ANOTHER day, another celebrity creep allegation. It seems the loveable “woke bae” Aziz Ansari is the latest to be outed for alleged impropriety, so soon after proudly sporting a Time’s Up pin on his tux at the Golden Globes. What’s even worse if the allegations are correct is that he trades on being a feminist while seemingly living up to none of his touted credentials. Oh, and I should probably mention he literally wrote a book on the joys and perils of relationships – Modern Romance – which The Guardian called a “refreshing male take on sex”. RIP irony.

Allegedly, Ansari is one of those guys who believes in the deeply problematic soft “no”; it is claimed he overstepped the boundaries multiple times during a date with a young photographer. This is not the instinctive boundary-setting “no” learned in infancy, but a pesky utterance to be manoeuvred around if it gets in the way. I’ve heard versions of this story so many times, I’m starting to wonder if my generation learned about sex and women exclusively from internet porn and Richard Curtis movies. Environs where boundaries are vaulted with gay abandon and rationalised later. Far too many see consent as something to be won rather than freely given.

Most women will have had some experience with a guy who seems incapable of processing that unequivocal syllable. It’s like there’s a babel fish lodged in their ears that garbles that concrete word into something flexible to be challenged. In reality, we know they hear it, but choose to ignore it or change it if it’s an impediment. The details of this young woman’s ordeal are so relatable, I can picture the collective, exhausted head nod of a thousand knowing women as they read it.

If 2017 taught us anything about “nice guys”, it was to spot the public sleight of hand used to obscure the shadier private self. The list of misdemeanours grows with such alacrity, I can’t imagine many of us are surprised anymore. Problematic behaviours vanish behind a smokescreen of pretty talk and personality. Ansari has both in abundance. The persona he presents is eminently likeable, as with so many named recently. Though from the gendered reaction online, where women see experiences similar to their own and men see mixed signals, it’s clear this apparent discrepancy in situational awareness will lead to more revelations.

The thing which sticks with me about this woman’s account is the honesty about her confusion. She admitted that she’d spent time replaying the incident afterwards, trying to put a name on it and being unable to draw a conclusion. That it had taken her a long time to recognise it as sexual assault rather than an “awkward sexual encounter”. I wonder how many women have had that same nagging feeling, that lingering discomfort, but not found a means to parse it? An awkward sexual encounter is a future anecdote – an experience that makes you an emotional hostage is likely more serious.

It would be really helpful if our brains sounded the creep klaxon reliably. If they did, we could run, and that would be the only safety work we’d need to do to avoid harassment and assault. But brains aren’t that reliable – especially when they’ve been socialised to expect danger if we fight, and damage limitation in submission. Often when we most need our brains to get us the hell out of a situation, they shut down and go into survival mode during and distancing mode after. Women often talk about disassociation during an assault, feeling unreal and detached from their bodies. A delayed response to trauma is common.

THERE’S no gold-star reaction to a transgression we can benchmark against. The truth is that sometimes a sexual situation goes so off script that you don’t know what to do, so you freeze. It’s especially difficult to reconcile that change in behaviour against someone you want to believe is a nice guy, or who has treated you well until that moment. So you might do as you’re told and not understand why.

This is a story I’ve heard often from friends and see increasingly shared on social media, and something I’ve experienced myself more than once. It can take a long time to recognise that you were taken advantage of or manipulated, and sometimes it can take reading someone else’s story for the penny to finally drop. It can take a long time to admit to yourself what happened, let alone to anyone else.

I hope that in these admissions other women who’ve experienced similar will find some comfort. That they’ll recognise the complexity, nuance and confusion that often accompanies assault. I hope that men who’ve taken liberties with those reactions in the past will recognise that the game’s up because we’re talking about this now, not just among ourselves, but unabashedly and publicly.

We could resign ourselves to “I told you so” as we become ever more inured to the constant nice-guy inversions, but it’s worth remembering that each of these celebrity outings is potentially instructive. This, I believe, is the positive legacy of these turbulent times. Though they may seem inconsequential to many, these stories are giving us the language we need to talk about our own lives. Being able to name something could empower a “no” that would otherwise be swallowed down. Being able to spot a troubling behaviour in yourself can prompt a better choice.

Ansari himself said: “Your most casual encounter could lead to something bigger, so treat those interactions with that level of respect.” Despite these unpalatable allegations, it’s still good advice. Advice that he and the rest of us would do well to heed in all our intimate encounters.