Saturday, May 3, 2014

Conversations with Feminists, part II: Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow

Stacy (OP): "This is a basic principle: until it is proven otherwise, beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s important to extend the presumption of innocence to Dylan Farrow, and presume that she is not guilty of the crime of lying about what Woody Allen did to her.

If you are saying things like 'We can’t really know what happened' and extra-specially pleading on behalf of the extra-special Woody Allen, then you are saying that his innocence is more presumptive than hers…'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…

 …sexual violence is incredibly, horrifically common, much more common than it is for women to make up stories about sexual violence in pursuit of their own petty, vindictive need to destroy a great man’s reputation. We are in the midst of an ongoing, quiet epidemic of sexual violence, now as always. We are not in the midst of an epidemic of false rape charges, and that fact is important here. All things being equal, it’s more likely that the man who has spent a lifetime and a cinematic career walking the line of pedophilia (to put it mildly); all things being equal, the explanation that doesn’t require you to imagine a conspiracy of angry women telling lies for no reason is probably the right one.”


Fred: Thank you for posting this. As a general principle, I completely agree that our personal opinions should not be subject to judicial standards.

In this case, however, it is my belief, based on the evidence, that Allen is probably not guilty. This belief is for the most based on the fact that the investigation at the time concluded that Dylan had not been sexually molested; on the details from that investigation claiming contradictions' in Dylan and Mia's stories and claims from the nanny that makes the timing of the molestation improbable; on the decision not to prosecute Allen (which was not due to Dylan's age, but due to the fact that there was no evidence to support the allegations); on the fact that Dylan's brother Moses has become estranged from their mother and claimed that Mia had brainwashed the children against their father.

There is no epidemic of false charges, but they do exist, and with evidence against the charge I do not think destroying Allen's career (which is the goal of a boycott, even if one doesn't expect it to succeed) is justified.

I should note that I am a fan of Allen's work, though I don't believe that has influenced my opinion on this matter.

Natalie: There is no reason to maintain a man like woody Allen. There is no reason to not destroy his career! Is he gonna die from that? Is he gonna be anywhere near poor? No! He'll be fine, men like you, and even women, will still admire and respect him. There is not such a lack of good work, good films in the world that we need to support a man who even *might* be a rapist. My mother never allowed me to watch a single woody Allen film, she never allowed my father to rent one, and this was a law in my house ever since I was young. I don't want to get too personal about this, but she was right. I lived in a house of film buffs, I don't feel I've been culturally deprived by that! Yeah, let's give our money to people who almost definitely are not rapists, who don't exploit young women in films about young women falling for old men (Allen). Do we really think it would be such a bad thing to make this man less famous? To give him less cultural capital?

What do you lose by losing woody Allen films? What do any of us really lose?

On the other hand- what do Dylan and other rape and abuse survivors lose if their truths are not believed?

Andrew Doris (me): There seem to be three separate points of contention here:

1. Should the court of public opinion place a higher burden on the accuser, as the legal courts do? Or should we drop the presumption of innocence entirely and instead use the "preponderance of the evidence" to determine what most likely happened? Stacy’s article supports the latter approach.

2. Does the preponderance of the evidence implicate Woody Allen in this case? The article says yes, Fred says no.

3. In general, are unproven but possible accusations of serious wrongdoing on the part of a famous person reason to boycott that person's work? Natalie says yes, but doesn't specify how or if the likelihood of guilt impacts whether such a boycott is morally necessary, morally preferable, or simply morally permissible.

Not giving my thoughts yet, just trying to keep the discussion organized.

(Note: What follows are my actual thoughts on the first question, which I typed afterwards but never got a chance to post. It is important to keep in mind, as you read the rest of the discussion, that what’s written here in italics WAS NOT posted to the Facebook page. None of the other participants in the discussion ever got to hear my thoughts on these three matters.)

