Ansari Isn’t The First Victim Of #MeToo Revenge Porn, But He Should Be The Last

Ansari Isn’t The First Victim Of #MeToo Revenge Porn, But He Should Be The Last

Is it just bad when men do it? Or is it just bad when women do it to men who aren’t elected Republicans?
Mary Katharine Ham
By

The intimate details of a sexual encounter comedian Aziz Ansari had with an unnamed young woman have been the topic of national conversation this week, after a website reported an account from “Grace.” The pseudonymous woman met the 34-year-old performer, went on one date, and headed back to his apartment for an uncomfortable, but consensual hook-up. The date did not end with intercourse, and nothing seemed forced or intimidating along the way, but “Grace” complained that Ansari was aggressive and didn’t take her nonverbal cues to chill out.

I was surprised how quickly public opinion, outside of some activist feminist voices, coalesced around Ansari. The account didn’t read like assault, but regret. Ansari apologized at the time for misreading signals.

CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield called “Grace’s” attempt to claim the #MeToo mantle “appalling,” adding it “chiseled away at a movement that I, along with all my sisters in the workplace, have been dreaming of for decades.”

Bari Weiss of the New York Times deemed Ansari guilty of not being a mindreader.

“The View” decided “Grace” should have kicked him where the sun don’t shine, or shown some other form of assertion and aggression instead of dishing details to a reporter after the fact.

Caitlin Flanagan called it “3000 words of revenge porn” in The Atlantic: “The clinical detail in which the story is told is intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari. Together, the two women may have destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing.”

But it wasn’t the first time revenge porn surfaced in the #MeToo movement in an attempt to bring down a career. Unlike with Ansari, the attack on Republican Rep. Joe Barton succeeded.

Barton announced his retirement in late 2017, after nude photos of him circulated on social media in the wake of a consensual relationship he had while separated from his wife. Barton apologized, but said he had broken off the affair with the woman in question and that she had threatened to out his text messages and private photos.

“While separated from my second wife, prior to the divorce, I had sexual relationships with other mature adult women,” Barton said. “Each was consensual. Those relationships have ended. I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down.”

The Washington Post reported on the photos after their release on an anonymous Twitter account, but hid the identity of the woman. The implication was that she was a victim of Barton’s assertion he’d go to Capitol Hill Police if she insisted on distributing pictures of him, not the other way around.

The woman shared an audio recording in which Barton was frank about his situation:

“I want your word that this ends,” he said, according to the recording, adding: “I will be completely straight with you. I am ready if I have to, I don’t want to, but I should take all this crap to the Capitol Hill Police and have them launch an investigation. And if I do that, that hurts me potentially big time.”

“Why would you even say that to me?” the woman responded. “The Capitol Hill police? And what would you tell them, sir?”

Said Barton: “I would tell them that I had a three-year undercover relationship with you over the Internet that was heavily sexual and that I had met you twice while married and had sex with you on two different occasions and that I exchanged inappropriate photographs and videos with you that I wouldn’t like to be seen made public, that you still apparently had all of those and were in position to use them in a way that would negatively affect my career. That’s the truth.”

The pictures almost certainly ran afoul of Texas’ 2015 “revenge porn” law, as The Dallas Morning News reported at the time, though the woman interviewed by the Washington Post says she didn’t publish them:

In 2015, Texas legislators passed a “revenge porn law” criminalizing the act of intentionally disclosing pictures or videos “depicting another person with the person’s intimate parts exposed or engaged in sexual conduct” without their consent.

Anyone found in violation of the law could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in county jail and up to a $4,000 fine.

Shannon Edmonds, a staff attorney with the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said he doesn’t know enough about the Barton case to know if the law applies here. But he noted the law was “designed to address situations exactly like this, where a person from a past relationship who has consensually taken images decides to air those naughty pictures in an effort to harm the person they’re no longer in a relationship with.”

Despite wide agreement that Barton was likely the victim, not his consensual former partner, there was a political price to be paid.

Now, some would argue this is justifiable because it’s politics, and because Barton was being hypocritical by running as a conservative while separating from his wife and having consensual relationships with other adults. Tenuous, but the same argument can be made about Ansari — a vocal supporter of feminist causes and the #MeToo movement who cashed in on his reputation as a solid ally — who nonetheless acted aggressive, boorish and entitled in a sexual encounter with “Grace.”

But Ansari’s off the hook. Barton has retired because of this incident.

We should probably decide whether we think revenge porn is bad or not. Or, is it just bad when men do it? Or, is it just bad when women do it to men who aren’t elected Republicans?

What is the standard? And perhaps more importantly, what is the standard for reporting on forms of revenge porn, as the Washington Post and Babe magazine did. If someone comes to me with a lurid story about a public figure’s boorish behavior in a tryst or pictures from a consensual sexting relationship, should I publish them while hiding the identity of the person distributing them? That seems like a very dangerous standard for any public figure who has ever had a sex life. We had just recently come to some societal consensus that “revenge porn” is a thing and that it’s bad — 38 states and the District of Columbia have laws against it.

Muddying the waters in a misguided attempt to benefit the #MeToo movement will not redound to women’s benefit.

In the case of Ansari, the line was drawn in a better place than with Barton. He faced humiliation and will face career consequences, but his career is not over. The Zeitgeist resisted the urge to crush him entirely.

May society and the media resist the urge in the future, no matter how juicy the details.

Mary Katharine Ham is a senior writer at The Federalist.

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