On Shaming Seven-Year-Old Fame-Sluts: A Rant on Rape Culture, Revisited

I don’t know what kind of a person Woody Allen is. Actually, I don’t even believe in “kinds” of people – you know, racists, sexists, rapists, good, bad, ugly. I have seen people I otherwise like engage in awful behavior, and people I find difficult have impressed me with unexpected acts of kindness. So let me rephrase it like this: I don’t know what Woody Allen has done, aside from his work in cinema. I find some of it compelling, and some of it boring, and some of it self-indulgent.

Allen’s talent was initially a large part of what some internet commentators are disingenuously calling a “controversy” over his daughter Dylan Farrow’s accusations of sexual abuse. (If you are somehow unaware of this, come out from under your rock and do a quick Google search.)

At first, the issue was whether one can appreciate the films of a sexual predator. (We’ve been here before, with Roman Polanski and similarly ambiguous conclusions). We were asked to contemplate whether Woody Allen deserved his Lifetime Achievement award at the Golden Globes, following tweets from two members of the Farrow clan excoriating the decision to honor him. The world seemed focused on the moral conundrum of praising a flawed genius, or supporting the work of a likely criminal, who was investigated but never charged. It was about the man and his actions. For some, it was an assault on his character, whether it was merited or not.

Then, after Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter to the New York Times, the dialogue turned from Allen-shaming to slut-shaming. The problem is, one can’t easily slut-shame a seven-year-old, even when she becomes a grown woman. So it is open season on her memory, and her maternal family’s visibility.

Attacks on the Fallacious Farrows have been most pointed at the Guardian, where Suzanne Moore writes off the social-media discussion of the case as little more than an ill-informed “kangaroo court.” Michael Wolff suggests that entire situation was manufactured by the Farrow family to improve their profile and return them to the ranks of Real Celebrity. Even Dylan’s first-person account, Wolff argues, is carefully crafted to appeal to famous young women who will provide public (read: impersonal) moral support in return for some undefined increase in their own popularity. He says that Dylan’s story has resurfaced at a convenient moment for the careers of her mother and brother, and that her allies are swayed by emotion rather than “outside facts” – whatever those would look like.

Neither journalist is accusing her of lying; they’re just telling her that her story only matters in its ability to make and break public lives.

All of these might well be valid philosophical points, and the extreme culturalist in me wants to acknowledge them. All the while, the extreme feminist in me is trying to scream louder than the cacophony of Allen defenders and Farrow detractors. BULLSHIT. BULL FUCKING SHIT, and please don’t pardon my language.

It is the same routine we see nearly every time anyone comes forward with their story of sexual assault. I haven’t yet heard anyone questioning Dylan’s own morals, but that is a small victory. Instead, they are calling out her mother’s family history, mental health, and public profile. They are finding fault in her brother’s recent ascent to the fishbowl. They can’t very well say that a seven-year-old child was drunk at the frat party, or call her a slut, so they use other words so often used to dismiss women’s complaints to undercut those around her. Crazy. Manipulative. Fame-obsessed. Desperate.

It is another way to silence people we find inconvenient. When we insist that the voices in question are coming from people who are mentally unstable (in itself, another rant for another day), who have another agenda, or who are vindictive, their complaints can’t be legitimate, and we don’t have to listen to them. Telling the Farrows not to mar a supposedly brilliant director’s career because they are barmy third-rate celebrities – or, as it seems now, telling the Farrows that they are lying because barmy third-rate celebrities couldn’t possibly have real grievances against a supposedly brilliant director – is part of an old refrain. Don’t talk back to Holy Father. Don’t ruin the young man’s life. Don’t destroy his football (lacrosse, soccer, hockey, accounting) career. Don’t hurt your mother. Don’t you know what kind of pain this would bring upon your family? Don’t tell anyone, and if you do, nobody will believe you anyway.

