Woody Allen and the persistent myths of rape culture
By now the outline detailing the facts of the terrible story that Dylan Farrow tells of her sexual assault as a child by her father Woody Allen are well known.
After he was honoured at the Golden Globes for his work in film, Mia Farrow and Allen’s son Ronan Farrow tweeted comments that essentially called the Golden Globes and other celebrities out for having done this in spite of Woody Allen’s history of sexual assault, and his entirely and obviously inappropriate behaviour towards Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter whom he had known since the age of eight and began to have a sexual relationship with as soon as he was legally able to do so.
This led to a defence of Allen by Robert Weide in The Daily Beast on January 27th. Weide’s article was followed by a firestorm of criticism as well as by Dylan Farrow herself, after many years of silence, forcefully and powerfully speaking out about the abuse she had suffered.
In the days since, basically every point that Weide made in Allen’s defence has been completely demolished in one forum or another. Feminist Current’s Meghan Murphy called out Weide for his victim blaming and trying to make it all about Mia Farrow (a tactic Allen defenders consistently use) as opposed to about Dylan Farrow. Vanity Fair’s Maureen Orth responded to all the “articles containing incorrect and irresponsible claims” in defence of Allen by outlining the “10 Undeniable Facts About the Woody Allen Sexual-Abuse Allegation”. Legal analyst Lisa Bloom wrote of the “Six Reasons Why Dylan Farrow is Highly Credible”. Slate’s Jessica Winter wrote about “just the facts” and how Weide had none on his side. There are many other examples, including the rather damning release of the actual custody judgement.
When Allen issued a statement in the New York Times, reiterating his long held contention that it was all “implanted” in Dylan Farrow’s mind by Mia Farrow, Dylan responded powerfully again by noting that “I have never wavered in describing what he did to me.”
Yet in spite of this overwhelming evidence legions of Woody Allen’s online defenders, (the majority of whom seem to be men, based on what I’ve seen in many online discussion threads), continue to insist that Dylan Farrow is the unwitting dupe of a plot by her vengeful mother. This despite the fact that many of them are also supposedly the educated, enlightened, liberal types who I think are broadly believed to be Woody Allen’s fan base.
Predictably, of course, some conservative journalists like the National Post’s Jonathon Kay got in on the act penning articles repeating many of Weide’s already discredited claims, while seeking to use “personal experience” to imply that false sexual assault accusations are widespread or that one needs to be wary of similar accusations of child abuse. This is an old tactic, as, of course, undocumented and entirely one-sided “personal experiences” can be used to try to undermine the actually well-established facts about rape and child sexual abuse, facts to which we will shortly return.
This is due, no doubt, to the sad reality of the reflexive need of many to blindly defend their heroes, whether cultural, political, sporting or what have you. While they would obviously not see it this way, there is in practice little difference between the supposedly boorish defenders of any number of sports figures accused of sexual assault and rape or the allegedly bookish defenders of Allen other than, perhaps, the type of language they use. Sexism and rape apologism presented in more rarified form is not, however, any better, more excusable or less misogynist.
But is also due directly to rape culture and its persistent mythology as well as to the continuing and ongoing lies — and they are lies — about how common, widespread and prevalent false accusations are. It should come as absolutely no surprise that so many fall back on what are proven rape myths when convenient and are unwilling to acknowledge how deeply embedded rape culture is, as doing so forces one to ask many uncomfortable questions about sexual violence and the extremely gendered nature of it. It ultimately forces one to confront the widespread and extremely violent nature of Patriarchy and male behaviour found across cultures and countries; behaviour that men engage in across lines of class, race, education and other factors.
So fall back on the rape myths men (and some women) do. And again they must be confronted. The absolute and proven fact is that false allegations of rape or sexual assault are extremely rare, especially versus cases of sexual assault itself, and especially when compared to the legions of men who actually get away with sexual assault, which is sadly the vast majority of those committing it. Even those who write pathetic articles arguing that the tiny number of such cases should still somehow be regarded as a major social issue acknowledge that only 2-4% (at most) of all reported rape or assault allegations are false. Given that it is well established that the vast majority of sexual assaults, as many as 90 per cent, are never reported to the authorities, the actual, real occurrence (not all of those everyone knows from “personal experience”) of false allegations versus actual incidences are completely statistically and socially insignificant.
Does this mean they do not happen and are not devastating when they do? No. It does, however, mean that attempting to conflate them is simply a tactic and attempting to imply that their occurrence makes it more likely to be true than usual in any specific given case is inane. Allen’s defenders also completely ignore the reality that many of the terrible false convictions of people for actual rapes or for the insane wave of Christian conspiracy theories about “Satanic” sex rituals in the 80’s and early 90’s that they reference were due almost entirely to prosecutorial misconduct and are in no way analogous to the Allen situation. To say that claims made by women (or men) that are consistent over twenty years from childhood to adulthood, where they unequivocally can identify the person they are accusing, and that still turn out to be false and are proven to be so are rare, would be an enormous understatement. It strains belief to discredit someone on this basis.
But the realties of rape culture run much deeper than this. As men of any background can be the perpetrators of sexual violence, so can their victims. As Kirk Makin wrote in the Globe and Mail:
It’s a crime like no other. A violation of the self as well as the body — an assault on trust, on privacy, on control. It’s also an offence with an afterlife: a sense of bruising shame and guilt.
And it happens to women in Canada every 17 minutes.
Some of those women place calls to services such as the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter – about 1,400 of them last year alone.
“These are not just women who live in poverty or need,” says Summer-Rain Bentham, one of the counsellors who answers their calls. “These are women who are teachers, doctor or lawyers; women whose husbands may be police officers or judges.”
But if these women are hoping for more than support – if they are hoping for justice – the phones might as well keep ringing.
Less than half of complaints made to police result in criminal charges and, of those charges, only about one in four leads to a guilty verdict.
Sexual abuse and assault is a daily threat and actuality for all women. Men too are sexually assaulted both as children (and defenders of the Catholic Church initially attempted to use similar arguments to Allen’s defenders against emerging stories of the widespread assault of boys and girls when accusations were brought by the victims often decades later) and as adults. But what is in no doubt is who, regardless of the gender of the victim, the perpetrators of sexual violence and assault are.
They are men. Overwhelmingly men. As the latest statistics from Statistics Canada point out:
Regardless of the type of offence, males were consistently more likely than females to be the accused. Sexual offences showed the highest representation of males: 98% of all persons charged with sexual assault level 1, child pornography and sexual violations against children in 2011 were male.
In the end, one has to think that this gendered reality of rape and sexual assault and abuse, this indisputable fact that sexual violence is a male crime that flows from a society and a civilization founded on male supremacy and patriarchy, underlies much of the persistence of the defenses of the (too numerous to recount) cases of famous and powerful men accused of such crimes that many simply cannot believe are guilty. As well as of the literally countless similar defenses of the millions of not so famous perpetrators of these assaults who have never faced, and never will face, justice.
If we, as a society and as individuals, confront the reality of how prevalent, widespread and so often totally unpunished male sexual violence really is, then we also have to confront the reality of what patriarchy is — how it is an inextricable part of what allows men to continue to get away with so many terrible crimes against women and children. We have to confront the established fact that supposedly “good” men — priests, artists, intellectuals, activists, business people, “pillars of the community” — are just as likely to be sexual predators, pedophiles and violent towards women, boys and girls, as any other men.
It is easier to disregard and reject what women say or to imply that they are being emotional, irrational, petty or malicious. It easier to chose to think that it was all a vindictive lie by a scorned woman.
This is why so many do.