When we’re children, we’re often asked what we want to be when we grow up.
A firefighter? A doctor? An astronaut?
As we age, these questions evolve: How many children do you want? What kind of partner do you want to have? In what kind of society do you want to live?
That last question is often the root of our happiness. Will we live in a society that values a good work/life balance? One that values rights and freedoms, that makes room for diversity and culture and religion? We want to live in societies that fit well with who we are and want to be.
We can often evaluate societies when we look to the people at the top: those we promote as our leaders, our mentors, our role models and heroes.
The questions asks itself: Who do we want to glorify as representing the very best of ourselves? What kinds of people do we want? Do we want our sports stars, our media stars, our politicians, our leaders to be of sound moral character? How do we define that? And how lenient are we: How much rope do we give until we decide they’ve hung themselves completely?
Woody Allen was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the recent 71st Golden Globes awards for his work in film. This reignited the debate on the allegations of sexual abuse made against the filmmaker by both his stepdaughter Dylan Farrow and her mother, Mia. Noticing there was an important voice missing, Nicolas Kristoff at the NYTimes, published the following open letter, written by Dylan Farrow, describing her rape at the hands of her stepfather when she was 7 years of age.
Woody Allen has a confluence of factors working for him: he’s rich, he’s white, he’s powerful and he belongs to one of the oldest old boy clubs in the world: Hollywood. Rape and sexual abuse are not high on Hollywood’s list of concerns. Is it to anyone’s surprise? Hollywood hates women. Women are tits and ass, mouths and hair, lips and legs. Women are to be seen, not heard, always saved by a man, and not in power. Stay young and pretty, don’t outshine your man and shut up.
Hollywood is emblematic of glorified rape culture – a media hub that feeds with a ghoulish frenzy: marketing women’s body for profit, whether in dollars or viewers, buyers or accolades. It should come as no surprise when Hollywood glorifies Woody Allen, paying tribute to a man who may have sexually assaulted and raped his 7 year old daughter.
The links in this article will bring you all the details you need to know. But here’s what we need to think about.
When we glorify the Woody Allens, the Polanskis, the Chris Browns, the Ike Turners and all the pro and college footballers, we are silencing someone else. We are silencing the victims, the survivors of horrible acts that we are choosing to ignore, because some things are more valuable than others. Wood Allen’s filmaking career is more important than Dylan Farrow (and since we’re at it, than Soo-Yin Previn too).
I am not saying that Woody Allen is not a good filmmaker. Nor that Chris Brown might not dance well. Nor that Michael Jackson was not a good performer. What I am saying is that paying visible tribute to these people, as a society, glorifying their so-called genius or talent makes room for doubt. It provides a cloak, a shield to the crimes they have committed, it builds a value system where art/talent outranks a crime. And this has a lot to do with the value we place in the victim, and also for the sordid fact that we don’t want to face a brutal reality.
Women and children have, historically, been the last people dignified with rights. The girl-child is the most victimized individual – treated more as a toy than a human being. Her worth is in how she can serve others – she is dually burdened with being a child (without a voice) and female (but with a body and often, lesser rights/status/power).
The age of consent is legislated because we know and value the vast differences in the minds and bodies of adults and children. We have terms like corruption of a minor (statutory rape) and we understand that positions of trust and power relationships make some people very vulnerable (a daughter, for example), and some people more powerful (a father figure, for example). We understand that parents, guardians and society at large have responsibilities towards acting in the best interests of the child, because the child is not capable of knowing what those are or how to get them.
We will stop glorifying abusers and rapists for their genius expressionisms when we begin to value women and children to a greater degree. When we give more worth to these individuals, we will understand that their voices and experiences are as important as those of adult men. We will not, as adults, point the finger at a 7 year old girl, blaming her youth, blaming her sex, blaming her vulnerability, when it is her father who has the burden of responsibility and moral obligation.
The problem with morality is that oftentimes, it involves sacrifice. We want movies and music and movie stars and sex scandals and risquée behaviour. It satisfies our guilty pleasure, it feeds our want for personal gratification. We judge abusers and rapists more leniently, yes, because we do not value women and children as much but also because what these men do otherwise makes us happy in some way. We live in a capitalist, free market society where we prostrate ourselves at the temple of greed without conscious: we wear clothes made by slave children, we listen to music made by women beaters, we eat foods that cause cancer and make us obese, drive cars that pollute the environment, engage in risky sexual activity because we like it. We have to have it and we certainly don’t want to give it up.
Then we say: “But those issues are separate!”
Separating the issues treads into the very dangerous territory of the public and private spheres. Private spheres (that of the family and household) have traditionally been centres of protected male power – and female inferiority. Sex was in the private realm, and with it, abuse and rape were ‘family matters’ to be settled outside the public eye. Too often women and children were mistreated and violated at the hands of a trusted head of household. Can we glorify achievements in the public realm of a person who has committed crimes in a traditionally private sphere? To protect women and children’s rights, we could not, as a society, keep allowing for the private to remain closed. By extension, we should not, as a society, allow for that separation to become blurred when a person brings something beneficial or likeable to the public domain because it is at the expense of the person who is victimized in the private sphere. To actionably demonstrate the upholding of rights within the private, we cannot turn a blind eye to them in the public domain.
As Jessica Valenti states, it is too comfortable to believe Woody Allen’s innocence after such sordid details from Dylan and from the courts. It is too comfortable to sit and say “Maybe, maybe not – who knows?” Because if we were to delve deeply into her experience, we would be forced to face some very uncomfortable truths. Truths like 1 in 5 US women will experience rape in her lifetime. That 51% of rapes will be by their partners or acquaintances and 41% of those women will be raped before they are 18. We’d have to face the dismal reality of unreported and unprosecuted rape:
“Out of every 100 rapes,
40 are reported to the police,
10 lead to an arrest,
8 get prosecuted,
4 get charged,
and 3 will spend time behind bars.”
And to those who believe that women often lie about rape – an accumulation of methodologically rigorous studies show that only 2 – 8% of cases reported are falsehoods.
We would have to face the fact that the messages we are sending our boys and girls about sex, power and relationships are causing harmful corruptions of all three. Its not working for women and I bet its not working for men either. We would have to reevaluate how we teach our boys to take as much power and control, to be as strong and unemotional and alpha as they can, and how we teach our girls that they are there for men’s taking, their bodies are sexual objects and how their worth is determined by the number of men that look at them and want them. We’d have to ask why rape occurs in such high numbers. We’d have to examine the power structures based on gender roles, and that might mean reconsidering power, changing it. And that is very difficult and uncomfortable to do – and for some people to give up.
Everything sends a message – and Hollywood and media are the biggest message senders of all, don’t give me nature or nurture, give me media and it’s effects on our youth of today. So when the media keeps supporting rape culture and blaming the victim, this sends the message that abusers will win, and victims will lose.
At the very least, ask yourself where you want your society to set the bar.
At the very least, we can ask that our society’s heroes, our leaders, the stars we honour and give awards to, not have even the most ambiguous ‘rape of his 7 year old daughter’ on their résumé – and if they do, we choose not to honor their achievements, because those achievements are not of greater value than the value we place on the rights, dignity and the worth of sexual abuse and rape survivors everywhere.
Do you mean to tell me there was no one else?