I’ve spent the last few days entrenched in debates about Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen, and childhood sexual abuse. As pretty much everyone knows, Dylan wrote a letter stating Woody Allen, her father, sexually abused her. It’s not been pleasant, or easy, and I’ve found myself disappointed if not surprised by the responses I’ve seen. As Dylan herself says, “sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily”, and it’s made even more obvious by the reaction to her letter.
The most famous, of course, would be the one in the Daily Beast, where Robert Weide, someone on Woody Allen’s payroll, casts doubt on Dylan’s story. His piece, I think, is a sad but important example of a typical response when coming out about abuse. It casts Mia as manipulative and hysterical, and Dylan as a naive pawn, with Woody as the poor man wrapped in this web of crazy lady lies. It says a lot to me that rather than feeling concerned about Dylan, or questioning what happened, he just trusts Woody and doesn’t “fret over Mia”. Because, you know, talking about sexual assault is just “fretting”.
God knows I’ve heard plenty of “but he’s such a nice guy, he couldn’t possibly _________”.
Being a decent guy in multiple ways doesn’t mean you can’t be a rapist. If my work with the BDSM community is anything to go by, the more social status someone has, and the more privilege, the more likely that there are multiple reports of them crossing boundaries. And the less likely there will be consequences- we see it over and over again in the news.
Aaron Bady responds to the criticism of Dylan’s letter (or, mostly, of Mia) incredibly well, in my opinion:
“The damnably difficult thing about all of this, of course, is that you can’t presume that both are innocent at the same time. One of them must be saying something that is not true. But “he said, she said” doesn’t resolve to “let’s start by assume she’s lying,” except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured. It works both ways, or should: if one of them has to be lying for the other to be telling the truth, then presuming the innocence of one produces a presumption of the other’s guilt. And Woody Allen cannot be presumed to be innocent of molesting a child unless she is presumed to be lying to us. His presumption of innocence can only be built on the presumption that her words have no credibility, independent of other (real) evidence, which is to say, the presumption that her words are not evidence. If you want to vigorously claim ignorance–to assert that we can never know what happened, in that attic–then you must ground that lack of knowledge in the presumption that what she has said doesn’t count, and we cannot believe her story.”
It leads to an interesting question, and one that’s far beyond Dylan and Woody. If someone you know, perhaps a potential employer, someone influential to your life in some way, is accused of abusive behaviour… how should you respond? What should you do? Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin, named in Dylan’s letter, seem to believe that it’s only the business of the family, not something thats their problem. It’s something abuse survivors hear all too often when trying to get support for themselves and boundaries around their abuser. I know I heard it too when I asked my friends to give me space- “well, I don’t know what *really* happened”, “was he convicted?”, “what proof is there?”
I admire Dylan’s decision to call out people who continue to associate with Woody Allen as being complicit. And I think about this when I think about other famous men who have even been CONVICTED of crimes (Roman Polanski, R. Kelly, Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen to name a few) and yet Hollywood still celebrates them. I doubt it would be any different with Woody Allen, even if Dylan had been the ideal victim, because people like Woody and don’t want to believe he’s capable of child abuse. It would cause us, as a society, to acknowledge that we’ve praised this man for years while he’s escaped justice and his victim has to see him deified.
Jessica Valenti sums it well here:
“I believe, as Roxane Gay does, that people are skeptical of abuse victims because “the truth and pervasiveness of sexual violence around the world is overwhelming. Why would anyone want to face such truth?” I also believe that deep down people know that once we start to believe victims en masse—once we take their pain and experience seriously—that everything will have to change. Recognizing the truth about sexual assault and abuse will mean giving up too many sports and movies and songs and artists. It will mean rethinking institutions and families and power dynamics and the way we interact with each other every day. It will be a lot.”
This isn’t just about Dylan. This is about our entire society and what our values are. We as a culture have a lot invested in turning a blind eye to sexual assault, especially when the perpetrator is white, male, and wealthy.
And that’s terrifying.