This week, Dahlia and Amy talk about a report that Asia Argento paid a settlement to a former castmate who accused her of sexual assault amidst questions about whether Argento’s behavior undermines the #MeToo movement. Another case has come to light about a female NYU professor who harassed and assaulted a male student and how the #MeToo movement can be inclusive for all survivors. Plus, we need your votes about the worst Marky Mark film—text “Mark” to 503-855-6485 to let tell us which film was suckier.
Add your phone number to get updates about Backtalk from Amy and Dahlia!
FX’s Pose is perfectly binge-worthy! Get into the lives of the folks who make up the ballroom scene of the 80’s on a show with a talented cast of majority transwomen.
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell is a beautifully introspective meditation on desire and consumption. The novel is about a gay American teacher in Bulgaria and his tenuous relationship with a sex worker and it’s perfectly devastating.
“I Don’t Know You” by The Marias is the slow, psychadelic-rock to lull you into falltime.
Photo: “METOO” by Prentsa Aldundia via Flickr
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DAHLIA: This episode of Backtalk is sponsored by Wild Fang. At Wild Fang, we’re pretty big fans of rule breaking. Case in point: we’re female-founded and women-run with clothing and accessories inspired by men’s fashion because we believe in a woman’s right to wear whatever the hell she wants and be whoever the hell she wants. So head over to a WildFang.com. That’s WildFang.com to get $10 off your next order with code Right On.
AMY: Welcome to Backtalk, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Amy Lam, Contributing Editor.
DAHLIA: I’m Dahlia Balcazar, Senior Engagement Editor.
AMY: And I am back in my closet studio. [laughs]
DAHLIA: It’s bad. Summertime’s over.
AMY: Yes, in Oxford, Mississippi. I’m going back into my last year of grad school, and actually today’s my first day of school. And we start each episode by talking about our favorite pop culture moment, and my pop culture moment is that ‘cause my first class as a start until 6:00 p.m. today, I’m gonna try to go make it to a showing of The Incredibles 2.
AMY: —just to watch the short film that comes before the movie. I won’t watch The Incredibles 2 because I wanna watch Bao, which I’ve heard a lot about. And it’s like I’ve heard such great things about it. It’s one of those shorts. And it’s the first Pixar short to be directed by a woman, and her name is Domee Shi. So that’s my pop culture moment. I haven’t had it yet, but I’m really excited about it. I think it’s a great way to kick off my first day of school.
DAHLIA: Yeah, that’s a great first day of school. Like a movie and a class? That’s great.
AMY: Yeah! I know. I mean that seems kinda weird. I’ve never done that before, but I’ve been waiting to see Bao for a long time. So I’m super excited about it. I’ve heard amazing things about it. So what’s your favorite pop culture moment?
DAHLIA: Well, I started listening to a podcast called Slow Burn. It’s made by the good folks over at Slate, and there are two seasons of it. The first season— Well, I’ll say I’m into it because I can’t stop thinking about Donald Trump and being impeached and so on. And so to keep my mind off of thinking about Trump—’cause I want to stop—Slow Burn has two seasons. Its first season is about Nixon’s Watergate scandal, and the second season is about Clinton’s impeachment. And I’m listening to the impeachment season and learning so much about Monica Lewinsky. It’s fascinating. So I really highly recommend both seasons of the podcast Slow Burn.
[cutesy bells ring]
DAHLIA: Sometimes Amy and I are best friends, but sometimes we are the worst of enemies, like two weeks ago when Amy argued that dogs are better than cats. So we put that argument: which is better, cats versus dogs to our Backtalk audience. And the votes are in! OK. Which is better: cats or dogs?
[dramatic drum roll climaxing with a ringing cymbal hit]
DAHLIA: 24 people said that dogs are better.
DAHLIA: And 41 people said that cats are better. That means cats win, which actually means I win. I haven’t been keeping score.
AMY: I vehemently disagree. I just think that dog people are too busy having fun with their dogs to be voting—
AMY: —[laughing] in our text poll. Also we had comments about how people refused to vote because they didn’t believe in this binary.
DAHLIA: I know. More than one person was like, “We can love all animals.” Like, Yes, OK!
AMY: That’s not the point!!
