’s petty political p-minute, it’s gonna really be a p-minute because we’re so petty. I want to read this tweet from Donald Trump that he tweeted on Saturday, which was the anniversary of his inauguration. He was having a really shitty time because he wanted to go to his expensive fancy party at Mar a Lago, and he wasn’t able to do that because the government was shut down. And instead, he holed himself up in his room, was eating cheeseburgers, and was tweeting illogical things like this is what he tweeted as people were marching for the Women’s March: “Beautiful weather all over our great country, a perfect day for all women to march. Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones, an unprecedented economic success, and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years.”
DAHLIA: It’s almost enraging how he can just turn any goddamn thing and be like it’s because people love me. It’s because I’m loved. Everyone loves me. I mean, I know that he knows what the Women’s March is about. And just his ability, his propensity to just flip any goddamn thing into a lie. Millions of women, millions of people are marching because they hate me. Actually, it’s because they have great reasons to celebrate lowest female unemployment in 18 years.
And then in happy pettiness, we’ve learned this week that Jeff Sessions and James Comey have both been interviewed by Robert Mueller and his team of sleuths. And god, like fuck Jeff Sessions so much. I don’t know if I would be happy or sad if he flipped on Donald Trump in order to take a plea deal or whatever for himself. I hate Jeff Sessions so much. He is such a bad man, but I am hopeful that he’ll go to prison or at least suffer some horrible repercussions. But I’m happy that they are cooperating because maybe that means they’re really gonna flop on the big fish, Donald Trump.
[cutesy bells ring]
AMY: We wanna take a minute out right now to thank our listeners for leaving reviews and ratings on our iTunes page. It’s super helpful, and we love it. And I keep repeating, but let me repeat it though. I read them. I check them almost every single day. One of my recent faves is one from user name Lily Lily Lily Lily Lily. And she says, “This podcast is light and serious and relevant and diverting in all the right places. Thank you for existing.”
My favorite part about that comment is the mentioning of how we’re perfectly diverting. I think sometimes we do need to disassociate for a moment and not think about what a terrible, fucked up place the world can be sometimes. And I find solace in also, divisions from other people and other podcasts. So, to hear that somebody’s getting that from us meant a lot to me to hear. So, thank you so much, and please write and review Backtalk on iTunes and other places, but more specifically iTunes ‘cause it really helps us with people finding our podcast.
DAHLIA: And I also, wanted to mention our Pollinator level of the B-hive at Bitch Media. So, at Bitch Media we are fully reader-, listener-, watcher-supported, and one of our levels of our membership program is called the Pollinator level. It’s just $8 a month, and for that $8 you get a subscription to Bitch, you get a mug, you get a sticker, and it’s the level of the B-hive that supports our podcasts.
And so last episode Amy was saying if you think about it, it’s like buying one of us a burrito a month. But if you think about it, you know $8 a month is less than Netflix, and you get a year subscription to Bitch, you get all of our podcasts, you support our work. And so, I know that folks are readily parted with their Netflix money, and so just consider this something exactly like that, you know? This is your Pollinator, your Bitch money.
AMY: And also, I was thinking more about this ‘cause maybe some of our listeners don’t know this, but like you’re saying, we’re completely supported by folks who listen or read or watch our content. But their level is called Pollinator, and it was made specifically for our podcast listeners. So, it’s like out of the B-hive because I think that [laughing] whenever we get paystubs, it says B-Word International. Isn’t that what that says on our pay stubs?
DAHLIA: Yeah, yeah.
AMY: Because I think it’s like not cool to say Bitch on our paystubs.
AMY: So, we have the B-hive because it’s like you know, we work for the B-Word, I guess. And so, there are different levels, and the Pollinator level, there’s also, like Honey Bee, I think. I’m forgetting all the other level, names of the other levels, but there are different levels like Honey Bee, Spelling Bee, Bumble Bee. But the Pollinator level is specifically for our podcast listeners. So, when people subscribe through that level, it’s a way of showing Bitch that we’re important to you and that this is something that we’re making just for you and that you’re listening. And we really, really appreciate it.
DAHLIA: And if you wanna get in the B-hive, you can go to bitchmedia.org/pollinators.
[cutesy bells ring]
DAHLIA: The first thing we’re gonna talk about this week is some of the backlash that’s been going on to the Me Too movement, specifically around the story about Aziz Ansari that was reported on a website called Babe. For those of you who haven’t been closely following the Aziz Ansari story, this is sort of an abbreviated version of events. A woman was interviewed by the website Babe. This woman didn’t approach Babe. Babe had sort of heard about this story through networks. And so, they asked her if she wanted to speak about it with them. And she did. The woman’s name is Grace, but that is her anonymous name.
