Dear Stephen King: Please Don’t Call Dylan Farrow’s Abuse Story ‘Bitchery’

AP Photo: Rene Mercura

AP Photo: Rene Mercura

Lynn Beisner, a huge Stephen King fan, asks the famous author to consider apologizing for calling Dylan Farrow’s description of her alleged abuse “bitchery”.

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Dear Stephen King:

First, I hope that you read this, not just because I hope that this will help you understand where you went wrong, but also for the reason that I am a big fan of your work.

So, it seems that you had a Twitter mishap yesterday. In reference to an article about Dylan Farrow’s charge that her father, Woody Allen, had sexually assaulted her, you tweeted (since deleted):

”@marykarrlit Boy, I’m stumped on that one. I don’t like to think it’s true, and there’s an element of palpable bitchery there, but…”

You followed it up by tweeting that you do not have an opinion about the veracity of the charges against Allen. And, in fact, you did express undecidedness in both tweets.  You added that you had chosen a poor word. I am assuming that by that you meant the word “bitchery”.

Finally, you pleaded for mercy because you are new to Twitter. That of course led us to believe that what you said publicly, you had meant to be a direct message to a single person. There is no shame in making that mistake. Even twitter veterans like Anthony Weiner have made it.

♦◊♦

First, let me say that I think I may understand why you are inclined to say that there is an “element of palpable bitchery.”  My guess is that you both identify with and have a lot of empathy for Woody Allen. Both of you live in that rarified strata of living legends which is probably a whole lot less fun than most would think.  As someone who has “enjoyed” nothing more than the fifteen minutes of fame due her by the old axiom, I can attest that being even slightly famous has a lot of downsides. So, I can only imagine what a mixed blessing it is to be an icon. I would imagine that as members of the Legends Club and Foxholes you probably feel a sense of camaraderie with Allen.

The weird thing is that you don’t stop wanting to have your work acknowledged even if you have misgivings about fame. This is why even living legends, or perhaps especially extremely accomplished and famous people, still often crave the really big accolades. And so you would understand how Allen may take great joy or satisfaction out of receiving a lifetime achievement award.

From that perspective, it would likely seem “bitchy” for people to rain on his parade. You could possibly see this as a case of a person’s lifetime’s achievement eclipsed by a bitter woman (although I am not sure if you think that Dylan Farrow was being bitchy or if you believe that she was prompted by Mia Farrow).

Here is where you went wrong: This is not about Woody Allen. This is about Dylan Farrow and the multitude of other people who have not been believed when they talked about being molested. It is about the utter un-provability of some allegations of abuse if you ignore the word of children. And it is about the misconception that abuse allegations are a weapon frequently used by women to hurt men.

When I say that this is about Dylan Farrow, I mean that I believe she has the right to be heard and to express her feelings. The timing of her statements are not coincidental to his awards; The awards are the cause of the pain that prompted her to speak out. She was deeply hurt that Allen received the award. It isn’t like they generally give people who’ve been accused of child molestation such awards.  So the fact that it was offered to him has led her to see this award as a tacit statement that the public refuses to see him as an abuser and that makes her either a liar or brainwashed.

Dylan is rightfully saying that when we say, “Well, who can know what happened?” we are not remaining as neutral as we would hope. If you are saying that you cannot know the truth, you are saying that there is some credibility to Woody Allen’s version of events, and that this might truly be as Allen’s lawyers said, the product of a “vengeful lover.”

♦◊♦

To believe Allen and his attorney, you must believe that Farrow plotted her vengeance and then found time in a house filled with a dozen other kids and nearly as many nannies to accomplish this in a very short amount of time, and thoroughly enough so as to make sure that the only differences in the story were between which spots on her daughter’s genitals were touched. In fact, you must believe that Mia was so good at this that Dylan Farrow maintained her story despite being grilled by those who were looking to destroy her credibility.