I agree with Stacy and Fred that judicial safeguards do not apply outside of court. When it comes to making up our own minds, we needn’t grant the accused the presumption of innocence, and needn’t assign the accuser the burden of proof. We should all believe whatever seems most likely.

However, I disagree with the article’s argument that broad social trends should heavily influence our opinion of what seems most likely. How different is that from the argument that we should allow a murder suspect’s race – statistically, a strong indicator of one’s propensity to commit a violent crime – to inform our opinion of his or her guilt? We owe it to all individuals, accuser or accused, to draw our conclusions on their guilt or innocence from the facts of their particular controversy, on a case by case basis. Outside the court of law, I agree that “his innocence is not more presumptive than hers.” But that doesn’t mean hers is presumptive either.

It’s also worth pointing out that they actually can both be innocent. Shereen’s article claims “you can’t presume that both are innocent at the same time…Woody Allen cannot be presumed to be innocent of molesting a child unless she is presumed to be lying to us.” But people can be wrong about something without lying about it, and the Daily Beast article never claimed that Dylan Farrow was knowingly misleading everyone. It merely insinuates that she was a confused 7 year old whose hazy memories were eventually colored in, and reinforced over 20 years of brainwashing, by Allen’s estranged partner. That may or may not be true, but it’s a plausible enough third option to disprove the false dichotomy that one of them must be lying.

Finally, I also disagree that the expectations that have been placed on Dylan Farrow to substantiate her claim, in this particular case, are both unfair and unique to cases of rape or sexual assault. The article reads “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.” Leave aside for the moment that the Daily Beast, as explained above, did not assume Dylan was lying after all. And let’s even assume, as the article does, that the burden placed on Farrow to provide evidence has been unreasonably skewed towards Allen’s side. Even assuming this, is it really true that “rape culture” is behind the rush to defend a celebrity like Woody Allen? Are celebrities accused of wrongdoing generally hung out to dry and presumed guilty when the matter is unrelated to a man raping a woman? Or is it rather common for their fans to initially incline towards their innocence regardless of the accusations?

When I was a child, I lived near famous race car driver Mario Andretti. If I accused him of beating me when I was seven years old, but had no bruises or cuts or physical marks to substantiate it, would people assume I was telling the truth? When Justin Bieber and OJ Simpson and Joe Paterno and Lance Armstrong were first accused of wrongdoing, didn't they all have people defending them? There’s a story from the Black Sox scandal that on the day the news broke, a devastated child fan went up to Shoeless Joe Jackson and said “say it ain’t so, Joe!”, as if hoping his hero would assure him he was still a hero. To be sure, there may also be a double standard as it relates to rape cases, whether they involve celebrities or not. But I think that impulse, if it still exists, is secondary to the larger reason people are reluctant to believe Dylan Farrow: Woody Allen is a funny and talented celebrity that many people really like.

Melinda: My $0.02- in my years of being a volunteer rape crisis counselor, I've come across a (very) few callers who asked me about whether their vague but upsetting memories were of sexual assault, whether they could "uncover repressed memories" in therapy. My response was always that I cannot tell them whether their impressions or memories are of sexual assault because I was not there. If they tell me they were assaulted, I believe them.

This is *not* the case with Dylan Farrow. She's clear in her description. Her description is a very sadly common scenario of an abusive parent grooming and isolating a child. Her father went on to begin a sexual relationship with her 16-or-18-year-old stepsister (who was violently abused by her birth parent as a young child- her exact age is unknown). She has nothing to gain by coming forward. I believe Dylan, and furthermore I see no reason to disbelieve her.

Andrew Doris (me): Two small, barely relevant corrections to what you just said. First, Woody did not "go on" to begin a sexual relationship with Soon-Yi (the adopted daughter of his ex-girlfriend Mia) after the alleged crime - he had already began and revealed that relationship four months prior. That's potentially relevant to how Mia was feeling towards Woody the day she went to the police. Second, Soon-Yi was not 16-18, but 19-21 at this time. That's probably not relevant to the Dylan Farrow case, but it is to the legality (though not the creepiness) of their relations.

