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.

 

Michael Laxer lives in Toronto where he runs a bookstore with his partner Natalie. Michael has a Degree in History from Glendon College of York University. He is a political activist, a two-time former candidate and former election organizer for the NDP, was a socialist candidate for Toronto City Council in 2010 and is on the executive of the Socialist Party of Ontario.
Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is a freelance writer and journalist. She completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog. Follow her @meghanemurphy

  • LiberationFromAndNotEqualityWithRapists

    Rape Culture is also when people find it easy to separate the art from the misogynic and rapey artist – but would never do so if the artist would be, say, an Anti-American Jihadist. Rape Culture is also when the male rapist is still “Such a great artist!” but the most magnificent thoughts of a woman will be immediately nullified when people find out that they came from a WOMAN – or even a woman who looks like Andrea Dworkin.

  • Zack Fish

    I agree with your general analysis of rape culture and all the myths that sustain it. But you are incorrect to dismiss the reality of false allegations of abuse during divorce/break-ups/custody battles. It’s not true, as you say, that the wave of false child abuse cases, which resulted in countless innocent people convicted, were “due almost entirely to prosecutorial misconduct and are in no way analogous to the Allen situation.” I notice you offer no evidence or refer to any specific cases when you make that statement.

    If it were only so easy as to blame prosecutorial misconduct. Those cases were built squarely upon the accusations of children who falsely claimed they were abused. The children made the false accusations because they were pressured, through a highly suggestive method of questioning, by parents, or police, or therapists, or social workers. To see research on how this happens, and on how to tell real claims from false claims, please look up the research of psychology professor Stephen Ceci. Also look up the research of psychology professor Elizabeth Loftus. For an extensive bibliography on the research on the factors that cause children to make false accusations, please google “recantation and false allegations of child abuse”.

    It is not prosecutorial misconduct to put a child on the stand who has been coaxed into his/her story by adults. After all, it’s up to a jury to decide if they believe the child or the person accused of abusing that child. In case after case, juries believed the coached child. These poor children who told these lies have suffered great psychological harm as a result. Many still believe they were abused, even after the convictions have unequivocally shown to be wrong and overturned. It’s a tremendous mind-job to be told as an adult that you were not abused after you were made to believe it when you were a child and grew up believing it.

    Do you know why we all believed these claim? Because we simply accepted what these poor kids said, without critically examining the circumstances under which their claims came into existence. Yes, too many kids out there have been abused and have not been believed by those who should protect them, and too many other kids out there have never told anyone at all about what they suffered through. It’s a tragedy beyond comprehension. But you still must use evidence-based standards when determining whether the child is accusing someone of abuse because its true or because a parent or authority figure is coaxing the child.

    The overwhelming majority of abuse claims are true. But when are false child abuse charges most likely to be leveled? When the parents bitterly split up. That’s this case. So now we have to look at the circumstances in which the little girl’s claims came into existence, and see if they match the cases in which claims are true or when claims are false. The claim is that Allen molested her on a parental visitation four months after he and Farrow split up, while they were winding up out-of-court negotiations of a custody-and-support agreement. Pediatricians are required by law to report all claims of abuse that they receive, regardless of whether they believe it to be true. Farrow took the girl to a pediatrician the day after Allen’s visit, but the pediatrician said there was no physical evidence of abuse, and the girl would not tell the doctor she was abused. Farrow then went to another doctor four days later, who also said there were no signs of physical abuse; but this time, the girl made the claim. The doctor did what he had to do by law, which is to report the claim.

    Farrow then made a video-taped statement of the girl making the claim, but the tape is highly edited, and one of the girl’s nannies said it took Farrow 2-3 days of filming the girl, constantly prodding her to “say what daddy did” on tape. That nanny refused to testify on Farrow’s side as Farrow wanted her to, and as a result Farrow fired her. (Other caretakers, though, did testify on Farrrow’s behalf, though a babysitter testified for Farrow later suggested in a book that Farrow made up the claims.) The prosecutor contacted the Yale child abuse unit to investigate, and, famously, they said, with no qualifications whatsoever, that no abuse occurred, and that the girl appeared to be coached by her mother. During an interview with the poor little girl, she said “I like to cheat on my stories.”

