Dylan Farrow’s disclosure of abuse has highlighted an unfortunate issue, which is that our society still largely treats domestic and sexual violence as private, “he said, she said” matters and ones that should be addressed behind closed doors. Well, I’ve got news for you – that’s exactly what abusers are counting on! Our dismissal of violence against women as a private matter is one of the reasons this violence continues to be so pervasive to this day.
Sexual and domestic violence are not private matters. One in four American women have experienced partner abuse and one in six American women have experienced attempted/completed rape. And while women are disproportionately affected by this violence, men are too so when you read those high rates for women? Remember women are only half the human race. So it’s clear a large percent of people have experienced one or both of these horrible traumas. And still it’s important in this discussion to keep in mind that the vast majority of DV and rape victims/survivors are female. The other thing to keep in mind is that I refer to DV and violence against women when discussing childhood sexual abuse because someone who commits child abuse, which includes sexual abuse, will often also abuse their partner. And my guess is when we’re talking about this very violent and horrific abuse of children that power and control is a key factor and the strategies used to hold batterers accountable address this type of child abuse too. To me, it’s all the same behavior but some abusers chose to direct it towards children too.
Anyways if you are in the camp who thinks Dylan Farrow’s disclosures of abuse are private matters, consider the following. Would you feel differently if you found out a celebrity whose work you love had been an active member of the KKK or had committed violent hate crimes against people of color or GLBTQ folks? I imagine that many people would feel differently upon learning that their idol is violent and racist, heterosexist and/or antisemitic. And why is that??? In the US women have been historically oppressed and DV used to be legal in this country (hello? Rule of thumb ring a bell?). Women were sold into marriages and husbands got to decide how their whole lives would be by how they treated their wives (i.e., if a husband verbally demeaned his wife, physically assaulted and/or raped her, there was little to no recourse for her and she’d have to figure out a way to survive it). And I don’t know for sure but I am guessing that a hundred years ago (and before that), DV occurred at at least the same rates as it currently does. And even in marriages without abuse, women were still very much second class citizens. A woman would marry and then do the unpaid work of cooking and cleaning. She would also bear children who got her husband’s last name while she was unable to own her own property or vote and on a societal level, she was viewed as property. To me, this is slavery that is seldom referred to as such. And women of color were that much more disenfranchised as they were subjected primarily to societal racism, sexism and violence and were still second to men within their own race.
There continues to be gender-based discrimination and violence on a societal level against women and girls. Women continue to be second class citizens. Women of color and GLBTQ folks continue to experience violence at alarmingly higher rates than straight, white women – especially middle/upper class, straight, white women.
The oppression women experienced historically and continue to experience is the same oppression that African Americans and Jewish people experienced respectively during slavery and the holocaust (to name a couple of too many sickening examples). Racism, sexism, etc may target separate groups but the targeted groups often overlap (eg women of color). Also the strategies used to take power from may differ depending on the targeted group but the end goal is the same and that is to promote one groups’ rights, benefits, wealth, options, etc at the expense of another group. So why do we rush to the defense of someone who has been accused of sexual abuse, rape and partner abuse, when we know these types of violence disproportionately affect women? And when we know that rape and DV have been used to control and terrorize women into submission for the benefit men for a very, very long time?
I’m not suggesting you boycott any celebrity or politician when you hear a disclosure that they abused someone. I don’t think shaming is an effective tactic. Conversely, I think shaming contributes to an already rigid dichotomy of good people vs bad people which is so disconnected from reality, it doesn’t serve us in any way. But I do believe in holding people accountable and a start to that is listening to and believing survivors. Another good start is to stop rushing to defend the accused and insist he is a good guy who couldn’t have done this. because rarely are abusers people others would describe as “bad”, often they are well-liked and we cant envision them as abusive.
To me, rushing to woody Allen’s defense, saying we don’t know what really happened does nothing towards building a society where he or any abuser are held accountable. Sexism in general and in its most dangerous form, violence against women still persist and thus we need to address it in the same way we address all other oppressions. And for the record on that matter, let’s face it, we still require much improvement in addressing all forms of oppression.