Feb 8
2014

what we talk about when we talk about woody allen

This is sort of a stream-of-consciousness ramble, but I keep thinking about this shit, so I thought I’d write something. Unless you’ve been living deep, deep under a rock, you’re probably familiar with the Woody Allen scandal that has reared its ugly head again after a couple of decades of quiet. If you have just emerged from such a rock, here’s the required reading list: 

“Mia’s Story”: The 1993 Vanity Fair profile on Mia Farrow that details the allegations that Woody Allen molested their daughter, Dylan, when Dylan was 7 years old.

An Open Letter from Dylan Farrow: Now 28 years old, Dylan recounts the incident in her own words in an open letter published by the New York Times, in response to the renewed public interest following Allen’s Golden Globe award and “Blue Jasmine” acclaim.

“The Woody Allen Allegations: Not So Fast”: A defense of Woody Allen written by Robert Weide, who directed a PBS documentary about Allen.

10 Undeniable Facts About the Woody Allen Sexual-Abuse Allegation: Thoroughly researched (and fact-checked) information about the situation from Vanity Fair. (At the bottom, there’s a link to the judge’s ruling in the case, which is fascinating but lengthy.)

“Woody Allen Speaks Out”: An open letter from Woody Allen with his side of the story.  As he writes, “This piece will be my final word on this entire matter and no one will be responding on my behalf to any further comments on it by any party. Enough people have been hurt.”

“Dylan Farrow Responds to Woody Allen: ‘Distortions and Outright Lies’”: Dylan’s response to Woody’s response.

So, now that you’re up to date, have all the facts available to the public, and have heard both sides of the story… you can draw your own conclusions.

But the thing is, your conclusions do not matter. None of our conclusions matter.

We don’t know these people. We, as a public horde of scandal-vultures, can’t draw conclusions about their trustworthiness, based on their art or their writing or their mother’s sexual history (seriously, that is apparently a factor here in bizarro world). Undeniable evidence will never exist. The way you feel about Woody Allen might influence your movie theater choices, but that’s about as harsh as your punishment might get.

So what does matter here? Not the conclusions we draw — but the conversation we have. Whether it’s on social media or around your office water cooler, the conversation is the thing that is important. So what kind of culture do you want your conversation to contribute to?

Because at this point, the conversation is so huge that Dylan is not just the alleged victim, she is every alleged victim. Woody is not just the accused sexual predator, he is every accused sexual predator.

I know it sounds like something a Tumblr activist made up because they were bored and wanted to be outraged, but “rape culture” is not a hyperbole. It’s where we live. Women and girls and other victims of sexual crimes are failed so consistently. When there’s a big high profile case like this, we should make every effort to direct the conversation away from rape culture. Which means away from accusing the victim of anything… including having a wild imagination. 

“Innocent until proven guilty.” That term, which rolls off the tongue so easily, and is used so often, is applied only to the accused. Always. But we don’t apply it to the victim. Why not? Why is a seven-year-old girl who accuses her father of violating her presumed to be guilty of lies and manipulation, when the presumption of innocence is granted so freely to the accused attacker? The presumption of innocence for the accused is very important if you’re the judge or the jury in a trial. But if you’re just a spectator to someone else’s personal tragedy, nobody needs to prove anything to you. All you are is a voice in a conversation. So why not presume that the victim is innocent, first, and have a conversation about that, just in case any other victim is listening?

So many victims are afraid to come forward when they’re sexually abused because they don’t think someone will believe them, they think someone will call them names, they think they’ll get ricocheted around a flawed system until they’re completely battered and still have no justice to show for it. So many parents are afraid to get loud in support of their kids because the sexual predator has more power or influence or money than they do. Let’s do our best to make it so that our conversation about Woody Allen doesn’t contribute to that environment of fear. Slut-shaming Mia Farrow, who is a mother who has stood unwavering by her daughter for 21 years, even as her own reputation was dismantled and incinerated, is just not the kind of conversation we should be having.

When you’re tweeting about this shit, people are listening. So decide how you want to use your voice. To support the rich white male celebrity, or the little girl who grew up to live in secret, under an alias, to avoid the pain of her past. People are listening. What kind of people do you want to hear you?

In the cacophony of noise engulfing them, my voice is not going to matter to Dylan Farrow or to Woody Allen. But maybe my voice will matter to another person who was hurt by someone who should have taken care of them. So I’m going to conduct myself in the conversation as if THAT person is the one who will hear me.