So, Grace met Aziz Ansari at a party. They made a date to hang out in New York. They went out to dinner. They went back to his apartment. And once they were in his apartment, he set up situations in which it was obvious that his intentions were to have sex. He took off his clothes. He tried to take off her clothes. He was moving his hand to her genitals. He was touching her. And all the while, the woman, Grace, was giving him verbal and non-verbal cues that she didn’t want to continue, that she didn’t want to engage in sexual activity. So, she moved his hands away, she physically got up and moved away from him, she said like, “Hey, can we stop and chill? Hey, can we like, just not right now. Maybe another time.” So, she was giving indications both with her body language and her words that she wasn’t interested in continuing. And Aziz Ansari essentially didn’t stop trying to create a sexual situation.
So, even when she said like, “Hey, let’s just stop and chill out for a second,” he’d say, “Oh, sure, sure, sure.” And then he would try to make her perform oral sex on him, or he would go back to touching her in a sexual way, essentially ignoring, refusing to respect and listen to her wishes, both her clear nonverbal communication and her verbal communication.
And there has been a lot of backlash to this piece published at Babe for lots of different reasons. Some of the backlash has been around the reporting of the piece. Essentially, some prominent journalists have been making the argument that in the New York Times Me Too reporting or the New Yorker Me Too reporting that’s going on, that’s so important, one of the reasons why these cases and these stories are so impactful is the amount of meticulous research and reporting that goes into those kinds of articles. And journalists have been saying that it’s clear that Babe didn’t do that kind of vetting. For instance, they didn’t allow Aziz Ansari more than five hours to respond to the piece. There is some wording in the piece that’s sort of like a mix between is this like a nonfiction like personal essay? Is this a reported piece? Is this an interview? There is some sort of haziness around there. And so, that kind of backlash, I think, makes a lot of sense because it’s so important for people to know what goes into journalism, especially in this era where people think journalism is just lies and garbage.
But there have been some other backlash that I think is off the wall, I guess, specifically I’ll start with Bari Weiss at the New York Times. Some of these people have actually, some of these people that I’m going to accuse of being bad backlashers, have actually written more than once about this particular story. But over at the New York Times, Bari Weiss wrote a piece. Its headline is Aziz Ansari Is Guilty Of Not Being A Mind Reader. And I’m just gonna read her starting paragraph of that piece.
“I’m apparently the victim of sexual assault. And if you’re a sexually active woman in the 21st century, chances are that you are too. That’s what I learned from the exposé”—and exposé is in quotes, like allegedly an exposé”—of Aziz Ansari published last weekend by the feminist website Babe, arguably the worst thing that has happened to the Me Too movement since it began in October. It transforms what ought to be a movement for women’s empowerment into an emblem for female helplessness.”
And that’s really the theme of these other pieces. Andrew Sullivan over at New York Magazine, even Margaret Atwood has written a piece about how she thinks Me Too has gone too far. Caitlin Flanagan over at The Atlantic has written two pieces about Aziz Ansari specifically. And if I can sort of summarize their points, it’s victim blaming. It’s why didn’t this woman leave this situation? Why didn’t she get up? Why didn’t she call her own cab? Why didn’t she put her own clothes on? If you go home with a with a man to his apartment, obviously he thinks he wants to have sex with you. Don’t be in that situation if you don’t wanna have sex. You know like over and over, these framings of what happened that put the onus and the responsibility on the encounter on the woman as if it is her responsibility to make sure that she isn’t preyed upon by another person.
Essentially, the argument again and again is don’t make yourself a victim. It’s exactly like what Bari Weiss says at the very end of her piece: This should be about women’s empowerment, but actually it’s about female helplessness.
AMY: Their writing these pieces from like a bad-faith position in that they already have— I mean, these aren’t their first critiques of the Me Too movement or of feminism in general and the direction that modern feminism is heading. These are two writers that are known to sort of have, I guess in a way, have feminist values but also, undermining feminists.