You must also believe that the child actually believed what she was told happened, and that she internalized it to the extent of having severe PTSD symptoms. You must further believe that in the decades of therapy that followed, no therapist ever cracked the veneer of her mother’s alleged lie even slightly. And you must believe that this brainwashing was so complete it urged Dylan Farrow, an ordinarily private adult, to make a very public statement.

Do you see what you must believe about Dylan in order to give Allen’s statements that much credibility? You must believe that she is the delusional dupe of a Machiavellian mother or that her mother made her hate her father so badly that she wants to hurt him enough to risk all sorts of public censure by telling her story.

But this is not just about Dylan; It is also about all of the other people who have told the truth about being abused and not been believed. You may not be aware of this, but most victims are not believed. They are usually accused of everything from insanity to vindictiveness.  So when you said that this situation seemed like bitchery, you were taking the same position taken by thousands of people who enable abusers and by abusers themselves. You are lending credibility to abusers both when they tell their victims, “No one will ever believe you” and when they deny the victim’s claims.

And this is not just about victims. It is also about the fact that sexual abuse crimes are hard to prove by normal evidentiary standards and so they are often based on the word of a child. It is exceptionally rare to have an eyewitness, and medical exams can only reveal very specific kinds of abuse, mostly penetration. Children who have their external genitals touched and those who have been made to pleasure another person will show no medical signs of abuse.

♦◊♦

I understand that part of what complicates the issue is that these charges arose, as they often do, often during a break-up and a custody battle. As I said, this happens frequently.  You can either assume that something about divorce and custody battles causes charges of abuse, or you can believe that there is something about charges of abuse that lead to divorce and custody issues. Think about it. You discover that your spouse is sexually abusing your child, what do you do? You leave and take your child and seek protection for your child.

This case perfectly follows what happens when the revelation of alleged sexual misconduct is what creates the break-up and the custody battle. I am not sure if you remember this or not,  but the reported reason that Mia broke up with Woody and filed for sole custody was that she found pictures of a naked Soon-Yi in Woody’s apartment.

To be clear, while much has been said to defend Woody claiming that what he did was not technically any form of incest, everyone has to agree that he broke a major taboo. The norms of our culture are pretty clear: You do not sleep with the daughter of your girlfriend behind her back. You do not take naked pictures of your girlfriend’s daughter. And you certainly do not do any of these things if you were dating the mom when the daughter was growing up. These are pretty universally agreed-upon rules, and Allen has demonstrated a willingness to break them without apparent remorse.

Mia had good reason to be in a custody battle(1): Woody had crossed a generally agreed-upon sexual boundary with one of her daughters. So the fact that Dylan’s accusations arose during a custody battle is both entirely relevant and completely irrelevant. It is relevant because she was in the custody dispute because she had discovered an entirely separate and serious breech of sexual boundaries by Woody with one of her children. And it is irrelevant in that we cannot assume in any way that it caused the allegations.

One of the main reasons, I believe, that anyone still believes him is that many men have a fear that they will be accused of a sexual crime that they did not commit. No matter how unlikely we tell them it is, this fear remains. It is like fearing death by terrorist or that your child will be abducted by a stranger. The odds of it happening are astronomically low, but because you have heard of a few cases recently, it seems really likely. There is nothing that I can do or say that will reassure some men about this, so I will not even throw around the statistics.

♦◊♦

But even if you insist on fearing false allegations and you do not believe anything else I have said in this letter, please hear and believe this: It is not a good idea to describe a victim’s statements about abuse as “bitchery”. You need only to have a moderate sensitivity for those who have been abused to realize that such talk can be very hurtful to them. You may not know the real history of the person that you are talking to. Or as happened tonight, abuse victims can overhear your callous comments.

Mr. King, I think that you are a good guy. So let me tell you what good guys do in a situation like this. You apologize unequivocally, and you talk about what you have learned.

 

Best wishes,

Lynn Beisner

 UPDATE: Stephen King has issued an apology. Please see Lynn Biesner’s follow-up response piece to the apology.

