7.8 Editor's Pick
March 16, 2021

Abuse, Assault & a Woman’s Perpetual Catch-22.

 

I just finished watching the HBO docuseries “Allen v. Farrow.”

I had no idea—none of us did, I don’t think—the extent of the alleged abuse to which Allen subjected his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. It’s sickening and heartbreaking.

Dylan Farrow, at age seven, was interviewed numerous times about the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of Woody Allen. In a healthy society, her claims would’ve been taken seriously and she would’ve been immediately protected.

Instead, her claims were evaluated under a microscope called the catch-22: If she varied her story in any way from telling to telling, she was inconsistent and probably therefore lying. If she told her story in the same way, time after time, she must have been “coached.”

Mia Farrow likely knew about the catch-22 awaiting her when she decided her daughter was telling the truth and sought to protect her from Allen. Allen was likely aware of this, too, when he quickly decided to file for custody of their three children. He probably knew the statistics that show that when women call out abuse, they often lose custody of their children.

Ms. Farrow probably also knew that when she came forward, Allen’s career would continue its upward trajectory as if nothing happened, while her career would come to a standstill. It is always easier for the public to believe a woman is hysterical than a beloved man is a sexual abuser.

When I was a girl, maybe in third or fourth grade, I sometimes played with a boy down the block who was a year older than I. One time, he invited me into his backyard tent and asked if I wanted to play strip poker. I didn’t know what strip poker was, but when he told me, I started to cry.

He said, “C’mon, it’s not that bad—you don’t draw Aces that often. Here, I’ll show you.” So he stacked the cards and dealt a practice hand in a way so that I would not draw an Ace.

He was hoping, I guess, that I would be swayed by my chances. I wasn’t. I ran home.

I told no one. I understood even then about the catch-22: tell someone, and the questions will be, “Why were you there?” not “What did he do?”

On the first day of an internship right out of college, my new boss and all of my new co-workers gathered around my cubicle to introduce themselves.

It was a small company, only 8 or 9 people. They told me that the work environment was casual and playful. For example, they said, they had a “barnyard” theme in the office. Each of them picked a farm animal, and in the afternoon, “for fun,” everyone would “moo” or “squawk” like their animal. I guess it was like an afternoon pick-me-up.

They asked me what I would like my farm animal to be, and I said I liked cats.

“Oh good,” my new boss said. “You can be the office pussy.”

Catch-22. What do I do? Walk away on my first day, go back and try to find another internship? Or sit my butt down, force my cheek color back to normal, and try to forget what happened.

I sat down.

For every woman who came forward during #MeToo and #TimesUp, and for every woman who still considers coming forward against abuse or assault for herself or on behalf of a child, she will first consider the multi-pronged catch-22 awaiting her:

Why did she wait so long?
But why now?

What does she have to gain?
Why is she willing to throw everything away?

What’s she trying to hide?
Why is she exposing family matters?

She will be subject to public scrutiny. She will be suspected of seeking the limelight.

She might lose her job, or damage her reputation. She’ll be accused of trying to take someone down to further her own interests.

She could keep quiet. He could keep hurting others.

It’s infuriating that girls and women are the ones who carry the guilt, while boys and men get pass after pass. How can there still be no accountability, no consequences, for men in power? Why is it still so hard to believe women, and so easy for us to forgive men? And most importantly, when will it change, and how can we make it happen?

Even now, on the other side of the swell of #MeToo and #TimesUp stories, some things stay the same.

My daughter’s friend recently got her first internship, one that involves a lot of standing around and watching.

(By the way, this is not my daughter’s friend but someone a bit closer to me. I don’t want to put her in an awkward position by mentioning her name, but she did give me permission to share this story.)

Because she’s a dancer, she has naturally great posture. She was trained to listen while standing with her feet shoulder distance and placing her hands behind her back.

One day, one of her co-workers said, “Wow, loosen up! You look like a soldier!”

She hemmed and hawed about how she should stand going forward. She spent way too much time trying to decide, in fact—time that might’ve better been spent on homework or socializing. She finally decided on a slight hip tilt, with one hand gently in her pocket.

A different person commented, “Dang, don’t you look casual! I wouldn’t hire you if you stood around like that!”

Catch-22.

Do I even need to mention that these body-position critique-ers were male?

Women are caught between being too loud and not speaking up; too bossy and not ambitious enough; too much energy spent on her outfit, and god, doesn’t she even care? Women are always walking the line between too much this and not enough that.

I recently watched the “Catch-22” Hulu TV series, based on the 1961 book by Joseph Heller.

Watching the show, I felt for Captain John Yossarian, who couldn’t use insanity as a reason to get discharged from the air force because the very act of claiming insanity and asking for help would mean he was sane enough to keep flying missions.

I didn’t feel just sympathy — by sympathy, I mean feeling sorry for someone who is in a situation I cannot imagine for myself. I felt real empathy—I know that “stuck” feeling deep in my bones. I know what it’s like to have no good option. I know how the heart stops, how the palms sweat. The choice between survival—either metaphorical or actual—and advocating against abuse, belittling, unwanted attention, or even just the time spent trying to figure out how to stand so that we won’t call attention to ourselves.

Of course, the empathy I feel is not from having been in the air force or being forced to go on flight missions.

It’s due to my being a woman. And as a woman, I know the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” trap of the catch-22.

I have known this language intuitively since I was a child and was invited to play strip poker in a backyard tent.

What we’re currently facing is generation upon generation of conditioning and embedded cultural norms. Changing it is not a matter of wishful thinking or a few good intentions. If change is to happen, it must emerge from deep reflection on all our parts. We need recognition. We need accountability. We need to rewrite our social contracts.

While men definitely have the lion’s share of the work to eradicate these catch-22 situations that they themselves have created and benefitted from, women, too, must play a part and demand their freedom.

Change is only possible when we come together—men and women—to support each other. Believe each other. And protect each other.

I feel gratitude toward Dylan Farrow and her mother, Mia Farrow, for speaking their truth, even knowing the powerful forces that will likely come at them now. Their courage is a model for us all.

And to all the women out there—just a reminder that you can stand however you damn well please.

~

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