Of the many games that came out in 2013, several of them featured crucial female characters, such as BioShock Infinite’s 19-year-old Elizabeth (Courtnee Draper), The Last of Us’ 14-year-old Ellie (Ashley Johnson), and The Walking Dead’s seven- to nine-year-old Clementine (Melissa Hutchison) in seasons one and two.
When Dylan Farrow was a child, she approached her mother about how her father, Woody Allen, treated her. This was the impetus to decades of uncertainty regarding Allen and child molestation. Dylan underwent intense questioning from professionals, as is procedure when allegations are based on a child’s testimony. Today, she maintains that Allen molested her as a child. Dylan’s mother, Mia Farrow, did not pursue criminal charges against Allen after he was denied visitation rights, and he has never been criminally charged for child molestation. Dylan recently wrote about the issue, and there’s been an ensuing tsunami of accusations.
Many have defended Allen since the allegations arose again, saying that Mia inveigled her young, trusting child to accuse Allen; some have pointed fingers and shrieked “Hypocrite!” at Mia for remaining friends with Roman Polanksi, and for her lack of condemnation towards Frank Sinatra who, in addition to other questionable deeds, is alleged to have raped Marilyn Monroe days before she died; others have questioned why, if the allegations are true, Mia dropped the charges against Allen; and still others have queried why this whole thing is getting dragged up at all, years after the fact, arguing that it was all handled long ago.
If I may be excused for pausing to fence-sit, this situation will never be conclusive. I’m a lawyer’s daughter and, while testimony is extremely important, cases almost never end with absolute assuredness—that’s why “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the legal measure of certainty. In addition, the peanut gallery of the public is not privy to the majority of the evidence that might otherwise persuade one way or the other. The waters are muddy to begin with, and have been further muddled as Allen and Mia’s adopted son, Moses Farrow, recently asserted that the accusations against his father are unfounded.
I don’t know if Woody Allen did what he has been accused of doing, because I have no way of knowing for sure. It’s possible that the whole story was entirely fabricated, but I don’t believe it was.
I don’t believe that Mia Farrow brainwashed her daughter. It doesn’t particularly matter if Mia doesn’t condemn Polanski or Sinatra, because those men’s actions are separate from whether or not Allen is guilty. I’m not confused or enraged by Mia’s declining to pursue charges against Allen, as the goal in it all was to protect her child: seeing the strain on her child due to professionals’ intensive questioning, and knowing that Dylan would no longer have to face her father, of course she declined to pursue charges. True, there have been cases where the testimonies of children have been invented, as in the accusations of satanic ritual abuse in preschools from the 1980s, but in that case, professionals interviewing children were leading the stories—that doesn’t seem to be the case here.
I’m persuaded by Dylan Farrow. I’m persuaded because, yes, Lena Dunham is right when she says that the majority of sexual abuse victims do not step forward and do not speak up; as she said, “These are not stories we tell for fun.” I’m persuaded because an abuse victim’s tale cannot and should not be diminished to “He said, she said.” Even “simple” testimony can be compelling, whether in a court case or outside of it.
To the apologists, of course it’s horrible if Allen’s name is getting dragged through the mud with slander and a bucket of lies; but it’s also horrible if Dylan Farrow is telling the truth, only to be met with dismissal and accusations—her name is getting dragged through the mud too.
Just as I do not know that Allen molested his daughter, you do not know that he didn’t. None of us can say one way or the other, with absolute assuredness, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Really, all we have is her testimony—and the probable cause found by the State of Connecticut due to the “fragility of the ‘child victim,’” as Dylan states.
So, suspend your disbelief for a moment, and let’s say that there is enough evidence to believe that Dylan Farrow might not be lying. Yes, time has gone by since she was or was not abused, but I’ve known enough sexual assault victims, read enough accounts, thought enough about it, and decided that a hurt like that doesn’t just go away. Pain might diminish as time acts as an anodyne or survivors move on with their lives, but it doesn’t disappear.
The Farrows are human beings, and if Dylan Farrow is telling the truth, they are hurt. Of course it’s getting dredged up again, it’s been simmering away under the surface for decades—it had to boil over eventually. They’re allowed to bring it up again, because this isn’t a one-shot-that’s-all-you’ve-got situation. This is somebody’s life, and all too often sexual abuse victims are told, expected, to stay silent. Many child abuse survivors do not divulge their stories until later in life, as shame, doubt, confusion, and other factors cause them to tamp down and ignore what happened. Those who defend Allen, implying or openly stating that sexual abuse is something to just get over and move on from, do not understand how traumatizing sexual abuse can be.
Let’s be real: nothing is going to happen to Woody Allen, whether he is guilty or not. He will not be charged. He will continue to be celebrated for his work in the film industry. I personally cannot stop myself from loving Annie Hall, I cannot forget fond childhood memories of Take the Money and Run or Manhattan Murder Mystery, and every detail of his films—down to the opening credits with their beautiful scores—is unmissable to me. Calm down, Allen-apologists and defenders; he’s still a great filmmaker, and he will likely never face punishment whether it’s deserved or not.
