A note from the Editor: A previous version of this article misspelled Jimmy Bennett’s name.
Many activists were shocked and horrified to learn that actress Asia Argento, a prominent figure in the Me Too movement due to her being a victim of Harvey Weinstein, has been accused of sexually assaulting then 17-year-old actor Jimmy Bennett. Not only are sexual assault allegations horrifying in any circumstance, but this hurt more because Argento, an activist who was also sexually harassed, was supposed to be an advocate for victims, not a predator.
Argento is not the only so-called “feminist” who has been recently accused of sexual harassment. Avital Ronell, a professor at New York University and a prominent advocate for racial justice and gender equality, was suspended for allegedly sexually harassing a graduate student. This has caused tension in the Me Too movement. Although men can be victims and women are capable of being predators, the narrative of this era has been the binary of the female victim and the male abuser. If the individuals spearheading the movement are being revealed as perpetrators of sexual violence, then is Me Too legitimate?
The Me Too movement is proving itself to be more relevant than ever, and anyone who is trying to delegitimize it is pushing a harmful narrative and clearly is misinformed about the issues surrounding sexual assault.
Sexual harassment is not about gender, it’s about power. However, in general, men have societal power over women. Statistically speaking in Hollywood, it is very likely that your boss is a man. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women make up 24 percent of producers. Sexual harassers often feel confident in the fact that their victim will be too afraid to report them. Harvey Weinstein was a producer who used his power in the industry over actresses, Argento used her power as an adult actress over a young teenage Jimmy Bennett, and Avital Ronnell used her power as a professor over her student. If you reversed the dynamics in any of these situations, I doubt these tragedies would have occurred.
There is a running assumption in the Me Too era that every woman is a blameless angel. That assumption is false. When activists tell people to “believe women,” it doesn’t mean to assume that every woman is a saint. It’s more reasonable to say trust women, meaning that you shouldn’t go into a situation thinking that a woman is lying.
The reality is that anybody can be an abuser, no matter the gender. This situation shows how important reforms to this movement are because it shows just how universal abuse is. Just as there needs to be a system in place to punish men like Weinstein, there need to be punishments in place for women like Argento.
I think we’re moving toward creating a world where every abuse of power has consequences. Me Too fuels that optimism. The movement is not one person. No movement is ever about one person. Movements are about groups of people who seek change. Argento has never represented the Me Too movement; the ordinary women and men protesting their treatment are the real movement to me.
I hope Argento is punished for her actions. But the movement she aligned herself with should not be.