Down There: Woody Allen, Dylan Farrow and Me

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The public debate surrounding Dylan Farrow-Woody Allen has kept me up nights. I’ve been immobilized by sadness, anger, and shame.Woody Allen & Dylan and Mia Farrow

For 40 years I’ve been terrified to write about this, and 40 years is a long time to be terrified.  But now, maybe it’s been long enough. Both my parents are dead now.  And it’s painfully obvious that the other people who might care about my talking about it do not care at all about me. It’s time to speak up for all the Dylan Farrows in the world. And for myself.

As an adult, I have told close friends, and I once wrote a somewhat oblique piece about it for BUST. But when I was a child, no one knew. Just me, my parents, and a few other adults. What struck me then, and what strikes me now (and the verb still feels literal to me), is how alone I was. Nobody said anything. Nobody did anything.

Back then, it wasn’t “a thing.” There were no celebrity scandals or massive priest defrockings, no “Tonight, on a very special episode…”. Back then, there was no Law & Order: SVU, there was only me. I didn’t even know there was a word for it.  Now this thing they call sexual abuse is everywhere. It’s in books, movies, TV shows – hell, even Arnold and Dudley got molested on the unfortuitously titled series, Diff’rent Strokes. But I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s, and none of the Brady girls were penetrated by household objects, Laurie Partridge’s legs weren’t burned and pried apart, and despite the now-ominous title, neither Buffy nor Jody was ever groped by Mr. French on Family Affair.

I didn’t know it was “sexual”; I didn’t know it was “abuse.”  I only knew that I was weird and precocious and adopted and irritating and that all those qualities — all of that monstrous me-ness –made it happen.  I have often wondered if I would have felt less alone, less freakish, less to blame, less ashamed and unlovable had I known I wasn’t the only girl in the world grown-ups wanted to wound and defile.

That’s why I feel like I have to stop being ashamed and speak out on behalf of Ms. Farrow and the multitudes of kids who are messed with by adults they were supposed to trust.  It’s time everyone started listening to children. It’s time people listened to me.

I was always the good girl. An A student, I sat quietly with my hands folded on my desk. I called grownups “Ma’am” and “Sir.”  I played quietly by myself. I read books, I practiced my penmanship. I did my homework, I looked both ways, I believed in God. I lived in terror of disappointing anyone. I was adopted, and if we were at the shopping mall I’d desperately distract my parents’ attention so they wouldn’t notice the pretty little blonde girl over there. I was afraid they’d wish they had her instead of me.

When it all started, all the time it was going on, I thought it was my fault. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want anyone to know how truly horrible I was. You know, “If you think she’s a rotten little mess now, just you hear about the things she makes grownups do.”  It was also made very clear to me that it was a secret. A really big secret. Not like regular secrets, like what you’re getting for Christmas, or how you ate the last brownie, but a secret of almost supernatural proportions in its enormity. So I was the good girl; I didn’t tell. Ever. My mother knew about it. When I got older I told my father. I assumed he mentioned it to my stepmother. No one ever spoke to me about it. Ever.

It’s been decades, and I still have scars. Worse than the physical scarring is the persistence of fear and loneliness.  The feeling of being less than, abandoned, uncared for. People you thought wouldn’t hurt you did. People you thought would protect you didn’t. Like a modern-day Young Goodman Brown, my ability to trust or ever feel truly safe had been torn from me forever.

Today, every now and then something I see or hear will ferociously catapult me right back to that scared, scarred, shell-shocked little girl. From time to time, I have nightmares, the kind that haunt you the rest of the day.  Forty years later, and I can’t entirely shake off that self-loathing, unappealing little girl wobbling through life.

The same vehement presumption of innocence you champion on behalf of Mr. Allen must also be as ardently applied to Dylan Farrow.

 Theoretically, I guess we will never know with absolute certainty what happened between Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow. But there is an awful lot of evidence to support Ms. Farrow, and very little to support the idea that the woman is lying, the girl was coached, and that Mia Farrow orchestrated everything based on jealous hysteria. I won’t argue she wasn’t bitter; after all, this is a man who had been taking nude photos and inappropriately (to say the least) pursuing her young daughter – whom he’d known since she was a little girl. (See her cameo in Hannah and Her Sisters.) Dylan is a twenty-eight-year-old grown woman who knows what happened to her. She has told us again and again she was not coached, that her mother repeatedly told her as girl that if she were lying she should say so and no one would be mad at her. She has absolutely no reason to lie. There are many people who witnessed some of Mr. Allen’s improper behavior concerning young Dylan.

If people feel uncomfortable accusing the famous director of pedophilia when they can’t be certain of what happened, this I understand. Then stay mum.  But those who are leaping to Woody Allen’s defense and, directly or by implication, accusing Farrow of lying and vindictive defamation, need to stop. The same vehement presumption of innocence you champion on behalf of Mr. Allen must also be as ardently applied to Dylan Farrow.

As an adult, the reproach I encountered whenever I tenderly tendered  the topic felt like being abused all over again.  I was either admonished for remembering, or even more hurtful, my parent had forgotten all about it (or claimed to).  It felt like being discarded all over again, once more abandoned.

Something in Dylan’s open letter particularly struck a chord:

“You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?”

It hurt to feel like no one cared. All these years later, it still hurts, perhaps worse. The question never fades — How could you forget about it? Why don’t you care? Why wasn’t I worthy of your care and concern? Why didn’t you love me?

Ms. Farrow points out that “others are still scared, vulnerable, and struggling for the courage to tell the truth. The message that Hollywood sends matters for them.”

