It May Be Upsetting, But Asia Argento's Situation Isn't Complicated

Asia Argento at the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival. Palais des Festivals, Cannes, France, May 19, 2018. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/ Getty Images for Kering)

On Wednesday, TMZ published a photo of Asia Argento and Jimmy Bennett, an actor who had previously played her child on screen, lying together in a state of at least partial undress. The photo emerged just one day after Argento strongly denied Bennett's claims, printed by the New York Times, that he and Argento had sex when he was 17 and she was 37. TMZ also published screenshots of texts purported to be between Argento and an anonymous friend, in which she admits to having sex with Bennett, but says she "didn't know he was a minor" at the time. In the same message exchange, Argento appears to say: "The horny kid jumped me."

As a result of the revelations, some combed through Argento's social media archives and uncovered what could be construed as pretty damning evidence:

With Argento so thoroughly established as a leader in the #MeToo movement, the TMZ revelations, paired with Argento's public statement that she "never had any sexual relationship with Bennett" and is "deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false," have prompted much online fretting from both celebrities involved in #MeToo, and the public alike.

There are Argento defenders:

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Argento vilifiers:

Celebrities treading carefully:

Victim blamers:

And those who are using this to discredit #MeToo:

As we all know, Twitter is a great simplifier. The conversations I'm hearing in my own circles more closely resemble that of The Cut's editor-in-chief Stella Bugbee and senior culture writer Anna Silman, who published a conversation in which they flipped back and forth between their feelings of protectiveness towards Argento because of an inherent desire to believe women, and their feelings of hypocrisy and revulsion in the face of the evidence. They also expressed concerns about the future of #MeToo.

There are many reasons why this particular case feels confusing and icky to so many. A major one is that, as women have come together under the #MeToo banner over the last two years, much of what has kept everyone united is an absolute belief in the voices of women. So what happens when a woman is issuing a denial instead of a claim? Of course, there have been male accusers too, but, until now, their fingers were pointed at other men. It was inevitable that a woman would finally fall into #MeToo's accused category; we just didn't expect it to be this particular woman.

There are other factors with Argento's case that make it harder to swiftly throw her onto the growing pile of Hollywood abusers. There is her own abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein; Argento says she was raped by the movie mogul in 1997. Could a relationship with Bennett have been influenced by her own desire to reclaim a sense of power? (The potential of abused individuals becoming abusers is well-established.)

There is also the very recent suicide of her boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, to consider. Perhaps her official statement might have more accurately reflected the intimate nature of her friendship with Bennett if she wasn't in the midst of horrible grief right now.

Finally, there's her nationality. The age of consent in Italy is just 14. Did Argento forget that America's is 18?

Truthfully, there is only one way to view this case, and that's the same way that we've been asked to view all other #MeToo cases so far. When a person says they have been victimized, we should probably believe them. When there are imbalances of power and status between two people, the ability to consent is compromised. When there is a sizable age difference between two people, the exploitation of the younger party becomes more likely. If Asia Argento really did have sex with a much less famous 17-year-old, she must be treated no differently than others in her situation.

The most prominent figureheads of #MeToo, including founder Tarana Burke, already understand this. Many of them have been swift to publicly respond to the Argento-Bennett case in the same way they have to every other #MeToo assault claim: they believe the survivor and offer support.

While Bennett is currently Argento's only accuser, and other men have gotten off very lightly under similar circumstances (Chris Hardwick is already back at work despite his ex's horrifying domestic abuse revelations, for instance), Argento's denial must still be seen as particularly egregious.

In her statement, Argento went out of her way to try and discredit Bennett ("who was then undergoing severe economic problems and who had previously undertaken legal actions against his own family requesting millions in damages"), and then to shift responsibility for the $380,000 paid to Bennett onto her then-partner, Bourdain, who of course can longer provide his own version of events.  ("Anthony insisted the matter be handled privately and this was also what Bennett wanted. Anthony was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us. We decided to deal compassionately with Bennett’s demand for help and give it to him.”)

It's possible that, in stepping forward publicly, Jimmy Bennett has just broken down some barriers for other men in his situation. In a statement, he said:

"I did not initially speak out about my story because I chose to handle it in private with the person who wronged me. My trauma resurfaced as she came out as a victim herself … I was ashamed and afraid to be part of the public narrative. At the time 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.”

If the response to this case can be handled with the kind of solidarity that has made #MeToo such a powerful movement thus far, then the progress in sexual relations that has marked the last two years of accusations and repercussions may open up the conversation even further to tackle gender stereotypes, the complexities of all intimate relationships, and the fact that, while it is statistically much less likely, women have the power to abuse too.

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In the end, Asia Argento's isn't a complex case, it's merely a wildly disappointing one.

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