AMY: OK, but our next poll you guys will have feelings about, so I feel very good about this one.
DAHLIA: Take it away, Amy.
AMY: OK. So we were deciding what should we argue about next that’ll get people super riled up? And we decided to talk about what is the worst Mark Wahlberg film? There’s just so many to choose from.
DAHLIA: [chuckles] So many.
AMY: ‘Cause Mark Wahlberg’s kind of a worse guy to begin with. The most recent thing that really pissed me off about Mark Wahlberg was that he’s in this movie called All the Money In the World, which Kevin Spacey was in, but then they had to recast. So they had to reshoot it. And during the reshoots, him and his agent worked something out where he was gonna get paid like $1 million just for the reshoots or something. And Michelle Williams, who was also in the film, did the reshoots for per diems, which amounted to like $100 a day or something. So when this came out, they were talking about the huge pay discrepancy between Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams. So I mean Mark Wahlberg is just kind of a douche to begin with. So we decided to talk about which of his films we thought was the worst. And there’s just so many to choose from! That was the hardest part about this argument is like which film to choose. So Dahlia, what do you think is Mark Wahlberg’s worst film?
DAHLIA: If you haven’t seen it, I introduce you to the 2008 M. Night Shyamalan film The Happening. I’ll give a little bit of a content warning because the movie does start with some scenes of suicide, but I assure you it is not a scary movie in any way.
The movie opens in Central Park where all of a sudden, people are acting very strangely, and all kinds of people are killing themselves in very violent ways. But what is happening? Why are all of these people being afflicted? Is it a neurotoxin? Is it a terrorist attack? Are people being brainwashed? No. Here’s what’s happening, Amy. The trees are mad about pollution and global warming and climate change. And the trees aren’t gonna take it anymore. And the trees have made a plan that they’re gonna release a secret chemical agent into the air that will kill humans. And that’s what is The Happening. Don’t piss the trees off.
DAHLIA: Mark Wahlberg is like a professor or something who ends up saving his family. It’s totally ridiculous. I was really into it until I was like, oh wait. The bad guys are the trees. I guess I have to root for the trees then, so. [laughs]
AMY: And also casting Mark Wahlberg as a professor?
AMY: I just don’t. I just don’t understand. [chuckles]
DAHLIA: OK. I’m reading the Wikipedia entry. He’s actually a high school science teacher, but nonetheless, he’s the one who figures out that it’s the trees that are killing people. And I don’t think that Mark Wahlberg could figure that out. Also, we just had a moment in which our producer, Ashley, stopped our recording so that she could help me present a better argument about why The Happening is the worst Mark Wahlwerg—ugh, I can’t even say his name—Mark Wahlberg movie. She says it’s not a Mark Wahlberg movie. It’s actually an M. Night Shyamalan movie. I know this is correct, but he is the star of the movie. I know Zooey Deschanel’s also in it, but it was like kind of before she was super famous. It’s like the reason why you went to go see The Happening is you’re like, M. Night Shyamalan. Oooh. But then you’re like oh, Marky Mark Wahlberg, he’s gonna save the day. I don’t have any argument really except that it’s a terrible movie that Mark Wahlberg stars in. And I think he’s terrible.
AMY: OK. Well, argument received, but I have a worser movie that Mark Wahlberg was in. So we all know that he was in Ted, the 2012 movie about a grown man and his talking teddy bear, Ted, who was like a super loud, obnoxious, crude womanizer. This is the teddy bear that’s behaving in such a way. I don’t know if y’all know this, but a few years later, there was a Ted 2. So obviously, I didn’t see it. But the premise is that Ted had married one of his grocery store clerk co-workers, and they’re going to have a baby. But the state of New York needs to prove that he’s human enough to be a parent. And so Mark Wahlberg’s job in this movie—because Mark Wahlberg is Ted’s best friend—is to help him gain his “civil rights” so that he can be granted personhood. And I just cannot with this.
So Ted and Mark Wahlberg’s character go on these wild shenanigans to prove that like this asshole bear deserves civil rights. And I’m not sure there’s anything to defend about this premise. So therefore, Ted 2 is Mark Wahlberg’s shittiest film.
