By Eugène E.
It is sometimes said that a revolution is a self-cannibalizing event; it typically devours itself. Almost a year has passed since the #MeToo movement burst into the annals of history. While to call it a revolution is rather flattering – a revolution sweeps away the old order and imposes a new one, and #MeToo is not quite there – the zeal with which it erupted was revolutionary in nature, and its effects could be sufficiently far-reaching yet. But some might wonder whether #MeToo hasn’t started to devour itself. The movement was certainly dealt a blow recently, when it emerged that the actress Asia Argento, one of its doyennes, had paid a tidy sum (just under $400,000) to a man young enough to be her son, following a complaint made by the young man that the actress had engaged in just the kind of behavior that made #MeToo a movement and Asia Argento one of its faces.
Argento has denied the allegations, but she’s admitted that monies did change hands. According to the actress, the payment was not an admission of guilt; rather, she was pushed into paying off the accuser by her then-companion, the late Anthony Bourdain, to avoid negative publicity. Color me unconvinced.
I am not sure what to make of the accuser, who claims to have been traumatized by the experience. If the accusations are true, Argento might have violated the laws dealing with statutory rape in the jurisdiction in question, but the man was 17 at the time the incident is alleged to have happened, an age at which one can operate a vehicle where I live (and probably where the accuser lives, too). The modern young male can drive on a highway, but is traumatized by receiving oral sex from a not unattractive woman. There was a time when, in wealthier families, the paterfamilias would hire a young maid in order to initiate an adolescent son into the mysteries of manhood (writing about fin-de-siècle Vienna, Zweig mentioned that in his memoirs, if memory serves). Now young men complain about it and say this sort of thing is traumatic, although it seems to be the kind of trauma that can heal with the help of a little bit of cash – on the order of $400,000, to be exact.
It’s worth remembering that young women who have yet to reach the age of majority are in greater need of protection than young men. Since claiming that there are differences between men and women qualifies as apostasy these days, this is denied; but the experience of being seduced by an older female will have a different effect on an underage boy than it will on an underage girl seduced by an older man. A photo apparently showing Argento and the accuser in bed together posing for a selfie has just been released; the photo is said to have been taken at the time of the incident, and the victim does not look in the least bit traumatized.
One can say that the modern young male necessarily corresponds to the watermark of his time – as does the woman currently facing the accusations. Whatever the truth of the matter, the allegations don’t make Asia Argento look very good. By extension, they don’t make the #MeToo movement look very good.
We ought not to be surprised by all this. Long-term readers are aware of where the Axis of Reaction stands with respect to the #MeToo movement. I’ve felt skeptical about #MeToo since the early days of the Weinstein saga; in fact, the first Axis of Reaction blog post (https://axisofreaction.com/2017/10/26/misandry/) was dedicated to this topic. Everything that has happened since then only reinforced the view familiar to readers of this blog, which is that #MeToo is an ideologically based power grab that masquerades itself as an agent of social justice.
There are a number of considerations that support this view.
1. While I have no intention of expressing any kind of solidarity with Harvey Weinstein or of defending him – he does have a lawyer, after all – there was something odd about the suddenness of the accusations against the man. For years Weinstein had appeared to be a much respected Hollywood linchpin and a man everyone wanted to be friends with. All of a sudden, we were asked to believe he was Satan’s emissary. Could it have been true? Certainly. Not to mention that social movements can take shape rapidly in the age of social media. Yet it is hard to imagine that a phenomenon such as #MeToo can emerge out of a void. The pressure must have been building up for a long time; all that was needed was a scapegoat. Weinstein was that scapegoat. My personal inclination is to distrust all movements that require scapegoats for validation, and history bears out that view.
2. The extent and scope of the accusations made it clear that many people had known about Weinstein’s proclivities for some time – people who had enough clout to come forward. But they hadn’t come forward, not until the turn of events compelled them to do so. That turn of events was the #MeToo movement, and the sight of all these indignant faces who were now all too eager to add their names to the #MeToo manifesto suggested that the movement was rife with opportunists.