It takes a good deal of courage to speak up. I imagine that it takes even more to do so knowing that every word will be subject to media scrutiny, amplified by Facebook and Twitter.

If you have a vagina, or your parts don’t conform to your soul, or you are brown, or you act in any way that the herd finds difficult, you probably know what I am talking about. (I am not saying that normative white men can’t understand this, because I know many normative white men who are compassionate, caring, and capable of great empathy… but they also tend to be aware that they’re playing with a stacked deck.) I am sure every person reading this has experienced a moment in which your words were taken with a heaping tablespoon of salt because you were  _________ (insert adjective describing other-ness here). Those with vaginas and melanin and non-normative gender identities don’t get a free pass here, though, because we vagina-wearers and non-normative folks are often as guilty as anyone else of slut-shaming, crazy-calling, and manipulation-card-waving.

This is not about determining whether Woody Allen raped his daughter. There were two people in that room. There are no other witnesses. There are no “outside facts.” This is about allowing people to recount their stories of victimization (which is not the same as victimhood) AND TAKING THEM SERIOUSLY.

We could have a long academic conversation about memory and celebrity, or the relationship between narrative and political investment. We could interrogate the idea of consent. But today those things make me feel like we’re running around the problem and allowing its perpetuation. When we question Dylan Farrow’s narrative, we’re not just circling the wagons around the perpetrator. We’re telling another generation of women (and many men) to sit down, shut up, and hide their pain. Don’t ruin a beloved person’s life. Be a good girl and take it.

We can’t know what happened in that room. We don’t know what happened in a billion other rooms on a billion other days to billions of other people. But we can at least try to create a safe space for telling, because while silence is painful, pushing back against the crushing, relentless public doubt that greets a broken silence is much, much worse.

44 thoughts on “On Shaming Seven-Year-Old Fame-Sluts: A Rant on Rape Culture, Revisited

  1. Thank you.  I have always known Woody Allen for what he is:  A DIRTY OLD MAN and  A PERVERT.  I can’t stand him and never could.  He gives me the creeps.

  2. Thanks for your comment. However, it makes me uncomfortable because it suggests two problematic things:
    1. Men who are likely to rape look, act, or sound a certain way, and rapists are therefore physically identifiable.
    2. People who creep us out are probably rapists.

    I wanted to avoid these kinds of characterizations, and that’s why I focused on Dylan Farrow’s right to tell her story without society at large questioning her honesty. I may well discuss ur lack of investment in training people not to rape, and our simultaneous legitimation and condemnation of celebrity excess (or the limits of permissive treatment of genius) in a later post.

    • I agree with what you seem to be saying about perpetuating the idea that rapists and molesters have to be creepy (most high school or college athletes accused tend not to look creepy) but I do have to say that Mr. Allen has always creeped me out. I doubt the two are related though.

  3. My wife (mentally very strong) who works at Psychiatric ER, sometime gets disturbed by the cases she is faced with. So much social sickness is out there only a tip of it is reported in the mainstream media. Some cases shakes her to the core, listening to the mental trauma people go through after the physical assault.

  4. I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head here. I’m glad I read this, it’s what I’ll be thinking about today. I’m also going to share it, I feel people need to realise and reflect on what they’re doing/thinking, why, and the effects of. thank you thank you thank you 🙂

  5. I agree completely with your position. Dylan Farrow has as much right to speak out about it as anyone else does. (And they absolutely SHOULD be able to speak out.) We shouldn’t seek to discredit her based on who her mother is or who her alleged rapist is. We will probably never know if she’s telling the truth or making up a horrible story. I don’t know how to feel about Woody Allen, but I do try to reserve judgment. All I am sure about is that there are bad people in this world, and victims of those people’s crimes, and they deserve our respect and help, not to be victimized all over again.

