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”.
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):
[email protected] 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”.
Have no opinion on the accusations; hope they’re not true. Probably used the wrong word.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) February 4, 2014
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.
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.