DAHLIA: Only you, the Backtalk audience, can settle this once and for all. Which is the worst Marky Mark movie? Is it The Happening, or is it Ted 2? Now here’s how we’re gonna ask you to vote. A few times in the past, we’ve asked you to text us. But to make it even easier from now on, if you would just put us in your phone as Amy and Dahlia or as Backtalk our phone number is 503-855-6485. And if you would just text us the word Mark, Mark with a K for Marky Mark, and just text that to us at 503-855-6485, you will be able to weigh in on which is the worst Marky Mark movie and also keep in touch with us. Because we will be texting you funny things and gifs from now on. So our phone number—my phone number and Amy’s number—is 503-855-6485.
[cutesy bells ring]
AMY: Speaking of getting in touch with us, you can also become a supporter of Backtalk by becoming a pollinator. Pollinators are a special group of Bitch supporters who contribute just $8 a month, and the $8 also gets you a subscription to Bitch magazine, the actual physical magazine that you can put on your coffee table, a Bitch mug, and a sticker. And you can join by going to BitchMedia.org/pollinators. That’s BitchMedia.org/pollinators. And it’s just $8 a month.
So in our last episode of Backtalk, we gave you a plea. And some of you all answered our pleas for rating and reviewing us on iTunes because we were off of iTunes for a minute there. But now we’re back on iTunes, so you subscribe to us from there. We really appreciated you rating us and leaving us really nice reviews. We wanted to read a couple of them. Dahlia, did you have a favorite one you wanted to read?
DAHLIA: Yeah. We got so many nice reviews recently, but let me read this one. It’s from Spin to 11. It says, “Hi, Amy and Dahlia. I just paused the podcast to write a review because I want you two to know how much I appreciate you. I was working this weekend as a live-in nanny with a family at their vacation home, which can make me feel super lonely and starved for my people. Your podcast makes me feel more like myself when I’m covered in baby saliva in a stranger’s house. Thanks for being my virtual friends.” You’re welcome! Thank you.
AMY: Yeah, and also, that review’s title is “Validation.” [laughs]
DAHLIA: It’s just for you, Amy. [laughs]
AMY: Yeah. I had one I really loved. And this one’s by a user named NFL Beast Mode, which I super appreciate that shout out to Marshawn Lynch. And the review says, “I don’t normally write reviews of podcasts, but I was moved by Amy’s recent plea for validation.” Yes, it worked.
AMY: “Oh, I love this podcast. Amy and Dahlia are smart and funny. I feel good about feminism when I listen. Please read this review to your listeners so I feel validated too!”
DAHLIA: I love it.
AMY: Yeah, so please, if you feel like it, please check out our iTunes page and leave a comment or rate us. We really appreciate it. It helps us, gives us visibility when people scroll through trying to find podcasts to listen to. Thank you so much!
[cutesy bells ring]
AMY: So on to our main segment. This week the New York Times reported that Asia Argento, one of the first accusers against Harvey Weinstein, has been accused herself of sexual assault. The report says that in 2013, 37-year-old Asia Argento assaulted 17-year-old actor Jimmy Bennett. And Bennett was recently paid a settlement of $380,000 because of this. Asia Argento denies the allegations and said that the settlement was paid by her late boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, to stave off negative publicity since Argento has been under the microscope a lot since her accusations against Weinstein. And of course, Weinstein’s attorney says that the settlement and case against Argento is the height of hypocrisy and that this case should force us to think twice about her allegations against Weinstein.
And to add onto this, there have been articles asking what this means for the #MeToo movement since Argento herself was such an outspoken supporter of it. So essentially, these questions are about asking whether the movement is still valid because one of the most outspoken people within the movement may have also committed the very act that she’s speaking out against. And we’re here to say what a ridiculous question.
AMY: Yeah, right? Like just because she’s also been accused doesn’t mean that she cannot make the same types of accusations. And Tarana Burke, who’s the founder of the #MeToo movement, tweeted in response to this idea that Argento being accused invalidates the movement by saying, Tarana Burke said, “I said repeatedly that the #MeToo movement is for all of us, including these brave young men who are now coming forward. It will continue to be jarring when we hear the names of some of our faves connected to sexual violence unless we shift from talking about individuals and begin to talk about power. Sexual violence is about power and privilege. That doesn’t change if your perpetrator is your favorite actress, activist, or professor of any gender. And we won’t shift the culture unless we get serious about shifting these false narratives.”