AMY: Especially younger feminists. And I think that the piece from Caitlin Flanagan, I remember reading that in her piece she kind of alluded to being—‘cause she’s a little older and she was a teenager in the ‘70s—but she alluded to that like, you know in my time women were taught that if you didn’t wanna do something, then you just fucking hit a dude and get the fuck out of there. Like, we were not staying around for that shit. And I don’t know if that’s true all the way, you know! [laughs]
And the other thing is that I read a critique of that, and one of the critiques of that positioning is that you know, back in the ‘70s, I think that in mainstream culture for young women, for young white women in particular, they had to protect their purity. And there’s this notion of you shouldn’t fuck around. You need to save it for your husband. I think that was a more accepted idea of how women should behave. So, maybe if it’s true that at that time the young women were more physically assertive in these types of situations, in a way, they had more at stake because they could be like ruining their “entire reputations” or whatever. But that’s still bullshit.
Even with that background, that’s still fucking bullshit. I refuse to fucking believe that every woman, every young woman in the ‘70s when she was a teenager would just fucking sock dude in the face if they tried to coerce a young woman into sex. That’s just not true, you know? If that were true, then we wouldn’t be at the moment that we are in now because like a news-fucking-alert, if we’re talking about a sexual abuse or sexual assault or harassment of young women, a lot of these things were happening in the ‘70s and ‘80s at the time that you’re talking about where women would just shove guys off.
There was this clip, I don’t know if you saw it, that happened recently where Sharon Stone is being interviewed.
DAHLIA: Oh, yeah!
AMY: It’s an amazing clip! And I’m not even sure why she’s being interviewed. She’s in a new movie, and the male interviewer asks her like, “Hey, have you ever faced sexual harassment while you were working?” And Sharon Stone like in her glory just like sat back in her chair and laughed for a full, I wanna say like, 30 seconds. Because she’s just like she’s incredulous. She’s just like, “Honey, think about it. Look at me. I arrived here from Bumfuck, Pennsylvania or whatever to Hollywood. I had no protection. What the fuck do you think?” What a dumb fucking question, you know?
AMY: She’s been in this industry for a really long time, for decades, at this very same time that Caitlin Flanagan claims that like a time where young women just shove motherfuckers away. It’s just not true. And so it’s intellectually dishonest and being done in bad faith that you would say that, for this young woman, she’s not claiming that she was raped or had any I guess criminally-chargeable type of assault on her, but she was claiming that she was in a really fucked-up situation where a guy with power, this celebrity with tons of money and tons of access to any type of protection he would need, tried to really coerce her into doing things that she didn’t want to do after she repeatedly told him, “I don’t want to do this.” And it’s speaking to larger rape culture, and it’s also, speaking to the fact that I think the reason why this story went so viral even though I agree that the story had issues, is because as Aziz Ansari has positioned himself on his own. Nobody forced him to, but he’s positioned himself as a male ally to feminists. I think he’s even claimed that he’s a feminist because at one point, he had a partner who was a big feminist and had taught him the ways or whatever. Obviously, he is since no longer with this partner, but that’s actually what he’s banked on.
A Master of None? That’s like the jam on that show was he had whole episode that was devoted to talking about, “Wow, women get harassed all the time!” He created a platform where he was like, “Look! I’m a dude, and I’m conscientious of this shit.” And yet, just last year he was pulling this shit where he was trying to take advantage of a young woman who is aware of these power dynamics. So, I think that we just can’t look at this story in a vacuum of like, oh, this young woman just had a bad date with this powerful guy that she maybe had a crush on. It isn’t as simple as that. You cannot flatten it to be as simple as that. Because we’re having a moment here where we’re seeing all of the consequences of, and all of the call outs of men who have been systemically abusing marginalized people in their industry. And so, this isn’t happening in this small vacuum where like these are just two people who we don’t know about. No, it’s fucking Aziz Ansari. He wrote an entire fucking book talking about relationships, for fuck’s sake called Modern Romance about how relationships work in the modern times.
So, it’s disingenuous to make this argument that like oh, it’s just a bad date. Why are you putting this guy on blast and ruining his career when you should just chalk it up for like, this is just your bad decision, and you should’ve just left his house or whatever? But it’s just not true! It’s just simply, the entire argument against having stories like this come out is unproductive.
DAHLIA: What Caitlin Flanagan actually said, here let me just read her sentence. “But as far as getting away from a man who was trying to pressure us into sex we didn’t want, we were strong.” And that sentence enrages me obviously, as it clearly enrages you. It’s so, I mean exactly, it’s so disingenuous, and it puts us all in this paradigm that is bolstered by pop culture, that is bolstered by these pundits, that is essentially like well, what do you expect? It’s a man. What do you expect? It was a naked man. You went on a date with him. What did you expect? All of this framing over and over that says it is this party’s responsibility to protect themselves at all times, rather than saying it is the responsibility of this person to listen and respect and acknowledge what a potential romantic partner is saying to him. And I wanted to play this little clip also, from Ashley Banfield. She is an anchor at HLN, and she actually delivered an open letter to Grace, the woman who went on a date with Aziz Ansari.
