Playing the Blame Game: Consent Is Both Simpler and More Complicated Than You Think


He liked me. I liked him back. I exchanged my phone number for his beeper information, and it was a go. In the days of analog communication—before inboxes and DMs—that is what a hookup entailed. His responses to my pages were timely, and he didn’t mind spending countless hours discussing hip-hop. I was digging Ghostface. He preferred Akinyele. A week later, we shared a movie and a bite to eat. He opened doors and pulled out chairs.


“Pick whatever you want off the menu,” he said.

I did—because I always do. The 20-ounce rib eye was grilled medium well. The shrimp were finger-licking good.

“You’re an expensive date,” he joked. I chuckled, because I was often told that my appetite was pricey. On the ride home, I marveled at how the New York City skyline illuminated the dense air. I considered the type of magic a couple as dope as we were might create. I imagined our wedding party, outfitted in all black, and the beautiful brown babies we’d make. I probably had given them names at that point. I was 23 years old.

We traded verses from Wu-Tang Clan’s “Triumph”:

I bomb atomically
Socrates’ philosophies and hypotheses
Can’t define how I be dropping these mockeries
Lyrically perform armed robbery
Flee with the lottery
possibly they spotted me

And as the car rolled off the Queensboro Bridge, he rubbed his hand up my thigh. Then down. Then up again. He massaged around my crotch. I shifted in my seat. Repositioned my legs. Sat my purse in my lap. I did not utter a word—but neither did he. In that brief moment of nonverbal communication, so much was conveyed. I, at least, understood that he wanted to touch my leg and, likely, my pussy—and ole boy understood that he could.

And that’s where dudes get it twisted.

Many men presume that it is OK to project onto women their sexual impulses and violence in physical ways. And patriarchy is mostly to blame.


In this week’s episode of patriarchal fuckery, actor-comedian Aziz Ansari was accused of hypersexual insensitivity. A now exhaustively debated exposé published by online magazine Babe tells the story of an anonymous woman, given the pseudonym Grace, who claims to have found herself in a compromising position with the entertainer.

Allegedly, after a speedy dinner date, the 22-year-old woman accompanied Ansari to his apartment and engaged in mutual oral sex with him, after being “clawed,” fingered and pounced upon—and even after “getting up and moving and him following and sticking his fingers down [her] throat again.”


By her own admission, Grace acquiesced to sexual activity with Ansari, although she also acknowledges that she did not want to. The nature of what occurred between the two might not constitute sexual assault, but it puts the focus on fundamental glitches in modern dating and the normality of sexual misconduct.


Ansari quickly issued a statement emphatically stating that “by all indications [the encounter] was completely consensual,” likely because everything appeared OK to him. He does not readily recognize his overtures as inappropriate. His claim absolves him of any intent to cause harm—yet, by default, Grace is left to blame for her own distress.

A male acquaintance of mine who has asked to remain anonymous stated, “I would think that while the man is bearing all of the responsibility, she as a woman of agency and nonambiguity should advocate for herself and do what she has to in order to not let more bad happen.”


In an on-air attack, Wendy Williams blasted Grace: “Why didn’t you just bite it and leave? … Why didn’t you just grab your coat and leave, dummy?” Williams asked scornfully.

Perhaps they are all missing the point. Perhaps she liked him enough to renege on her usual self-standards. Perhaps she thought they’d make a good couple with beautiful babies. Perhaps she was a groupie. Who knows? What we do know is that Grace was physically violated well before she took a position, well before she was browbeaten into giving a blow job and well before she gave in. Much like what happened in my situation, the point of consent was bypassed. None was given, but even worse, none was sought. It was a non-muthafuckin-factor.


People must ask themselves why consent and communication are such an inconvenience.


We must also ask why we continue to court a tradition in which boys will be boys and men will be men, no matter their indiscretions, while women are held to a five-star standard of awareness, action and responsibility. We are centuries invested in men’s entitlement and audacity, and their retarded understanding of and disrespect for women’s bodily rights. We live in a society where patriarchy is well-established and chronically practiced.


Author Kiese Laymon, a professor of English and African-American studies at the University of Mississippi, asserted this idea in an interview:

The nation encourages boys and men to “get” sex from women by any means necessary. We are trained to believe “no” means “not yet.” And most of all, we are also trained not to care [for] or respect the millions of women who have taught us that consent is integral to healthy sex. We allow ourselves to be trained by patriarchy and not radical black feminism.


While many people are adamant about the conjecture that Grace should have acted differently, several publications—particularly The Guardian and The New York Times—ran pieces that also accused Grace of undermining the #MeToo movement and lamenting a failed come up. Scores of social media users have questioned her choice to perform and receive head—and then still call foul.

Far too many conflate Grace’s actions with permission, but that is a function of patriarchy. Giving in is not synonymous with giving consent—although sometimes it is entirely necessary. Being a black woman, in particular, has its cost. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, black women are affected by violence—physical and sexual—at a much higher rate than women of other races. Navigating common spaces as a black woman informs me that speaking up and taking agency is not always in my best interest. Revisiting my own situation proved this.


My date that long-ago night was amused by my subtle rejection. He thought I was being coy. He drove to the nearest Holiday Inn, parked, checked in, then returned for me, hotel key in hand. I finally found the words: “Nah, I’m good.”

To his surprise, I rebuffed his expectation. To my surprise, his demeanor changed; his jawbone stiffened and he shut down. He drove off. We rode along a vacant Queens Boulevard in a thick silence. “You good?” I asked.


“Nah,” he said. “It’s bitches like you that always shit on a good nigga that treats her right, but give ain’t-shit niggas the pussy.”

I asked to be let out of the car. He refused. At a red light, I opened the car door and let myself out—he got out, too. He followed me, apologized and insisted that I stop being dramatic and get back in the car. I refused. He hauled back and slapped the shit out of me. His handprint was pressed into the side of my face—literally. He rescued my body from the ground and whispered, “Get the fuck in the car and don’t say a word, before this shit gets worse.”


I got back into the car. He drove back to the hotel. He fucked me. I did not utter a word, and neither did he. What wasn’t said was thoroughly communicated.

Contrary to popular opinion, women can remain silent or vocal, stay put or take flight, hold out or put out, and still get screwed. Many times, our decision to do so boils down to matters of life or death, or both. Despite what Wendy Williams proclaims, it is far from easy to bite a man’s penis and flee from the scene without bodily harm. Yet with all things considered, women are still culpable for placing themselves in bad situations—men, not so much. That is patriarchy at work.


This worldview, this flawed attitude, is due for serious change. Pushing the narrative of consent and communication is not about an indictment of “all men” but, rather, about the predatory practice of too many. Consent isn’t about suppressing sexual energy; it’s about respecting a woman’s right to sexually engage on her terms. Communication cannot rest solely on a set of cues. And the work cannot be left solely to women and the #MeToo movement. The responsibility rests upon all of our shoulders, especially those of men. Yeah, #MenToo.

Ida Harris is savvy with standard English, but poetic with Black Vernacular. She will fuck up some Oxford commas. Her work is in DAME, Blavity, ELLE, Teen Vogue, USA Today, Black Enterprise. Holla.


Neo Haibane Renmei

If one person is gung ho and clearly looking for sex and thinks things are okay, then yes its on the other person to make expectations or refusals known.

Thats like saying its on the waiter or the chef to understand or pick up on my not wanting almonds on my salad then i blame them for not picking up on my cues or understanding me when i never clearly stated almonds are a no go and cant happen. Bring me almods anyways or try to upsell me on them, i stop it or i walk out.

Clear consent or go home. No time for games.