(1) Many of the facts about the timeline of Farrow and Allen’s relationship and details of their separation come from this Vanity Fair article.

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About Lynn Beisner

Lynn Beisner writes about family, social justice issues and the craziness of daily life. Her work has been featured in The Guardian, Altnernet, The Good Men Project and in Role Reboot where she was a contributing writer. Her articles and ideas have been discussed internationally and in forums as diverse as MSNBC, The Young Turks, BBC and USA Today. To protect her family, she has been writing under this pseudonym since 2011.

Comments

  1. Joanna Schroeder says:

    I was compelled by a lot of the information in this piece, by a man who is a fan of Allen’s films, but also an advocate for survivors. Objective and smart, very compelling.

    And he hits on many of the points you make, as well.

    http://rogercanaff.com/site/2014/02/dylan-farrows-allegations-against-woody-allen-a-short-list-of-truly-unfair-considerations/

  2. As a long-time admirer of Woody Allen and witness to how some mothers will in fact, resort to malicious slander of an ex, it depresses me to admit that I feel inclined to give Dylan Farrow the benefit of a doubt. Some people might cite the hysteria with the McMartin preschool hysteria of the 80s as an example of manipulating children. However, once they reached adulthood, the former children in the McMartin case admitted that they had been forced to lie by their parents, who had monetary motives. By contrast, Dylan Farrow, now a nearly 30 year-old adult, and married, has not changed her story. To believe she is “brainwashed”, you would have to believe that she somehow either buried, or is in denial about, memories she has of Mia Farrow forcing her to believe a complete lie. And that at 28 years of age, she would not have the slightest misgivings about how her mother raised her if Mia Farrow did resort to such mental abuse. Jessica Hendra, the daughter of National Lampoon scribe, Tony Hendra, was similarly savaged when she came forward with how HER father raped her. But neither Jessica Hendra nor Dylan Farrow claimed repressed memories surfacing, but rather memories of experiences they have never been able to forget.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Obviously, many men also slander their wives during divorce proceedings. Divorce can be really, really horrible.

      Glad for all the points you made here about how this case does NOT echo the McMartin preschool case at all and about the fact that nobody is claiming repressed memories.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      On the subject of people claiming abuse during divorce, here are some facts:

      “The allegations arising in the context of a custody dispute. Many have bought into the pernicious myth that children are easily and often coached to fabricate allegations of sexual abuse, usually by their mother against a targeted male figure. This is a particularly attractive idea against Mia Farrow, whose perceived bitterness at Allen’s actions with Soon-Yi Previn fuel the myth. In fact, sex abuse allegations made during custody disputes have about the same very low rate of false reporting as in any other case. Further, the risk of suggestibility drops off sharply after around the age of 5, two years before Dylan reported.”

      http://rogercanaff.com/site/2014/02/dylan-farrows-allegations-against-woody-allen-a-short-list-of-truly-unfair-considerations/

      • The studies about the alleged myth for false accusations of child abuse in divorce, tend to claim its a myth, and then go on to cite shocking high numbers, the first one I saw that was claiming its a myth, cited 25% as the rate of FAs. In this one its higher.

        “Mother’s allegations against father were
        considered likely to have been accurate in 49 percent of cases
        and unlikely in 33 percent. Father’s allegations against mother
        were considered likely in 42 percent of cases and unlikely in 41
        percent. The remainder of the cases were indeterminate.12″

        h ttp://aja.ncsc.dni.us/courtrv/cr35-1/CR35-1McDonald.pdf

  3. Wow Lynn Beisner. That was the most amazing piece I have read on GMP. Stephen Kings tweet was more a confirmation of his belief this was a fabricated story. It angers me as it shows how much ignorance and misunderstanding exist even among the intelligent. What bothers me is all the men who want to cuddle with their daughters and show appropriate affection who have to rethink how that is perceived. I would not want to remove touch from a relationship between a father and his children. I am glad you wrote that letter to Mr. King. He needs to read “The Trauma Myth.” He might rethink his stupid fucking tweet.

