She’s been both the victim and the victimizer. And while pundits argue that she should no longer be believed about Weinstein, the simple fact is victimizers are often victims.
Italian actress Asia Argento was one of the first women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, and she’s become a leading figure in the #MeToo movement. But in the months that followed her accusations against Weinstein, she and boyfriend Anthony Bourdain quietly arranged to pay Argento’s own accuser.
Since the news about Argento broke, the backlash against the #MeToo movement has been swift and fierce. The Los Angeles Times asked the question many people are posing on social media: “Do the claims against Asia Argento invalidate the #MeToo movement?”
Despite the glee of Weinstein’s attorney and MRAs, the answer is a resounding no. Far from failing to protect the victim of sexual assault, the outcry in the Argento case proves that the #MeToo movement works exactly as its designed to do — regardless of the sex of the victim or the accused.
The New York Times broke the story over the weekend that Argento paid former child actor Jimmy Bennett $380,000 in the months following the Weinstein allegations. According to The New York Times, the payments were made in response to Bennett’s claim that he’d been sexually assaulted by Argento when he was 17 years old.
The pair posted pictures of themselves together in a hotel room on the date the alleged assault took place, and documents submitted anonymously to The New York Times included pictures of Bennett and Argento together in bed, in a state of partial undress.
Argento issued a statement to journalist Yashir Ali on Monday, denying the allegations in full.
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 21, 2018
Claiming persecution is the language of victimizers, and I suspect I’m not the only abuse survivor who shuddered at that language.
But here’s the rub: Argento isn’t in a traditional position of power. Her primary claims to fame (at least in the U.S.) are her position in the #MeToo movement and her relationship with Bourdain, who died by suicide in June. Her power, as it was, hinged on her status as a victim — and it was bestowed on her by proponents of the #MeToo movement.
Another prominent female feminist, New York University professor Avital Ronell, was also accused of sexual misconduct in recent days (and has since been suspended from her position). Unlike Argento, Ronell holds a position of power in academic circles. Unlike Argento, Ronell has been supported by her colleagues and fellow academics, male and female, who have attempted to discredit her accuser.
In Ronell’s case, the system is working exactly as it was designed to do. It protects the powerful and sacrifices the powerless. And it’s this power dynamic that has always been under fire by the #MeToo movement.
The backlash against Argento makes it clear that #MeToo supporters won’t let their own off the hook. We understand that men aren’t the only victimizers and women aren’t the only victims. When women victimize men, the #MeToo movement protects the victim. Full stop.
If all of the allegations are true, Argento has been in both positions. She’s been both the victim and the victimizer. And while pundits argue that she should no longer be believed about Weinstein, the simple fact is victimizers are often victims.
This isn’t a justification or an excuse for what Argento has done; she deserves to experience real consequences for her actions, including criminal prosecution. But let’s not pretend that the #MeToo movement is invalidated by the hypocrisy of one woman, or ignore the difference between how sexual misconduct allegations are handled by proponents of the #MeToo movement and those who aren’t.
The same power structure that protected Weinstein sided with Ronell. Argento’s fall proves that we need the #MeToo movement as much today as we did a year ago — and without it, there’s little hope that power dynamics will change.