Op-Ed

I refuse to be silenced

‘Play dumb, be silent, act sexy.’ Women around the globe are fed up with the shallow, old demands powerful men place on them

Actress and director Asia Argento. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Whore. Liar. Traitor. Opportunist.

I have been called all of these things and more since I first began to speak out last October about being raped in 1997, when I was 21 years old, by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. For speaking my truth, I have been slut-shamed, victim-blamed, bullied, and threatened on a daily basis. And I am not alone.

Women everywhere, emboldened by the #MeToo movement, have had the courage to share their most painful private traumas in public only to face blanket denials and further assaults, this time on their character, their credibility, their dignity. Six months after the Weinstein story broke in The New York Times and The New Yorker, more and more, high-profile establishment figures, from Tony Robbins to Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, are also feeling emboldened — not to confess their cowardice as shameless spectators but to denounce the #MeToo movement. It’s open season on survivors. The larger our number, the more outspoken we are, it seems, the greater the ferocity and frequency of attacks. The most brutal and vicious response to this flowering of female political thought and action is taking place in my home country, Italy, but the poison seeps out.

That is why I am appearing at the Women in the World summit in New York at Lincoln Center Thursday evening to speak alongside two formidable and outspoken Italian women: Laura Boldrini and Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. For defending women’s rights in Italy, Boldrini has been subjected to outrageous and violent intimidation. Her effigy has been burned in the street. One small-town right-wing mayor suggested without embarrassment she should be raped by immigrants. And Matteo Salvini, the extreme right leader of the Northern League, brought to a rally stage an inflatable sex doll, which he referred to as ’Boldrini’ — and this scurrilous defamer may yet become Italy’s next prime minister. Another member of the Northern League called for her “physical elimination.” Beppe Grillo, founder of the Five Star Movement, is barred from running for election himself because he was convicted of killing three people by vehicular manslaughter. But the Five Star movement he founded won the largest share of the vote in Italy’s recent election and he asked his two million Facebook followers: “What would you do if you found Boldrini in a car?”

President of the Chamber of Deputies Laura Boldrini is pictured before a confidence vote to the new government on December 13, 2016 in Rome. (ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Ambra Battilana Gutierrez is the fearless young model who went up against Berlusconi and Weinstein. She testified as to what she saw and experienced at Berlusconi’s “bunga-bunga” parties during the infamous prostitution trial of 2011. Two years later, the NYPD asked her to wear a wire in an encounter with Harvey Weinstein. She recorded what turned out to be an explosive piece of audio. For this, the tabloids smeared her as a prostitute and blackmailer. We have a message for these predatory enablers and an alert for Americans.

What began in Italy is now manifest here, public discourse degraded into a sick tabloid fantasy. Of sex, corruption, violence and lies. What began with Berlusconi continues with Trump and Weinstein. All men in positions of power and of a now all-too-familiar type, view women as chattels to serve their sexual lusts, to puff up their fragile egos, and then, later, try cover up their crimes by bribery, threats and intimidation. The exploitation of women has been central to each of their paths to power. Weinstein used his company to hunt for prey. Trump, the Miss USA Pageant, to gain power and influence in the business and media world.

Berlusconi showed them both the way. He corrupted Italy by degrees over decades through a vast media empire that deploys three national TV channels, Italy’s largest book and magazine publisher, Mondadori, and a daily newspaper, Il Giornale. Striscia la Notizia, a weekly satirical TV show on Berlusconi’s Canale 5, makes a mockery of the news yet it has been the highest-rated and most-watched TV show in Italy since the late 1980s, featuring half-naked showgirls.

Over time, the exploitation of women as mindless, unspeaking, submissive sex objects proliferated across Italian TV. These images of women insinuated themselves into the subconscious of the nation, colonizing the culture like a fungus, and distorting the ambitions of young Italian women. This, they were told, was how to be admired and to succeed: play dumb, be silent, act sexy. An object of desire without a voice. And Berlusconi was able to achieve this because, in Italy, women were already worth less than nothing. Forced into one of two roles, the mother or the whore. Italy has long been sexist to the bone. Misogyny, it seems, is the rule of law, femicide a fact of life. In Italy, one woman is killed by a man every 60 hours. One out of every three women has been subjected in their lifetimes to some form of sexual violence. One in three!