  4. Rabbi Justin Kerber says:

    Here’s what I don’t get: King writes so compellingly about all kinds of abuse in The Shining and its recent sequel, Doctor Sleep. It doesn’t add up that he would be so callous.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I think the fact that he probably didn’t realize it’d be public made him careless. And our generations (maybe centuries) of making women feel crap for how they are treated has probably affected the way he sees stories like this, just like it affects us all. I’m more of an asshole in private (not THIS much of an asshole – and not about this), as we all are.

      He needs to apologize and explain that he understands the harm that his mistake caused many survivors who saw that tweet.

  5. If I had to guess, I would say that Woody Allen’s odd relationship with his step daughter does lend much more likelihood to his guilt in this matter. But that’s just a guess, based on very little information; and very little information is what most people not directly connected to this case have. But that’s where my agreement with the article ends.

    “If you are saying that you cannot know the truth, you are saying that there is some credibility to Woody Allen’s version of events, and that this might truly be as Allen’s lawyers said, the product of a ‘vengeful lover’.”

    I’m saying you/I cannot know the truth. AND I am not saying there is some credibility to Woody Allen’s version of event. I AM saying there may be, but you and I don’t know. Here is the break in logic that happens with so many victim’s advocates. They are doing exactly what they accuse the other side of doing. They like to say that people who don’t “believe” victims outright are blaming them and “defending” the perpetrators. But they’re putting the quotation marks around the wrong words; they should be quotating “victims” and “perpetrators,” or using the word “alleged” as a qualifier. Because people who claim not to know are simply telling the truth, whereas people like the author of this article have clearly decided that the use of the word alleged isn’t necessary. Perpetrators are guilty; victims deserve care and justice.

    I’m sure it IS the case that false accusations of crimes are much rarer than true ones, so I guess if you’re placing a bet, given even odds, that’d be the way to go. But this is justice. Justice necessarily leans in the favor of the accused. The accuser has the burden of proof for very good reasons. Otherwise, what’s to stop anyone with a motive from making up any story they want about you? It’s imperative that our justice system have a policy that virtually no innocent person is convicted. And this spirit ought to be reflected in the public and the press. Innocent people have been accused and convicted of crimes like this; and their lives have been ruined. And those people aren’t just destroyed by the betrayal. Their fate is to spend a significant portion of their life in prison, living in constant fear from truly horrible people, and when they emerge having no one except maybe their mother believing that they are innocent.

    In the case of child molestation, there are two other things to consider. The first is that young children will often do and say what they think is expected of them. Whether it’s out of fear or the need for approval, they are vulnerable to adult pressure, by molesters and manipulators alike. The second is our puritanical society being particularly difficult for children to understand; children often know nothing about sex other than it’s dirty, forbidden, and will get them in trouble. When it comes to testimony, they are bound to be confused and guarded, and easily coached.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen all too frequently, or that it didn’t happen to Dylan. It may have; and hopefully she’s being helped. In fact, maybe that’s where the focus of the energy should be, in helping alleged victims. Because even in the case that accusations are false, the accuser must need some kind of help. But unless there is some significantly damning evidence, I maintain, very strongly, that I don’t know the truth.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I think the HUGE distinction here is that we, the public, are not a court of law and we are not trying to remove his rights.

      We, as the public, are deciding where our guts land on this. Nobody should be attempting to remove his rights to be found innocent or guilty by a court. But aside from that, we do need to judge – with the information given – what we think is most likely. We need to do that in order to decide if we’ll consume his products, or endorse him as a human or director.

      There is a strange, but important, little turn of phrase one of my friends used recently about something unrelated to this particular case.

      “I believe her, but that doesn’t mean I know it’s the truth.”