So I am writing this to ask those who feel so strongly about defending Woody Allen to think about what they’re saying to the little, and us not-so-little, girls out there. I’m asking those who feel so strongly about protecting the possibly innocent Woody Allen that they consider standing by the indisputable innocence of children.

 

 Postscript:

I want to thank all the lovely people who’ve commented below or written me directly. Your outpouring of compassion and kindness was overwhelming, and frankly, entirely unexpected. For those who commented or emailed me fairly nasty things, I’m sorry for you, and I hope one day you consider opening up your minds and hearts to other possibilities.

And to all those sweet women who’ve written me expressing thanks for giving voice to their own heartache and struggles, keep the faith. We’re all in this together, and you will be loved, and you will be heard.

 

22 comments to Down There: Woody Allen, Dylan Farrow and Me

  • Holly

    Oh sweetie, I can imagine how hard this was to write. I hope it brings you some peace to know you added your voice to a growing chorus.

  • Thanks so much Holly. You’re the best.

  • Trish Scott

    You are brave and beautiful and loved.

  • Daniela

    you are a true role model and a voice to be reckoned with. using the power of your suffering can make a change. thank you for putting this down in writing. it will open eyes and shut mouths.
    God bless you, beautiful soul.

  • Peggy Woosnam

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Den

    The bravery you have exhibited in writing this important piece — and in every step you took to move forward your entire life — is overwhelming. I’m so proud you are my friend.

  • Lisa Lowell

    Kudos Dixie, for making a warm pool of sorrow so many of us gals can more comfortably swim in to search for bits of our lost selves. I suspect at least 50 per cent of us have a story, in varying degrees of extremity to share. Betrayal is a theme in my life, and as a poet I’ve contemplated just about everything under the sun, and never sought to even get the lid off this one, because of the gravity of the self-deception necessary to bury the pain. I think I was okay. Maybe I think it didn’t happen. But something did. And Dad never stepped up to the plate to challenge it. Keep it on the boiler plate girl!

    Presumptuously, on some level, we all know Woody is something of a narcissistic perv of a genius. Just because you like pate doesn’t mean you want to know the duck. Marrying his ex-girlfriends kid though? That’s enough for me. Stop right there. The most famous filmaker in the world can’t find someone else for himself in the gene pool? This is mysogyny at it’s height.

    Lisa Lowell

  • What a beautiful, stunning, cutting, and urgently needed essay. Thank you for your bravery. You are a blessing.

  • Julia

    Lovely and brave piece, Dixie. Must have been hard but important to share.

  • Stefanie Gunning

    Thank you for this, Dixie. For your bravery and your candor, and for the wisdom of what you’ve said.

  • Stella

    Your courage and strength shine brightly. Continue to heal you, and in your self care you will continue to care for others.

  • Wonderful writing Dixie, keep it up, you are amazing.

  • Hi Dixie. I’m a friend of Stefanie’s.

    Excellent and brave posts. Hugs to you … and I wish you much healing. Sharing your story will certainly help other people.

  • Ed Dowling

    Hi Dixie, what a courageous woman you are, a true pioneer. I really admire you and am very touched to see you getting your message out to the world. I’m sure there are too, too many women who will draw strength from your message, who will see that they are not alone, who may be inspired by you to tell their story. Sadly, I think there are many more men than women who need hear your story. I hope it gets to them, we as men are the ones who really need to hear this message, it is us who need to know about it, to be able to recognize it, to not tolerate it. Much love to you, Dixie.

  • Susan

    Thank You, and God Bless

  • Thanks so much for sharing your story and after all these years, so glad you have found your voice. The statistics are staggering! Child sexual abuse is everywhere and happening every day all around us. We must, as a society, stand up against this crime and protect the innocence of our children. I volunteer for an incredible organization in Atlanta doing just that. Please go to voicetoday.org and join our movement to stop csa. Thanks again for speaking out. God bless you and help you heal from your lost childhood.

  • Emily

    Dixie, you continue to be a staggeringly beautiful and strong person. I am hugging you and thanking you for sharing your story.

  • Josh Powers

    You’re so strong!!

  • Kate

    You are such an amazing person, Dixie. You are an inspiration to so many. You have taken your own adversity and turned it into something positive and remarkable. I am so proud to know you and to think of what your words will do to help others. Thank you.

    • Kate, you are such an angel. Your kind, generous words mean so much to me. I think you’re giving me way too much credit, but I’m really glad (and relieved) this revelation didn’t explode in my face. I feel like I should have been open about it a long time ago. Intellectually, I know I did nothing wrong and the shame should not be mine, but I haven’t necessarily behaved that way. I’d like to explore ways in which my story might be helpful to girls or other women like me, but I’m not sure where or how to begin. (I’m going to see if people on FB have any suggestions.) Anyway, Kate, I love you and I cherish your kindness and friendship. xo Dixie

  • Ron Rice

    Dixie Laite knows how much I love her. You are so beautiful, wonderful, brave. All the good things. Remember, Dix all those good things about you are still good. Actually, even better. XOXO

  • Deb

    A brave and heartfelt story…My childhood was fairly “normal” for the 50s and my heart goes out to all who, like yourself, were abused or mistreated. It’s incredible how many of my friends suffered similar childhoods, yet in “those days” things were not “talked about” and most often kept “behind closed doors”, and it was only in our discussions as we got older that these situations were exposed. How times have changed in regard to this, in most ways for the better. By speaking out you not only set yourself free but give others a voice and the courage to tell their stories and finally find some sort of peace.

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