Amanda: Woody Allen is literal human garbage. I got mad, mad respect for Dylan Farrow to write about what she's been through. If people are so worried about Woody Allen's legacy, maybe he shouldn't have sexually assaulted a child.

Betsy: It is so deeply upsetting to see, in this group, men, and only men, going to such great lengths to defend a rapist against a survivor's word. It doesn't surprise me, either, that men have been the first to defend him in this group- male privilege has largely dictated his defense not only in general but apparently in this group, too.

Fred: 1) I don't see how male privilege has dictated his defense. A criminal investigation undertaken when the accusations were first made that concluded Dylan had not been molested dictated his lack of a need for defense.
2) I am not sure if your response is a deliberate parody of ad feminem arguments or stems from a genuine belief that only due to male privilege (and I'm not even sure how the word 'privilege' applies here, anyway, since male privilege has nothing to do with males' opinions) could one possibly disagree with you about the facts of the case. This is particularly odd because you use the word 'men,' even though I alone am defending Allen; Andrew merely clarified a factual error.

Melinda: The criminal investigation never concluded she hadn't been molested. The state attorney felt there was not enough evidence/she would not be a good enough witness at trial. Let's just be clear that those are two very, very different things.

She's never retracted her statements in 20+ years. Her mother's been clear that Dylan was assaulted. Her father "slept with" and married her 15-18 year old sister. That is more than enough evidence for me to believe Dylan.

I feel it's understandable to have the opinion that there is not enough evidence for a viable criminal prosecution, although I disagree. It's plainly silly to claim that privilege has "nothing to do with [your] opinions". For example, there's a Port-a-Potty outside my office building for use by homeless persons. I dislike it. Obviously, that stems partly from the fact that I am privileged to be *not homeless*. If you're going to claim that it can't be "proven" that Allen sexually abused his daughter, at the very least, you have to concede that he has no evidence he didn't. And that he had *naked pornographic pictures* of her teenage sister.

Melinda: Andrew- No, she was 16-18. Her age was documented a 18. When she arrived in the US, her bone scan indicated she was 5-8. Her age was pegged at 7 because she needed a legal age (I am sure Mia Farrow never imagined this situation). She was nowhere near 21, quite possibly 16. And as I explained, she was violently abused as a child (her birth mother would slam a door closed on her head). She was in private special education her entire life. What the hell kind of man thinks it's acceptable to start having sex with a possibly-teenage, likely-special needs, definitely-violently abused girl less than half his age? Oh wait, I know what kind: an abuser.

The articles I've read (Vanity Fair, New Yorker) were clear that Mia Farrow learned about Soon Yi AFTER Dylan came forward. Her relatives recalled suspicious incidents with Allen from Dylan's infancy.

Edited to add: Please remember that Soon Yi didn't come to her mother and say "Mom, I know this is very unusual, but I as a mature adult have decided to begin a relationship with Woody". Her mother found naked, pornographic photographs taken by Allen in Allen's apartment. It's a stretch to call the evidence circumstantial, but even under that label, there is a LOT of it.

(here I skip two comments: one by Yolanda asking Fred to clarify if he thinks Dylan is lying or merely brainwashed by her mother Mia, and one by Rachel asking what either Dylan or Mia stood to gain by lying).

Mike: Memory implanting does exist. Studies have shown you can implant memories in someone's mind after enough persistence, but that didn't happen and Woody Allen is strangely still a rapist. Go figure!

Stacy: Memories are complex as psychological (re)constructions (memories are always a reconstruction, never the pure truth) so thanks but I do know quite a bit about false memory creation. Remember that there's social context to all of this research and even specific to the instances of abuse which people try to study, and your claim of "false memories can happen!" doesn't necessarily negate anything in this case. And as everyone has tried to make clear, our society has a problem with NOT believing rape survivors, thinking they're lying/making it up, not the other way around. You're not standing up for some rational minority.