  6. If Dylan’s story is true then making or breaking public lives shouldn’t matter. If I had my way paedophiles would be strung up by their thumbs. But you began your article by saying that you don’t know Woody Allen. It’s not only the journalists who give opinions without knowing the people or either side of a story. I put it to you that without knowing the people involved you have taken a stand – without question, reservation or proof of any sort you believe Dylan.
    On the other matter, there are a long line of talented people who have turned out to be awful human beings. While not always possible but I try to separate the talent and the person. I try to appreciate the one while despising the other.

    • This was a post about trying, as a society, to dampen the culture of disbelief that accompanies accusations of rape. It is not simply about believing Dylan, or demonizing Woody Allen. It is about allowing accusers’ stories to be buried by allowances for genius, power, or inconvenience.

    • So relieved when I got to the bullshit. It doesn’t make any difference to me whether someone is a slut or not. It seems to me a lot of women want to be slutty at times, and that is perfectly OK unless you are some kind of tight ass moralist. Being slutty doesn’t mean you are not a feminist, strong and definitely doesn’t mean you can’t call out the creeps in the world. I was talking about these issues a bit with one of my daughters as she educated me in the difference between Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga.

  7. Thank you for writing this.

    I do know what it’s like to be 6-year-old and told by everyone (outside of my mother, bless her) that “it’s a lie and I should be ashamed for being such a bad girl for ruining the reputation of a ‘good man'” (actual words). Thirty years later I still carry the guilt and shame, not of the abuse, of telling about it.

    Like you said, only two people know what really happened in that room. So, I won’t side one way or the other on it. We shouldn’t make it so hard for people to come forward and have a voice. Maybe the accusers are lying and maybe they aren’t.

    It’s the same reason other celebrities are shielded from the consequences of their actions – Michael Jackson, Lindsey Lohan and Justin Bieber come to mind – Because no one wants to ‘rock the boat’ and ruin the lives of said people

    Whether it’s of their own making or because they harmed another person, until we stop shielding them at the very least from examination to find the truth we harbor abusers, give undue attention to pretenders, shove into the shadows the abused and risk losing our own humanity.

    I think I will leave it at that else I rant even more. Sorry. I do appreciate what you’ve written and that you shared it with us.

  8. It is hard to know the truth. I knew a teacher who was accused of improperly touching a student on her knee. He lost his license, his house and had to move to another state. Did he really do it? It would have cost him so much to fight the problem, he was going to be in the lost column. He could not win.

    • The rate of false reporting for sexual assault is extremely low. There is no statistical reason for so many men to wield these stories – always “I knew someone who,” never “it happened to me” – about false accusation. With the paltry conviction rate, even real accusation doesn’t seem to get victims anywhere.

  9. You make many good points, if we don’t know for definite either way, we should not publicly support either side of the story when it’s such a serious allegation.. What gets me is when someone continues to be celebrated after they have been convicted such as Mike Tyson.

  10. I’ll never understand why it’s so hard to believe the victims claim. Is it only because it makes us too uncomfortable to deal with the fact that someone we thought so good/nice/talented could be capable of such a heinous crime? Who cares?! As you say, people aren’t often what we have decided they are.
    I’m glad someone else is angry about the injustice.

  11. I just want to say thank you. As someone who publicly outed her own sexually abusive mother less than a year ago: let me say this – the emotional fall out one receives after publicly outing one’s abuser is not something that is easy to do. It is traumatizing and one opens themselves up to a lot of victim shaming. We live in a rape culture. When anyone puts the stamp of their real name when they publicly out their abuser, we are also held accountable for that legally. So when I hear bullshit like “innocent until proven guilty” as a retort to this type of bravery, I expect the same for myself and anyone else who chooses to do the same since we use real names when we do it. I didn’t read the comments here, because I don’t want to get angry tonight. But as victims of sexual abuse as children, many of us do have the chance to prosecute our perps because of the absurd statute of limitations – and breaking the wall of silence means a lot to us. It’s time for us to be acknowledged and no longer forced to carry around the cork in our larynx.