The larger question to me is the issue of so many people leaping up and saying that we can’t believe Dylan’s account because it’s her word alone. Whether she’s telling the truth or not, it’s imperative to take any allegation of sexual assault seriously; whether you believe her or not, it’s important to consider the basis on which you dismiss, and to realize words are often all that abuse victims have.
As mentioned earlier, a lot of sexual assault victims don’t “dredge up” their stories at all, or don’t do so until later in life. What happens to an already silent group when a possible abuse victim is reprimanded for telling her story, and is in fact accused of lying? Dylan Farrow is white, upperclass, has the support of her family, and has a vehicle to tell her story—there’s no way I’m going to imply that a sexual assault victim is even comparatively privileged, but not all sexual assault victims have those advantages. So what happens when marginalized members of a silent group, who might not have access to support or resources, are vehemently told in media and by society at large to shut up and forget what happened to them? What happens when sympathy is directed at someone who may have molested a child, his daughter, while eye rolls are given to someone who may be a sexual assault survivor?
I don’t know if Dylan Farrow is telling the truth, and I don’t know if Woody Allen has ever molested his child. I know that a lot of sexual assault victims are silent and are encouraged to keep their mouths shut. Again, words are often all that sexual abuse survivors have at their disposal. If Dylan’s account is dismissed because it’s “just her word,” I don’t see why any sexual abuse survivor would come forward and put their word on the line.
I’m usually pretty sympathetic to people’s insecurities, and this is especially true when it comes to weight: although I’ve never struggled with a weight problem per se, I did spend years struggling with perceiving that I had a weight problem—as many women do, unfortunately. (See our podcast episode on Body Image for more divulgence on my insecurity and attempts to lose weight back when I was a wee teen.)
The image of the supposedly perfect woman is almost impossible to avoid without some considerable effort. These expectations are both pervasive and predominant. Between TV shows, movies, magazines, advertisements, books, and the like, there’s an unending fountain of alleged perfection—and the average woman is made abundantly aware of her own shortcomings.
Since I’ve been insecure in the past, and since I’m aware that being exposed to more images of flawlessness will likely make me feel flawed, I don’t make a point of searching out these images. It’s not a matter of actively avoiding them—I don’t turn off the TV when I notice that an actor is bony beyond belief. It’s a matter of not seeking them out. That means I don’t buy magazines just to be bombarded with airbrushed ideals. I don’t go in search of judgement. I avoid things that will make me feel like I come up short because dammit I don’t come up short in any way, shape, or form.
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is an example of something that can easily be avoided; although based on the number of tweets and Facebook posts I encountered after the most recent show—all asserting intentions to lose weight pronto—it would appear that watching the show is mandatory. I’ve never had a problem with the fashion show because I don’t watch it. Honestly, it would take me considerable effort to watch it, since I don’t know when it airs or what channel it’s on, and I can’t be bothered to look it up.
The unrealistic representations of women in fashion shows—particularly in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, where the women look like they’ve been photoshopped to perfection before being sent down the runway in angel wings—are not healthy. The insidious nature of these hegemonic ideals in both society and media are not healthy. But going out of your way to expose yourself to something that makes you unhappy isn’t healthy either.
You don’t have to watch the notorious fashion show in order to cast your gaze on luxurious lingerie. They have a store where you can shop to your heart’s content. Yes, there are still overwhelming posters of Chanel Iman, Miranda Kerr, Adirana Lima, and Alessandra Ambrosio in all their coiffed, made-up, well-lit, and photoshopped glory. If you don’t want to shop alongside those taunting images, I would suggest shopping at stores that aren’t in the business of fostering insecurity. I get most of my lingerie from Change Lingerie, partly because the sizes are closer together so everything fits better (they go up by increments, so you’re more likely to get a perfect fit), partly because the lingerie is gorgeous, and partly because the store itself is not plastered with absurdly idealistic images.
To be honest, I don’t think it should matter what the models look like: ideally, we would all be confident enough in ourselves that other people don’t affect us at all. But until we stop being bombarded with images of what we as women should (but realistically can’t) look like, I don’t see a reason to continue giving a megaphone to some company that implies how much of a thigh gap I should have. I did the insecure thing when I was younger. I now feel my value is far beyond any of my supposed physical flaws, and I don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to feel bad about myself.
Do what you want with your money and your time, but I would suggest not feeling bad when you don’t need to. If watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show sends you into a spiral of insecurity, don’t watch it. If photoshopped pictures in magazines make you question your value as a person—or instigate questions of how to lose the most weight the fastest—don’t read those magazines. That’s the best advice I can give you on this. I’m not placing blame for being the target audience in these campaigns of self-consciousness, but you don’t have to provide the money or eyes that these businesses and media forms are so desperate for.
