Woody Allen’s Good Name
This is a basic principle: until it is proven otherwise, beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s important to extend the presumption of innocence to Dylan Farrow, and presume that she is not guilty of the crime of lying about what Woody Allen did to her.
If you are saying things like “We can’t really know what happened” and extra-specially pleading on behalf of the extra-special Woody AllenHi, The Daily Beast!, then you are saying that his innocence is more presumptive than hers. You are saying that he is on trial, not her: he deserves judicial safeguards in the court of public opinion, but she does not.
The damnably difficult thing about all of this, of course, is that you can’t presume that both are innocent at the same time. One of them must be saying something that is not true. But “he said, she said” doesn’t resolve to “let’s start by assuming she’s lying,” except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured. It works both ways, or should: if one of them has to be lying for the other to be telling the truth, then presuming the innocence of one produces a presumption of the other’s guilt. And Woody Allen cannot be presumed to be innocent of molesting a child unless she is presumed to be lying to us. His presumption of innocence can only be built on the presumption that her words have no credibility, independent of other (real) evidence, which is to say, the presumption that her words are not evidence. If you want to vigorously claim ignorance–to assert that we can never know what happened, in that attic–then you must ground that lack of knowledge in the presumption that what she has said doesn’t count, and we cannot believe her story.
To be blunt: I think Woody Allen probably did it, though, of course, I could be wrong. But it’s okay if I’m wrong. For two reasons. First, because my opinion is not attached to a juridical apparatus—because I have not been empowered by jails and electric chairs and states of exception to destroy people’s lives—it isn’t necessary for me to err heavily on the side of “we need to be really fucking sure that the accused did it.” It’s a good thing, generally, that juries are empowered to say “We think the accused is probably guilty, but we’re not sure beyond a reasonable doubt, so we will not convict.” That bar is set high for a reason; if you’re going to lock a person in a cage for a long time, you need to be really sure. But we are also empowered to say the same thing. We are also empowered to say “We think Woody Allen probably molested a seven year old.” And because we are not in a court of law, we don’t even need to say the second part. The fact that we will not convict him doesn’t even need to be implied. He is not, after all, on trial.
The second reason it’s okay if I’m wrong is that I’m probably not wrong. It’s much more likely that I’m right. Because I am not on Woody Allen’s jury, I can be swayed by the fact that sexual violence is incredibly, horrifically common, much more common than it is for women to make up stories about sexual violence in pursuit of their own petty, vindictive need to destroy a great man’s reputation. We are in the midst of an ongoing, quiet epidemic of sexual violence, now as always. We are not in the midst of an epidemic of false rape charges, and that fact is important here. All things being equal, it’s more likely that the man who has spent a lifetime and a cinematic career walking the line of pedophilia (to put it mildly) is a likely candidate. All things being equal, the explanation that doesn’t require you to imagine a conspiracy of angry women telling lies for no reason is probably the right one. It’s a good thing that juries can’t think this way, that they can’t take account of Occam’s Razor, because—in theory—the juridical system needs to get it right every single time (or at least hold tenaciously to that ambition). But you and I can recognize the bigger picture, because we aren’t holding a person’s life in our hands. Especially in situations like this one, the overwhelmingly more likely thing is that he did it. The overwhelmingly less likely thing is that a pair of bitter females—driven by jealousy or by the sheer malignity of the gender—have been lying about him for decades.
What is the burden of proof for assuming that a person is lying? If you are a famous film director, it turns out to be quite high. You don’t have to say a word in your defense, in fact, and people who have directed documentaries about you will write lengthy essays in the Daily Beast tearing down the testimony of your accusers. You can just go about your life making movie after movie, and it’s fine. But if you are a woman who has accused a great film director of molesting you when you were seven, the starting point is the presumption that, without real evidence, you are not telling the truth. In the court of public opinion, a woman accusing a great film director of raping her has no credibility which his fans are bound to respect. He has something to lose, his good name. She does not, because she does not have a good name. She is living in hiding, under an assumed name. And when she is silent, the Daily Beast does not rise to her defense.
In a rape culture, there is no burden on us to presume that she is not a liar, no necessary imperative to treat her like a person whose account of herself can be taken seriously. It is important that we presume he is innocent. It is not important that we presume she is not making it all up out of female malice. In a rape culture, you can say things like “We can’t really know what really happened, so let’s all act as if Woody Allen is innocent (and she is lying).” In a rape culture, you can use your ignorance to cast doubt on her knowledge; you can admit that you have no basis for casting doubt on Dylan’s statement, and then you can ignore her account of herself. A famous man is not speaking, so her testimony is not admissible evidence. His name is Woody Allen, and in a rape culture, that good name must be shielded and protected. What is her name?