      It’s so slippery to plant your feet in this, but it’s so true. I believe Dylan Farrow. But can I ever know if it’s the objective truth? Certainly not.

      But I’m with the 99%+ odds that she is telling the truth, and all of the evidence I can see leads me to believe it, as well. Is it the objective truth? I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. But that doesn’t keep me from making a judgement. We have to make judgements without the 100% objective truth all the time.

      Beyond that, it’s irrelevant to this story. In THIS story, King said something that harms all survivors – present and future. That telling your story is a bitchy thing to do. A bad thing to do. And Lynn’s right, that adds to a culture of shaming and blaming victims.

      Mr. King knows better and can do better, and I suspect he will once he recovers from the shock of learning what it’s like to be wrong and have the voices of thousands (if not more) survivors telling him they’ve been hurt.

      • I suppose you do have a point to make in separating the legal argument from the public one. In this case, especially considering the Soon Yi thing, it’s difficult to defend Woody Allen against people’s suspicions. And the Stephen King tweet was unfortunate–I wonder if he’s been the victim of false accusations. But I still think presumption of guilt in the court of public opinion is terribly wrong as well. And I suppose, from the author’s words, and Dylan Farrow’s words from her open letter, that they would take a non-presumption of guilt of an abuser as a presumption of guilt of the alleged victim, (being guilty of false accusation); but again, I would argue that’s not the truth. It’s very sad that there are so many victims of abuse; I wish, like most people, that we could help these people and keep it from happening in the first place. In light of that, it feels heartless to present logic in the face of emotional pain, even though I believe it’s the right thing to do, and the right way to approach the issue.

  6. Iliana Veltcheva says:

    Wait a bit, then tweet the link to King. Right now might not be a good time – people are probably still flooding his mentions and direct comments so yours could get overlooked.

    Full disclosure: I’ve been reading and re-reading his books since I was 12. It was never about the spooks – even as a kid he didn’t scare me once, I wasn’t even aware he’s supposed to and, for a while, thought „horror book” meant „book for grownups with supernatural stuff in it” (don’t tell him that). What I fell for wasn’t the adrenaline rush I didn’t realize I should be getting – it was his insights, storytelling skills and turn of phrase. Not sure how exactly I should order these, in my mind each looms just as large as the other. Sometimes, when I realize how much he’s influenced (some of) my attitudes, my standards, and my enjoyment of language, it feels like he part-time raised me so after that monumentally tone deaf comment that made me physically recoil, I almost need a reason to trust him again.

    („Trust” is indeed the right word. I was a child, I had questions and he always had answers, also, he was one of the few writers I was aware of whose books didn’t make me feel like I’m peaking through the window of some „Boys Only” treehouse. There were enough female characters in the books I was reading, don’t get me wrong, but in most of King’s they were actually doing important stuff. Also, even the filler or villain women felt like full-blooded people, just like everyone else’s MALE characters. I had no idea if he meant to do that, but I felt included all of a sudden, and didn’t have to accept “important = man” as „just the way things are” anymore. I really liked him for it and yeah, in time that evolved into trust. Which I didn’t shake off even after I grew up and started spotting King’s own paternalistic streak and the issues that go hand in hand with that sort of thing. My bad, but in a world where misogyny is the bedrock of most societies, I needed to shield my admiration for at least one of the men I looked up to, and because everyone else on that short list kept tripping over himself to prove just how clueless he is, SK was an easy choice.)

    Having said that, I don’t have a hell of a lot of hope left he’ll do the right thing, and that’s got nothing to do with whether or not he’s a loving, big-hearted guy living in dread of hurting others (as his older son just tweeted). Or about how it’s sad he stumbled, but when someone’s good, you cheer when they get back up again (something else Joe Hill just tweeted). I won’t say I wasn’t moved, or that it didn’t hurt to watch people rip into the one male role model I’d picked in childhood that I hadn’t yet had to give up, but what’s required here is a willingness to challenge your own mindset. The problem being not all loving, big-hearted men have it. That doesn’t make them bad, but it sure is disheartening if all “getting back up again” is going to amount to is „No opinion, probably used wrong word”.

