I’ve had several conversations in the last week with women who are distraught over the Asia Argento story. ICYMI, actor and musician Jimmy Bennett alleged actor and filmmaker Argento (recently in headlines for having disclosed her experiences of sexual violence with Harvey Weinstein as part of the #MeToo movement) sexually assaulted Bennett in 2013, when he was 17 and she was 37. While women have expressed concern over Bennett’s victimization, they are also concerned that the revelation will be a blow to the #MeToo movement, as if we have become a culture that cannot distinguish between a victim and a perpetrator because of gender, or because of past behavior.
In a statement provided to the New York Times, Bennett said. “I believed there was still a stigma to being in the situation as a male in our society. I didn’t think that people would understand the event that took place from the eyes of a teenage boy.” Bennett’s point underscores how our thinking about masculinity perpetuates rape culture. The pernicious cultural myth that men have voracious, uncontrollable, and indiscriminate sex drives creates a culture in which teenage boys who have sex (especially a beautiful movie star) are considered lucky, and the role of power difference in such situations is disregarded. Because men are viewed as sexually inviolable, those who experience coercive sex feel silenced. They get the message that as the “stronger” sex, they should be able to “defend” themselves against an assault; men learn that if they are in a situation in which power was used to manipulate or exploit them, they should just feel lucky to have had sex, and if they don’t, something might be wrong with their masculinity or their sexuality.
What #MeToo is teaching us as a culture is that sexual violence is a continuum. It doesn’t have to include actual physical violence at all; it can just be the threat of violence or the threat of lost status. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are never about attraction or lust or passion; these situations are about power and control. And when we adhere to gender roles that limit us—when men are seen as only strong and powerful and interested in sex while women are seen as weak and powerless sexual objects—we undergird a gender system of power and control in which men and women are more likely to feel uncomfortable, silenced, and violated.
The great promise of the#MeToo movement is in its creation of a space for men like Bennett to come forward and tell their stories about someone in a position of power taking advantage of that power. The real power of #MeToo is to deconstruct long-held notions of sexual assault. To be true to the movement, it’s imperative that we listen to and believe survivors who are brave enough to weather the oncoming storm of doubt, regardless of gender.Share this: