Monthly Archives: February 2014

As old as Rosinante

rosinanteFailed politician Bernard Gaynor has persistently directed a stream of venomous, misinformed, ideologically twisted abuse towards high-profile, transgender army officer, Lt Col Cate McGregor. Following his lead, (absent any evidence whatsoever), I returned the favour with a soliloquy on the probable diminutive dimensions of Mr Gaynor’s reproductive organ.

The initial run of comments from Christian conservatives was predictable given I’d let the genitalia genie out of Bernie’s boxers. It was variously assumed I was a gay male, or a woman suffering from testicle envy. I was told that if my fanny was as big as my mouth it would be a yawning chasm.  I was likened to a street whore; a ‘cheap, nasty, unappealing caricature of womanhood’. I was accused of being unfunny, unintelligent and a ‘despicable, vile dissembler’.

An argument I didn’t anticipate, however, is that, as a 55 year old woman, I am too old to be publicly speculating about the size of a 33 year old man’s penis. That rather took the wind out of my sails. It was the first time in my life  anyone has suggested my age should govern my behaviour.

“There’s something disturbing about a woman your age discussing the penis size of a much younger man,” said a reader, calling herself “Aienna”.

To be frank, neither my age nor Gaynor’s had entered my mind when I set to writing about his wee willy. I had no idea of his age and I think of my age so seldom I have trouble remembering when somebody asks.

Bernard Gaynor, I was hastily informed, is 33 years old, “the age at which Jesus Christ was crucified”. I wondered at the compulsion to use such a tenuous connection to link Gaynor with Christ. Did the correspondent anticipate Gaynor’s martyrdom at my whorish heathen hands was destined to be immortalised in stained glass icons depicting The Emasculation of St Bernard?

The Emasculation of St Bernard! Oh dear! It does rather make one think of a very large dog bearing a little wooden cask of brandy getting ‘the snip’, doesn’t it? Perhaps that’s what the brandy’s for!

“You are a decrepit old tart, Chrys,” wrote a critic called James, all too keen to remind me that dried up old crones like me have no place criticizing upstanding young men like Gaynor.

“Bernard Gaynor is young enough to be your son. You left it too late to get in the groove. This is the digital age. 45s and LPs are museum pieces like you.”

My sin in riffing about Bernie’s cock size was compounded when another of his defenders challenged my refusal to admit to the ‘ickiness’ of same-sex intercourse by asking how I’d feel if my ‘significant other’ harboured homoerotic fantasies.

My admission that I’d think it was ‘hot’ only seemed to inflame the situation. I was branded (to my great delight) as “a poor woman’s Catherine Deveny” given that my “standards are lower than most women of similar socio-economic cultural background”.

The issue, James insisted, is the “standard of behaviour expected of women the age of Rosinante”.

I have to admit to a great hoot of laughter at being compared to Rosinante, Don Quixote’s ancient, sway backed, emaciated old nag.

What my apparently half-educated critic failed to understand was that Rosinante (aka Rocinante) literally means formerly (ante) an old hack (rocin).

In the eyes of Cervantes’ hero, Don Quixote, the animal transformed from an old farm horse into a noble steed. The name, Rosinante, was deliberately chosen (both by Don Quixote and his creator, Cervantes) to reflect that elevation in status. Having undertaken a rather major transformation myself lately, I’m pretty happy with the comparison.

Of course, James intended it as an insult. But, to his credit, he made me think: is there really some ‘standard of behaviour’ expected of women my age? If so, I think I missed that memo.

Is there really an expectation that a woman of my age shouldn’t discuss penises or think gay sex is hot? What else is verboten? Should I throw out that cute little neon lime mini skirt and start wearing “Osti” polyester dresses? Do I need to ditch the high heels in favour of sensible shoes? I guess the balconette bras will have to go. Should I learn to play pinochle, take up crochet, and buy a budgie?

