Will al­le­ga­tions against Asia Ar­gento and Gretchen Carl­son hurt #Metoo?

Charges against Ar­gento, Carl­son may im­pact on­go­ing re­port­ing of mis­con­duct

Variety - - Contents - By CYN­THIA LITTLETON @va­ri­ety_­cyn­thia

ASIA AR­GENTO AND GRETCHEN CARL­SON have been among the most prom­i­nent voices in the #Metoo move­ment, which has en­cour­aged women to share sto­ries of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse and to name their abusers. Both women have been hailed for their courage in com­ing for­ward, and now both women are grap­pling with the down­side of hav­ing a height­ened pub­lic pro­file.

Ar­gento, the Ital­ian ac­tress- di­rec­tor, was one of a hand­ful of women to go on record last Oc­to­ber with Ro­nan Far­row in The New Yorker about al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault at the hands of the now- dis­graced Har­vey We­in­stein. Carl­son, the TV news vet­eran, helped ig­nite the cul­tural wave of fe­male em­pow­er­ment with her 2016 sex­ual ha­rass­ment law­suit that swiftly brought down Fox News chief Roger Ailes.

Ar­gento be­came en­meshed in scan­dal on Aug. 19 when The New York Times re­ported that she reached a $380,000 set­tle­ment ear­lier this year with ac­tor-mu­si­cian Jimmy Ben­nett. Ben­nett has ac­cused Ar­gento of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing him in 2013 when he was 17 and Ar­gento was 37. Ar­gento has de­nied hav­ing sex with Ben­nett and said the set­tle­ment was driven by her late boyfriend, An­thony Bour­dain, in the hopes of mak­ing the en­tire is­sue go away. Fall­out from the ac­cu­sa­tion has seen her fired as a judge on “X Fac­tor Italy.”

Carl­son has been ac­cused of bul­ly­ing and coopt­ing the spot­light in her role as chair­man of the Miss Amer­ica Or­ga­ni­za­tion. The reign­ing Miss Amer­ica, Cara Mund of North Dakota, has ac­cused Carl­son of tak­ing over most of the me­dia ap­pear­ances as­so­ci­ated with Miss Amer­ica and us­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion as a plat­form to pro­mote Carl­son’s per­sonal busi­ness agenda. More than a dozen for­mer Miss Amer­i­cas and nu­mer­ous of­fi­cials as­so­ci­ated with state and na­tional MAO pageants have called for her to re­sign the post she took on in Jan­uary after the pre­vi­ous regime was ousted amid a scan­dal.

Carl­son has de­nied bul­ly­ing or si­lenc­ing Mund. Last week, NBC’S “Megyn Kel- ly To­day” de­voted an 11-minute seg­ment to the story, with for­mer Miss Amer­i­cas Suzette Charles and Heather White­stone strongly crit­i­ciz­ing Carl­son’s han­dling of the or­ga­ni­za­tion and her treat­ment of Mund.

The con­tro­ver­sies en­velop­ing Ar­gento and Carl­son are not di­rectly con­nected to the al­leged sex­ual mis­con­duct that they worked to ex­pose. But there is no ques­tion that the pub­lic pro­files of both women have be­come more vis­i­ble as a re­sult of speak­ing out.

That height­ened vis­i­bil­ity means greater scru­tiny of their per­sonal be­hav­ior and vul­ner­a­bil­ity to pub­lic em­bar­rass­ment if oth­ers should de­cide to call them out over their own be­hav­ior. This dy­namic is a big fac­tor in dis­cour­ag­ing women from re­port­ing abuses in the work­place and else­where.

“There’s no ques­tion that a deep fear of re­tal­i­a­tion is a ma­jor rea­son why peo­ple don’t come for­ward in the first place,” says Fa­tima Goss Graves, pres­i­dent- CEO of the Wash­ing­ton, D.c.-based Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter. The NWLC is the ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Time’s Up Le­gal De­fense Fund, an ef­fort started by women in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try to aid vic­tims of sex­ual ha­rass­ment around the coun­try.

With­out com­ment­ing on the ve­rac­ity of the al­le­ga­tions lev­eled against Ar­gento or Carl­son, Graves noted the im­por­tance of rec­og­niz­ing that both abusers and vic­tims are of­ten in­di­vid­u­als with com­plex per­sonal lives and back­grounds.

“Abusers come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and forms. And the same is true for peo­ple who have ex­pe­ri­enced abuse,” Graves says. “One of the most im­por­tant things that the pub­lic has been learn­ing since #Metoo went vi­ral is there is no one idea of a vic­tim and there is no one idea of an abuser. Bust­ing open the stereo­type that there is some per­fect qual­ity around vic­tims or some ter­ri­fy­ing qual­ity around abusers at all times is im­por­tant.”

The fear of di­rect re­tal­i­a­tion in the work­place is a huge con­cern, par­tic­u­larly for women whose sto­ries will never make head­lines like Carl­son and Ar­gento have.

“In lit­i­ga­tion or the con­text of a [le­gal] com­plaint, women worry deeply they will be blamed or shamed for their his­tory,” Graves says. “They worry that this will be­come the fo­cus rather than what they are com­plain­ing about in the mo­ment.”

But Graves does not be­lieve the ac­cu­sa­tions against Ar­gento or Carl­son will hurt the cred­i­bil­ity of #Metoo or Time’s Up, be­cause th­ese move­ments are re­sponses to a widespread cul­tural prob­lem with deep roots. Time’s Up has been con­tacted by more than 3,700 peo­ple seek­ing help from the de­fense fund since the ini­tia­tive went live on Jan. 1, Graves re­ports.

She also notes the sig­nif­i­cance of women go­ing pub­lic with decades-old sto­ries of abuse that are be­yond the reach of le­gal sanc­tion.

“Some of th­ese peo­ple com­ing for­ward are shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences even if their le­gal rights have now passed,” she says. “They still un­der­stand the im­por­tance of con­tin­u­ing to push us cul­tur­ally and to push our in­sti­tu­tions to do bet­ter.”

There is no one idea of a vic­tim and there is no one idea of an abuser.” Fa­tima Goss Graves, Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter

Lead­ers in the Crosshairs Asia Ar­gento was among the first to ac­cuse Har­vey We­in­stein of sex­ual as­sault; Gretchen Carl­son’s as­sault charges against Roger Ailes brought down the late Fox News chief.

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