[recorded clip] ASHLEY: But let’s take a moment to reflect on what you claim was the “worst night of your life.” You had a bad date. Your date got overly amorous. After protesting his moves, you did not get up and leave right away. You continued to engage in the sexual encounter. By your own clear description, this was not a rape, nor was it a sexual assault 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. Is that what victimized you to the point of seeking a public conviction and a career-ending sentence against him? Is that truly what you thought he deserved for your night out?
DAHLIA: What really gets me about this clip is what she says at the very end, that Grace was looking for a “public conviction and a career-ending sentence.” And I find that so telling because it’s clear that in this Me Too moment, people are struggling to differentiate between legal definitions of assaults and harassment and abuse, and behavior that is inappropriate and exploitive and predatory. So, it may be what does Aziz Ansari did wasn’t illegal, but it was certainly inappropriate. It was certainly coercive. It was certainly like, that’s not an acceptable situation within a sexual dynamic for someone to say, “I don’t wanna do this. I don’t wanna do this,” and for the other person to be like, “Oh, cool. But can we do it now? Can we do it now? What about like this?”
And for Ashley Banfield to sort of frame this as in legal terms by saying this is a conviction and a career-ending sentence, first of all those are legal terms. Neither of those things have happened, or probably are going to happen, to Aziz Ansari. He’s not gonna be tried. He’s not gonna be convicted. He’s not gonna get a sentence. And maybe his career is taking a hit right now, but he is an Emmy-winning actor and creator. He has a book. He has standup specials. He has a TV show. He has a whole career. What does Grace have? Grace is a decade younger than Aziz Ansari. She is a photographer trying to make it in an adjacent industry, the entertainment industry. To sort of frame this as nothing more than a date totally ignores the dynamics that existed in that room, which is age dynamics, power dynamics. I just…. I mean I guess it’s shocking but not surprising that again and again ,there will be people and women who line up to say, “Well, I wouldn’t have done that. Well, I know to sock a guy in the face. I know how to call a cab,” and just sort of flip that around and put the blame at Grace’s feet and say, “Well, if you didn’t want to have sex, why did you go on a date with him?”
AMY: OK. I’m just having so many feelings from that fucking clip because this notion, I wanna get back to this notion that it’s career-ending. The thing is that, like I said already, he fucking built his career/brand on this, on these very specific things of looking at gender and relationships, OK? So, if anything, I’m sure like a few years from now, shit’s gonna quiet down; he’s gonna come out with another book about the lessons he learned from this and make more money from it. Because when we’re talking about career-ending, we’re talking about his ability to make money off of this. But he has already made a ton of money off of being an ally. So, God forbid that he takes a little bit of a dip in this because of this. But I think that, I hate using the word like sacrifice. But in this instance, like it could be a time where the story had to be about him so that we could have larger conversations about rape culture, about coercion.
And I think the other reason why the story became such a big deal is because so many women and so many people read that story and were like, “I’ve been in that room with that guy, you know? It wasn’t fucking Aziz Ansari. It was like my ex-partner, or it was just this guy I hooked up with. Or it was my friend’s friend that I hung out with one night.” Like many of us have been in that room and have been in that situation, and I think that we just haven’t openly talked about what does true and firm consent look like versus coercion. And maybe it’s shitty that like yeah, sure, the things that Aziz did in his apartment are not criminal liabilities or whatever, but they kind of elucidate a larger problem with—I don’t wanna say a larger problem with our hookup culture—but a larger problem with how we treat each other when we talk about consent. And I think that if this is what it takes really start that conversation, then I’m sorry if Aziz Ansari’s books don’t sell as much anymore for the time being. Because historically, if we know anything, oftentimes men are able to jump right back up from these situations and just have to chill for a minute. I mean for fuck’s sake, isn’t Bill Cosby doing a comedy special? I read something about how he got signed on to do a comedy special soon. Are you for serious!? So, I don’t feel sorry for Aziz Ansari in this situation because he already made a ton of money off of this, off of the type of sentiment that had built Me Too into the movement that it is.
DAHLIA: And I think, Amy, the point that you’re making about our ideas around relationships or how to engage in sexual behavior, you know, I think it’s so important. Like you and I are obsessed with pop culture. But I mean even for people who aren’t obsessed with pop culture, just like in your brain just think about the kinds of representations you’ve seen in which men or boys want to have sex, and maybe a woman or a young girl doesn’t want to have sex. I’ve been thinking, all this time, I’ve been thinking about the song from Grease, Summer Lovin’. Amy, you know Grease?
