For a long time there has been concern that the Me Too movement went too far in portraying men as monsters. But several recent events have shown that the movement was just as misguided in turning women into flawless paragons of virtue.
After accusing Harvey Weinstein of rape, Asia Argento became one of the main faces of Me Too. But last week the movement was rocked when actor and musician Jimmy Bennett accused Argento of sexually assaulting him when he was 17 and she was 37.
Argento denied all the charges, including having any sexual relationship with Bennett and, in a statement to reporter Yashar Ali, claimed her late boyfriend Anthony Bourdain actually made the payments to the cash-strapped Bennett because he was “afraid of the possible negative publicity” and to “not suffer any future intrusions in our life.”
Fellow Weinstein victims were careful about condemning Argento. Rose McGowan, one of the most outspoken heroes of the movement, tweeted “None of us know the truth of the situation, and I’m sure more will be revealed. Be gentle.” Mira Sorvino tweeted a statement describing herself as “heartsick” over the accusations and noting that “perhaps she [Argento] will be exonerated.” It was hard not to notice that men who were similarly accused did not get the benefit of the doubt from these women.
Following Argento’s denial, pictures surfaced showing her and Bennett in bed together. She has not made any further comment.
The same week, the 2018 winner of the Miss America pageant, Cara Mund, accused Gretchen Carlson of bullying her.
“Our chair and CEO have systematically silenced me, reduced me, marginalized me and essentially erased me in my role as Miss America in subtle and not-so-subtle ways on a daily basis,” Mund said.
Two other Miss America winners also joined in her complaint. Like Argento, Carlson was a trailblazer in the Me Too movement. Her sexual-harassment accusation against then Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes was the first of many and ultimately forced his resignation. The idea that a Me Too leader would nevertheless be terrible to other women caught people by surprise.
The accusations against Carlson are reminiscent of those against writer Junot Diaz. Like Carlson, Diaz was not accused of any sexual offenses but still was caught up in the Me Too whirlwind for being generally terrible to women. Diaz had told his own story, of being molested as a child, but that didn’t inoculate him from scorn when allegations of his bad behavior broke. But that’s been the problem with the Me Too movement from the start. It set up a stark contrast of good (women) versus evil (men) and leaves no room for middle ground. No one could live up to those caricatures. With every new accusation came a chorus of shock that our favorite actors, writers, broadcasters could behave in such a vile way.
“Not him!” people exclaimed. This was immediately followed by the suggestion that “everyone,” meaning men, was capable of being a harasser. But the idea that there is only one type of person that is capable of sexual harassment or assault is ludicrous. Similarly, the idea that all men, and only men, are capable of bad behavior, even specifically bad sexual behavior, is also absurd. Some men would never behave like Junot Diaz much less Harvey Weinstein, yet men were tarred with a wide brush when the accusations were rolling in while women were spared from scrutiny.
The charges against these women have nothing to do with what happened to them. But what happened to them also can’t be used as an excuse for their bad actions. These allegations expose something that Me Too had previously obscured. There are no perfect people. People aren’t all good like the accusers have been portrayed, or all bad like the accused. The lack of gray area is what makes the movement so unsustainable. No one is purely virtuous or evil and when the Me Too mob moved beyond sexual assault or harassment to general misconduct toward women it was inevitable that some of the heroes of the movement were going to get caught up in the net.
For the accused men of Me Too, the public judgment was swift and recovery nearly impossible. The women are getting a softer landing, so far.
A good result of this moment would be a permanent reduction of the delirium that follows every charge. The main figures of the movement could lead the way on that and show they care about hearing the whole story even when the accused is not a woman they know. They could show the same “gentleness” toward men — and bring a saner approach to what has become a hysterical frenzy.
Follow Karol Markowicz on Twitter at @karol
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