DAHLIA: Amy and I have been thinking and talking a little bit about also this case that’s happening at NYU when a German professor who has called herself a feminist, Avital Ronell, was just investigated by NYU’s Title IX office after a complaint from her former grad student. She was investigated and was found responsible for sexually harassing her Ph.D. student, and she was suspended for a year without pay. And any future meetings she has with her students will be supervised, and that’s sort of the extent of the penalties that she’s facing for what seems to be years of verbal, physical, sexual harassment to her grad student.
AMY: And in both of these cases, it’s about young men making claims against women who have power. And I think that it’s somewhat startling for some folks in the movement or for feminists in particular. Because for example, the case against Avital Ronell, like there was a letter of support for her by prominent feminists—
DAHLIA: Super prominent.
AMY: Yeah, super prominent feminist scholars, like Judith Butler signed off on this saying that you know, she’s— Essentially, they’re saying she’s too smart and feminist-y to be this way. And in the case of Asia Argento, like Rose McGowan, who’s a friend of hers—who they bonded together because they were both accusers against Weinstein—released a statement or tweeted where she said, “None of us know the truth of the situation, and I’m sure more will be revealed. Be gentle.”
AMY: You know both of these people, like Asia Argento and Rose McGowan, are both people who have been very outspoken about, “Believe survivors full stop,” you know? We need to start there, and then we can maybe go forward and investigate claims that are being made against people. But for Rose McGowan to say that, and then for Argento to also deny the allegations says something, but it doesn’t invalidate the #MeToo movement at all. Because the movement isn’t about individuals, like Tarana Burke said. The movement is about investigating how power structures work.
Like the case with Avital Ronell, you know in academia, which I’m learning because I’m in grad school, but it’s a very insular community. So for example, with Avital Ronell, her student, Nimrod Reitman, the one who has accused her, he had to endure years of this because he spoke to many people in the NYU department and other academics to be like, “What should I do?” And they all said, “You need to ride this out just to get your degree, and then you can figure out what you wanna do later.” But they also said, “She’s very powerful. You kind of don’t wanna fuck with her.” So he had to endure all of this for so many years, this like harassment and assault just so he can get his degree.
And finally after he got his degree, I think he felt like he had maybe enough of a semblance of power to sue her. And when he finally did sue her, he wasn’t even trying to make it into a huge publicity thing. I had read that the reason why this even landed on the radars about like other folks outside of the academic world was because of this letter of support for Ronell where prominent feminist scholars supported her. And then it landed on some news desk, and they were all like, “Whoa, what is this?” And that’s why this came out.
But you know the student, this Ph.D. student was really scared about his career. Like this is something he’s really passionate about and wanted to study, and his Ph.D. adviser had his career in her hands. And he had to do what she said, otherwise she could ruin his career. And he saw her do that to other students, which showed there was evidence of the power that she wielded. Which really speaks to what Tarana Burke is saying that it isn’t about individuals; it’s about systems of power and how people abuse those systems of power.
DAHLIA: I mean there’s lots of different kinds of systems of power, right? There’s like unending structures and cycles of power. And sorry to bring up Trump again, but I think about the fact that he’s being investigated for obstruction of justice. And when we think about obstruction of justice that he committed, we think about it happening like two years ago. But the fact is that every tweet he sends, everything he says is continuing that pattern of covering up and hiding. And that’s what I think every time someone releases a statement of support for someone who is accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault. It’s like a little tiny obstruction of justice. It’s like a little tiny blast to everyone who’s listening to undermine the validity of the accuser, to say like, “Well, I know I say believe women, but in this case I don’t believe women.”
It reminds me of when that actor on Girls was accused of sexual assault, and Lena Dunham just jumped to defend him. You know, that’s a system of power too, and that’s a system of privilege too. But instead of taking that moment to step back and say actually, it is not my place to say a god damn thing defending my friend because that undermines the accuser and that undermines other people, who next time, will be like, “Oh shit. I don’t wanna come forward. I don’t wanna tell the truth because someone’s gonna, like some friend of a friend is gonna write a letter saying that I’m a liar,” so on and so on. You know like, all of these actions have repercussions beyond just this case because it’s all playing out in the so-called public square. So every time a letter of support like this comes out for a sexual assailant, or every time that NYU or another college says like, “Yeah, there was impropriety here, but we’re just gonna to suspend her for a year. No big deal,” every time, that undermines the carriage of justice for other people, other victims, other survivors.