AMY: Yes, yes.
DAHLIA: OK, good.
AMY: [singing] Summer lovin’, I love you so much. I don’t know the words. I just know the melody! [laughs]
DAHLIA: OK. The part that I remember is when all the dudes are hanging out at the bleachers, and they’re all like, “Tell me more. Tell me more. Did you get very far?” But then here’s what I remember specifically, “Tell me more. Tell me more. Did she put up a fight?” And there are so many times in pop culture where male sexuality or the relationship between men and women, like a sexual dynamic between men and women, is framed as like oh, women don’t wanna have sex. Women want to be convinced or coerced to have sex. In order to have sex, she’ll put up a fight, but probably you’ll be able to overcome that. And then she’ll be glad that you guys did have sex, or maybe she won’t be glad. But who cares? Because the dynamic is a woman says no, and a man convinces her to say yes. And that’s so troubling. I mean, Grease is just like the most egregious example that I have in my head. But there are—
AMY: No, we see it we see it all the time!
DAHLIA: Exactly. It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere.
AMY: You just watch the— I mean, Game of Thrones is probably a bad example, ‘cause there’s so sexualized violence in it. But Khaleesi is raped by Khal Drago at the beginning, and then she ends up falling in love with him.
DAHLIA: Right, right.
AMY: But the thing about that situation is that it’s not unique to Game of Thrones. We literally see it all the time, like a woman being like, “Oh no!” It just happened. I was watching one of the Indiana Jones movies.
DAHLIA: Oh no!
AMY: And she’s like, “Oh, no, don’t kiss me!” And all the sudden, she’s like, “Fucking kiss me!” It’s just one of those things where that’s just how I think we’ve been socialized to think. I mean I think for young men that think that’s how women are romanced. You know, you have to convince/coerce her and that her first “no” is not a real no. And then maybe to an extent, young women have been socialized to think that I have to say no first, but I don’t mean it.
But I really think that as we move on in time, often when young women say no, we fucking mean it. But men are still not hearing that. And that’s the troubling part ,and I think that in this situation like this, it’s like this is starting a conversation I think is so important to have.
DAHLIA: This is totally reminding me of what happened at Yale, in case anyone doesn’t believe us that this this attitude is just out there everywhere. It’s everywhere. It’s at Yale. There was a frat that got banned because they were marching around Yale’s campus chanting—and this is disgusting, so I’m so sorry—chanting, “No means yes. Yes means anal.” And that’s a real thing.
DAHLIA: That’s a real thing. And so, yeah, just think about that, that that’s the way so many people are reared in this culture: This idea that no does not mean no, and it is like your task or it’s to overcome the no to get to a yes. And that’s how sexual behavior happens.
AMY: [heavy sigh and pause] Anyways. All I wanna say is fuck those white ladies—
AMY: —that were blaming Grace for being in that apartment with Aziz Ansari. And also, just fuck Aziz Ansari too. I don’t really have any closing words! [laughs] I think the reason why I’m also, upset with Aziz Ansari is because he released a statement after the Babe piece came out, and there were no apologies in it because he literally cannot. I think he literally cannot publicly apologize ‘cause then he could maybe be sued or something. But I really hope that he’s doing some work on himself to really think about his behavior. And then I hope that this makes other people reflect on their own behavior and how they treat other people even if they’re not famous television stars, but how they treat other people in their own lives when it comes to situations like this.
DAHLIA: Yeah, no is not a pathway to a yes.
[cutesy bells ring]
AMY: In our next segment, we’re going to talk about Larry Nassar, who is the former USA gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor. So, this is a dude who has actually pled guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct, and he’s actually already been sentenced to 60 years for child porn charges. But right now, he is in another sentencing period for some fucked up shit that he did. He has charges from at least 150 women who are his patients because he is known to be a renowned doctor for USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State. So, as part of his plea deal— And the thing about him is that I had not heard about him. I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know that he was even on trial or even going to be sentenced or anything. But obviously he avoided trial because he made a plea deal. And as part of his plea deal is that he has to sit in the courtroom and listen to victim impact statements. And this is finally when we’re hearing about this. This is like finally when I think mainstream news media is putting their cameras in the courtroom and getting video and photos of him and who this guy is.
