February 3, 2014

When It’s Not About Sex

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

We’re a sex-positive culture here at Lady Smut (in case the name itself wasn’t your first clue.) I believe it’s equally important to discuss the abuses of sex when and where appropriate. This is why I’ve decided to use my weekly slot to highlight and discuss the firestorm that ignited this weekend with the publication of Dylan Farrow’s open letter on the New York Times.

At this time, I’d like to give all readers a trigger warning about the discussion in this post and the contents of the links included. It’s heart-breaking, horrible stuff but if Dylan Farrow can find the courage to discuss it publicly in what is arguably the largest English-speaking newspaper in the world, we can do it too.

An Open Letter From Dylan Farrow

When I first re-posted this letter on The Twitter this weekend, a friend posited that naysayers have to assume she’s lying because otherwise how could such a story be possible? I responded that it’s a deep-rooted misogyny that comes out when women dare challenge the mythos of powerful men. “This man is my idol; I could not idolize a man who would do such things, ergo this woman must be lying, the bitch.” I say this even though many of Dylan Farrow’s most vocal prominent attackers are women who are close to Woody Allen, then and now, as though they somehow gain credence in their defense of him by nature of their gender. Misogyny and rape culture aren’t responses or mindsets limited to men, unfortunately, but rather a cultural disease tied (though not exclusively) to the cult of celebrity that events like this or the Steubenville rapes call into the spotlight.

It’s not really about sex, is it? As is always the case when discussing rape or rape culture, it’s about power. Sex is merely the tool by which that power is abusively enacted on a victim, first by the abuser and then by the culture that perpetuates the abuse by giving the victim’s validity an inverse relationship to the prominence and value of her attacker.

Dylan Farrow’s story is rooted in events that happened more than 20 years ago when she was a seven-year-old child, events detailed in a Vanity Fair feature on Mia Farrow from 1992 (!).

Mia’s Story

It took me several hours to get through that Vanity Fair piece. I had to intermittently go troll cat videos to clear the foulness from my brain. All of it has come to prominence again as Woody Allen recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Golden Globes. Nicholas Kristof, the Times Op-Ed columnist who featured Dylan Farrow’s open letter on his blog this weekend, frames the timing of her courageous action in his accompanying piece.

Dylan Farrow’s Story

God save us, there’s been a host of ugly attacks against Dylan Farrow and in favor of Woody Allen in the insuring hours and days since Dylan’s letter went live. Woody Allen himself posted a rebuttal and the Daily Beast has also reportedly posted a defense up on his behalf. I say reportedly as I’ve read neither of them, nor dare I even skim the more than 2,000 comments posted on Dylan’s letter. Instead I read an intelligent, eloquent piece that says so many important truths, I wanted to quote the entire thing in 140 character bites.

Woody Allen’s Good Name

We talk about presumed innocence, but in rape cases alone does that mentality automatically undermine the victim’s veracity. No one doubts when someone gets robbed; the question is about who robbed them. When a woman (or a man) is raped, presuming the innocence of the accused automatically implies the victim is lying.

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. 

—Aaron Bady, Woody Allen’s Good Name

We live in a culture where women are further victimized after their assault for having the dumb luck to be a victim of someone else’s abhorrent actions. It’s why so many raped women fail to report their assault. In such cases as these, it’s too much to believe that a celebrity who has been idolized for his (or, to be fair, her) accomplishments could possibly also be guilty of such a heinous crime as child sexual abuse, as though an abuser is exonerated by the fact that he or she makes award-winning art. This minimizes the complexity of human nature, a frequent dichotomy that allows a man or a woman to be and do both good and bad things often at the same time. But when we as a society and culture perpetuate an exception-to-the-rule mentality for the celebrities on whom we pile god-like power, we rape those victims all over again. The man makes movies, for crying out loud. Let’s have some perspective here, people!

Rape culture perpetuates the myth that at any moment, any man can be falsely accused of rape, ergo we must be vigilant against these lying women whose only goal is to besmirch the good name of a man by exposing themselves to the world’s scorn and caprice on a global platform. Fortunately, BuzzFeed is here to provide a short list of what is more likely to happen to said potentially falsely-accused males than being falsely accused.