My mother is nearly 90 years old. She still wears jeans and high heeled boots and has the figure of a woman 75 years her junior. To my recollection she has never acted – nor even thought about – what is appropriate for a woman of ‘her age’.  As a result, despite now being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, she is active, fashion-conscious, and progressive in her social and political views.

When she sees television reports about homosexuality she often reflects wistfully, “I would have liked to have had a gay son.

When she was approached by religious hawkers as she weeded our front garden, recently, she warned, “Oh, you’re wasting your time with us, dear. We’re atheists.”

Because of my mother, I maintain close links with a number of octo- and nono-genarians. They don’t seem to conform to any unwritten rule about acting their age either.

Recently, I confided to a very elderly female relative that I’d developed a minor but rather embarrassing infection that was likely to put a damper on a long-awaited romantic tryst.

“Don’t worry about it, darling!” she comforted me. “You can just give him a blow job.”

Oh! Ok, then!

It may be news to Bernard Gaynor and his ilk, but we ‘older women’ not only like talking about sex, we rather like having it.

An article on Slate this month reported that women over 70 are having the best sex of their lives. According to researcher, Bylris Kraknow, one 77 year old was inspired to try fellatio for the first time after watching a YouTube video titled “Learn How to Give a Blow Job Like a Pro.” Clearly determined not to appear like a rookie, she practiced, first, on a banana. If only James had been around to educate her about the ‘standard of behaviour’ required of a woman of her advanced years. I like to think she might have responded by speculating on the size of his todger.

Another septuagenarian confided, “I’m 72 and I am having the best sex I’ve ever had in my life.”

So hot were the elderly woman’s sex tips, said Kraknow, she felt the need of a post-interview ice bath.

At 55 years old I feel I’m at my intellectual, sexual and physical peak.  Is this really a time when I should be monitoring how I dress, what I say, how I act and what I think based on some unwritten rule that I should ‘act my age’? And, indeed, if my friends are any kind of barometer, I am acting my age.

What I’m not doing is acting like a 55 year old woman who was brought up under the paternalistic, misogynistic restrictions of the mid-nineteenth century. My sin is that I have failed to affect the demeanour of a sexless old spinster. I have committed the felony of abandoning my knitting for social engagement. I have shamelessly dared to ridicule, not just a man, not just a God-fearing man, but a younger man. In doing so, I have, apparently disrupted the ‘natural’ hierarchy of social power.  God knows, I’m probably responsible for a tear in the space-time continuum. I am, according to Gaynor’s defender, James, “a walking violation of nature”.

And here is the bad news for the religious fundamentalist fuddy-duddies whose image of femininity harks back to the days of farthingales, phaetons and fans. Women have long since realised that the status quo does not serve our interests. Women, of any age, will not be silenced by your pursed-lipped, mealy-mouthed, admonishments that we should behave ‘like ladies’ or act ‘our age’.  We will not be controlled or subdued by your anachronistic self-serving ideals of femininity. We will not set aside our sexuality when we have passed breeding age. And we won’t be shamed into silence by slurs relating to our age, looks, weight, sexuality, political or religious beliefs.

And here’s some more bad news, boys – being male no longer gets you a free pass. Act like a donkey and some woman’s going to call you an ass. Act like a dick and some woman’s going to speculate on the size of yours.

I may be as old as Rosinante but I’m still up for a good gallop, a roll in the hay and a bout or two of tilting at windmills.

Chrys Stevenson

Is Woody Allen guilty? I don’t know – and neither do you

It seems I’ve failed Feminism 101 and lost myself a few friends this week.  It’s not the first time I’ve failed to side with the sisterhood and I doubt it will be the last. C’est la vie.

My ‘F’ minus’ in Feminism comes as a result of my refusal to accept that Hollywood director, Woody Allen, is a definitely a pedophile based on the supposedly incontestable  testimony of his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow.

Let me make my position clear.