So, what’s happening is that originally there were 98 women who range from track and field folks to a former gymnast or even present-day gymnast, and they were scheduled to speak. And the victim impact statements are being aired; you can watch them being streamed. So, these women have come forward; they’re putting their face and their names out there to directly address this guy and to address the court and to convince the judge give him a harsh sentencing because of what he’s done to them. And to listen to these these women recount the blatant abuse that he perpetrated on them is so heartbreaking. And so, originally there were 98 women who were scheduled to speak, but that number has grown to 144 women and continues to grow more every day when women like, more survivors are getting the strength to know want to go up to speak.
So, the judge is listening to the statements to decide how she will sentence him. And I think that the wild thing is a lot of us hadn’t heard that much about this or the case against him, but he had been molesting and abusing children, essentially, for more than two decades. And even high-profile athletes have come out to say that he was abused by him, including USA national gymnastics team members who just recently competed in the Olympics like McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Maggie Nichols, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and Jordyn Wieber. In McKayla Maroney’s case, she had actually made a settlement deal with USA Gymnastics. And in that deal, she had to sign a NDA. And recently, Chrissy Teigen, who’s a really good Twitter user—
DAHLIA: Yeah, queen of the Internet, Chrissy Teigen.
AMY: Yes. [chuckles] She tweeted out that if McKayla Maroney wanted to make a statement at this victim impact sentencing thing, she would have been charged $100,000 for violating her NDA from her settlement. And Chrissy Teigen was like, this is fucked up, and also, I will pay this $100,000 if she wants to speak. And so, the USA Gymnastics organization was so fucking embarrassed they had to be like, “No, actually, McKayla can speak if she wants to. We won’t charge her the fine.” But it took Chrissy Teigen fucking tweeting about it, I think, to pressure them to do this.
And the way that I feel that way is because last week Aly Raisman made a statement in court, and her statement is so, I feel like, empowering because a lot of these other women, I think they’re still processing this or still going through this. And they’re all very hurt by this, and they’re recounting in detail the abuse that they faced from this guy. And in Aly Raisman’s case, she just went in full blast. She had no fucks to give. She didn’t just call out Nassar for the fucking abuse that she faced by him, but she called out the system that allowed that abuse happen and to flourish and allow this motherfucker to continue to work and abuse these young girls and women. She called out whole organizations like the USA Gymnastics. And she made a point to say that USA Gymnastics, they capitalize on her labor but then refuse to protect them as people who were being abused. And it’s come out more than a dozen women have told coaches, athletic trainers, and psychologists about Nassar’s abuse, some as early as 1997. But none of their complaints were taken seriously. And I think that this just really goes to show how systems allow institutionalized abuse of marginalized people. In this case, it’s young women.
And I think what’s also, so glaring to me is that I actually love watching the Olympics. I love watching gymnastics too because it’s such a wildly impossible thing to do, the things that they do with their bodies. And it’s glorious to watch the work that they are able to perform. And for me to think back about all the times that I’ve watched Olympics as a little girl, to being a young woman, to being an adult, and to think that— I bet a lot of these women, like the majority of them, had been abused by him, yet they had to push through it and still compete and be elite athletes. And that breaks my heart because they work so hard, and they got to stand on podiums to represent the United States of America while the organization that was supposed to protect them and watch out for them didn’t represent them at all and let this fucking monster continue to work with them and molest them in plain view in front of people.
I watched one of the victim impact statements, and I think this is like sort of as an example of his behavior and how he actually abused folks, he would be doing a treatment and he would assault these young women in front of like if there was a mother in the room. And the mother would be unaware of it because the child would have a towel over them or something. And he would kind of just do it very quickly. But he had no fear because he knew he had whole organizations protecting him, and he got away with it. And he abused at least 150 women, the 150 women who are willing to put their names and faces up to speak out against him. So, I can’t imagine how many more are uncomfortable or are unwilling to speak out against him.
DAHLIA: Right. I’ve also, been watching a lot of the testimony against Larry Nassar, and I was really struck by one person who spoke who was just a family friend of his, not involved in gymnastics, just grew up with his family, who said, “I’ve been coming for you for a long time.” And she said that she had reported him to the police more than once, that she had testified against him so that he could lose his medical license. Just to think about that’s just one person, right, who has reported him at least three times, if not more than that. The idea that all of these girls, all of these women were speaking out and that there were these structures in place to be like, “Go away.” You know, these structures that shut them out, that ignored what they were saying.
