What Aziz Ansari's Master Of None Gets Right About Day-To-Day Sexism

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Aziz Ansari's excellent Netflix series, Master of None, is spot on when it comes to displaying how men can be better feminists. The show begins by acknowledging that sexism, however small, exists in our day-to-day lives.

The seventh episode of the show, titled “Ladies And Gentlemen”, begins with a simple scenario played out in two ways: What happens when two men — our protagonist Dev (Ansari) and his friend Arnold (Eric Wareheim) — walk home from a night out at a bar on the Lower East Side, versus when a woman (Condola Rashad), does it, alone. The greatest hazard the men face is some errant dog poop. The woman is followed home and forced to call 911.

Dev is shocked when the woman, who happens to be an actress appearing in the same commercial as he is, tells him this story. When he relays it to his girlfriend, Rachel (Noël Wells), and friend, Denise (Lena Waithe), they are nonplussed. This crap is a fact of life for women. Case in point, Dev gets a charming comment when he posts a photo of a frittata to Instagram, and when Rachel uploads the same image, she gets a sexual threat.

Thanks to this revelation, Dev goes on a crusade. He and Denise bust a guy masturbating on a subway. And, he drunkenly tells the commercial’s director, Brad, that it’s messed up to have a woman serving lemonade while men are manning the grill in an ad for a Home Depot-type store.

But Master of None doesn’t let Dev off the hook — even though he's become something of a crusader. Yes, he takes a stand in a couple of instances, but he later ignores an obvious example of gendered discrimination. At the wrap party for the commercial, Brad comes over to talk to Dev and his friends. Brad introduces himself to Arnold and the two random guys sitting next to them, but he avoids Rachel and Denise. The women point this out, visibly bothered by the interaction, but Dev shrugs it off, thinking that Brad meant no harm.

What makes Rachel a great, uncompromising female character is that she continues to be bugged by Dev's nonchalance about the incident. In a previous episode, we've learned that Rachel is a genuinely fun person, willing to take an impromptu trip to Nashville, TN. But she's also not the kind of girl who is going to just smile and nod if her boyfriend does something stupid or annoying. (In a Twitter Q&A, Ansari gave credit to Wells for helping "shape" Rachel.)

Rachel is angry that Dev would prefer to think she's being overly sensitive, instead of admitting that a man is behaving in a sexist manner. “There are a lot of subtle little things that happen to me and all women, even in our little progressive world. And when somebody, especially my boyfriend, tells me I’m wrong without having any way of knowing my personal experience, it’s insulting,” Rachel says. Dev admits that he will never understand what it’s like to be a woman, but he’ll “try to do a better job of listening.”

That line of dialogue is the crux of this show. Master Of None's overwhelming message is to get out of your own head, and hear other people's stories. Earlier in the series, Dev and his friend Brian (Kelvin Yu) take their immigrant parents to dinner, to gain insight into their experiences. In another episode, Dev visits Rachel's grandma (Lynn Cohen) and considers how old people, despite their fascinating pasts, are often disregarded. And, of course, Dev's own story also deserves to be heard in the episode "Indians On TV," about Hollywood's lazy stereotyping.

Master of None isn't heavy-handed, but Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang want its characters and its viewers to become better humans. To accomplish this, everyone simply has to pay attention.

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