The Bravery of Asia Argento
Harvey Weinstein has wielded so much power in Hollywood and New York for so long that it took a sex scandal of historic proportions to bring him down. He’s long reigned as a bullying, much-feared and reviled Goliath scaring all potential Davids into silence. As with Bill Cosby, an allegation or two would do nothing to threaten Weinstein’s extraordinarily power.
No, in order to bring this towering, malevolent giant down it took not just one allegation or two or three but rather dozens upon dozens of allegations over a period of decades that, as with the Cosby allegations, are nearly identical. Unlike with Cosby, however, a lot of the women publicly coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault are big movie stars like Ashley Judd.
Many, many women have done the brave and terrifying thing and gone public with stories of how they were bullied and terrorized and assaulted by one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, but perhaps none has paid as big a price as Asia Argento. It takes extraordinary courage and resolve for any sexual assault victim to go public but this was particularly true of Argento, since part of her story involves having consensual sex with Weinstein after she says he sexually assaulted her.
This is incredibly brave partially because it involves acknowledging that she had consensual sex with Harvey Weinstein, and at this point I’m guessing that even Weinstein’s soon-to-be-ex-wife is disgusted by the idea of having consensual sex with a predatory monster of id and ego like Harvey Weinstein.
This might seem counter-intuitive. Why would someone consent to sex with someone who sexually assaulted them? Why wouldn’t they march on down to the police immediately and charge their assailant with rape?
The problem with this line of thinking is that sexual assault and sexual harassment are almost unfathomably complex subjects. This is particularly true when there is a power imbalance as profound as that between a physically intimidating, middle-aged mogul with the power to single-handedly create or destroy careers and a scared, vulnerable young actress still in the relatively early stages of her career.
People who love to play the eternally popular game “Blame the victim” like to use the ambition and professional drive of the actresses coming forward now against them. They like to depict what happened not as sexual assault or harassment committed by a large, powerful man against a seemingly endless series of actresses but rather as an exchange of youth and sexuality for professional opportunities.
I was horrified, if not terribly surprised, to discover that the Italian press, which astonishingly seems to be even more viciously sexist and contemptuous of sexually assertive women than the domestic media, has shamed Argento so viciously for coming forward with her experiences that she has left the country. An opinion writer for the right-wing publication Libero snidely said of Argento coming forward, “First they give it away, then they whine and pretend to repent.”
Even a self-professed Italian feminist writer wrote, “The unrealistic, almost enchanted representation of these encounters. The monster on one side, the sacrificial lamb on the other. As I read, Weinstein did not give normal business appointments in the office with a desk to divide ambitions and intentions. He did not talk about scripts. He asked for massages. And if you ask for a massage and I massage you, then it's hard to be surprised at the evolution of events.”
There’s an odiously “wised-up”, quasi-sophisticated tone to these snide negation of these women’s stories and their experiences, a smarmy dismissiveness that implicitly says,“We’re all adults here, let’s not pretend we don’t know what happens when an actress opens a hotel room door to a powerful man.”
The public response to Argento’s story helps explain why a lot of women are reluctant to come forward with stories about being raped. They know that they, as well as their accusers, will be judged in the public eye, and sometimes judged viciously and unfairly. Argento knew that she would be shamed viciously, maligned, insulted and misunderstood for coming forward with her complete story, and she went ahead and did so anyway. That’s courage. That’s real courage. She should be commended for her bravery, not attacked for being human.
Hopefully the aftermath of the Weinstein allegations will not only bring the issues of sexual harassment and assault out into the open, but also lead to a fuller, more sophisticated understanding of the complexities and contradictions of the issues. We owe Argento and bold women like her as much.
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