I read this fact about McKayla Maroney. It’s just heartbreaking. McKayla Maroney has said that she was sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar before she won her Olympic medal in London, when she competed. And like—
DAHLIA: I know! It’s like, you know that people had to know. And we know that because all of these women are saying, “I told people!” And all of these other officials are saying, “Look. Oh, this was reported to me.” Like all of these levels failed these girls and these women. And I’ve been thinking also, about the Jerry Sandusky scandal because it’s also, related to sports and young people. And you know, to think about how big of a scandal Jerry Sandusky was, which of course, he should have been, and he’s an absolute monster. But Larry Nassar assaulted at least 150 people. And I know that it’s more than that because people who are predators prey for lifetimes. And ostensibly, this is one of the largest sexual assault, the largest sports scandal of all time. And over here at Bitch headquarters, we’ve been talking a lot about how little people are paying attention to it. And I know that we live in this wild world where is there a missile headed to Hawaii? We’re not sure. So, I understand that the news landscape is very different, but it again underscores how little, culturally, we care about the suffering and the treatment and the abuse of girls that there are 150 at least victims, and this is hardly being covered.
AMY: And I think that there’s also, more of a silo-ing happening because just like, “Oh, well, these are all athletes, or they’re Olympic stars.” I think that makes people feel like. “Well, I’m not really at risk of being in the hands of monsters like that.” But if you think about it, it’s like if Olympic stars are being abused freely, and the organizations that are supposed to protect them are not protecting them, then who can be fucking protected? Right? And I think that this is just really troubling because yes, Larry Nassar’s a motherfucking monster who— I do wanna say that the judge in this case, Judge Rosemary Aquilina, she goes off on the court in court. Because Larry Nassar’s because such a fucking self-centered, arrogant monster that he wrote a letter to the judge proclaiming that this has kind of become a “media circus,” and that it’s actually being negatively impacting his mental health, having to sit there for all these hours to watch this.
DAHLIA: Oh my god, yeah.
AMY: And I literally this she wanted to say, “Fuck you,” but she can’t ‘cause she’s a judge.
AMY: But she just say fuck you in her own way. And she’s saying you have fucked up so many lives. Just shut the fuck up and sit there and listen to these victim impact statements. These women who are doing something that’s like, I don’t imagine is very easy to do.
DAHLIA: Yeah, and that’s something that the judge didn’t have to do, the judge didn’t have to allow. The judge is allowing anyone who wants to give a victim impact statement, whether or not it’s related to the charges that he’s facing. Anyone can come and make a statement, and that’s not something that the judge had to do. And we’ve both been watching these statements. It’s really clear that the judge cares. She’s been having a little bit of conversation with the survivors as they come forward. She’s been congratulating them and saying that she’s listening to them, and she’s paying attention. And I mean I think that’s really meaningful and really powerful, and I hope it’s really meaningful and powerful to the survivors. But again, to say that this is an anomaly; this isn’t something that happens every day where a judge is like, “No, you need to listen to every person that wants to tell you how you hurt them.”
AMY: And I think it’s important to see that these young women are getting the opportunity and that they can, and they’re you’re using it. But I think that it’s also, important to acknowledge that this guy wasn’t able to get away with this on his own.
AMY: And I think this case really speaks to how systems and institutions will always protect their own interests before anything else to the point where they will allow a dude like this to abuse and fuck up so many young women. And the thing is that they allowed it because apparently “his science” and his ability to be a good doctor and to treat his patients was worth it. Like it was a good trade or whatever. But this is not how any of that works. Yes, McKayla Maroney still won a medal, like right after she was fucking abused by this dude. But at what cost? What’s that medal going to do for her mental health? What’s any of these awards going to do for any of these women’s mental health, you know, even if they see this guy go away forever? Because in the end, they know that this institution that was supposed to protect them, be it USA Gymnastics or be it Michigan State University, or be it like a family friend who trusted him and trusted these institutions, they all let these people down and let these young women down, no less.
And I know it’s important to focus on how this guy’s a fucking monster, but we also, need to talk about how there were systems in place that protected him and let him do this for decades. And these systems and institutions need to take responsibility. And it really goes to show how the USA Gymnastics kind of didn’t give a fuck because it’s only just recently that people have resigned from positions or fired other folks.
[cutesy bells ring]
DAHLIA: At the end of every episode, we share something we are reading, watching, and listening to. Amy, what is your watch pick?