Also, I wasn't going to mention it before but with Matt's entrance, I'll echo Betsy’s point: literally every time I've seen someone step in to try to cast doubt on Dylan's claims, it has been a (white) male. LITERALLY every time. This includes all the replies myself and others have gotten on Twitter in response to sharing her story, with links to the Daily Beast piece written by Allen's friend, and also when my friends have shared the link on Facebook (including now, of course) to receive that response (and the Daily Beast link). I'm not the first to point this out, many people have noticed—it's quite fascinating, though maybe not surprising, how consistent this is. I won't try to provide an explanation for that but I'll just leave it for the consideration of the dudes stepping in here and fitting the pattern. I know you'd like to think you guys are just special rational/objective snowflakes but that's probably not the answer.

I'll add a white male friend's tweet(s) though, for consideration:

(here I skip a lengthy comment from Melinda ridiculing the false memory idea).

Amanda: Stacy, this is what I've seen in general all over the internet on discussions about sexual assault. I would love to see some social psychology research on gender-based disparities in reactions to stories about sexual assault.

Mike: I was saying that this obviously was not memory implanting?

And I was about to comment: "It's infuriating that anyone would belittle Dylan's intense visceral response to Woody Allen over a 20 year period as being a consequence of coaching. I don't understand how anyone could think a mother could stand by her daughter for 20 years and witness and support her expression of emotions towards the issue without feeling terrible for causing it. "

Anyone that would support Woody Allen in this scenario is delusional

Stacy: Sorry, Matt, but it sounded like you were being sarcastic—mocking the people who are denying the possibility of memory implanting in this case. Especially with your "strangely" he's still a rapist and "go figure!" at the end

Melinda: That would have been REALLY helpful in your original comment. I apologize if my comment made you feel attacked directly- your comment is exactly what people have been saying in serious statements all over the Internet.

Mike: I was mocking individuals that think that it's legitimate to assume this was memory planting. As in, memory implanting is a real thing that can happen but that doesn't have anything to do with the fact that Woody Allen raped Dylan

Sorry for not being clear.

Betsy: *Trigger warning: potentially graphic language for survivors.* It's easy to preach from a position of privilege, i.e. being a white male. It's easy for a white male to say that a woman's claims of rape are not necessarily true when he doesn't have a vagina that someone could force his penis into.

Yolanda: Betsy, usually I'm a huge fan of your comments, but I really don't think one that's that graphic, cis-assumptive, and dismissive of male survivors is a good way to call out the privilege of white male rape apologists. Societal issues, socialization, male entitlement, ideas of "objectivism", rape culture, etc. are a much better and less dismissive way to go.

(here I skip some links to youtube videos, and subsequent disapproval, which I find irrelevant to the larger discussion going on in the background.)

Andrew Doris (me):

“It is so deeply upsetting to see, in this group, men, and only men, going to such great lengths to defend a rapist against a survivor's word.” – written at a time when only two men, including myself, had commented here

“literally every time I've seen someone step in to try to cast doubt on Dylan's claims, it has been a (white) male. LITERALLY every time…it's quite fascinating, though maybe not surprising, how consistent this is… I'll just leave it for the consideration of the dudes stepping in here and fitting the pattern.” – again written at a time when only one dude, out of three, had fit that pattern

I’ve yet to contribute a single substantive opinion to this discussion, and already multiple commenters have rebuked me for a mythical, imaginary, entirely nonexistent defense of Woody Allen. Have these people read my comments? There are only two. The first one is an objective summary and organization of what other people had already said, after which I even clarified I was withholding my own thoughts on the matter. The second is an attempt to establish what I understand to be the facts of the case, again divorced from any personal opinion. In both comments, I tried my absolute damnedest to remove any hint of subjectivity, with the express concern that somebody might misinterpret them. Either I utterly failed at that, or others simply assumed that both men in the conversation were “going to such great lengths to defend a rapist,” despite the fact that I had gone exactly zero lengths in defense of anyone.

