A couple of weeks ago, from the White House lawn, President Trump claimed that “it’s a very scary time for young men in America where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of”
What Trump is saying, without any shame or irony, is that in the era of the #MeToo movement, men who have been accused of sexual misconduct are the victims — as opposed to the women who have been assaulted. They have lived their lives trying to come to terms with the consequences of such assaults, and eventually found the courage to speak up.
This makes perfect sense considering Trump’s low esteem for women, which came out clearly in the Access Hollywood tape released by The Washington Post in 2016. In the tape, Trump tells TV host Billy Bush: “I just start kissing them (women), it’s like a magnet. And when you’re a star, they let you do it… you can do anything… grab them by the p*****…” Nevertheless, one month later Trump was elected – and 53% of white women voted for him to be the president of the United States.
In September 2018, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual harassment by three women – including Dr. Christine Ford, who gave an emotional testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee – and yet confirmed as a member to the Supreme Court after an FBI investigation cleared him of charges. This case, together with Trump’s recent remarks, can be read as a patriarchal counteraction to the spread of the #MeToo movement.
Another strong blow to the raising significance acquired by the #MeToo movement was Jimmy Bennett’s allegation against Italian actress Asia Argento. As a crucial contribution to the political and cultural conversation about power, violence and the problematic balance between the sexes, Argento’s case raises one central question: while men like Trump and Kavanaugh have so far managed to keep their powerful positions, what happens when a woman is accused?
Asia Argento is an Italian actress and director, winner of two David di Donatellos (the Italian equivalent of the Oscar) for her performances in Let’s not Keep in Touch (1994) and Travelling Companion (1996). From 2017 she has become a leader of the #MeToo movement, being one of the first victims that detailed her experiences with Harvey Weinstein (an American film product also accused of misconduct) in The New Yorker ground-breaking article by Ronan Farrow.
A few months later, in 2018, Argento was accused of sexually assaulting actor Jimmy Bennett back in 2013 – Bennett was 17 at the time, Argento 37. According to Bennett’s version of the story, Argento gave him alcohol, engaged in sexual intercourse against his will and later paid him $380,000 as a settlement. Even though Argento denied the allegation, a photograph of her in bed with Bennett was published online, as well as her alleged admission of having sex with him in text messages to Rain Dove, the partner of another #MeToo champion Rose McGowan. Even though Argento’s attorney later claimed that it was Bennett who “sexually attacked” Argento, the actress was fired as a judge on ‘X Factor Italy’.
Yes, Argento had engaged in misconduct. She had sex with a minor, which is a criminal offense in California, and has then denied the encounter even though her text messages prove the opposite. Yet there is a chasm between a single case of sexual misconduct – which has not yet been conclusively proven – and a long series of accusations of assault. Nevertheless McGowan and many others did not hesitate to compare Argento to Harvey Weinstein. To quote McGowan’s tweet to Argento, “Be honest. Be fair… be the person you wish Harvey could have been.”
However, Harvey Weinstein is a man who has been accused by more than eighty women in the film industry of sexual misconduct. To name but a few of the alleged charges, he has been accused of performing oral sex on Rose McGowan in a hotel at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997, of raping Annabella Sciorra in 1992, of harassing Mira Sorvino in a hotel room in 1995, of threatening Salma Hayek when she tried to refuse his advances while filming Frida, of raping Paz de la Huerta twice in 2010.
What has caused such a reaction towards Argento then? Interestingly, even before the alleged accusations against her, the actress seemed to stir up a kind of irrational hatred (especially in Italy). The basis of this hatred might be that her father is the famous Italian director Dario Argento – and so her success in the film industry has been facilitated – that she has openly spoken about drugs, that she is divorced, that she speaks up for herself with emotion – as she did during the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. In other words, she does not fit in any of the stereotypical categories society has imposed on women.
One of the reasons why #MeToo is crucial in the 21st century is that it prompts us to disrupt such categories. It promotes empathy; it encourages survivors to use their voices even though patriarchy, historically, is not interested in hearing. And yet, we – and even #MeToo representatives such as Rose McGowan – remain ready to put aside such values and judge women like Argento with the same/or even more harshness with which men like Weinstein are judged.
It is not a scary time for men in America. It is still a scary time for women who find the courage to share their traumas and are victim blamed, who find themselves amid a cascade of accusations and yet, they still stand.
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