DAHLIA: So, my watch is a show with a problematic name. It’s Crazy Ex-girlfriend. [laughs] So, actually, the show is in its third season. and I watched the first season when it was airing. And I caught up on the second season because the first and second season are on Netflix. So, full disclosure, I definitely began watching it because the show is set in West Covina, which is—
AMY: [laughs] So, you guys are gonna hear about how much, why I love this show. But it’s ‘cause it’s set in West Covina, which is a suburb east of L.A. And it’s near where I grew up, so I definitely have a soft spot in my heart because it’s like repping the San Gabriel Valley. Which is, the San Gabriel Valley is so slept on when it comes to L.A. And it’s a great place to grow up, and it has such good food.
Anyway, [laughs] let me get back on topic. But the show is like a rom-com musical show, if you haven’t seen any of it yet. And it’s centered around the central character. Her name is Rebecca Bunch. And it’s a lot about how she’s a very competent attorney, and she moves across the country to pursue her relationship with her first love. But it’s really about, on the surface of the show, it’s about her trying to find fulfillment through relationships/men. But as the show goes on, as viewers, we’re becoming more and more aware that it’s really like her self-destructive behavior is really about her mental health. And I just finished watching the second season, and I’m really looking forward to starting the third season. I think they get into more her mental illness.
But as I was watching the second season, I really had like an aha moment because a lot of her really obsessive and unproductive behaviors mirrored so much of my own when I feel like my life is out of control, or if I’m having anxiety. The only difference is I’m not chasing after a person, right? So, I think that her behavior is a manifestation of her mental illness, and I think that to they do delve into it more in the third season, which I haven’t watched yet. So, even though my description’s kind of heavy, but it’s a really fun show. It’s got great music and good songs in it. And I think you just have to give it time for the story to unfold, and I’m grateful that the show has so many seasons to do it. And also, Rachel Bloom, who plays Rebecca Bunch, is so talented. She’s the show creator, writer, and she stars in it.
And the show is also, co-created and written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who adapted the screenplay for one of my favorite films of all time, The Devil Wears Prada.
DAHLIA: No, I love that too. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
AMY: Yeah. So, this was like a dream team ‘cause Rachel Bloom, she’s so good on the show. And I know that some people are turned off by the title of the show, but give it a chance. And I think especially for folks who have mental health issues, we can watch somebody work it through and see how it happens. And she’s a really flawed and imperfect character. And I kind of really appreciate that about her. So, check it out.
DAHLIA: My read pick is a collection of short stories. It’s called The Love Of A Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett. And all of the short stories are about real women who were in relationships with murderers and various other kinds of bad men.
AMY: Oh my god!!!! Yes!
DAHLIA: [laughs] So, some of the women: Eva Braun who was in a relationship with Hitler; Marceline Baldwin, who was the wife of Jim Jones, who was a cult leader; Wanda Barzee, who was married to Brian David Mitchell—they were the kidnappers of Elizabeth Smart—and Karla Homolka, who was married to Paul Bernardo. They were serial killers in Canada. There are a few other women in the book. but those are the ones that grabbed me. Nothing is connected about these stories other than that they are about women who love bad men.
And the tone is different in each one, and sort of the amount that these women care or understand or are interested in their crimes or the crimes of the man that they love, all really vary. Like for instance, Eva Braun is not interested at all in anything that Hitler does. She just wants to shop and ski.
DAHLIA: I was just so drawn in by this book and just this idea. And I had to read, at the back there’s a little bibliography, to learn more about these cases but also, with little biographies about the actual women in case you’re not familiar as you read through, which I found very helpful. But it’s just like so— Obviously, it’s quite a dark book but a really fascinating subject to think about: like why it is that people become emotionally or romantically involved with killers and bad men.
AMY: [laughs] I was gonna say—I don’t know why but—I was gonna say story of my life! But it’s really not. My partner [laughs, the rest is inaudible]—
DAHLIA: No, they’re quite bad. These are quite bad men quite bad.
AMY: [continues laughing] So. So! Onto my music picks. I found this track because Bitch contributor, longtime Bitch contributor, Emily Prada wrote a piece for a new NPR segment called Alt Latino, and it’s under the Songs We Love section. And it’s featuring Reyna Tropical, which is made up of Fabi Reyna, who is the founder and editor in chief of She Shreds, which is the only magazine in the world that’s focused on women guitars and bassists. And it’s her with deejay and producer Nectali Diaz, who’s also, known as Sumohair. So, this track is called Niña, and I really just love the repeated arpeggio over the reggaetón beat. It’s such a nice, soothing listen to our fucked up, chaotic times. So, please check this out. This is Reyna Tropical. Thanks for listening.
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening.
[Niña plays, lyrics in Spanish]
Thanks for listening to backtalk. This show is produced by Ashley Duchemin. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show in our work, please head over to bitchmedia.org and donate.