    I’m glad (grateful, in fact) you took the time to write this, but you’re basically asking a man with a sizable ego to get over the fact a number of people dissed him; examine his privilege; realize, at 66 years of age, that he’s got blind spots of the sexist variety (even though he’s been married to a feminist for 40 years); then admit it publicly, apologize and write an account of what he learned, which implies something exists that he didn’t already know.

    I’d love to find King has it in him because he’s meant a lot to me for 21 years, but over the past 15 I’ve seen this exact scene (ALWAYS brought about by people calling out male privilege or rape culture blindness) play out with a number of celebs, from actors to writers and scientists – most of them loving, kind men by all accounts. It always goes like this:

    Commenters explain their heads off, compiling link lists and bibliographies, and write to fella, some nicely, others bluntly, hoping he’ll see the light. Fella acts like they don’t exist, or offers a not-pology, then acts like they don’t exist. Or he doubles down again and again until there’s nothing but MRAs left cheering in his corner. (The last, and certainly not first Internationally Acclaimed Dude I Care About who pulled that particular stunt before my unbelieving eyes was Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist who’d often use feminist rhetoric and co-opt women’s plight to score a point against organized religion, but had no issue sarcastically advising a fellow speaker at an atheist event that while there are muslim women being killed / forced to wear a burka, she has no business complaining that she worries about her safety when a strange guy propositions her in a hotel elevator at 3 AM.)

    Don’t get your hopes up is all I’m sayin.

  7. “The first is that young children will often do and say what they think is expected of them. Whether it’s out of fear or the need for approval, they are vulnerable to adult pressure, by molesters and manipulators alike.”

    I really don’t understand why so few people are bothering to distinguish between seven year-old Dylan Farrow from 1992, and 28 year-old — and married — Dylan Farrow in 2013. As if somehow Dylan somehow never went through adolescence and never developed an identity as a mature and independent adult, capable of assessing whether or not she is being manipulated, much less “brainwashed” by her mother today.

    As I mentioned before, in the McMartin preschool case, the children indeed were told to lie, but they were never “brainwashed” into believing they had been raped, something which in reality is virtually impossible to do outside of a Robert Ludlum novel. But when they became adults, and were free from parental pressure, they went to the press and told the facts. Yet somehow, people are convinced this 28 year-old woman is still living in fear of her mother’s disapproval and lying both to herself and the world?

    The real issue is celebrity culture, and how we don’t want to come to terms with the fact that sometimes are idols are all-too-human.

  8. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    Dylan’s telling the truth. No-one would hatch such a story involving themselves if it weren’t true.

  9. Its possible King knew the back story

    “The doctors concluded that Mia Farrow clearly influenced Dylan’s statements.

    “Dylan retracted her abuse allegations and told the investigators inconsistent stories over the course of the multi-day examination.”

    http://radaronline.com/exclusives/2014/02/woody-allen-dylan-farrow-sexual-abuse-secret-report-exonerated/

  10. I read this article, and thought it was a fairly brilliant take on the situation from someone who’s been through his own struggle.

    http://gawker.com/woody-allen-is-not-a-monster-he-is-a-person-like-my-f-1518291644

    I find it truly courageous when someone can present a sober, logical assessment on a topic that is personally painful to them, when a victim has the ability to step forward and be perfectly fair, even to his perpetrator.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Karr noted, “Maybe he thinks the editorial writer bitchy. Or even me.”, King has received backlash for his implicit solidarity with […]

  2. […] Karr noted, “Maybe he thinks the editorial writer bitchy. Or even me.”, King has received backlash for his implicit solidarity with […]

  3. […] referring to them as “bitchery”, Lynn Beisner, herself a survivor of sexual violence, wrote an open letter to the legendary author here on The […]

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