At no point have I argued that Dylan Farrow lied in the open letter that was published in the New York Times.  I have no doubt that Dylan Farrow believes every detail of the allegations she has made against Woody Allen.

I think there is no doubt whatsoever that Dylan Farrow is the victim of parental abuse. I do, however, think there is a question about which parent was the abuser.

I have not ‘defended’ Woody Allen, nor insisted that he is innocent. I have simply stated, repeatedly, in numerous online discussions that both sides have compelling arguments and that the general public (of which I am a member) should concede that we don’t know enough about this case to make a determination either way.

Sure, Woody Allen might be guilty, but despite an investigation at the time of the initial allegation and in the 20 years since, that has not been proven.

I have little interest in Woody Allen or his movies. As a woman – indeed, as a human being – I am, of course, deeply concerned about the ghastly damage inflicted upon the victims of sexual assault, particularly when the victims are children.

There are few women, myself included, who have not experienced sexual assault to some degree. Dylan Farrow is clearly a brave young woman who has been through an incredible amount of pain. I am well aware that, having told her story, that pain is made infinitely worse by suggestions that she is ‘making it all up’ or worse, making it all up for some kind of personal gain. I don’t think that.

I have not at any stage suggested that Dylan ‘invented’ her story. I think that is so unlikely that the possibility can be dismissed. I believe unequivocally that Dylan Farrow wrote an honest account of her recollection of being abused by her father. And, just to make it clear, I have not discounted the possibility that her recollection is accurate; I’ve simply said that, as relatively uninformed members of the general public, we cannot, in honesty, say we know that to be the case. We don’t. We can’t.

I have been told, repeatedly, that children almost never make up stories about being sexually abused. I am yet to see the research which supports that statement, but I’m happy to accept it. According to Wikipedia:

“Studies of child abuse allegations suggest that the overall rate of false accusation is under 10%.”

Apparently, other studies suggest the percentage may be as small as 2 per cent. I’m happy to accept that, too.

Whether 10 percent or 2 percent, the  percentage may be small, but it’s not insignificant – especially if you happen to be the one who has been wrongly accused.

Should we automatically assume that every man accused of child molestation is guilty because 90 per cent of them are?

Is it really fair or reasonable to throw the other 10 per cent to the wolves in the way that Woody Allen and his reputation have been hurled into the public arena to be slavered over by online pundits who don’t even seem capable of googling to verify the bullshit they post as ‘fact’ in online discussions.

If a child says they have been sexually abused, I absolutely think they must be taken seriously. The child should be removed from contact with the alleged perpetrator  and the matter thoroughly investigated. No question. I accept that allegations of child sexual abuse are almost never false.

But, ‘almost never’ is not ‘never’.  So, if you’re going to argue that the allegations made by Dylan and Mia Farrow might be the rare exception to the rule, you need to ask what was exceptional about that case that would make it different from most others.

I think the unique and unusual dynamics of the Allen/Farrow relationship at the time of Dylan’s alleged assault raise enough questions to suggest this may be one of the rare exceptions to the rule. May be; not is. Remember, my thesis here is not that Allen is definitely innocent (or guilty). It’s  that we simply don’t have enough information to say for sure either way.

Kathleen Coulbourn Faller, PhD, an expert in child sexual abuse, writes:

“Clinicians and researchers in the field of sexual abuse are in agreement that false allegations by children are extremely rare. Further in those unusual instances where they do occur, there is usually some serious malfunction in the family.”

It would be hard to find a more dysfunctional family than the Allen/Farrow household(s) at the time of the alleged assault on Dylan.

Farrow had discovered that her boyfriend, Woody Allen, had taken nude photos of her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn and was involved in a sexual relationship with her. Soon-Yi was 21 years old at the time. Allen was 56.

Soon-Yi was 10 when Allen and Farrow began dating. He was not her adoptive father. He was her mother’s boyfriend.  He did not live in the same residence as Farrow and her children.