    It’s all here, all of the hallmarks of the kind of case in which a parent is pressuring a child to make a statement. Now, contrast this case with other famous recent cases of child abuse, like the Catholic priests, or Jerry Sandusky at Penn St. Like most pedophiles, these creeps were serial offenders. They were not accused of committing just a single act of molestation. They carefully selected their victims and groomed them over a long period of time. They presented to the world the picture of being exceptionally morally upright, beyond all reproach. If a child accused them, they had a flawless public reputation as their defense. To say this least, this is the exact opposite of Woody Allen, whom Farrow had already accused (in a handwritten note) of being a molester because of his relationship with Soon-Yi. He was under tremendous media scrutiny at the time it is alleged he abused his daughter. The victims of priests and Sandusky told their parents something that made their parents worry, and their parents went straight to authorities. They did not make a home-made, highly edited video tape. They didn’t need to: their children simply told authorities what happened to them. They had nothing to gain by coming forward, and everything to lose.

    I have nothing but respect for anyone who publicizes and explains the hideous mechanisms of rape culture. That is a much bigger problem than the problem of false accusations. But our inability to properly assess the reliability of confessions, eyewitness testimony, and, yes, allegations of abuse, has led to countless innocent people being convicted and having their lives ruined. Prosecutorial misconduct is only one of myriad factors that lead to these errors; and before we hang the charge of child rapist on someone publicly, we need to learn how to properly assess true and false testimony, and we need to focus on the specific details on the case, instead of relying on statistical probabilities or metanarratives.

    • http://wateralwayswins.wordpress.com gxm17

      Are you not aware that a child can be sexually abused and show no “physical signs”?

    • http://Johnstompers.com reglisse noir

      That’s a whole lot of rambling, speculative stuffs you write there, but it’s irrelevant to me next to ALLEN’S TEAM DESTROYED EVIDENCE = ALLEN IS GUILTY.

      He said/she said theories, bogus lie detector tests, Ronin’s possible sperm donor…all irrelevant speculation compared to the reams of destroyed evidence. I am not getting over that any time soon.

  • polarcontrol

    This is worth a read:
    Why Young Sexual Assault Victims Tell Incoherent Stories

    “After I’d spoken with investigators and my parents, I am sure my account sounded just as rehearsed as Dylan Farrow’s. The story was mine, but the words were new to me. I had to internalize a context and vocabulary based on the way adults interacted with my story. I had to learn which details were the most important. In short, I was pushed through an intensive course on a daunting topic very, very quickly. If this was also Dylan Farrow’s experience— if her mother also had to teach her what all of this meant and why it was serious—then that was a very different thing from being “coached.””

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/02/why-young-sexual-assault-victims-tell-incoherent-stories/283613/

  • http://speakoutonmaleviolence.wordpress.com/ Hecuba

    The second commentator is promoting rape myths. Did Zack Fish read the above article before he rushed to pen his denials? Elizabeth Loftus is well known for promoting mens’ lies that false memory syndrome exists. False memory syndrome has been discredited and yet these pernicious male created lies continue to abound. Loftus is a consultant for that vile False Memory Syndrome Foundation, an organisation created by a husband and wife because the husband was charged with having subjected his daughter to serial male sexual violence.

    Fish is also falsely claiming custodial hearings commonly abound with mothers and their female/male children charging the ‘poor innocent father (sic)’ with having subjected his biological female/male children to sexual violence. Dastardly Dads is a website which documents evidence concerning how innumerable male sexual predators who are also fathers continue to be awarded custody of the mother’s children because that vile misogynistic lie continues to be believed. Namely ‘women and children are innate liars’ whereas males always speak the truth!

    http://dastardlydads.blogspot.co.uk/

    Men are the ones 99.9% responsible for committing male sexual violence against women and girls and the primary reason is because men continue to believe it is their innate right to have male sexual access to any female, any time anywhere. Mens’ Male Supremacist System works very, very hard to condone/justify/excuse/minimalise male accountability which is why mens’ rape culture exists. Men know that if they keep on telling lies about women and girls these lies swiftly become mens’ truths! Men do not want to face the reality that male sexual violence is a pandemic because men do not want their pseudo male sex right to females to be eliminated.

    This is why men continue to proclaim ‘false rape allegations against innocent men are an important social issue because when issue affects men it is important and real. But when the issue is one of pandemic male sexual violence/pandemic enactment of male pseudo sex right to females of all ages – then men claim ‘this isn’t real because men are not the ones being sexually preyed on by other males in vast numbers.’ Bingo! Men continue to enact their three wise monkeys stance and nothing changes.

    Womens’ and girls’ voices continue not to be heard by men because men do not want to know the truth concerning how male sexuality is socially constructed to maintain male pseudo sex right to females.

    Michael Laxer is correct ‘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.’

