The reactions to Asia Argento’s alleged sexual assault of her young co-star, Jeremy Bennett have slid into two main factions. Either, people have claimed that it completely discredits the MeToo movement as a whole. Or, people have argued that Bennett’s claims are irrelevant, a mere male drop in the ocean of female oppression.
In the post truth age, there seems to be less and less room for nuance. The middle ground has been turned into a no-man’s land, freckled with risk and impassable except on very special occasions, like Christmas or a family Thanksgiving dinner. The issues raised by movements like MeToo are complex, multi layered and challenging. Why aren’t they being treated as such?
Bennett’s claims arguably change the face of the MeToo movement by calling to attention that men can also be subjected to sexual assault. Rape isn’t about sex, rape is about power, and men are not immune to the power politics that have so often been used to manipulate women.
Using Bennett’s allegations to attempt to discredit the suffering of countless women is not only transparently misogynistic, but actually ignores the importance of Bennett’s claims. If you respond to male sexual assault by saying ‘men suffer from this too, so stop complaining about it’ who are you actually helping? Suffering shouldn’t be arranged on some kind of hierarchy; sexual assault is always wrong, no matter who’s doing it.
Arguing that Bennett’s suffering is a distraction from the wider endemic of male rape culture is an obvious response to attempts to derail the progress of the MeToo movement. I can understand why women are getting defensive and sweeping Bennett’s claims under the patriarchal rug. But ignoring Bennett’s allegations completely undermines the basic ideology behind MeToo, namely that all victims should be believed and taken seriously. If we start saying that male sexual assault doesn’t matter, not only are we being incredibly hypocritical, we’re also exposing feminism to the kind of attacks that make it hard for us to progress.
Women are working their asses off to achieve equality but we’re kidding ourselves if we pretend that we can do this alone. And women shouldn’t even be responsible for tearing down the patriarchy, we didn’t build it. Alienating men, especially men who need our help, is self defeating and short sighted, lacking the kind of empathy that we should be championing.
Bennett’s allegations should be seen as an opportunity to strengthen feminist movements, not weaken them. Conversations about consent need male input, because it’s an issue that affects men. Men need to better understand female consent and vice versa. There’s an assumption that men are raging sexual beings, always up for it whenever we want them. Is it okay to roll over and grab someone’s morning hard on without any warning? Is it okay to assume that if someone has an erection they want to have sex with you? I don’t know the answer to these questions, because I’m not a guy. I’m not saying that in a conversation about sexual assault, male voices should be the loudest. But they should be there, and when men speak up about their own experiences, we have to listen.