With the recent accusations against Asia Argento and NYU professor Avital Ronell, there has been a discussion of what it means when women are accused of sexual assault, and how that fits into #MeToo. Maybe I’m naive, but I never thought that #MeToo and #TimesUp weren’t going to address female assailants.
Asia Argento is accused of paying a $380,000 settlement to a young actor who accused her of sexual abuse. Jimmy Bennett claims that Argento sexually assaulted him, just two months past his 17th birthday. The claims of assault are even more nefarious when considering that Argento has known Bennett since he was seven years old and played his mother in a previous film. “She gave him alcohol to drink and showed him a series of notes she had written to him on hotel stationery. Then she 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.”
Yashar Ali posted on his Twitter a statement from Argento denying the claim, saying that Bennett is taking advantage of her relationship with the late Anthony Boudain to get money from her (regarding the settlement).
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) August 21, 2018
Argento’s statement reeks of the same gaslighting we often see from male abusers. However, people have been speaking up against Argento saying that believing all victims means just that.
…and begin to talk about power. Sexual violence is about power and privilege. That doesn’t change if the perpetrator is your favorite actress, activist or professor of any gender.
And we won’t shift the culture unless we get serious about shifting these false narratives.
— Tarana (@TaranaBurke) August 20, 2018
Tarana Burke’s statement about power in the above tweet then leads into the discussion around NYU professor Avital Ronell. Ronell is accused of sexually harassing her student, Nimrod Reitman, who filed a Title IX lawsuit against NYU, which he won. This led to Ronell being suspended for the coming academic year.
Reitman accuses Ronell of harassing him for three years, while she was his advisor. She would send him emails calling him: “my most adored one,” “Sweet cuddly Baby,” “cock-er spaniel,” and “my astounding and beautiful Nimrod” according to the New York Times
Professor Ronell kissed and touched him repeatedly, slept in his bed with him, required him to lie in her bed, held his hand, texted, emailed and called him constantly, and refused to work with him if he did not reciprocate. Mr. Reitman is gay and is now married to a man; Professor Ronell is a lesbian.
Ronell denies the claims, and says that the texts between them were “repeatedly invited, responded to and encouraged by him over a period of three years.”
Coming to Ronell’s defense are second-wave feminist academics like Judith Butler. Ronell’s supporters wrote a massive letter about her, saying:
“Although we have no access to the confidential dossier, we have all worked for many years in close proximity to Professor Ronell. We have all seen her relationship with students, and some of us know the individual who has waged this malicious campaign against her. […] We testify to the grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment of Professor Ronell and ask that she be accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation,” the professors wrote.
Who gives a turd about her grace, wit or intellectual commitment? She should not have been talking to a student or advisee like that. Both Argento and Ronell allegedly used their power and privilege over someone less powerful, and that does not go away because they are women.
They may not have power on an institutional and systematic larger scale, but in individual cases, it’s absolutely possible for them to both have power and use it to oppress others. Being oppressed doesn’t inherently make you more empathetic; it can, however, teach you how to oppress others. White women, especially, have historically used their feminity as a weapon against people of color and the 53% who voted for Donald Trump definitely continue to do so.
Asia Argento’s alleged actions towards Jimmy Bennett reeks of the cycle of abuse, and while it doesn’t erase her own victimhood, it shouldn’t be a shield against being a predator herself.
As a feminist in academia, Ronell should know that being involved with a student. Even when you believe it to be “mutual” is a messy and problematic power dynamic and the defense of her from peers reeks of institutional power.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “Nearly 1 in 10 men in the United States has experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner and reported at least one measured impact related to experiencing these or other forms of violent behavior in the relationship” and while most offenders of that are “predominantly male perpetrators” it doesn’t mean women can’t do it themselves. Especially when they have grown up being heavily sexualized and believe it to be “normal” behavior.
A study focusing on the way that female sexual assault perps are treated notes that:
“Female perpetration is downplayed among professionals in mental health, social work, public health, and law, with harmful results for male and female victims, in part due to these “stereotypical understandings of women as sexually harmless,” even as ongoing “heterosexism can render lesbian and bisexual victims of female-perpetrated sexual victimization invisible to professionals.”
Studies have also shown that when men are abused by female predators, they are less likely to report it, because “male victims may experience pressure to interpret sexual victimization by women in a way more consistent with masculinity ideals, such as the idea that men should relish any available opportunity for sex.”
None of this erases the fact that we have issues with men in authority abusing women, but feminism is not supposed to be about ignoring the problematic and awful things women in power do. Asia Argento and Avital Ronell do not undermine #MeToo—they stand as a reminder of the work that needs to be done, and a sign of progress that men now feel like they can come forward about sexual abuse no matter who perpetrated it.
(image: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
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