In a 1992 interview for Time magazine (reported here) Soon-Yi Previn (by all credible accounts a highly intelligent and well-educated woman) confirmed that she never considered Allen a father figure in her life.

“To think that Woody was in any way a father or stepfather to me is laughable. My parents are Andre Previn and Mia, but obviously they’re not even my real parents.”

“I came to America when I was seven. I was never remotely close to Woody. He was someone who was devoted exclusively to his own children and to his work, and we never spent a moment together.”

According to Soon-Yi:

“I was not raped, molested or manipulated as Mia has hysterically charged …”

Soon-Yi Previn explains that her relationship with Allen began when she was around 20 years old at a time when his relationship with Farrow was in its death throes.

Tacky it might be, but Woody Allen was clearly not having a relationship with his ‘adopted daughter’ or  ‘step-daughter’.  He never adopted Soon-Yi. He was never married to Farrow. Nor is a 56 year old having a relationship with a 19 or 20 year old suggestive of pedophilia – no matter what the ‘ewwww’ factor.

It’s interesting that prior to accusing Allen of molesting Dylan, Ms Farrow appears to have falsely accused him of raping and molesting Soon-Yi.  If it is wrong to doubt Dylan Farrow, is it not also wrong to assume that Soon-Yi Previn was lying in her interview with Time magazine? Surely she knew whether or not she had been raped or molested by Allen. Surely she knew whether her mother’s allegations were real or invented.

Sure, it’s possible Soon-Yi was manipulated by a wily older man and, as a young woman, felt obligated to defend him. It’s possible. But, given the  fact that Previn and Allen have been happily ensconced in a stable and apparently happy marriage since 1997, I think the idea that Previn is some kind of ‘victim’ is highly suspect and, frankly, doesn’t give her much credit.

For many of the misinformed commentators Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn corroborates Dylan Farrow’s allegations. Indeed, if Allen had molested Soon-Yi from age 10 to 20 and then manipulated her into marrying him I’d be a lot quicker to condemn him. But, according to Soon-Yi, that’s not what happened. I think we should believe her.

Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi is not the ‘smoking gun’  it appears to be when you beat it up as ‘Allen fucked his adopted daughter’. On the other hand, Mia Farrow’s eagerness to portray Allen as a child molester should give us pause for thought. Why is that being ignored as a ‘smoking gun’ ?

A clinical psychologist, Dr Susan Coates, who was close to the family at the time of the alleged assault  testified at the Farrow v Allen custody trial that after the relationship between Allen and Soon-Yi Previn was discovered, Mia Farrow’s behavior became  ‘ increasingly erratic’.

A nanny who was working in the household at the time confirmed in 1993 that Ms. Farrow was suffering ‘dramatic mood swings and had screaming fits about Mr. Allen’, often in front of the children.

According to Dr Coates, Ms. Farrow described Mr. Allen as ‘satanic and evil’ and confided that she was desperate to  “find a way to stop him.”

Soon after, according to Dr Coates, Farrow, uncharacteristically calm, made the allegation that Allen had molested 7 year old Dylan.

Later, more than one of the household nannies cast doubt on the allegation as did Allen and Farrow’s adopted 14 year old son, Moses.

Nanny, Monica Thompson, said in a signed affidavit that:

“Moses came over to me and said that he believes that Ms. Farrow had made up the accusation that was being said by Dylan.”

Moses Farrow is now a family therapist. He is on good terms with Allen and Soon-Yi and, reportedly,  still “thinks that Mia brainwashed his seven-year-old sister into believing she was assaulted.”

To be fair, Dylan’s brother, Ronan backs his mother’s version. But, at the time of the allegations, Moses was 14 and Ronan was about 9. Which brother would we expect to have a clearer view about what was happening in that household at the time?