    If you’re interested, I am going to link my own outing, which went viral overnight as my mother is a school teacher in Florida. I also understand if you would like to remove the link as leave the comment without it. Either way, thank you for being on “our” side.

    http://iamclarehreschaksdaughter.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/i-am-clare-hreschaks-daughter/

  12. Thank you for sharing your understanding of this issue. I know it us possible but find it highly unlikely that a young woman would make up such an experience decades later and publish it for attention or any other manipulative reason. I agree that it is much more common in our society to repress people who tell the truth about such traumatic experiences and punish victims because perpetrators are wealthy, famous, popular etc.
    I personally have never seen any talent in mr Allen’s productions. I find his art shallow, insipid and utterly entrenched in the colonized patriarchal worldview.
    His so called art makes the case that personal indulgence in morally reprehensible behaviour is just part of life and therefore must be accepted and even excused.
    A man who has sex with a teenage adopted child even if he does marry her is already obviously a pedophile so Dylan’s experience is hardly unlikely given the outside evidence the whole world already saw in the news 20 years ago.
    Derrick Jensen explains very clearly in A Language Older Than Words what is going on in our culture with repressing and punishing those who tell the truth about abuse and defending the abusers.
    Our culture (colonized patriarchal culture) is rooted in and based on power over, hierarchy and abuse.
    It can’t operate without those repulsive things.
    So imho the discussion is not just about Dylan’s horrible experience but about do we continue to agree with and support that vision of reality?

    Is “talent” a free pass for criminal behaviour? Are women and children people or not?

    We can have academic discussion and politely contemplate this but the raw open non1% side of patriarchal culture has long had a very short clear answer to this kind of cruelty to children. Bikers (as in Hell’s Angels etc) take such individuals and bury them with a dead dog on top to make finding them harder.
    As a dedicated practitioner of ahimsa and nonviolence I am not recommending this just pointing out for the apologists what most people in non academic settings think about people like Woody Allen. This is why pedophiles frequently end up in solitary for their own protection in prison

    Even in a culture based on violence and power over the basic instinct of care for children will not tolerate this
    monstrous behavior.
    (I am posting this comment with my reblog of your post but the ridiculous WordPress app won’t allow me to post the reblog with a comment:-/

  13. It’s easy to dehumanize someone unfamiliar. The first step is always distorting or objectifying their image. That being said, it is unfair that both parties get negative press. As the post notes, it is hard to know the truth and because it was only two people in the room, it may never surface. All we have are the doubts, disappointments and vulgarity to keep this case afloat in the media.

  14. Mollischke J, Thank you for making space. And for understanding the importance thereof.
    “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~Zora Neale Hurston

  15. I believe anyone who claims to be a victim of rape should bbe listened to and treated with respect, however i also believe if it can be proven ever that the so called victim lied they should be given as much jail time as the alleged rapist would have gotten

  16. OK,

    The standard, congrats on freshly pressed ….

    I was enjoying your rant about the creep until YOU ATTACKED “normative white men.”

    Really? Was your attack against men in general really a smart move?

    I fear hoe you would define normative ….

    Wayne
    Luvsiesous.com

  17. This is a fascinating post – thanks for sharing. Allen’s case has huge similarities to high profile cases here in the UK where celebrities were known to be paedophiles, but nothing was ever done about it. I think Celebrity Culture is a big part of this; that fame and celebrity is so revered that morality seems to take a back seat. What was interesting here is how prolific some offenders were, but also how prolific the onlookers were. Nurses, doctors, police, mums, dads, prison officers…. All turning their backs rather than assertively challenge what was happening. It will be interesting to see what happens to Allen!

  18. I feel like we can’t judge people on the mistakes they make, but what type of person they are. Only god can judge us on our mistakes that we have made in this life. I believe that people shouldn’t hurt other people. It leaves them tramatized for the rest of their lives. That is not cool. Iam totally for any punishment given to someone who has raped or hurt a little harmless kid. Everyone should feel safe and not scared that someone will hurt them physically. Thats terrible. Woody Allen did that to his own daughter, discusting and should recive both punishment and judgement from here, and from god. Terrible.

