Italy’s shape is in that of a boot, sure. But one never imagined it would quite literally kick out one of its most iconic stars over her deeply personal confession regarding her own nightmarish dealings with Harvey Weinstein. While the ex-mogul has, as it’s revealed with each passing day, sexually assaulted, molested and/or raped seemingly every woman in Hollywood regardless of their role in the industry, there is something strikingly unsettling about Argento’s story–primarily resulting from the reaction of her own countrymen (and women, perhaps the least sympathetic of the two only accepted Italian genders in this case).
The Italian man, it is no secret, is generally of the old school mentality. To him, it is only natural that the woman stays at home, cooks the food and rears his children while he is free to engage in affairs or just about any other indiscretion he pleases. But it’s fine, he’s still Catholic, therefore vicino a dio. And if he’s in the movie industry, like Fabrizio Lombardo–the former head of Miramax Italy and a known agent of facilitating Weinstein’s abuse, toward Argento included—the stereotype of the misogynistic Italian male is tenfold. Accordingly, it’s telling that Lombardo would continue to come to the defense of Weinstein by remarking, “A man wouldn’t tell this story. So how do I know? You see what I mean? I don’t think anybody knows except the people in the room.” The usual male method of gaslighting is in full effect here, so convinced they are of their own delusions that they can frequently be adept at transferring them to their victims.
Argento’s incredibly brave disclosure about the longstanding harassment she endured from Weinstein, starting with his standard operating procedure of luring her to a hotel room and then changing into a robe, goes into graphic detail on a level that’s too specific and cringeworthy to be questioned with regard to veracity.
But how can anyone, least of all a man, the ultimate perpetrator of chauvinistic offenses not believe Argento when she says, “The thing with being a victim is I felt responsible… Because, if I were a strong woman, I would have kicked him in the balls and run away. But I didn’t. And so I felt responsible.” And this is precisely how predatory and entitled sexists get away with what they do for so long, making their targets feel like it’s somehow they who are wrong. The PTSD Weinstein inflicted all over the industry can be summed up with Argento’s assessment “I’ve been damaged… Just talking to you about it, my whole body is shaking.” That Argento has, from the day she was born, been met with forcible actions (the city registry refused to put Asia on her birth certificate as it was not an “appropriate” moniker, instead slapping the name Aria down) seemed to set a precedent for an emotionally fraught trajectory.
Recapturing the events in his lurid style, Ronan Farrow recounts the first sexual assault Argento experienced at the hands (or mouth) of Weinstein: “Argento recalled sitting on the bed after the incident, her clothes ‘in shambles,’ her makeup smeared. She said that she told Weinstein, ‘I am not a whore,’ and that he began laughing. He said he would put the phrase on a T-shirt.” This kind of belittlement is par for the course in the Italian culture, particularly its media outlets. And let us not forget its illustrious prime minister Silvio “Bunga Bunga” Berlusconi, the original Donald Trump in terms of global political laughing stocks. Worst of all, perhaps, is that Italy’s own female population seems to be content with the way things are, many shaming Argento’s “claims” in both the journalistic and social media realms. In Guia Soncini’s New York Times article, “The Failure of Italian Feminism,” she proffers the idea that women in Italy can’t get on board with feminism in that “militant” American sort of way because “it has to do with—Italian cliché though it may be—our history with the Mafia. Our attitude toward life mimics the Corleone family’s: Our family, our friends, our clique will always come before abstract concepts of right and wrong. It’s a variation on ‘the devil you know’: The patriarchy you know will always be more appealing than a triumphant feminism in which none of your acquaintances are involved.”
Maybe that’s why, among other ass backwards accepted practices and behaviors in Italy, “Until 1981, a wife’s affair could be considered an extenuating circumstance for her murder. When it comes to rape, it has been only 21 years since it was declared a crime against a person and not just against public decency.”
Farrow, who interviewed multiple subjects in addition to Argento for his disquieting piece in The New Yorker, even tends to bring a hair of condescension by nature of being male (and Woody Allen’s son) with the title “From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories.” No, they aren’t victims, they are “accusers.” Farrow writes, “What complicates the story, Argento readily allowed, is that she eventually yielded to Weinstein’s further advances and even grew close to him. Weinstein dined with her, and introduced her to his mother. Argento told me, ‘He made it sound like he was my friend and he really appreciated me.’ She said that she had consensual sexual relations with him multiple times over the course of the next five years, though she described the encounters as one-sided and ‘onanistic.'” He was the devil she knew. And now, she’s just a devil to the misogynist men and women of a country that can’t shed its ties to the ancient past.
While naive tourists and middle-aged Americans feigning knowledge of good food and wine (but ultimately just settling for some gross cacio e pepe in Trastevere) view Italy as a paradise, as their ultimate Under the Tuscan Sun/Eat Pray Love experience come true, the dark truth of the matter is: Italy can often times feel like hell on earth for a woman, particularly an artistic one with her own opinions and ideals separate from those of the obsequious casalinga archetype.
And Argento is one courageous donna for speaking up in a country that has so often forced its own to be chased out for the sole reason of freedom of expression (see: Roberto Saviano). The visions of tarring and feathering, however, mean that Italy can never really change if it constantly seeks to antagonize those of a “progressive” leaning. As Argento commented from her new semi-safe perch in Berlin, “Italy is far behind the rest of the world in its view of women.” And it might be condemned to stay that way, much to the society’s seeming delight.