There’s also the issue of the Victoria’s Secret sweatshop scandals that have cropped up in a series of reports over the years. In 2007, it was reported that “Jordanian employees in factories producing Victoria’s Secret lingerie were ‘slapped and beaten,’ then arrested for protesting” (information on Buzzfeed—along with a series of reports on other stores and their sweatshop affiliations—and on Huffington Post); an article from gleaner.rutgers.edu cited Victoria’s Secret as a sweatshop offender; and an article from 2011 in the New York Post reported that “Despite labels that certified its sleek panties and racy thongs were made from ‘pesticide-free, 10 per cent rain-fed cotton,’ the lingerie giant was using fiber picked from farms that relied on abused child laborers.”
Just sayin’. Victoria’s Secret isn’t just pretty bras and skinny golden limbs.
Today, December 6, is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada. It was established in 1991 to mark the anniversary of the murders of 14 women in 1989. They were shot with a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. They were killed in the name of “fighting feminism.” They were murdered because they were women.
I honestly don’t think anything I could write today would fully address the serious ongoing issue of violence against women, or would pay appropriate tribute to the deaths of these and countless other women. Years ago, one of my professors, when talking about the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, said that above all it was important to remember the women who died in the École Polytechnique massacre. And so, these are the women who died for studying at l’École Polytechnique:
- Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
- Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
- Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
- Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
- Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
- Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
- Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
- Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
- Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
- Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
- Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
- Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
- Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
- Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student
A singer’s been taking verbal swings at several popular artists: Lorde, a brutally honest feminist, has been criticized for her criticism of such artists as Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, and Lana Del Rey—and Gomez ain’t happy about what Lorde’s been spouting.
With regards to Gomez’s song “Come & Get It,” Lorde said “I’m a feminist, and the theme of her song is, ‘When you’re ready come and get it from me.’ I’m sick of women being portrayed this way.”
Gomez responded, “That’s not feminism. [Lorde is] not supporting other women. That’s my honest opinion, that’s what I would say to her if I saw her.”
Gomez handled the situation very well, in the sense that most people will likely agree with her. The version of feminism that has been popularized for years—most notably in the age of the Spice Girls—is that of love and support for your fellow woman, girl power, sisters standing together, and the like. While it may be the popular and seemingly ideal form of feminism, it’s not my version of feminism, and I’d like to go ahead and assume that it’s not Lorde’s version of feminism either.
Feminism isn’t about blind, blanket support. Being a feminist doesn’t mean agreeing with everything that women do; it means supporting women in their ability to say and do as they wish, and backing their messages if you actually do agree with them. Gomez can sing, act, and speak however she wants, but I don’t have to agree with her statements and actions, and neither does Lorde. Gomez is no more deserving of blind support than any other woman, feminist, or human being is. It’s that simple.
On the topic of Gomez’s song, a lot of people seem to have misunderstood why Lorde was criticizing it. On the YouTube channel Pop Trigger (in the videos “Lorde Apologizes for Taylor Swift & Selena Gomez ‘Diss’?” and “Selena Gomez Fires Back at Lorde Diss!“), the consensus was that Gomez was exploring her sexuality with the object of her affections, and that Lorde, when she’s older, will be more willing and able to explore her sexuality. She’ll understand, where she’s too young to comprehend sexuality as a youngin’ of 17 years.
I can’t speak for Lorde, obviously, but the issue I’ve had with Gomez’s song is that it sets her up as a passive object, waiting around to be acted upon. In the lyric, “when you’re ready, come and get it,” she literally refers to herself as an it—unless “it” refers to sex, which is a distinct possibility. Even then, though, the notion that sex with her is an “open invitation” takes away the option for her to change her mind, or not be in the mood, or decide that she’s tired of waiting around. When it’s an open invitation, her life revolves around being ready, willing, and able to give it when he wants to get it.
This is different from the generic brand of sexual objectification in which women are sexual scenery, or their value is tethered to their sexual abilities: in this case, Gomez’s role as an object is blatantly stated. She tells you she’ll be waiting around until you’re ready to sex her up (“All day, all night, I’ll be waiting, standing by”)—and will assumedly go back to waiting until you’re ready to come and get it again.
I have no problem with the exploration of sexuality. I have a problem with the notion that Gomez is singing about not living her life, and that she seem to have decided that she’s no better than some dismissible object. That’s neither a positive message, nor one that I’m going to get behind.
I wholeheartedly feel that Gomez has every right to sing what she wants to sing, and believe what she wants to believe. I don’t support her song’s message, though, because her brand of feminism and empowerment reads a little too much like objectification to me. If Lorde’s criticism is based in some other logic, she still has every right to criticize Gomez’s message without it detracting from her status as a feminist.
Originally published in the Other Press.