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.
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 (!).
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.
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.
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.
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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