Should we doubt the nanny, Monica Thompson? Perhaps. She initially backed Farrow’s version and her salary was being paid by Woody Allen. But is it fair to assume that she would perjure herself  in order to protect or bolster her income?  Having cared for Dylan would she exchange the child’s safety for money by failing to tell the truth in a custody case? She may have, of course. But I don’t think it’s very charitable of ‘the sisterhood’ to automatically condemn Thompson as having been ‘paid off’.

I’ve been accused of betraying the sisterhood for casting doubt on the allegations made by Mia and Dylan Farrow. But what about the women – closer to the case than any of us – who also doubt the story? Don’t they deserve to be heard? Shouldn’t we give weight to their evidence and testimony?

Frankly, the idea that I am championing the cause of balance in this debate because of some culturally ingrained prejudice against my own gender is ridiculous.

The point I am trying to make is that the allegations against Allen were made in a highly charged emotional atmosphere in the midst of a highly dysfunctional family. Farrow was highly motivated (and probably rightly so!) to want to take revenge on Allen.

This was not a normal run-of-the-mill family. Nor was it a normal relationship breakdown. This was a breakdown on steroids with the added pressure of it being played out under an international spotlight. This is exactly the kind of exceptional situation which experts concede might lead to false allegations being made about sexual assault.

That doesn’t mean that Farrow is obviously lying about the alleged assault on her daughter. It doesn’t mean that Dylan was obviously coached by Farrow to such a degree that a false memory was implanted.  But it does raise enough questions to suggest that the kangaroo court which has tried, convicted and all but burned Allen at the stake  in social media this month has abandoned all sense of balance, fairness and critical thinking.

That’s what concerns me most of all. That people who are usually sane, rational defenders of evidence and critical thought have joined this witch hunt with the very best of intentions (“We have to support the victim!”) without considering for one minute that Allen’s guilt is not certain.  In the blood-lust to condemn him, there seems to be no recognition that Woody Allen is not a cardboard cut-out celebrity; he is a human being who does not deserve to have his reputation and legacy destroyed unless he is found guilty beyond any reasonable doubt or at least, if that burden of proof is too high for cases of sexual assault, according to a reasonable weight of evidence. That hasn’t been proven on either count.

It’s been pointed out to me that sexual assault is very difficult to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. I understand that. But, what is the answer?

Do we just accept that the destruction of the lives and reputations of those men who are falsely accused is the necessary price of protecting our children?

I can accept completely that, in cases that can’t be proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ there may still be sufficient evidence to remove the child from contact with the accused or insist on supervised visits.  The protection of the child must be the first consideration in all things.  I believe this is what happened with Allen – his contact with his daughter was severely curtailed and eventually severed. His relationship with his son, Ronan (previously Satchel) was also destroyed. Given that there are some credible doubts about Farrow’s accusations against Allen, surely that’s sufficient punishment? Is the public flaying really fair, or necessary?

It’s been suggested to me that the idea of ‘false memory syndrome’ has been discredited.  It is true the idea that people repress memories of sexual abuse that can later be ‘recovered’ is so rare as to be virtually non-existent.  But we are not talking about  ‘repressed memories’  in the case of Dylan Farrow. We are talking about a small, impressionable child potentially having been coerced into saying and, later, believing that her father sexually assaulted her.

The American Psychological Association teases apart the two concepts of ‘repressed’ and ‘implanted’ memories and explains:

“First, it’s important to state that there is a consensus among memory researchers and clinicians that most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them although they may not fully understand or disclose it. Concerning the issue of a recovered versus a pseudomemory, like many questions in science, the final answer is yet to be known. But most leaders in the field agree that although it is a rare occurrence, a memory of early childhood abuse that has been forgotten can be remembered later. However, these leaders also agree that it is possible to construct convincing pseudomemories for events that never occurred.” [My emphasis.]