3. The #MeToo movement was presented as a “mainstream” problem. Actually, it was more of a Hollywood problem. Without questioning the authenticity of some of the complaints against Weinstein and other men who have been served up to the #MeToo guillotine, it’s worth asking whether, in a number of instances, it wasn’t a case of some wildly successful women who had paid a certain price for their success, on their own volition, and who now regretted having paid it.
Do the voices of the #MeToo movement care about gnawing problems in wider society involving abuse of, and violence against, women? I doubt it. Like Hollywood itself, the #MeToo world is an insular one. The stories of the #MeToo women represent a world that is not overly interested in new entrants, who will only increase competition and supplant those who are already in.
Violence against women should be dealt with by reintroducing a system of values, by instilling discipline in our youth, and by reforming our justice system to make it a system that will uphold our values and ensure that the importance of discipline is never forgotten. Presently, our values are fluid and rickety, with a heavy ultraliberal bias; discipline is given short shrift; and the justice system in many Western countries, insofar as punishment and retribution are concerned, is frankly a bit of a joke. Without values and discipline, men will not respect other men; equally, they will fail to respect women. To respect others, people need to be inculcated with the right values at an age when such inculcation can be expected to be effective. I note that it has become socially acceptable, at work and in public places, for men to cuss freely in the presence of women and even children; this is now the norm. There are no barriers and no moral restraints. How could there be? In a world where one’s comfort supersedes one’s sense of duty, no one is accountable to anyone. Board a streetcar or a bus in my city, and you are bound to see a young man (i.e., under forty) who will sooner let hell freeze over than give up his seat to a woman old enough to be his mother – I see it all the time.
On the other hand, women are no longer encouraged to be women in the traditional sense. Being feminine is passé. Women are advised to avoid cultivating their femininity, to engage in all sorts of adventures with their bodies, to swear at their leisure – emancipation, baby! But how can a man respect a foul-mouthed woman covered with piercings and tattoos from head to toe? When it’s not unkemptness, it’s often indecency. Teenage girls believe that exposing as much as flesh as the law will allow them, with things literally hanging out, makes them look sexy; actually, it just makes them look vulgar. The problem with vulgarity is that it commands little respect.
If we want to create an environment that is safe for women, then, we need values, discipline, better policing, and a justice system that will reinforce all those other things. If these proposed solutions might not work as well as I think they will, they will still outperform the #MeToo movement, which relies on hollow sloganeering and rancid histrionics.
4. It is unusual for people preaching tolerance and acceptance to attempt to throttle those who disagree with their sermons, but this is something of a specialty for ultraliberals and their ideology, of which, as mentioned earlier, the #MeToo movement is an offshoot. Those who have dared to question the #MeToo movement found themselves in a very uncomfortable situation. When Catherine Deneuve expressed her doubts, she was subjected to something of a virtual lynching and was eventually forced to recant. The vehemence with which the #MeToo movement persecutes opposition suggests it is not on sure footing; more to the point, it is unsure of, or does not quite believe in, its own truth.
5. #MeToo bills itself as a movement against sexual harassment. If that were all there was to it, there would be no movement. Most decent people – men as well as women – want to stamp out sexual violence. Decent men don’t grope women or grab them by their body parts, certainly not against their will. We don’t need the #MeToo movement to tell us that. So why did the movement come about?
Let’s be clear. The goal of the #MeToo movement is not to represent oppressed women. The goal is to build a society in which there are fewer men – not fewer men in general, but fewer men at the top of all power structures. To achieve this objective and confer upon it the necessary legitimacy, it is necessary to construct a narrative that casts men as the enemy. According to that narrative, society is hostile, unfair, and oppressive to women; women do not enjoy the same opportunities that men do; priapic ogres lie in ambush everywhere to pounce on their female victims – in short, the narrative shows that the world is tyrannized by a patriarchy that needs to be done away with, once and for all. Men are demonized; ultimately, the movement that purports to fight against sexism ends up promoting misandry.
