Bari Weiss: Asia Argento Proves Again That Women, Like Men, Are ‘Opportunists, Manipulators, Evil’

The Italian actress Asia Argento at the Cannes Film Festival in May. (Credit: Antonin Thuillier/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)
The Italian actress Asia Argento at the Cannes Film Festival in May. (Credit: Antonin Thuillier/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

by Bari Weiss

Women are hypocrites. Women are opportunists. Women are liars.

They are abusers and bullies and manipulators. They are capable of cruelty, callousness and evil.

Just like men.

This obvious fact — that women are fully human — bears repeating in light of the stunning news that a figurehead of the #MeToo movement has herself been accused of abuse.

Asia Argento, the Italian actress and director, was a key figure in Ronan Farrow’s explosive New Yorker story in October 2017 about Harvey Weinstein’s predations. She was the victim who called the Cannes Film Festival his “hunting ground.” She was the one who gave that unforgettable quote about Mr. Weinstein forcibly performing oral sex on her at a hotel there when she was 21 years old: “A big fat man wanting to eat you. It’s a scary fairy tale.”

In the months that followed, Ms. Argento was rightly hailed for her bravery in speaking out publicly against a serial assaulter. But in private, according to The Times, she was paying off her own accuser $380,000 to keep quiet.

Ms. Argento met Jimmy Bennett on the set of the movie “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.” He was 7. She played his mother.

Ten years later, in May 2013, the two met at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina Del Ray, Calif. Mr. Bennett was 17; Ms. Argento was 37. The age of consent in California is 18.

According to The Times, which based its report on documents between lawyers for Ms. Argento and Mr. Bennett, the actress asked Mr. Bennett’s family member to leave so that she could be alone with him. She gave him alcohol, “kissed him, pushed him back on the bed, removed his pants and performed oral sex. She climbed on top of him and the two had intercourse, the document says. She then asked him to take a number of photos.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Argento issued a statement categorically denying that any sexual encounter ever took place. She says that her boyfriend Anthony Bourdain arranged the payment to Mr. Bennett “because he was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such a person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us.”

Perhaps she’s telling the truth. But switch the genders in this story — he gave her booze, he pushed her back on the bed, he removed her pants, he climbed on top of her — and you can instantly conjure the collective outrage.

Some powerful voices haven’t hesitated to condemn Ms. Argento and offer support to her accuser. In a Twitter thread, the #MeToo founder Tarana Burke wrote that “Sexual violence is about power and privilege. That doesn’t change if the perpetrator is your favorite actress, activist or professor of any gender.”

But others in Hollywood offered sober calls for caution and context. These are particularly striking when they come from those who typically deliver public statements with muzzle velocity, like the #MeToo leader Rose McGowan:

Ms. McGowan, herself a victim of Mr. Weinstein, has a point. We ought to reserve judgment. We ought to take seriously the ruining of a person’s reputation and career until we have all the facts. We ought to consider the context of the accusation.

But the advice is a bit rich coming from a person who has insisted that anything less than immediately believing accusers is moral cowardice:

It is a bit confusing coming from someone who has advocated mercilessness toward alleged sexual harassers:

Given that Mr. Bennett seems to have been financially strapped when he made the accusation against Ms. Argento, there are reasons to wonder whether he had an ulterior motive. But this willingness to weigh the complicated context of such an allegation is one the movement has seldom applied when the accuser has been a woman. Perhaps that will change.

The larger question is whether the Argento story might undermine the #MeToo movement. Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer certainly hopes it will. So do various anti-feminists, right-wing bloggers and conspiracy theorists, who are already fashioning the Argento plot twist into Pizzagate 2.0.

Most people aren’t going to fall for this nonsense. They’re not going to stop taking sexual abuse seriously because of one high-profile hypocrite.

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SOURCE: The New York Times

Bari Weiss is a staff editor and writer for the New York Times Opinion section.