So, everyone’s talking about Woody Allen. Everyone’s talking about what Dylan Farrow says Woody Allen did to her, which means everyone’s talking about how we’ll never know the truth about what Woody Allen did to Dylan Farrow, and did you hear that Mia Farrow’s brother has served time for absing children, so we shouldn’t take any of these women’s word for it, or something? Plus, obviously child abuse is awful but we really like Annie Hall so can we just agree that Allen is probably a bad dude, but since a court never found him guilty of anything he’s probably not that bad, and go back to speculating about Cate Blanchett’s Oscar chances in peace?
This isn’t an article about how I was sexually abused just like Farrow says she was — you can read one of those here. And this isn’t an article about the implications for rape culture when we ignore allegations against Allen or explain them away or choose the certainty that he’s made good movies over the possibility that he has done monstrous things — you can read several of those here.
But this is an article about sexual abuse, and it doesn’t come down on the side of giving a powerful man who’s been repeatedly accused of child sexual abuse the benefit of the doubt. One of my closest friends in the world was sexually abused, in circumstances similar to how Farrow claims Allen abused her. She was in primary school, he was dating her mother. She hardly told a soul — she didn’t tell me until we had known each other for years and years, and once she told me, she didn’t want to talk about it with me ever again. But she wanted me to know, because what had been done to her as a child was an important part of who she was as a woman. We only ever talked about it once, but I think about it every time Woody Allen comes up. Every time R. Kelly comes up. Every time Roman Polanski comes up.
Here’s what it feels like every time we have the Woody Allen “But… His Genius!” conversation, or the “But… Innocent Until Proven Guilty!” conversation or the “But… She Could Be Lying!” conversation. Here’s what it feels like every time we have those conversations that implicitly (or explicitly!) excuse the people who have in all likelihood abused girls and women. It’s like being stabbed in the heart.
Every time we have these conversations, I think about my friend. I think about the girl she was and the woman she is, and my heart aches. I think about the hundreds of thousands of other kids, innumerable children, who have been abused in similar ways, who are enduring this conversation right now, without the comfort of one degree of separation that keeps me insulated from the worst of it. My blood boils.
This woman is family to me. I’ve known her almost my whole life, and the list of things I wouldn’t do for her is very short indeed. I don’t know how she feels when we’re all having the Woody Allen conversations because we’ve never talked about that. As is so often the case with child sexual abuse, we don’t talk about it. There is silence, and shame, and speechlessness and the sheer depravity and cruelty of what was done to her. There is relief and guilt that nothing like that ever happened to me.
Maybe she’s totally fine with these conversations. Perhaps it never struck her as odd that we talk about Allen this way; after all, no one ever intervened to stop her abuser. No one ever excommunicated him from decent society, and he wasn’t even an Oscar winner. Maybe she’s learned over the decades to be fine with these conversations. Maybe they still break her open every time.
This isn’t an article about how I was abused just like Farrow was, and for that, I am beyond lucky. But as we have these conversations about Woody Allen — or Marvin Gaye or Elvis Presley or Rob Lowe, yes, that Rob Lowe, who plays the charming Chris Traeger on Parks and Rec — remember that we aren’t just talking about and to the abused and the abuser.
Remember that every time we have this conversation, every time we insist that we’ll never really know what happened between Allen and Farrow, that we’ll never know if she’s telling the truth — on the world stage, about this respected, applauded, powerful man, as though anyone would be stupid enough to put themselves through what Farrow has put herself through for shits and/or giggles — you aren’t just wounding the people who have survived abuse themselves. Every time you wiggle out of taking a stand on child abuse — child abuse, for fuck’s sake! — like Blanchett did earlier this week, by insisting that it’s a family matter, you aren’t only wounding those girls who grew up to be women with a story they’ve barely told their closest friends. When you insist that he’s innocent until proven guilty, which must mean that she’s are lying until proven otherwise — and why would we trust a liar? — you’re wounding their mothers, and their daughters, and their brothers and sisters, and their husbands and their friends. And for some of them, it’s like being stabbed in the heart.
So we don’t want to hear your impassioned argument about how we’ll never really know the truth about what happened between Allen and Farrow in that attic back in 1992. We love our friends and mothers and daughters and sisters and boyfriends and brothers and sons. We believe them, even when it breaks our hearts and reshapes our world to do so. That is our truth.