It was recently revealed that Asia Argento, one of the main voices of the #metoo movement against sexual abuse, has paid an actor she allegedly abused of when he was a minor. As someone who’s written a novel about domestic violence and sexual abuse, a survivor, a feminist and someone who generally struggles to shut up, I have a lot of feelings about this. Lucky I have my own blog to share them, uh?
*before you read*
If you are a survivor yourself and find these conversations triggering, GO AWAY NOW. If you enjoy reading these conversations to then say #notallmen, or comment with other non-constructive come-backs, GO AWAY, BUT FASTER!
What we know so far
Asia Argento, an Italian actress, TV personality and daughter of Master of Horror Dario Argento, was one of the most vocal accusers of Harvey Weinstein. She claimed the producer had raped her at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, when she was 21, and that the assault was followed by a complicated relationship where she felt powerless that went on for several years.
This week it came out that she paid Jimmy Bennett, a young actor she worked with in the 00s, a hefty sum to be given a photograph that portrayed the both of them in bed when the actor was still a minor. Legal documents obtained by The New York Times show she paid Jimmy Bennett, a former co-star, $380,000 (£298,000) after he claimed she had assaulted him in a hotel room in 2013. At the time, Argento was 37, he was 17 (the age of consent in California is 18).
The impact of the event precipitated Bennett in “a spiral of emotional problems” and “hindered Mr. Bennett’s work and income and threatened his mental health,” wrote the NYT quoting these documents.
What do the allegations against Asia Argento mean for #metoo?
In an ideal world, they should mean fuck all for #metoo. The fact that Argento was a leading voice in the movement doesn’t make the movement less important. If anything, it brings sexual abuse, and abuse of power, back to the front pages.
The behaviour described by Bennett shows disdain for other people’s feelings and rights. It shows how people in a position of power at that moment choose to ignore how others feel, verbal and non-verbal cues and all that jazz to do whatever it is that they want. I wrote about this back when the Aziz Ansari story came out (read my post here) and the fact that Argento, a woman, behaved this way doesn’t make this less horrible and wrong.
Sure, according the Rape Crisis charity, about 85,000 women (as opposed to 12,000 men) are raped in England and Wales every year, and 93 per cent of the people calling Rape Crisis asking for help are women. Sure, I am a feminist, a survivor, and someone who’s had to deal with plenty of shitty men.
Yet, fact that sexual abuse disproportionally affects women at the hands of men shouldn’t give women abusers any kudos or excuses. The act is wrong, victims are victims and their rights, feelings and traumas should be taken into account.
How do I feel about this?
I feel angry and shit, that’s how I feel. I am disappointed to hear that someone that has experienced abuse first-hand would then go and act in a similar way with someone she clearly had power and an influence on. As other #metoo advocates have put it:
I got to know Asia Argento ten months ago. 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.
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) August 20, 2018
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.
— Tarana (@TaranaBurke) August 20, 2018
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.
— Tarana (@TaranaBurke) August 20, 2018
I feel fucking furious because this sounds like a dream for the Weinstein defence and for the #notallmen crowd. And I feel furious because – and rightly so – no one questioned Bennett’s behaviour. I’d like to say that the impact of the #metoo movement also includes cutting the crap on victim blaming behaviour, but I also feel that, if a woman were to make a similar accusation, she would be asked why she went into that room in the first place, what she was wearing, and why didn’t she leave.
Men Can Be Victims
I also feel quite disgusted and disappointed by the conversations on this matter. I am writing from Italy at the moment, and maybe machismo is an attitude that hasn’t left my country yet – but when I hear men, even journalists who I respect say that, when they were 17, they would have paid to have someone like Argento take advantage of them, I can’t help but feel a bit sick. Not only this paints Bennett as a whimp, it also continues to promote that view of the male champion that needs to shag as many women as he can. It doesn’t recognise that men can be victims of abuse, can have feelings and be subject to trauma.
I’ve seen many male friends share their #metoo story, with abusers who were either male or female, and I respect them for it. I would never tell them they could have prevented their abuse from happening. And I would like to see people (read: men AND women) behave this way towards women too.
So I gave you my two cents. Nothing ground-breaking, just something that has been boiling up inside me for the past two days. I’d like to think that this story won’t hurt the #metoo movement, which might not be perfect but that has allowed many women – including yours truly – to come to terms with their trauma and to single out unacceptable behaviour. I’d also like to think that this can bring the conversation further, for it to stop being a gender battle and to turn it into a discussion on what is and isn’t acceptable.