In a world where a group of people have power that is pervasively obvious and dangerously subtle, those people who don’t have power often have a difficult time figuring out how to behave in order to maintain their dignity, safety, and autonomy.

I want to talk about Aziz and “Grace” (a pseudonym).

Earlier this month, a woman came forward about a date she’d had several months previously with comedian/actor Aziz Ansari. You can read about it all over the internet. In a nutshell: Grace’s experience of the date was negative. She reported that Aziz rushed through their meal, took her to his apartment, and used coercive language and behavior so she would have sexual contact with him. By her accounts there was no penetrative intercourse, though there were other sexual activities and repeated questions by Aziz about “fucking”. She left the date very upset. Later, when she confronted him about it via text message, he apologized. In recent public comments, he has acknowledged his behavior and noted that he misinterpreted the situation.

So, what went wrong? He apologized, right? She could just forget about it and move on.

That’s what a lot of people –both men and women–are saying. But here’s why bringing these interactions to light are just as important as the grosser interactions by men like Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey: This experience, this “bad date”, is so common that women are left in perpetual confusion about what a “good date” is.

Is it that a “good date” is simply one where you weren’t forced, coerced, or shamed into being sexual? That’s a really low bar.

Our current culture tells us that we have to participate in sexual behavior for a date to be a date. For women, this often means participating (however uninterested we are) in a man’s sexual script –the story he has in his head of how the date will go. Women, too, have a sexual script for how a date will evolve. ALL of us have sexual scripts that contain our dreams, expectations, histories, fears, hopes, and desires for how we will behave, how our dates will behave, and what each behavior means both in parts and as a whole.

And we RARELY or NEVER talk about what these scripts are. Often we don’t even know we have them. Yet, the fact is we do have them, and it’s almost unheard of to hear someone say “This is how I imagine our date will unfold, how do you imagine it?” Can you imagine what dating would look like if you had a conversation like this?

It seems that Aziz and Grace were operating from completely different scripts, and when he was told that she wasn’t on the same page, he continue to operate from his script and continued to coerce her to take up “her” part even when she was both verbally and non-verbally telling him she didn’t want to play that role. Add in the fact that they had both been drinking, and the ability to truly hear and understand each other and make decisions that honor both oneself and the other person gets fuzzy.

These scripts are so powerful because they are the ones that not only live inside the heads of Aziz and Grace, they are part of our larger collective sexual script. We are given these notions and patterns from the moment we’re born through fairy tales, movies, television, as well as family and cultural history. It’s part of living in a patriarchal culture where sexual satisfaction is really only important for men.

“It is about how men view and treat women, it is about our notion of “romance,” which often is connected to dominating behaviour on the part of men; the romanticization of male control, jealousy, and even violence; and the notion that men should be the pursuers and that women must always be playing defense. It is about the idea that men “need” sex in order to survive and that they are incapable of controlling their desires.” ~ Meghan Murphy in Feminist Current

The problem is not just that men can be coercive and/or persistent about sexual contact. It is not only that women can be reluctant or fearful to say “no.” The problem is that we have carried these expectations of what dating means based on a power dynamic that seemingly benefits males, when this dynamic actually benefits no one. Men don’t truly benefit from having power over women because in order to keep that power they have to behave in ways that often deny the humanity of the very women that men want to join them in sexual adventures. To take away someone’s ability to say no, or to deny that person’s ability to have equal say in the activities that will occur is to refuse to honor their personhood, their agency as an individual, and that is ultimately a soul-damaging enterprise for everyone involved.

What would it be like to open up these avenues of conversation? To truly find consensus and consent from both people is a radical undertaking.

Changing our sexual scripts is a major step! And we are doing it by calling out these “bad dates” as well as naming our abusers and harassers.  Changing the current rape culture in which men have power over women and practicing the sharing of power is not for the faint of heart, nor will it be done overnight.  Unpacking the notions of what a date means and what it can mean is a revolutionary action that asks each person to truly know what she or he desires and then to be able to say it and discuss these wants until there is consent on both sides for what will take place. We do this when deciding where to have dinner, which movie to see, and whether or not to have dessert. We can do this with all aspects of a date! The challenge is to know ourselves and then open up the conversation with courage and clear intention.

I applaud the women who are coming forward…no matter how long it has been…and calling out behavior that denied their humanity. I applaud the men who are listening, apologizing, standing with women, and open to learning new ways of being. We have to build this new world ourselves, and we cannot do it without uncovering the sexual scripts that have been holding us hostage to damaging behaviors that contribute to the continuation of male power over women.