Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen, and Our Culture of Denial


By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly

Last Saturday Dylan Farrow published an open letter in the New York Times repeating her allegations that, when she was seven, her then-stepfather Woody Allen sexually molested her.

Her tone was blunt, and pointedly accusatory. She called out Allen’s celebrity collaborators, including Cate Blanchett and Louis CK, by name, asking them whether they’d lend their services to the director if he’d raped their own children, and then turned her attention to we, as readers, and consumers of her predator’s works:

So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.

Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?

The column to me reads like strong medicine from a person who’s weaned herself from her culture’s collective denial around incest’s pernicious existence. It’s an anguished, angry 800 word “What the fuck?” from a woman who, twice before, had detailed Allen’s criminal abuses of her and watched him not only escape punishment, but be feted by the world around her.

Parent to child incest, like the kind Farrow details, is an abuse of absolute power. Children are completely dependent on parents. Our society trusts parents not to abuse this dependence, sentimentalizing the concept of “family” to such an extent that the idea of parent to child rape and torture, like the kind Farrow outlines, is unthinkable at any cultural level.

To believe what Farrow has said would mean that Woody Allen, beloved filmmaker, is also a pedophile. It’s a leap our culture’s clearly been unable to make. His unending Oscar nominations, lifetime achievement awards, and continued creative autonomy in the cutthroat world of feature filmmaking attest to the fact that, no matter how often Dylan Farrow bravely comes forward with the truth of what happened to her, we, as a culture, will refuse to wrestle with her claims, and return to our denial.

Believing Allen is a pedophile would mean no longer swallowing his ridiculous theory that his ex-wife Mia Farrow planted the story of the abuse in Dylan’s mind to bolster her hand in their divorce negotiations, and then had Dylan regurgitate it to the authorities, and that somehow this brainwashing was so powerful it led to Dylan’s developing an eating disorder, and a cutting habit, and a need to repeat the story publicly twenty years later.

It would mean no longer refusing to take her at her word, a refusal based on the idea that a successful adult male guardian’s denial is more valuable than the accusation of the female minor relative he’s said to have violated.

This refusal forms the basis of incest’s hold on our culture. Predators tell their daughters, sons, nieces, nephews and grandchildren, “This is our secret,” like Farrow alleges Allen told her, or “No one will believe you.” They threaten children, children who’s security and autonomy they’ve already violated.

What help does our culture offer these victims? Every case is different, but in general, we seem to be a society far more afraid of falsely accusing adult men, than of retraumatizing incest victims by doubting and denying their stories.

Men hold jobs, marry spouses, co-parent children, belong to families, and make up half of our adult population. In our culture, we imagine them doing all these things without raping and torturing children. Given the number of children who are raped and tortured by adult men, however, this is a collective delusion on our parts, one that survivors like Farrow are attempting to cure us of.

An incest survivor often faces rejection from their family upon disclosure, as the family finds it easier to live with the idea that the survivor is inventing things than with the fact that the survivor was raped or tortured by an adult relative.

The survivor then lives in the same bizarro world Farrow describes, in which their perpetrator is lauded for their virtues, while their crimes are swept under the rug: 

Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.

This is the incest dynamic: Adult men bestriding the world, and their survivors, even the ones who’ve disclosed what’s been done to them, suffering silently alone. The world choosing, over and over, to comfort itself with the myth that incest does not exist, rather than making a space for incest survivors to be heard and to find justice.

People on the internet are “taking sides” in this dispute, which, to me, is a sign of progress. The fact that Farrow has a side, means people are making room for incest’s existence in their worldview, and that denial’s hold might be growing a little less strong.


Two important articles for readers who question the validity of Farrow’s allegations:

Why Young Sexual Assault Victims Tell Incoherent Stories.

and 10 Undeniable Facts about the Woody Allen Sexual-Abuse Allegation.

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