All the recent talk about the chronic underrepresentation of women in certain jobs, about the immutable existence of sinister old-boy networks, and about ubiquitous sexual harassment at the top of hierarchies – all of that is not accidental. Some of these complaints are legitimate. The problem, to go back to the original thesis, is that there is a big difference between social justice and power struggles. Gender warriors talk about the lack of women in governments and on the boards of Fortune 500 companies, but they’re not too concerned about the paucity of women on construction sites or about the near-total absence of women manning garbage trucks. They certainly don’t bemoan the fact that the overwhelming majority of US soldiers who have fallen in combat in the last century were men – gender equality does not apply to private eschatology. Gender warriors huff and puff about male networks, yet they have no problems promoting “safe spaces” for women, which are essentially men-free zones – hypocrisy galore. Ambitious women should not be thwarted. Elbowing one’s way into the couloirs of power is a natural enough desire, after all. I only insist that we call things by their proper names and avoid conflating private ambitions with social justice.
But such conflation cannot be avoided, because it might deprive the ultraliberal movement of its thrust. Oprah Winfrey made it clear earlier this year, when she delivered her “your time’s up” speech. Few asked Winfrey to identify the intended recipients of her message. We were made to believe that she was referring to powerful men who abused their power to satisfy their carnal cravings. Actually, what she really said was that men’s time was up. White men especially. We’ve had enough of you; we want less of you now. Some might roll their eyes: it’s such a cliché for a white male to complain that white males are now the only group it is acceptable to bash. Perhaps, but then clichés can be valid, too. Nor should clichés be mistaken for exaggerations.
Crazy Rich Asians was released last weekend in North America. The movie has an all-Asian cast; as one newspaper gushed, it is not so much a movie as it is a “moment”. At last, Asian-Americans, heretofore severely underrepresented on the big screen, were given the opportunity that had been so long in coming.
It can be conceded that Asian-Americans have been underrepresented in Hollywood, although perhaps not for the reasons that are commonly mentioned. Values might be at work here: Asian-American parents would probably react differently to a child who announces he wants to be a novelist than the parents of a white American child who wants to do the same. There is a greater probability that artistic ambitions might be viewed as frivolous by an Asian-American family than by a Caucasian one, which might be more accepting of such aspirations. This could partially explain why relatively few Asian-Americans drift into Hollywood in the first place: instead of being repelled by racial barriers, they may be guided by the more materialistic values of the milieus from which they originate.
Regardless of the genesis of their underrepresentation, if more Asian-Americans want to be on the screen, so much the better. If the intention of the people behind Crazy Rich Asians is to create a world where folks have a fair and decent chance of realizing their full potential, whatever their race, that world will not be a bad place to live in. But it’s rather strange that the film promises this new color-blind world, free of racially inspired atavism, and yet freely drags race right into it. It claims it doesn’t want race to be a factor, yet it makes race a factor. Note that no one is talking about the quality of the film – which seems to be a typical made-in-Hollywood crowd-pleaser – but everyone is talking about the fact that, finally, the cast is all Asian (which also implies that there are no white faces for a change, though this is tactfully omitted). Without race, there would be no film; race appears to underwrite the movie’s plot. In fact, it is the plot; everything else seems to be secondary. The bright tomorrow, then, is formulated along the drab lines of today. This is akin to affirmative action: we need to have more minority groups represented in such and such institutions, so we therefore introduce quotas to have less whites in these institutions. The idea that to be fair to some, we need to be unfair to others, strikes me as fairly ignoble. True fairness, the color-blind kind of fairness, should never rely on unfairness to promote itself.
It should be noted that the actress who plays the main character in Crazy Rich Asians is a big supporter of both the #MeToo movement and the whole Time’s Up enterprise. Nothing astonishing here. It should also be noted that there have already been complaints about the movie from Asian quarters. Some have remarked that the movie fails to show the entire spectrum of the many Asian ethnic groups in existence; others seem to resent the fact that the movie, though it uses Singapore as its setting, does not portray its smaller Malay and Indian communities as much as they deserve. On and on it goes. Keeping in mind what was said earlier about revolutions devouring themselves, this kind of hubbub is fairly predictable.
But I would not want to steal anyone’s “moment”. The laws of history have their own logic. In the meantime, it appears that Asia Argento needs to answer a few uncomfortable questions. One of them is quite simple: you too? If the accusations made against Argento are true, she can still say, “me too”; but the meaning would be quite different this time.