5 Things More LIkely to Happen to You Than Being Accused of Rape

There was a major football game this weekend worth hundreds of millions of dollars to many people. There was also the shocking death of revered and deeply talented, award-winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It’s important we not allow this pop-culture heavyweight and tragic loss overshadow Dylan Farrow’s remarkable courage in calling out her extraordinarily powerful abuser and calling to account the media, popular culture, and heavyweight Hollywood movie-making machine who have scorned and maligned her for going on twenty plus years now for having the bad taste to be a child victim of sexual abuse.

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  • Post authorTymber Dalton

    As both a parent and a survivor, when I read Dylan Farrow’s letter, it sickened me. (I’m fortunate that, in my case, it wasn’t my parent.) I know we’re supposed to have an “innocent until proven guilty” view, but like you said, we have a skewed perspective in our culture. In my case, however, my point of view is skewed to his guilt, in this case. I applaud her bravery for coming forward like this. Considering his already checkered history involving relationships with at least the outward appearance of impropriety, it’s not difficult for me to side with the victim, in this case. People don’t want to believe someone they’ve put their faith and friendship in would be capable of such horrific acts, but the truth is, most of the monsters wear normal masks, and are experts at blending in with society. Otherwise, it’d be too easy for us to pull them out and cull them from the herd, to protect our weakest fellows. So they work on their images and holding those images so that when they are called out, they can point to that mask and say, “Hey, I’m a nice guy.” (Or gal.) And they use that image as a shield when a victim comes forward.

    Do false reports happen? Yes. But knowing the stats, and my personal situation, I know that more often than not it’s the truth, and that, more often than not, things go unreported.

    Reply to Tymber Dalton
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    We’re still not at the point where an accusation of rape can be reasonably made — and so women often don’t make it.

    We’re still not at the point where a sex abuser or rapist knows he’ll get caught and punished. But we are at the point where men will take a huge hit socially as some people refuse to just go away and suffer in silence.

    The move to out sex offenders is going to push things in our culture as this starts to happen more and more often. And as seemingly unpunished sex crimes are brought out into the limelight (not just here but in India too) there will be a greater hue and cry for justice.

    And of course all this stuff —true, distorted, and messy as it becomes — is exponentially magnified with movie stars and their families. I don’t blame the prosecutor for taking a look at a 7 year old girl and thinking she would be mangled by the legal process if it moved forward.

    I look back on Woody Allen’s films and children are barely present. However, in Manhattan when he’s not dating someone more than half his age, he’s taking his son out and the context there (very common in television, other movies, and our culture in general) is that his young son should already be taking a sexual interest in not just girls but in the women around him. Objectification starts early in the Woody Allen home. He’s a man from a different generation. Let’s hope most of us are raising our boys and girls differently these days.

    His work shows that he’s rather oblivious. I still shudder whenever watching my favorite movie of his — Hannah & Her Sisters. Woody Allen is what — 50? Over 50? In this film. Near the end you can see 9 year old Soon-Yi in the shots. Ish!

    So why do I even watch his films? I was horrified at first but that feeling gradually wore off–how did I let my own ethical squeamishness float away? I don’t know. We’re flawed people. Who am I to judge him or ex-pres Clinton or anyone when I’m no saint and would quiver if people were to put me under the same kind of ruthless spotlight?

    Meanwhile, in Bullet’s Over Broadway, Woody Allen questions whether people love the man or the art he makes? At least in this way he seems aware that many of us, like myself, will love the movies he makes, but are deeply appalled by the man. In that movie, the artist keeps getting worse and worse ethically, until he finally realizes he’s not an artist, then redeems himself and becomes a man worthy of love. I think Woody Allen decided to go in another direction with his own life. Maybe he’s demonstrating wishful thinking to suggest that you can ever really separate the two.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorC. Margery Kempe

      Perhaps also significant that the script of Bullets Over Broadway was only co-written by Allen.

      Reply to C. Margery Kempe

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