The past two weeks have generated so many think pieces on the #MeToo Movement that I’m feeling some serious philosophical whiplash. As eventually was bound to happen, an alleged sexual assault by a male Hollywood star (in this case, Aziz Ansari) has, instead of generating uniform outrage, sparked debate. The volley of op-eds that have been published in the days since are mostly authored by women, with perspectives ranging on a spectrum of defending Ansari as simply being a bad date, to identifying his behavior as sexual entitlement, to flat-out describing his actions as sexual assault.


As The New York Times keenly observed in a piece on January 17 (retrospective to babe magazine’s original article published January 13, because that’s how fast these stories are turning around now), many of these fissures erupted along generational lines, with younger Millennials tending to view the incident as sexual assault, older Millennials characterizing it as socialized sexual aggression, and Generation Xers and older considering the woman’s account to be an attempt to publicly ridicule Ansari, and one that holds absolutely no water, at that.


Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, babe’s article depicted an evening spent at Ansari’s apartment in which he continued to make physical sexual advances toward his guest, 23-year old Grace (a pseudonym), despite verbal and physical cues that she did not desire those advances. She did not, however, leave the apartment, and continued to endure his behavior for some length of time. The next day she texted him to say that what went down was not OK, and he apologized.


Ashleigh Banfield, HLN host and 50-year-old Gen-Xer, went on air two days later, sternly looked into the camera, and read an open letter to Ansari’s accuser. “Dear Grace, I’m sorry that you had a bad date,” Banfield began. “But let’s take a moment to reflect on what you claim was ‘the worst night of your life.’ . . . . Your date got overly amorous. After protesting his moves, you did not get up and leave right away.”


Banfield became progressively more critical. “By your own clear description, this was not a rape, nor was it a sexual assault. . . . 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?” She then proceeded to verbally annihilate Grace by claiming that, by publishing this article, she was doing a disservice to the progress the #MeToo movement has afforded to women across the country.


Other women in Banfield’s age bracket, including Caitlan Flanagan of The Atlantic,  wrote equally withering rebukes of Grace’s story and expressed concern that conflating it with the #MeToo movement, which has ousted accused serial sexual harassers from Hollywood studios and major companies, would damage that movement.


Twenty and thirty-something-year-old writers had different takes. Anna North in Vox explained that societal cues, such as those found in films, romanticize aggressive behaviors such as stalking or pursuing women even after they have refused advances multiple times. Women, on the other hand, are socialized to believe they are being rude by rejecting men outright, she noted. “The result is that situations like the one Grace describes, in which a man keeps pushing and a woman, though uncomfortable, doesn’t immediately leave, happen all the time,” North wrote. (FYI, this is not a new dynamic. Just listen to “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” circa 1944). Even if this does not constitute assault, is it not wrong?


In essence, the generational divide here comes down to an argument over how consent should be defined – because that is what dictates how sexual assault can be identified.


This dichotomy seems to correlate with how older and younger generations perceive sexual harassment in the workplace. An October poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that disparities between perceived workplace sexual harassment differed more greatly between women of different generations than it did between women and men: 71% of women said sexual harassment happens in all or most workplaces, while 62% of men said the same. Seventy-eight percent of women aged 18 to 49 (an age bracket encompassing the oldest in Generation Z, Millennials and Gen X-ers) said the same, while only 64% of women aged 50 and older agreed.


Different generations’ cultural norms vary, and the reason we see this gap is likely that older women had a different standard for what constitutes sexual harassment than Millennials do today. Based upon the think pieces published in the wake of babe’s article about Aziz Ansari, I’d wager that the same could be said for opinions about what constitutes sexual assault.


Many Millennial friends of mine were quick to lambast Ansari, citing the notion of affirmative consent. This idea flips the concept of “no means no” to define sexual assault and instead defines a consensual sexual situation as one in which “yes means yes.” California was the first state to pass affirmative consent legislation in 2014, applying it to institutions of higher learning.


The concept seems to be popular among Millennials, which is fine (even though I’m honestly not sure if I’m on board with it). But I worry that many within my age bracket – which, in case you forgot, now stretches from about 20 to 36 – might be too quick to shut down anyone with a more nuanced view of the matter. As I pointed out in a Millennial Pulse column last year on the topic of freedom of speech, Millennials (particularly those on college campuses) have been known to silence those whose views they disagree with or deem harmful, principally by demanding that guest speakers with extreme or unwanted views be banned from campus.


This tack cannot be taken when it comes to discourse about sexual aggression and the #MeToo movement. Telling women how they should perceive their own experiences because you disagree with that perception (ahem, I’m looking at you, Ashleigh Banfield) is not an effective mode of discourse. Nor is it supportive of women and their experiences. Similarly, shutting down older generations who don’t agree that any situation in which “yes means yes” does not occur is sexual assault is not a method of debate that is doing anybody any favors.


We should be talking about the complexities of gender relations, sexual aggression, and how we can begin to re-navigate those waters as more and more women say they’re fed up with the status quo. We should be talking about the social constructs and systemic issues that caused the #MeToo movement to finally erupt. We should be talking about why the vast majority of Millennial women believe sexual harassment occurs in the workplace.


And when we don’t all agree on what a person proclaims as her truth, let’s use that as an opportunity for positive discourse among those of us who differ – in this case, among the generations – instead of silencing one another. Remember that, at its core, the #MeToo movement is about making long-silent voices heard by all.