    However ‘our society’ is one men created and it is a Male Supremacist System which gives men the right if they choose to subject women and girls to male sexual violence with impunity, because pseudo male sex right to female bodies is sacrosanct which is why rape is not ‘violence’ but male sexual violence’ because men rightly know they will not be held accountable when they enact (pseudo) male sex right of access to a female.

  • sporenda

    “The overwhelming majority of abuse claims are true. But when are false child abuse charges most likely to be leveled? When the parents bitterly split up. ”

    The parents may also bitterly split up because the wife has discovered that her companion is abusing her children sexually.
    Strangely, you are not mentionning this plausible hypothesis, Why is it that only the “evil mother” explanation is valid in your eyes?

    I know several women who had to leave their family at an early age, because their stepfather was abusing them sexually.
    Some of them bEcame drifters, were targeted by pimps, then groomed and forced into prostitution.
    The incestuous father or stepfather starts the grooming, then the pimps take over: perfect patriarchal cooperation to turn girls into compliant sex providers.

    Also, a man who abuses his children or stepchildren sexually may initiate a divorce so he can say that the accusations of abuse are false, it’s just the evil mother pressuring her daughter into lying because she is mad about the divorce.
    Strangely, this possibility is never mentioned either.
    Some people in the media argue that it might be exactly what Allen has done when he decided to marry Soon Yi, with whom he had an ongoing affair.

    In any case, all the explanations that put the blame on women only, never on men, are by definition highly suspect.

    As Meghan said, blaming the mother is patriarchy’s favorite excuse.

  • csforrester

    Another important fact about “false allegations” in rape is that of the 2% that are considered “false” turn out to be a case of mistaken identity OR the victim recants out of fear of the perp hurting them more or killing them.

    Also sex crimes are crimes against the state, not the victim (unfortunately because this limits the ability to seek justice). It is important to note that a victim doesn’t just get to “cry rape” and go to court. Nope. Sadly even in cases where it is super clear that the rape or abuse actually happened. Prosecutors can decide not to prosecute because maybe they don’t have time because they are over worked or they need easy wins (not losses) because they know they are up against juries saturated in rape myths. OR corrupt people in the system can be paid off by powerful rich men. OR the prosecutors can accept a plea to a lesser charge (even if the victim doesn’t want to accept a plea) so that they can secure a sure win and move on.

    It needs to be made clear that victims don’t really have access to the justice system they way people think they do. Furthermore, if a victim is turned away from criminal process, all that is left is civil… and in the civil courts there are no rape shield laws….and the trials can be much more vicious. Oh that is, if you can even afford it. Many are left to suffer outside of justice because they have no money to access it.

  • gxm17

    I also want to point out the subtext in Zack Fish’s comment and its androcentric adherence to Rape Culture mythology. Notice the two headline cases he uses as examples of “legitimate” abuse: the Catholic Church and Jerry Sandusky. Both of these cases feature male victims. When men talk about their childhood abuse, they are bravely coming forward and are to be believed; and, importantly, their abusers must be brought to justice. Conversely, again and again, we see women and girls who reveal their abuse are vilified and branded as either brainwashed children or bitter b*tches—dismissed as liars, false accusers or Lolitas (older than their years and asking for it)—and it is their abusers who are the victims and deserve to have their good names and reputations restored. (Besides, even if she was raped, it wasn’t “rape rape.”)

    It only goes to show how deeply saturated, and steadfastly cherished, Rape Culture is within the Patriarchy when we consider how quickly people like the *concerned* Mr. Fish leap to defend, and regurgitate, the very mythology that the OP is calling out.

    • Fnoicby

      This was glaringly obvious to me as well, “legitimate rape” only happens to males? Real pedophiles commit numerous acts, so one-offs can be dismissed?

  • sporenda

    “. Notice the two headline cases he uses as examples of “legitimate” abuse: the Catholic Church and Jerry Sandusky. Both of these cases feature male victims.”

    Very telling indeed.
    Making false accusations makes as much sense as undergoing major surgery just for fun:
    since the women who dare to speak are systematically harassed and dragged through the mud, who would like to put up with such a horrid treatment unless you absolutely have to?

    Nevertheless, despite the fact that false accusations are very unlikely and very rare, patriarchy makes a big fuss about it to justify the fact that rapists are not punished.

    What this obsession with false accusations says is clear: the protection of the very few males who are falsely accused is what really matters, never mind that in order to protect these very few , almost non existent males, you have to throw thousands of raped children and women under the bus.

  • MLeahy

    Zack Fish’s response was kind, fair, and thoughtful, but ya’ll are as hot to punish him as you are Woody Allen. This feminist grows weary.

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