On Weinstein, Italians, and persistent bigotry

As the number of women who accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape increased, so did public anger. So far, the Hollywood producer has been fired by his own company and expelled by the Oscars Academy. Countless actors, from George Clooney to Colin Firth, have spoken out against him, distanced themselves, apologised for not acting on what they knew or suspected. And I almost believed that writing another infuriated article on Weinstein’s case would be pointless. When a significant majority of human beings seemed to fully comprehend the gravity of his actions, my outraged words would be redundant and prosaic. But this collective state of grace lasted for a tragically limited period of time. Now Asia Argento, the Italian actress who alleged that Weinstein raped her when she was 21, is leaving Italy, sick of being “slut-shamed” by the national press. So here I am, in a terrible mood, writing down some platitudes that my own country would paradoxically label as controversial.

Let’s start from the beginning: Asia Argento is the daughter of a famous thriller movie director who gave Italians some chills in the seventies. At the start of her acting career, she met Harvey Weinstein, who was one of the most powerful men in the Hollywood industry at the time. He also had the fastidious tendency to offer promising young women a career boost in exchange for sexual favours. Implicitly, yet predictably, politely declining his offer would catastrophically impact their chances to ever appear on screens. Argento fell victim to this disgusting behaviour and could not escape.

Weinstein’s coercive and manipulative modus operandi is what makes him especially dangerous and slimy. Quite alarmingly, it is also what makes so many brains go haywire. Libero, which is an Italian national newspaper, recently published a deeply considerate article by Renato Farina, whose title and subtitle read “First they give it away, then they whine and pretend to repent: falling for your boss’ sexual advances is prostitution, not rape.” Farina thinks Argento should have simply said no to him. So did many other women – he insists, in a burst of moralism at its finest – who chose self-respect over fame and went on to live respectable anonymous existences. Unsatisfied, Farina wrote a second extraordinary example of humanity and compassion, where he teaches us the difference between a rapist and “a pig”. Said difference, according to Farina (and Farina only, hopefully), lies in the use of physical violence.

Now, let alone that his claims remind me of Ann Coulter’s fine thinking, Farina seems to be happily unaware of the Italian Penal Code. This wonderfully objective collection of guidelines condemns anyone who induces another person to undertake and/or endure a sexual act by threat or abuse of power. In other words, Weinstein’s criminal responsibility cannot be excluded a priori just because he did not “hit the victim on the head with a brick” first. Argento surrendered, as she felt she had no alternative. Extorted consent is not real consent. Also, I fail to see the point in distinguishing between the women who gave in to this emotional blackmail and those who did not. Aren’t they all victims? When did fear become a crime?

The highfalutin prose of these articles diverts attention from their lack of solid logical foundations. Nevertheless, a disturbing number of Italians fell into this web of pompous words and embraced the author’s view, initiating a cascade of victim-blaming Facebook posts.

Many repeat Farina’s words, disclosing the critical-thinking skills of a parakeet.  “She could have said no to him and settled for some less remunerative job”, they say. Such resentful remarks reveal some people’s inability to show empathy towards anyone who lives a life less ordinary. Others go a step further and blame her for not speaking up against him twenty years ago.

I could write another article on the shameful conspiracy of silence that prevented Weinstein from being exposed sooner. I will simply say that it is equally shameful to blame it on his victims. He not only was a Hollywood eminence, but also a renowned member of the liberal political establishment. Dealing with a sacred monster who maintained a respectable image by publicly espousing humanitarian causes does not sound like an easy task to me. It should not be hard to believe that some young women might have felt intimidated. Expecting victims to deal with traumatizing experiences with cold efficiency is ridiculous and merciless; those who do should be cherished, those who cannot should be helped and understood.

I do not wish to turn this into a merely country-related issue. Not all Italians blame Weinstein’s victims, and not all who blame Weinstein’s victims are Italian. Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik just recently sparked some major backlash after implying in a New York Times op-ed that clothing and attitude can provoke unwanted sexual acts. This comes to show that we all still have to work on our perception of victims and offenders. Otherwise, even one of the most beautiful countries in the world can easily become despicably ugly.

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