  19. My 8 year old came to me and said her step dad was molesting her since she was 5. When police were called her mother who I am ashamed to call my sister told police that my niece was a compulsive liar. Unfortunately, without proof the case was dropped. My family threatened him so he fled. Two years later, he’s in prison for molesting two more little girls. It’s terrible to feel so helpless. I hope that your blog enrages people to the point where this case changes.

  20. Regarding your article about woody allen and the daughter, this is my opinion. I believe the daughter. And perhaps I believe her for these reasons. 1. It is a known fact that it is so much easier for a victim or (alleged) victim to just try to “forget it” and not challenge a perp, I am guessing that is why so many choose to not identify the perps. 2. As so many victims get accused, and screamed at and thrown to the wolves if or when they dare speak out about what happened or what may have happened, society continues to ensure that more and more victims silently go off into the sunset and society continues to ensure that if a perp has fame or a reputation the perp, most times, the perp will be believed rather than society dare think that a victim might have really been subjected to the hideous stories which some tell. No one in society wants to believe that any human being could harm a child, yet, our newspapers and our courts and our judges and our lawyers have seen the proof that these cowards truly exist and therefore (some) humans can and do harm children, teens and those who are vulnerable. For most victims, or as some would demand, for most (alleged) victims, it is way far too easy to just move on rather than to dare, yes, to dare accuse someone who has already proven their (so-called) artistic talent.

    Kudos to the young lady, and kudos to her inner child, and kudos to her courage for her daring attempt to tell her own story. After all, the other stories have been told for years and years, and the tales (of fame, of artistic talent, of other nonsense) have been flooding the tabloids and the news , so why not, yes why not “hear” what the young lady has to say, and to hear it , without judging her and without assuming that she is not telling the truth?

    If I could shorten this comment, it would have to be this. Thank you! Thank you to ever victim who comes forth, who comes forth with that courage to dare to speak. Thank you for anyone who has the courage and the strength to come forward to speak out.

    Finally.

    Finally, she speaks but not only finally she speaks, but finally, she is heard. We, the public, are listening. And no amount of hollywood awards or trophies or other superficial blue ribbons can turn our ears in the wrong direction. Finally she speaks.

    And, we, we listen. And we hear her.

    Kudos!

    Just for the record, I wasn’t there, I wasn’t present, I was not a witness. My only qualification for writing this response to your entry is that

    I listen. I hear. And I write my opinion.

    Thanks!

  21. An excellent post. Almost the hardest thing about being abused is to tell other people about it. I can only imagine how much harder that is when your abuser is a media figure who will be automatically protected.

  22. Is it your position that whenever a purported abuse victim comes forward with a public allegation no one should challenge the credibility of the statement? I don’t know what Woody Allen did or didn’t do to Dylan when she was 7, but I noticed that in the column her letter appeared in, the columnist mischaracterized the history of the case, suggesting that a New York Supreme Court judge agreed with Mia Farrow’s allegations of abuse ( he did not) and brushed over the fact that a report at the time of the investigation, by a panel of experts found sufficient reason, including interviews with Dylan to suggest that she was coerced, coached or imagined it. The actual report, not the synopsis, offers several reasons for their findings.
    Woody Allen may be a creep – his relationship with Soon Li certainly points to that, but creep or not, he and others should be able to challenge and rebut allegations such as those made by Dylan Previn in as public a forum as Dylan chose without being couched as slut-shamers.

    • No, that is not my position. I was not calling Woody Allen a slut-shamer, and I’m not inserting my opinion into the legal proceedings (although, in my experience, courts have failed victims often enough to warrant it). I am making an argument about culture and media – social and otherwise.

