Asia Argento is not the Figurehead of #MeToo

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BBC.com on Wednesday morning ran with the very misleading headline “Asia Argento: #MeToo figurehead denies sexual assault of minor.” This is, of course, patently false – Asia Argento is not the “figurehead” of the #MeToo movement, no one is. Was the intention simply clickbait, or something far more troubling?

Earlier in the week, The New York Times revealed that even as Asia Argento was alleging sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein, she was secretly arranging a $380,000 hush money payment to a former co-star for statutory rape. The incident is alleged to have taken place in 2013 in a California hotel room with alcohol when he had just turned 17 and Argento was 37. The age of consent in the state of California is 18. Unfortunately, this news has been seized upon by critics of the movement and defenders of Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein’s lawyer Ben Branfman said that this development reveals "a stunning level of hypocrisy by Asia Argento.” Charmed, I’m sure.

It is all so sordid. Argento denied that any sexual encounter took place, bringing in her deceased ex-boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain. Then TMZ published a picture of Argento and the then 17 year old in bed, allegedly post-coitus. Who benefits from this week-long descent into sleaze? Certainly not the movement.

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The movement, begun in 2006, is a community providing support to survivors of sexual abuse and those who are coming forward with their own experiences. Under the Vision banner, under the “You Are Not Alone” tagline, on the #MeToo site it reads: “What started as a local grassroots work has expanded to reach a global community of survivors from all walks of life and helped to de-stigmatize the act of surviving by highlighting the breadth and impact of a sexual violence worldwide.” The credo continues: "Our work continues to focus on helping those who need it to find entry points for individual healing and galvanizing a broad base of survivors to disrupt the systems that allow for the global proliferation of sexual violence."

How could any person of good faith disagree with those goals?

You would be surprised.

Let’s look at some of the results accomplished by this 12-year-old movement that only recently caught fire on social media in 2017. Polling now shows that a majority of Americans believe sexual harassment claims are not isolated incidents. Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault allegations were the proximate cause of the reignition of #MeToo. The Silence Breakers were crowned Time’s Person of the Year, 2017. Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore was all but certain to win a Senate seat in an Alabama special election, now he is relegated to the dustbin of history. Kevin Spacey was brought low by sexual assault allegations made first on Twitter. As a result of the #MeToo movement, Olympic team doctor Lawrence G. Nassar has been sentenced to 60 years in prison. Louis C.K., Garrison Keillor, Matt Lauer, and Charlie Rose are all gone (at least for now).

Further, the movement has gone beyond the hallowed heights of Hollywood and the Olympics, populated almost exclusively by elites. The ripple effects of #MeToo are reverberating through the medical profession, the legal profession, amateur as well as professional athletes, sex workersarchitecture and designaccounting, the veterinary profession -- even classical music! For the movement to achieve full strength, however, it must be allowed time to influence every sector of the economy.

And the awakening on sexual abuse goes beyond America. While the #MeToo hashtag went viral in English language speaking countries – particularly India, Australia, and the UK -- within a month, other countries have quickly followed. By November 2017, #MeToo had been tweeted 2.3 million times from eighty five different countries. In the months immediately following Alyssa Milano’s viral post that re-ignited the movement, Kenya, Pakistan, and China saw significant social media outrage over incidents of sexual abuse. International human rights groups are now leveraging the momentum to improve work conditions for women. “By the end of the day, there were similar movements in multiple languages, including Arabic, Farsi, French, Hindi, and Spanish,” writes Pardis Mahdawi in Foreign Affairs. “Today, women in 85 different countries are using the hashtag to bring attention to the violence and harassment they face in daily life and to demand change.” Who can deny that the world is not a better place thanks to #MeToo?

So, no, Asia Argento is not the figurehead of the #MeToo movement. No single person in any single country is the thing that is this movement. #MeToo is all the people that have been abused, their comforters and supporters, and all the people of good will that want to de-stigmatize the act of coming forward with those claims of sexual harassment. Shouldn’t all of us rather cheer than boo the aims and goals of #MeToo, considering what it has already accomplished? Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, who has the greatest claim to the title of “figurehead,” does not accept that prize. “People will use these recent news stories to try and discredit this movement -- don’t let that happen,” she tweeted on August 20.  “This is what the Movement is about. It’s not a spectator sport. It is people generated. We get to say ‘this is/isn’t what this movement is about!’”

Thank you again, Tarana Burke.