Woody Allen is a celebrated filmmaker and actor. He has won four Academy awards, was recently profiled in a cover story for The Hollywood Reporter, has a new movie debuting this week at the Cannes Film Festival, and has worked with outspoken and brilliant actresses like Diane Keaton, Cate Blanchett, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams and Marion Cotillard. He is also a man who has been publicly accused of sexual assault — for years — by his daughter, Dylan Farrow.
On Tuesday, journalist, attorney and commentator Ronan Farrow, who also happens to be Dylan’s brother, published a biting op-ed in The Hollywood Reporter. He took the media to task for the ways we fail when covering sexual assault. He also made it clear why it is imperative that men speak up in support of sexual assault survivors.
As Ronan pointed out, reporters often fail to ask the tough questions of the celebrity men involved in these “scandals,” which effectively gives these men power over the narratives of the alleged assaults. This is why, despite Dylan coming forward with these accusations — and not for the first time — in a NYTimes op-ed in 2014, Allen’s career has remained largely unscathed.
“It sends a message to victims that it’s not worth the anguish of coming forward,” wrote Ronan. “It sends a message about who we are as a society, what we’ll overlook, who we’ll ignore, who matters and who doesn’t.”
We live in a society where women are considered untrustworthy narrators of our own lived experiences. So, when a woman comes forward and says “I was sexually assaulted,” many people’s first instinct is to look for the holes in her story. Ronan knows this all too well having seen the lopsided media treatment of his sister’s story and Allen’s subsequent written defense. (Guess whose editorial was given more space in the New York Times?) The overwhelming distrust of women who say they have been sexually assaulted, and the abuse they often take for coming forward, means that they need allies to bolster the strength of their voices. And, unfortunately, male voices are still considered to be more believable than women’s.
There are many reasons women feel hesitant to come forward with allegations of sexual assault — fear of retribution, fear of being called a liar or a slut (or a million other names only Internet trolls can come up with), and an understandable concern that even if they seek justice they may end up without it. When the man you are accusing of assault is famous, those anxieties are amplified.
It doesn’t matter that men are more likely to be victims of sexual assault than to be falsely accused of committing it, and that writing an essay about your trauma is a terrible get-rich-quick scheme, and that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. For many people, the default will always be, “she’s lying.”
By using his voice and platform to elevate Dylan’s experiences, Ronan has effectively forced the public to reckon with her words, without her having to utter any new ones. He’s helping to un-silence her. If you’ve forgotten about her story, or have chosen to ignore it, it’s that much harder to now.
A cursory Twitter search shows that the response to Ronan’s op-ed has largely been positive. Not everyone agrees with him, but there is nary a rape threat or death threat in sight.
This isn’t to give Farrow, or any man, a gold star for believing women or speaking out against sexual assault. This should be standard, human behavior. Unfortunately, it’s not. It is a sad, sad world we live in where Hannibal Burress’ stand-up comedy did more to sway public opinion of Cosby than his alleged victims’ own accusations. But given how hostile our society is towards women who come forward with allegations of rape and assault, there is a real need for vocal, supportive male voices — voices that don’t overshadow survivors, but force us all to really, truly listen to them.
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