So to clarify, I suspect Allen is guilty as sin. This lengthy article, published in 1992 in the immediate aftermath of what happened, seems pretty damning to me: That link is also the source of the two small factual corrections I made to Melinda’s post. Both this article (which takes Mia’s side) and the Daily Beast article (which obviously takes the other side) seem to be in agreement on those details, but if Kate can cite sources claiming otherwise I suppose both sources could be wrong.

(This was the end of my own contributions to the debate. I wrote the following the next day, but refrained from posting it):

I do not mean to make myself – or men in general – out as the victims in discussions of sexual assault (if indeed there is such thing as “victims of a discussion”). As activists, many of you probably deal with ignorant, sexist men on a regular basis, and I sympathize (though I can’t empathize) with how frustrating that must be. Perhaps that frustration is the origin of this remark:

“I know you'd like to think you guys are just special rational/objective snowflakes but that's probably not the answer.”

If so, I’d like to first look inwards to see if anything I’m doing is contributing to that frustration. In deference to all of your expertise on these matters, the few comments I make on here are generally very reserved: deliberate, formal, and as neutral as possible. My intent in adopting this voice is to tread lightly, to avoid offending people accidentally as I’ve seen other men do on this forum. But despite my best efforts, I seem to repeatedly encounter hostility and animosity, even when there’s very little in the content of my comment that could possibly be objectionable. This makes me wonder if it’s my tone itself which is irritating people – do I sound uppity? Does using such uncommonly formal rhetoric make it seem like I’m speaking down to you? If so please let me know. I’m not trying to be patronizing – I’m just trying to isolate the ideas in question, in recognition that my status as a privileged dude will make many of you largely unreceptive to any colorfully expressed opinion.

And as it happens, yes, I do consider myself a pretty rational person. But I’m also under no illusions that I can separate that from my privilege. It is natural even for rational people to be set in a certain way of thinking, because it is difficult for anyone to wholly divorce their thoughts from the personal experiences that mold their consciousness. I am no exception. In fact, if I wanted to use some poetic alliteration, I might even say that my privileged patriarchal perspective produces predisposition towards a set of instinctual initial inclinations to incorrect ideas (…I’m such a dork).

But this logic goes both ways, and now that I’ve looked inwards I think it’s fair to request that a few others do the same. As knowledgeable feminists, I’m sure many of you spend a fair amount of time reading, rebuking, and lamenting the ideas of sexist morons. I’m also certain that many and probably most of those morons are white males. It is therefore perfectly natural for you be suspicious of white male opinions on feminist topics – just as the “Being Liberal” Facebook page might be suspicious of a group member whose profile picture shows them at a Tea Party rally. There’s nothing wrong with giving my comments a little extra scrutiny – in fact I encourage it, because I’ll learn from your corrections. But I humbly suggest you consider the possibility that sometimes, perhaps out of exasperation in dealing with idiot #1954065093 on Twitter, some of you might use my identity as a shortcut to avoid dealing with my ideas, and as such see sexism in comments where there really is none. That’s not an attack or an accusation and it doesn’t make you mean or a bad person or a bad feminist. It’s just human nature that we’re all a little bit biased towards the vantage points we’re accustomed to arguing.


1 comment:

  1. I haven't yet read all the comments. I saw a link to Vanity Fair. The entire world respects Maureen Orth at VF. She gets away with saying that the *same* counselor (Dr Coates) who testified (page 6) that there *was* no sexual behavior--was counseling Allen for sexual behavior!!
    I could list all the lies in her "10 Undeniable Facts."

    I would give Dylan the benefit of the doubt if all factors were equal--but they're not! I studied the case in great detail, and Woody Allen (and Robert Weide) are not aware of the exculpatory evidence. But I have no forum to write it all (I could write a small book).