#quellavoltache: Asia Argento Is One of Us

Italian women are fighting back against shame by tweeting their abuse stories

You know enough about the Weinstein case that I don’t have to go through the minutiae again. What follows is something you may not know about, something that is happening in the home country of one of Weinstein’s victims, or rather, Weinstein survivors. As Weinstein is a Katrina, a Sandy, an Irma, a disaster waiting to happen, indirectly caused by a lack of action.

Asia Argento has been in the public eye since she was a teenager: I remember the first time I saw her picture in a family magazine: she was only fourteen, and starring in Nanni Moretti’s film Palombella Rossa. Her film career, unfortunately, is not what she is best-known for. For the best part of her public eye, Asia Argento was a wild child, unpredictable and extreme, unfiltered and sometimes obnoxious, sexually adventurous, covered in tattoos when it wasn’t cool, raspy-voiced and direct. A divisive figure, and as such, the imperfect victim. When she came out about being raped by Weinstein, and was honest about it, about being involved with him later in a manner that is quite common among rape victims who are forced into close proximity with their rapist, the Italian press could hardly believe their luck. Since she came out to Ronan Farrow, she has been belittled, insulted, called a prostitute and an opportunist. She is fighting back, and rightly so: the Italian patriarchy is a stalwart monster supported by an army of minions, many of whom have no idea that they’re feeding into the same system that keeps them in thrall.

Most importantly, Argento’s case hit a nerve. Many women, including myself, were reminded of the many times we were molested, harassed, blackmailed, made uncomfortable by the sexual advances of someone older, a boss or a family member. We remembered the times we felt trapped in situations we could not escape, and had to follow the line of least resistance while all the time blaming ourselves. We knew that no one would believe us, we knew that we’d be told to keep quiet, or worse, that we’d have to lie in the bed we’d made. We were guilty. And if we weren’t, speaking out would tear our world apart. We’d lose jobs, destroy families.

Which is why a group of us started the hashtag #quellavoltache on Twitter. We called on all women (and men) to speak out about the abuse they suffered, all the times they were molested or raped and felt they could or would not speak. Quella volta che is Italian for “that time when”, and as I speak the tweets and posts have been flowing in for almost two days.

I was 8. I was 10. I was 12. I was 20. I was 40. It was my boss. The priest. Some guy at the bus stop. My friend’s dad. My ex. My childhood friends. I was touched. I was raped. He masturbated in front of me. He didn’t stop when I said no. I was someone to be held down even as I cried. I was asleep. I was an actress. I was a salesperson. I worked in an office. I worked in a store. I said no. I never worked again. My colleagues said yes. They thought it was normal. I never told anyone. I told someone and they didn’t believe me. I didn’t go to the Police. I went to the Police and they told me it was normal. I went to the Police and they asked me if I was sure.

It has literally happened to every. Single. Woman. Out. There.

I have been collecting the tweets in a Twitter Moment for over two days now, and it has become too long to be read in its entirety. But I keep doing it, and I will keep doing it until the tweets peter out, because every time I add one it is tantamount to telling that person: I hear you. I believe you. Your pain is valid. It wasn’t your fault. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this hashtag, and the campaign that goes with it (supported by the feminist-queer publications Pasionaria.it and Gaypost.it) is changing the conversation in the press, and has since spilled over in several major newspapers. What strikes me is the number of tweets from men who express surprise, discomfort, shame and a need for reflection after following the hashtag. Where were they, all these years? Why did they not believe us when we told them how we felt when we were treated like inanimate objects, like something to be had, to be judged, to be insulted, discarded, belittled? Why did they not listen when we told them, time and time again, that catcalling is not a compliment? Seriously, guys: how is this news to you, and why does it take hundreds of women to drive the point home? The lack of empathy is infuriating, but also telling: at best, we are things. And things do not have a voice. At worst, we are deceptive demons. And demons must be shamed into silence.

I’m not naive enough to believe that the momentum will last. Once the Weinstein case blows over, there will be peace in the valley. Our stability depends on a measure of acquiescence. What I’d like to believe, what I hope, is that the bar will now be set a little lower. That we will feel comfortable speaking out sooner, that we will clamour to be believed, and that by speaking out we will be teaching men that actions have consequences, and that we will not take it any more. That the abuse needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.

And if this happens, when it happens, we will also have to thank Asia Argento. Imperfect victim, fearless avenger.