AMY: And I think it’s so interesting ‘cause you’re talking about how these letters of support undermine what was happening to these survivors. But now editorially, when media is asking whether or not—because Argento has been accused of this—whether this invalidates the movement, it’s undermining the movement based on the actions of one individual. Which is so wild to think, and it kind of was heartbreaking to me to think like so many of these news orgs really quick to jump to make that leap and to even pose that question.
DAHLIA: Yeah, yeah.
AMY: It’s like we have a sexual predator in the White House right now, right, and a really open white supremacist. He supports white supremacists. He holds white supremacist notions in his heart, and he espouses them. But yeah, we never talk about how is the news media ever saying like, “Does having this white supremacist in the White House undermine anything that America is purported to be,” and really dig into that, you know? There’s not that type of undermining that’s happening in like institutions of power. But when it comes to this #MeToo movement that’s giving voice and strength to survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault, this question is what was asked immediately.
I know that the news media does post types of questions like that around Trump and him holding office and his administration. But it isn’t something that’s being talked about constantly where we should really deeply reflect on that because he’s holding the highest office in the United States. But for Argento to be accused of this and then to immediately say like, “Well, then the #MeToo movement doesn’t mean shit,” really speaks about how culturally, I think that mainstream media is not prepared to reckon with what the #MeToo movement is doing and the nuances of it. To say that just because one person within the movement has been accused of something doesn’t mean that the entire movement doesn’t mean shit, you know?
And it’s also kind of this weird binary of just because somebody had accused someone doesn’t mean that they also cannot be accused themselves, right? I think it really harps to how like in our minds, we need the perfect victim status in order to believe them. And that’s why I think to begin with, in the history of sexual violence or harassment, often people don’t come forward ‘cause they’re like, well, I have this maybe small skeleton in my closet. I don’t want it to be exposed ‘cause people use that skeleton to invalidate me. Like what was she wearing, or like what is her sexual history, or whatever.
And I think that it just goes to show how we’re still looking for the perfect survivor, the perfect victim so that we can keep this movement going. But we need to tear that down as well, this notion that like there’s a perfect anything. People who have had sexual violence themselves doesn’t mean that they cannot perpetuate it. And then maybe this is an example of that. And it doesn’t invalidate a movement that’s giving voice to survivors of sexual violence.
DAHLIA: I think that’s such an interesting point you’re making, Amy ‘cause the media has been sending out this narrative that #MeToo is so fragile! Like the Aziz Ansari thing happened, and then there were all these takes that were like, “No! #MeToo is ruined now because of Aziz Ansari doesn’t fit in #MeToo.” And I just feel like at every step, there’s been like, “Oh! Is #MeToo over? Is #MeToo doing too much?” And it’s just like this narrative that is when you actually take a moment to think about it, is so ridiculous. Because what is #MeToo if not just a social movement of people expressing their experiences with sexual violence in order for the world to realize that sexual violence is extremely, extremely, extremely, common, and that there’s a wide network of people, of survivors who can be your support system? Like that’s what #MeToo is about. And the idea that one person can undermine just like this kind of social movement, or the idea that this movement of people talking about their experiences in public and making it clear that they know sexual violence is an epidemic, how could that be threatened? Like just the idea that that is not actually good or not actually stable, not actually viable and not actually fruitful because some people who have committed other crimes are involved in it, it’s completely ridiculous.
AMY: And the notion behind movement building and having a movement is that it cannot be placed on individuals, like one individual to uphold an entire movement. It’s made up of many, many individuals, you know, like entire chorus of voices supporting one another, like you’re saying. And I think that #MeToo has had such an incredible impact, not just in the United States, but globally.