And, in the case of Dylan Farrow, we’re talking about an impressionable young child in a highly charged emotional environment in the midst of an imploding, high profile,  dysfunctional family possibly being encouraged to believe her father had molested her.  This is implanted memory, not recovered memory, and the possibility appears to be well accepted and based on credible research accepted by the APA.

Understandably, feminists are concerned that the idea of implanted memories can be used against women and their children; that women can ‘gaslighted‘ – have their credibility undermined with accusations that they are just being hysterical.

And yes, it’s possible this is what is being done to Mia Farrow.  Of course this is used against women and it’s destructive. What woman wouldn’t be emotional on finding her child had been sexually assaulted by anyone – let alone her father?  That shouldn’t be grounds for not taking her accusations seriously.

But, Farrow’s accusations were taken seriously. The matter was investigated.  A team of child abuse specialists (two of them, women) from Yale-New Haven Hospital concluded that Dylan had not been molested. Later, a Connecticut prosecutor thought that, perhaps, the child had been molested,  but declined to press charges.

What should not be forgotten by those hysterically concerned that a  precedent might be set if we believe Mia Farrow concocted the story about Allen’s abuse is that these were highly unusual circumstances in a decidedly ‘not average’ family.

If Farrow did implant a memory in her daughter, then this is an exceptional case, born out of exceptional and rare circumstances. It does not mean – and should never be taken to mean – that most women who accuse men of molesting their children are harridans out for revenge, or that most children’s memories are distorted by interfering mothers. MOST are not. But SOME are.

My object here is not to defend Woody Allen. I don’t know him. I’m not a particular fan of his movies. My object is to defend clear, critical thinking unimpaired by ideological agendas or well meaning sympathy for a clearly distressed young woman.

I understand that if Allen is innocent, if Dylan Farrow’s memory is false, it opens the door for other men, guilty men, to use it as a precedent to undermine the claims of their victims. I get that. Really, I do. I understand that the suggestion that Dylan’s mother might have used her as a weapon against Allen adds to the distress of those mothers who have been similarly slandered when they tried to defend and protect their children against abusers.  I am not missing the possible harm of advancing this theory.

But if Allen is innocent, is it fair to make him a sacrificial lamb because some people might, unfairly, take a case which is exceptional and try to argue that it is the norm?

It’s been argued that Allen is fair game for online speculation because it’s not a court of law and the same rules of evidence don’t apply. Frankly, I think that’s twaddle and so would you if it was your reputation and life-long legacy being trashed by strangers with no particular expert or inside knowledge of the allegation for which you’re being persecuted.

I don’t know about you, but for me, my good reputation means everything. If the twitterati started making false accusations about me that went viral I don’t think I’d be much comforted by the fact that the accusations couldn’t send me to jail. Would you?

Sure, people have a right to speculate. They have a right to hold opinions. What I am asking people to consider is whether joining a crusade to destroy a person’s reputation, career and artistic legacy is ethical when, a clear-eyed examination of the evidence and circumstances surrounding the allegations suggest that there is an alternative explanation for Dylan’s distress.

I am not arguing that Woody Allen is innocent. I am not saying that Mia Farrow made it all up. What I am saying is that, a unbiased look at the evidence  suggests that alongside the possibility that Allen is guilty as charged lies the possibility that he isn’t.

My point is that we don’t know, we shouldn’t pretend to know and that it is unwise, unethical and yes, just plain dumb to act as if we do.

I’m shocked and disappointed that so many people who spend their lives standing up for science, evidence, rationalism, critical thinking, human rights and justice have leaped on to this particular bandwagon because of an ideological belief that casting doubt upon one high profile, contentious allegation of abuse somehow taints all mothers and weakens the claims of all victims.

I won’t jump on that bandwagon, or join in that witch-hunt – even if I lose my feminist’s wings.

Ultimately, skepticism, rationalism, critical thinking and plain, honest fairness are more important to me than the respect of a sisterhood which, in this case at least, seems to have abandoned them.

Chrys Stevenson