  23. People seemed to be forgetting that any allegation of rape or any other crime is a matter for the police and the courts. Social media has made it easier for an allegation to go worldwide in minutes and this is all the more likely to happen when the accused is famous. It is only right for the general public to reserve judgement as they can not possibly no the facts. My opinion of Dylan Farrow is unaltered, as is my opinion of Woody Allen because (shock horror) I have no knowledge of the character of either individual. Everyone wants to have an opinion and in doing so you turn these issues that you claim to care about into nothing more than a soap opera.

    If my sister suddenly comes out and says she was raped, it is very likely that I will believe her. This does not prove that she was or wasn’t raped; that is a matter for the police and the courts. If the courts rule against my sister I am unlikely to support their decision and if the media cast aspersions upon my sister, I am unlikely to be happy. As for any case in which I know neither the accuser or the accused, I am likely to reserve judgement. Who am I to judge? Maybe part of the problem is that everyone wants to have an opinion, when in some cases their opinion is nothing more than a succession of gossip

    • You have (inadvertently, I think) gotten to the root of the problem: the focus on the relative character of the individuals involved. That is what I was trying to communicate in this post. It suggests that people of “good character” tell the truth, don’t rape, and can be trusted; people of “bad character” are therefore lying, or rapists. That is why accusations of sexual assault are so often met with misguided explorations of the accuser’s “character” – sexual history, way of dressing, religious beliefs, etc. It is, quite frankly, ridiculous, and I am not engaging in it. I would urge you to read my piece again, because I think you missed my point.

  24. This is my favorite part: This is about allowing people to recount their stories of victimization (which is not the same as victimhood) AND TAKING THEM SERIOUSLY. Thank you for saying it.

  25. Brilliantly written!
    P.S. I find The Big Bang Theory funny and entertaining as well! Very happy to have seen your comment and checked out your blog!

  26. Your recent “Freshly Pressed” award led me to your blog. I stayed silent for far too long about my own traumatic sexual assault years ago. I wish blogging and the internet in general had been more prevalent then. I would have loved to have read this in the 1990s. I felt so alone then.

    I have been reading a few blogs relating to similar topics, but this one was really beautifully intellectual and I appreciated that. http://enteringandbreaking.wordpress.com/ is more journal-style and http://bellejar.ca/2014/02/03/how-to-undermine-a-rape-victim-101/ (also recently Freshly Pressed) has a slightly different tone. But, nevertheless, it is refreshing to see so much attention brought to the issues here.

    Thank you.

  27. Man, but this is beautiful. I didn’t mean to write on the topic, because I wasn’t there. I can suspect and intuit, to be sure, but I can never know. But then I did end up writing on the subject, because I do have something to say about how we listen.

    I am frustrated by people’s subtle and not-so-subtle ways of suggestions that some/most/many allegations of assault by victims are fabricated. Why is it so much easier to believe that someone would lie maliciously than that another would seek to steal something not theirs, at someone else’s cost, because they could? Because they were able? Because they found a thrill in it?

    I’m not weighing in on guilt or innocence, but I am listening, and I, too, am using this as a reminder to look outside of comfort zones and into what other people are not only experiencing . . . but often forced to experience alone, because of this implicit disbelief of that which seems too terrible to be true. This disbelief–this unwillingness to listen, lest, what, we be hurt by what we hear?– is another needless scarring, and so I say a hearty thank you for this post. Thank you.

  28. It is absolutely surreal to watch people argue that Woody Allen cannot be guilty of abusing and molesting a small child because he made what they consider to be great films and was professional on the job. I enjoyed your well written post. We are not allowed to judge him but she is fair game, something we need to change in society.

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  29. Wonder why is there so much fear about publicly accepting – Big names can be fallible !
    Wonder why are we scared to admit Rapes, molestations, sexual assault happen to young and old alike !
    Wonder why are scared to hear the truth?
    About time we opened upto our fears and allowed people to narrate their personal tragedies

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