This Week in Feminist Politics: Asia Argento and the Backlash
#MeToo activist Asia Argento settled a $380,000 lawsuit for sexual harassment shortly after she accused Harvey Weinstein of the same crime. The New York Times reports that Argento’s accuser, Jimmy Bennett, claims he was sexually abused at the age of 17. The age of consent in California, where the incident is alleged to have taken place, is 18. America seems to be waking up to the reality that all genders are potential victims of sexual abuse. This news has set off a gigantic reaction in the twitterverse. Right-wing hacks like Ben Shapiro and Christina Summers leapt at the chance to discredit #MeToo on the double standards argument/canard. Many on social media this week have pointed out that although Argento was instrumental in the spread of the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, it is a social revolution not based on a single person or incident. “I got to know Asia Argento ten months ago,” Tweeted #MeToo activist Rose McGowan. “Our commonality is the shared pain of being assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. My heart is broken. I will continue my work on behalf of victims everywhere.”
Mike McHargue – better known on social media as “Science Mike” – has put the bombshell New York Times on #MeToo story into something of a proper context. “A person of any gender orientation can be a victim of sexual assault,” he writes on Twitter. “A person of any gender orientation can be a perpetrator of sexual assault. Anyone in a position of power or authority can sexually harass someone who lacks that power." Further, he notes: “#MeToo has primarily been about men who sexually harass or assault women – and I don't fault that. Those stories are so numerous, and terrible. I'm glad that there's a movement to start to tear down the system that enables abuse.” McHargue concludes that men, trans, and non-binary stories of abuse must also be acknowledged and investigated.
Women and Hollywood, the influential organization, tweeted on Monday afternoon “The #MeToo movement is about believing all survivors of sexual assault. Being abused and being an abuser aren't mutually exclusive. People who hold positions of power – be it a director, producer, or another authority figure – also have tremendous responsibility not to take advantage or abuse people they have power over. That goes for men and women” (and, of course, those who identify as non-binary). Brianna Wu, feminist game designer and candidate for Congress in the 8th District of Massachusetts delivered a very skeptical verdict on the morning of the New York Times story. "If these claims against Asia Argento are true – she should face the exact same career consequences, same criminal consequences and the same civil liability a man would,” she Tweeted. “Rape is rape. Your gender is irrelevant to the crime. Welcome to the justice you said you wanted, Asia.”
Other major celebrities in the #MeToo movement chimed in on Twitter on the Asia Argento story. What are we to make of it? Does it in any way do discredit to the movement? “I know many many rape and trauma survivors who act out sexually,” writes Rosanna Arquette. “The wounds they carry run deep. I pray for them. The timing of this story is suspect. Asia was still raped by Harvey Weinstein.” Arquette, who first publicly accused Weinstein of sexual harassment in a New Yorker piece, believes she was blackballed in Hollywood for refusing Weinstein’s sexual advances in the early 1990s at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement a decade ago, tweeted: “My hope is that as more folks come forward, particularly men, that we prepare ourselves for some hard conversations about power and humanity and privilege and harm. This issue is less about crime & punishment and more about harm and harm reduction.” She continued, optimistically: “A shift can happen. This movement is making space for possibility. But, it can only happen after we crack open the whole can of worms and get really comfortable with the uncomfortable reality that there is no one way to be a perpetrator."
Ironically, if these charges are indeed true, Argento could face major career repercussions. Harvey Weinstein has literally been written out of the Hollywood scene. Argento would immediately lose work, and possibly lose her career as well. An Italian variety show she has been working on slated to air September 6 could have her scenes cut. "Sky Italia and FreemantleMedia Italia, producers of singing competition X Factor Italy, where Argento is a judge, released a statement saying Argento was always chosen for her musical and television skills, but if the Times story ‘were to be confirmed’ then the show would cut ties with the actress,” says The Hollywood Reporter.
Finally, the move to discredit #MeToo reached its apex on Monday has the alt-right Twitterverse tripped over itself offering I-told you-sos-to anyone within social media range. The Drudge Report led with the headline SHOCK: #METOO LEADER PAID OFF YOUNG ACTOR. Charles Blow of the New York Times summed it up: “People who say the revelations about #AsiaArgento will not hurt #MeToo are wrong. It shouldn’t, but it will. Every movement has enemies, and they look for every opening. Movements have to weather the storms and grow through them. #MeToo can - must! - do that too.”
Cover photo via The Hollywood Reporter