Ainsley & Aziz

During finals week when I was in desperate need of a comforting distraction from schoolwork, I rewatched select episodes of The West Wing. Five weeks after my rewatch and in light of the Time’s Up movement, I find myself fixated on Ainsley Hayes and her political views.

For anyone who did not watch The West Wing, or for anyone who needs a refresher, Ainsley was the small, blonde woman who appeared nonthreatening until she handed Sam Seaborn his ass on national television. She was a Republican lawyer hired by the Democratic Bartlet Administration. She is a character I both admire and question. I do not agree with her opinions on gun legislation (anti-gun control), I often think about her opinions on the Equal Rights Amendment (anti-the amendment’s being created), and in recent weeks I have considered what her thoughts would be on Time’s Up.

Time’s Up has been a long time coming. As new allegations come against men in any industry, but especially the film industry, my reactions have been to personally investigate each new report. Often I mourn for the art I had admired that will forevermore be colored by the wrongdoings of the men who created it. Finally, I move forward in celebration of the bravery of women. After the Golden Globes, my wonderings on Ainsley’s thoughts on Time’s Up became more fierce in both my desire to know what she would think and the ambiguity with which I was met in trying to come to a conclusion.

What strikes me now about the movement is the latest allegation being brought against Aziz Ansari. People are calling out “Grace” as discrediting Time’s Up and what the silence breakers are trying to accomplish. Having read the story, published by Babe, I can understand why Grace felt uncomfortable with the encounter, and I am not here to invalidate her feelings. However, the verbal cue she describes as using to discourage Ansari from continuing his advances is “mumbling,” which by definition is unclear. The encounter began consensually and, according to Ansari’s statement, remained so as the evening progressed. Grace felt comfortable enough to, after the mumbles, voice her discomfort and ask to take things slower, to not jump right to sex, which Ansari acknowledged by Grace’s own admission and, as the story continues, seems to have honored. They ended the evening fully clothed and watching Seinfeld. Whether or not what Grace experienced was a sexual assault or an evening she regrets is not for me to say, but it does bring me back to Ainsley.

Ainsley Hayes gives a magnificent speech in season three, episode fourteen titled Night Five. She gives it on her personal brand of feminism to a woman named Celia, who appears for this episode only, after Celia calls Sam Seaborn a sexist for complimenting Ainsley on her looks. His exact phrasing is, “Hayes, you could make a good dog break his leash.” Ainsley’s exact phrasing when she confronts Celia is as follows: “The point is that sexual revolution tends to get in the way of actual revolution. Nonsense issues distract attention away from real ones: pay equity, childcare, honest-to-God sexual harassment, and, in this case, a speech in front of the UN General Assembly.”

I am not one to put words in Aaron Sorkin’s mouth, and only he can definitively say how Ainsley would react to Time’s Up. That said, considering the facts of Ainsley’s character, the Time’s Up movement, and the allegations against Aziz Ansari, I think Ainsley would support Time’s Up while agreeing with those who argue that Grace’s allegations distract from the movement. Time’s Up is part of the “actual revolution” Ainsley describes because it does not fixate on sexuality and how people wield it. Time’s Up supports breaking the silence, notably through the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund which provides monetary support to women who want to take legal action against “honest-to-God sexual harass[ers].” We are in the midst of a paradigm shift. To paraphrase Marai Larasi, an activist and Emma Watson’s Golden Globes date, this is neither the beginning nor the end of the larger silence breaking, but it is a significant moment. Grace’s allegations do not destroy the movement or the moment, but I think Ainsley would agree that they do crack its integrity.

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