Harvey Weinstein at the "Fk Me I'm Famous Party" in Cannes, May 2011. Photo: Bellak Rachid/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.
Over the last two weeks, Harvey Weinstein – co-founder of Miramax studios and one of the most powerful men in Hollywood – has been accused of using his power and his position to sexually assault and harass dozens of women who worked with him: assistants, employees and actresses.
It’s also become clear that concerns about Weinstein's actions were known in the industry, but that they went largely unspoken, and unchallenged. As if Weinstein was too powerful to touch.
The scandal has attracted worldwide attention – particularly in Italy. One of Weinstein’s named accusers is Italian actress and director Asia Argento.
Argento told The New Yorker that she has been sexually assaulted by Weinstein in an hotel room in 1997, when she was 21. She described how the incident marked her for life, and how she felt that she had to continue sexual relations with him for several years afterwards. She said she did not speak out before out of fear that Weinstein would “crush” her.
Asia Argento in Cannes, May 2012. Photo: Hahn-Marechal-Nebinger/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.
The Italian media has devoted significant space to the scandal – but they have failed, once again, to focus on the alleged perpetrator, and the systems of power and abuse that run through Hollywood and work environments everywhere.
Instead, media scrutiny has fallen on the victims. Argento has been treated particularly – but predictably – harshly by our newspapers, focusing on her own behaviour, describing her as an opportunist, and questioning why she had waited so long to come forward.
A flurry of social media users criticised Argento, as did prominent Italian media personalities. Former politician and TV host Vladimir Luxuria blamed her for not reporting the alleged assault earlier, and for not “saying no to Weinstein as other actresses did”.
Media commentator Selvaggia Lucarelli wrote on her Facebook page that “harassment is horrendous but it is not sexual violence,” adding that it is not “legitimate” to complain “after 20 years to a US newspaper, about your relationships as an adult consensual woman… depicting these as ‘abuses’.”
'The Italian media have failed, once again, to focus on the alleged perpetrator and the systems of power and abuse that run through Hollywood and work environments everywhere.'
Alessandro Sallusti, editor in chief of the right-wing newspaper Il Giornale, stated on the current events TV programme Matrix that reporting the incident now “is cowardice. You are not a victim, you are a partner in crime.”
Veteran journalist and writer Natalia Aspesi – who describes herself as feminist – said that if Weinstein asked Argento for a massage “and you gave it to him, then it is difficult to be shocked by the evolution of events.”
“In these accusations there is a fundamental insincerity,” Apesi continued. “They are late laments, a chorus that does not take into account the reality of facts that producers, since I have memories of similar stories, have always acted like this.”
One of the worst attacks against Asia Argento came from the right-wing newspaper Libero, with a column entitled: “First they give it away, then they whine and pretend to repent”.
On Twitter, Argento said she has sued the newspaper, which she said offended her “dignity as a woman” and her reputation. But inexcusable coverage and commentary has continued.
Libero’s editor-in-chief, Vittorio Feltri, said on the radio that Argento (who has alleged that Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her), “had to give something to her producer” and that “in the end it was cunnilingus. That’s a little lick...and a little lick is always pleasurable.”
“Other women refused,” he continued, and became “shop assistants or cashiers in a supermarket. No one obliges you to become a big actress.”
Libero and other newspapers have also chosen to illustrate articles about the scandal with photos of Argento from the 2007 movie Go-Go Tales, in which she played a lap-dancer.
"we live in a country based on a deeply patriarchal system where the social and economic power is completely on the male side.”
“Argento received such treatment from Italian media because we live in a country based on a deeply patriarchal system where the social and economic power is completely on the male side,” said journalist and writer Giulia Blasi.
“We treat harassed and raped women as they are guilty, we put them on a ‘public trial’: they have to prove their innocence, that they do not want revenge, or that they do not want to use their complaint to get fame. Asia Argento was accused for all this. It is indecent, and it is systematic,” Blasi told me.
Supported by a group of women and LGBTI and feminist websites Gaypost.it and Pasionaria, Blasi launched the #quellavoltache (“that time when”) campaign on Twitter, calling on women to speak out about their own experiences of abuse.
Il Momento che raccoglie #quellavoltache è ormai lungo come Infinite Jest. https://t.co/jCuxcPJGVp
— Giulia Blasi (@Giulia_B) October 15, 2017
‘Slut-shaming’ and victim-blaming are not solely Italian phenomena, of course. But Blasi argues that in this country “voices like the ones that accused and insulted Argento are considered common sense… like ‘what your grandmother would have said to you.’”
The #quellavoltache campaign was launched, Blasi said, by women who are “frustrated seeing everybody blame the victims and say nothing about the offenders and what led a man to harass or rape women or use his power to blackmail them.”
“We saw the lack of support for Asia Argento, who was brave to tell her story, and we decided that the only way to give victims voice was to make them speak all together,” she explained.
The result was something of a collective story of hundreds of tweets telling daily of a range of sexual abuses against women of all ages: on the bus, on the streets, at a party, at work, during the day or at night, by a friend, a colleague, a father, a cousin, a stranger.
#quellavoltache mi hai aggredito sotto casa. Mi hai sbattuto contro un muro. Ti sei masturbato sulla mia gonna. Ti ho denunciato. Sei stato condannato a un anno di carcere. Non hai mai fatto nemmeno un giorno di prigione. Era il 1998.
— Francesca Nava (@franziskanava) October 18, 2017
Women in other countries have also taken to social media with similar campaigns in the wake of the Weinstein allegations. US women are using #metoo to expose the scale of sexual abuse and show solidarity with victims. In France, the relevant hashtag is #balancetonporc ("Expose the Pig").
#MeToo Way too many times. Early I learnt that it is a man's world. Men live while women survive... Better laws are needed.
— Ms Aina Isenskjold (@Isenskjold) October 18, 2017
In Italy, outrageous media coverage of the Weinstein scandal was predictable. Argento – well-known since childhood, the daughter of a famous horror director – has long been a divisive figure, the imperfect victim the media loves to hate.
But Blasi says the response to the #quellavoltache campaign was not expected. It was as if it “hit a nerve and intercepted a moment of deep frustration,” she said. “A lot of women raised their voice at the same time, and every tweet encouraged the next to speak.”
She does not seem too optimistic, however, about a sea-change in how such abuse is discussed and confronted. “This is a system that tends towards self-preservation,” she said. Blasi added, of the men who have tweeted messages of support: “Where have they been, all these years?.”