I follow a lot of Twitter accounts that talk about feminism in Asia, and the #MeToo movement is starting to gain a lot of steam in China, in a place where women are very much not encouraged to speak out about sexual violence. And it’s even to the point where their government has shadow banned like the word #MeToo, and they had to figure out different ways to talk about it. And I think that it’s become a powerful movement, and I think to say that it can be invalidated by one person’s action is a way to sort of kick the feet under a movement to say, “You guys aren’t shit,” right?
DAHLIA: Oh, totally.
AMY: And in essence, to silence women because often women are disproportionately affected by sexual violence. And I think it’s just a fucked up ploy to do this and to ignore the impact of the movement because of one individual’s behavior and to not look at the nuances of how movements are and how amazingly impactful it can be when you are giving voice to folks that feel very silenced by mainstream culture.
[cutesy bells ring]
AMY: All right! So we wrap up each episode of Backtalk by giving you our recs for a read, watch, and listen. I have the watch and read picks. So for my watch, I know I’m a little late to this, but I just recently streamed the entire first season of the FX show Pose. And they just wrapped up the first season a few weeks ago, and this show is so much fun to watch. So the show is about a group of queer cis and trans folks and the ball scene in New York City in the 80s. It’s made by the same guy who did Glee, Ryan Murphy. So it’s got this sort of like campy feel-good vibe to it even though it deals with hard topics like the AIDS crisis, being kicked out of your house after you’ve come out, the lives of trans woman of color. This show also has the largest cast of trans women, specifically trans women of color, specifically black trans women on any show. And the performances are so good and so fun! It’s just a really heartwarming show to watch. I really cannot wait for a second season. And if you haven’t checked out FX’s Pose, please just log on, get passwords, whatever you need to do, and watch it. It is such a good show. And the first season, I think, only had like eight episodes, and it’s just such a great show to watch. Especially, I think, if you are a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race but also don’t like the fuckery of the show.
DAHLIA: [laughs] Totally.
AMY: You know what I mean? I think that this show kinda has those vibes. So I cannot speak highly enough of this show. I’m one of those people, I’ve said before, I like watching shows late so then you can binge the whole thing at once. I’m so glad I did that ‘cause it was such a good binge.
I also have the read pick. And my read pick is What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell. So this is a really great short novel about desire and queerness and kind of like about being in a liminal space. The novel is told in the first person perspective, and the writing is doing so much in terms of showing us how a character is thinking but in a seamless way. The book is also super sexy.
DAHLIA: Oh! [laughs]
AMY: There are moments where I was clutching my imagined pearls, but like in a sexy way! I was like, ooh! [laughs]
AMY: Oh, I get it. [laughs]
AMY: Yeah, it was good! I was just like yes on this. And it’s also super devastating and full of really beautiful and heartbreaking moments. I think that in this novel, Garth Greenwell has such a way about writing through the first person that puts you in the narrator’s shoes so perfectly. And full disclosure, I am studying with Garth this semester, and I’m like way too excited, way too fangirly right now. Part of me regrets are reading it ‘cause now I’m just in admiration of him.[laughs] But yes, I think that if you want a great short novel, Definitely check out What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell.
DAHLIA: I have the listen pick. The other day I was realizing that it is almost September. I don’t know how the hell this happened. I’m not ready at all. But this song, I Don’t Know You, by that Marías, I feel like it’s the right kind of vibe like cooling down—it’s psychedelic soul from Los Angeles—like cooling down into a nice Fall. So this is I Don’t Know You by the Marías. Thanks for listening.
AMY: Thanks for listening.
[I Don’t Know You plays]
♪ There’s a weight in my bed
Where you laid and you said
“I don’t know you
I don’t know you”
If we tried to retrace
Would it show on my face?
And remind you
I don’t mind you
And babe, this isn’t right
But if you’d rather dry your eyes
Then honestly I’m fine
With keeping my trust in you
It’s time to walk in my shoes, it’s true
I’ve tried, makin’ it up to you
But if I did all that I had to do
Would you be here in my room?
There’s a weight in my bed
Where you laid and you said
“I don’t know you
I don’t know you”
If we tried to retrace
Would it show on my face?
And remind you
I don’t mind you
I may have been alright
But babe, it’s only half the time
And honestly I’m fine…. ♪
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This show is produced by Ashley Duchemin. Bitch Media is a reader-and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to BitchMedia.org and donate.