After all the desperate cries of “witch hunt” from the persecution complex of Woody Allen apologists, the #MeToo movement may now be facing its most massive stress test yet.
On Sunday night, the New York Times published a story about Asia Argento, one of the first people to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of rape. As Weinstein’s downfall triggered a spree of credible accusations against predatory men last fall, however, Argento was apparently trying to cover up a credible threat against herself. The story alleges that in 2013, Argento sexually assaulted actor Jimmy Bennett in a California hotel room when he was just 17 years old (and she 37)—and furthermore, that she tried to purchase Bennett’s silence in 2017 for $380,000. These allegations have instantly tarnished Argento’s credibility, but what impact will they have on the #MeToo movement?
Ideally, it wouldn’t matter much at all. Asia Argento is guilty of poor judgment and hypocrisy, in addition to her alleged sex crime, but she is only one individual. Her issues are her own and can in no way be used to characterize the whole movement. #MeToo does not have a conflict; Asia Argento does. Remove her voice from the accusations against Harvey Weinstein, for instance, and what remains are 86 other accusers with near-identical stories of abuse. Anyone inspired by Argento’s fierce advocacy for believing accusers should not throw out the #MeToo baby with Argento’s portion of the bathwater. The social climate she helped create is one in which Jimmy Bennett can come forward with his story and be believed. In fact, certain people refusing to give Bennett the benefit of the doubt present a greater threat to the movement than the allegations against Argento.
Some of Argento’s sisters in the #MeToo movement have chosen to blindly stand by her side, proving that hypocrisy can be contagious. Rosanna Arquette, another figure in the Weinstein scandal, tweeted and deleted on Monday, “Stop until you hear all the facts, this a set up.” Although Rose McGowan, one of the leading voices of the movement, initially stated that her heart is broken in a tweet that seemed to distance herself from Argento, she later tweeted a message that appeared to cast doubt on Bennett’s claims. It’s one thing to privately offer an embattled friend some support and wait to form a personal judgment until all the facts are in; it’s another thing to voice doubts in support of a comrade solely because they’re a comrade. This movement was built on making all would-be accusers feel safe and welcome, even the inconvenient ones. The #MeToo movement does not come à la carte.
Last fall, when then-senator Al Franken was credibly accused of groping and other inappropriate behavior by multiple women, the Democratic Congress pressured him to resign. Franken was an effective, well-liked senator, and for many, it was painful to let him go. It’s been nine months, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is still getting flak for her perceived involvement in the matter. But letting Franken go was the only solution to keep the moral high ground against the party of Donald Trump and Roy Moore. Letting Franken go meant holding on to integrity. And that’s what other figures in the #MeToo movement must do now.
Solidarity in this instance doesn’t consist of unconditional loyalty to the people who helped build the movement but to the broader population the movement is intended to aid and protect. #MeToo was never about Perfect Beings Exposing Systemic Abuse, but the abuse itself and the root causes. It’s fine to have a degree of sympathy for Argento, who has so far declined to comment on the accusations. Her alleged crime took place years after Harvey Weinstein allegedly raped her, and, as the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. As #MeToo founder Tarana Burke tweeted on Monday morning, “there is no model survivor. We are imperfectly human and we all have to be accountable for our individual behavior. People will use these recent news stories to try and discredit this movement–don’t let that happen.” The fact that Argento is a survivor does not excuse what she is accused of doing. We have to hold her accountable.
We’re at a crucial point in the #MeToo movement where networks like AMC and HBO are making distinctions between what behavior they are willing to put up with by continuing business relationships with the likes of Chris Hardwick and James Franco, respectively. In order to protect the integrity of all those aligned with it, the #MeToo movement needs to demonstrate what behavior it will or will not put up with as well.