Ambra Battilana Gutierrez speaks to media outside the courthouse after the verdicts in the ‘Ruby bis’ case on July 19, 2013 in Milan, Italy. Nicole Minetti, Emilio Fede and Lele Mora were found guilty of aiding and abetting in the procurement of prostititutes for ‘bunga bunga’ parties held by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

Until 1981, charges of rape could be dropped by Italian legal authorities if a rape victim agreed to marry her rapist. That horrendous practice was known as “reparatory marriage.” Until the same year, a husband could kill his wife if he believed she had committed adultery, and receive only a minor sentence. Until 1996, rape was not even considered a crime against a person, only a crime against the “public morals.”

Think about that.

And even after the law was changed, the statute of limitations for reporting a rape runs out after six months. After that, there is no possibility for justice. It’s as if the law was enacted to prevent the reporting and prosecution of rape. To pretend it is not even happening. A law written by men, for men. A law designed to protect the rapist. And so, not surprisingly, when I spoke out about Weinstein, Italy was the only place where my story was not accepted or believed. Instead, my reputation was traduced, my story distorted, my credibility held hostage to random smears.

Almost every day TV featured a discussion panel, made up of people who did not know me, people I had never met, who felt qualified to argue whether I had been raped or not, dissecting my story, my life, as if they were detectives at a scene that existed only in their salacious imaginations. And the conclusion these great detectives came to, was that not only was I asking for it, but I wanted it and benefited from it. What happened to me was not rape, they said, it was prostitution. In their eyes, I was not even worthy of being a victim of this monstrous crime. In their eyes, I was not even good enough to be raped. This relentless dehumanization in the Italian media eventually gave others beyond Italy the idea they could vilify and slander me with impunity also.

Some of the cruelest and most hurtful comments came from those I do happen to have known. Catherine Breillat, undoubtedly the most sadistic and inhumane director I have ever worked with, calls herself a feminist but puts her own self-interest above those of women. In a recent interview, she mourned the loss of Harvey Weinstein for European cinema and said not a word in support of the scores of women he raped, assaulted and harassed. Instead, using me as an example and through a truly vicious character assassination, she tried to tarnish the credibility of all Weinstein accusers.

Then consider the actor and male model Vincent Gallo. To promote himself and the men’s fashion line he was paid to wear, he exploited the pages of a British fashion magazine, Another Man, to make a malicious, unprovoked attack on me and Rose McGowan. (I hardly know Gallo, and was only briefly acquainted with him almost two decades ago). He brought shame on Yves Sant Laurent and their creative director Anthony Vaccarello who allowed their model to sell their clothes by a hatchet job on two survivors of sexual assault. Yves Saint Laurent and Another Man publisher Jefferson Hack shamed themselves by allowing Gallo to do this in their name without censure, or question or qualification, and silently profiting from the publicity. And they call us prostitutes? I will not allow these squalid gaslighters to go unchecked in their character assassinations. Of me, of #MeToo, of anybody. None of us should tolerate them.

Our exemplars are many, but we might all celebrate Nanine McCool. This brave woman stood up in a packed arena before more than 10 thousand people, and faced down the self-styled, self-help guru and false God, Tony Robbins. This man, a ludicrous, Ken doll manbot stereotype of strutting male machismo, towered over her and attempted to use his physical presence to intimidate her, getting in her space, getting in her face. Nanine stood her ground, did not back down. She won the argument, and unmasked this giant as a naked pigmy. This he clearly regretted only when a video of their interaction went viral online, threatening to hit him where it hurt, his bottom line. It forced him to issue a PR-scripted “apology.”

We are all Nanine McCool. I stand with her and all survivors. Their pain is my pain. Their trauma, my trauma. Their fight is my fight. Their voice, my voice. My own experience, my own pain, turned me into an activist, and gave me a calling, a mission and a message, something far more valuable for my self respect than any career in movies. Six months ago, the world changed, definitively and irrevocably. The balance of power tipped, at last, in favor of the survivors who have been given a voice and platform to speak their truths to the world. If we remain strong, determined, vigilant — if we support each other — the intimidators will fail.

What has been done cannot be undone. What has been revealed can no longer be hidden. What has been said can no longer be unspoken. For speaking truth to power, I have been called a whore, a liar, a traitor and an opportunist. The one thing I will not be though, the one thing none us will be, is silenced.

Editor’s Note: In a statement provided to media, a spokeswoman for Weinstein contested the rape allegations. “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances,” the statement read.

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