Not So Fast, The Daily Beast: On Rape Myths and Those Slutty, Gossipy Women

Content Note: Discussion of sexual assault, victim blaming

This is a response to a piece published on The Daily Beast by Robert B. Weide. It will likely be the first of two or three posts on the topic, so stay tuned for further thoughts. 

On February 1st, Dylan Farrow penned an open letter about her adopted father, director Woody Allen:

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me.

As a survivor of childhood sexual assault myself, I applaud Dylan Farrow for this piece. Talking about this topic in our society that is permeated by rape culture is not easy. Telling our stories, naming the people who harmed us, calling out those who continue to stand with our abusers–this takes courage.

Unfortunately, Farrow’s courageous piece brought out the Woody Allen defenders and apologists in full force, and most of them were armed with a piece published on the Daily Beast on January 27, written by Robert B. Weide. If you want to read the whole thing, here’s a Do Not Link version of it. This piece was shared approvingly by many, including feminist artist Amanda Palmer, who, on her Facebook page, called it “an ongoing reminder that there’s 2, 3, 9 angles to every issue.”

I read the piece.

I have thoughts.

First of all, the author–Weide–tries to paint himself as an unbiased source. As a beam of objective light in a dark, reactionary world. And yet the language he uses to discuss the topic suggests that he is anything but unbiased.

He describes Woody Allen as “being devoured by the two-headed piranha of gossip and innuendo,” painting Allen as a victim of monstrous femininity. Gossip, as Flavia Dzodan and others point out here, is a gendered word often used to dismiss women speaking up about the issues that affect their lives.

Much of the language in this piece, in fact, is dismissive of the fact that we are talking about a young woman speaking up about being sexually assaulted, and her family supporting her. Weide refers to a subtle tweet that Mia Farrow made–in defense of her daughter–as “cute.”

Cute?

A mother’s anger at a man who likely sexually assaulted her daughter is cute? Tell me, which of the 2, 3, or 9 angles to this story does Weide’s dismissive language bring out?

It’s interesting.

A 1997 study by Glick, et al. demonstrates how sexist men categorize women into categories of traditional and non-traditional, as well as acceptably “sexy” and sexually deviant. “Cute” was actually one of the descriptors sexist men in their study used to describe women that they found acceptable. [1]

When the author of the Daily Beast piece uses “cute” to describe Mia Farrow, he seems to send the message that Mia’s vague tweet is pushing it, but she is still within the bounds of acceptable femininity. However, Weide is clear that he thinks Farrow’s next tweet –which he says is nasty–crosses the line.

As we learned in “You Are Not Your Own,” my series on rape and sexual assault in Christian dating books, sexism (even the more benevolent variety) correlates with the acceptance of rape myths: false ideas about how often rape occurs, who is at fault for rape happening, etc. [2] In cases where the perpetrator is male and the victim female, benevolent sexists were more likely to blame the victim if she was transgressing “acceptable” roles for women.

If she was cheating on her husband, for example. Or if she stopped being “cute” and started being “nasty”

The author of the Daily Beast piece, under the guise of objectively presenting different angles to the story, spends most of his time trying to convince us of all the ways that Mia Farrow is not an “acceptable” woman, so that we are more likely to buy into common rape myths that seem to clear Woody Allen’s name.

He’s smart enough to know not to target Dylan Farrow, the actual survivor, in this way (though he targets her in other ways that I will discuss in my next post). He can’t tell us that Dylan Farrow was a gossipy slut just looking for an “opportunity to bring [Woody Allen] down a few pegs” as a seven year old.

So he targets Mia instead, talking about who she slept with in the past, attempting to dispel “the myth that Woody and Mia had this idyllic, loving, monogamous relationship until Woody threw it all away.”

How is the quality of Mia and Woody’s relationship and who Mia Farrow has been to bed with relevant to Dylan Farrow’s account of being assaulted by Allen? 

It’s not.

But by attaching Dylan’s account to Mia’s “deviant” sexuality, Weide is more easily able to prepare his readers–most of whom live in our sexist society and therefore hold at least some latent benevolent sexist values–into accepting the rape myths that he presents later in the piece.

_______

[1] Glick, P., Diebold, J., Bailey-Werner, B., and Zhu, L. 1997. “The Two Faces of Adam: Ambivalent Sexism and Polarized Attitudes Toward Women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(12):1323-1334.

[2] Abrams, Dominic, G. Tendayi Viki, Barbara Masser, and Gerd Bohner. 2003. “Perceptions of Stranger and Acquaintance Rape: The Role of Benevolent and Hostile Sexism in Victim Blame and Rape Proclivity.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84:111–125.

 

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  • Katje van Loon

    I would say that calling Amanda Palmer a feminist is being exceptionally generous with the word.

    • Kagi Soracia

      Seconded! I am kind of stunned to hear it, tbh.

  • http://hopefullyknown.com/ Tamara Rice

    Thank you for writing this response to the piece, Sarah. It’s perfect. I look forward to the next installment.


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