NEW YORK—It is no exaggeration to say that if Asia Argento and Ambra Battilana Gutierrez had not been part of the courageous group of women who exposed Harvey Weinstein, the former movie mogul might still be preying on young women.
Gutierrez is the young woman who wore the NYPD wire to help catch Weinstein trying to manhandle her into his hotel room. “I’m not comfortable,” she was heard pleading when he reprimanded her for making a scene. “I don’t want to do anything I don’t want to do.” Argento was coerced into giving Weinstein a massage when she thought he would be reading a script she wrote—an episode which she says ended with him raping her orally and then essentially holding her hostage with threats and promises for several years.
While they may be heroes in the American #MeToo movement, the women are villains back home in Italy, where the #MeToo movement is often treated with a shrug or considered strictly as something happening somewhere else.
On Thursday, they shared the stage at the ninth annual Women in the World Conference in New York with New Yorker writer Ronan Farrow, who helped break the story that launched the movement, and Italian politician Laura Boldrini, who has suffered unthinkable persecution for her feminist views in Italy.
The purpose of focusing on a country like Italy, where sexual harassment, domestic violence and femicide is rampant, was meant to underscore just how much work is yet to be done before all women are safe from harassment. “Italy is a lens through which to view how far we have to go,” Farrow said. “We can’t be celebratory yet. It is still an incomplete moment.”
Gutierrez is still under a gag order and could not speak about Weinstein directly because of her ongoing legal battle, but she recounted how she had also experienced similar harassment under former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. When she was just a high school senior, she had won a beauty pageant and her agent told her she would be meeting one of Italy’s famous star-makers. Instead, she says she was taken to Berlusconi’s basement for a bunga-bunga party with the expectation she would participate in the orgy. She was not being rewarded for her title; instead, she was the reward. After she and a friend decided to escape and later complained about how they were treated, they were vilified and labeled as escorts and prostitutes.
Argento, too, was vilified in Italy for speaking out in America. Headlines across the country questioned whether she was telling the truth. “Women in Italy are not believed, and that stops them from speaking out,” she said. “There are lots of predators, but the [victims] see me being called a whore, traitor or prostitute for speaking out so they keep quiet.”
Boldrini, who has received hundreds of death and rape threats during her time as speaker of the house, and who Matteo Salvini, the man who might be the next prime minister of Italy, once compared to a blow-up sex doll, explained that the Italian culture has simply allowed the victimization to continue. “There are associations working for women’s rights, but they are not stakeholders, they are not a powerful lobby,” she said. “In public debates in Italy, there are few representatives. The #MeToo movement is seen as a foreign affair. Women are afraid of losing their jobs. There is a strong prejudice against women in our society.”
After the accusations against her for coming out against Weinstein, Argento wanted to leave Italy, but Boldrini convinced her to stay to fight the battle at home. “This misogyny is a malady, an illness that needs to be cured,” she said. “This movement is the most important thing for women since earning the right to vote. And the backlash I received in Italy was just fuel to my fire. There are different predators but we share the same trauma. And it’s not time to celebrate yet.”