In an October 1976 issue of People, Woody Allen stated:
‘I’m open-minded about sex. I’m not above reproach; if anything, I’m below reproach. I mean, if I was caught in a love nest with 15 12-year-old girls tomorrow, people would think, yeah, I always knew that about him.’ Allen pauses. ‘Nothing I could come up with would surprise anyone,’ he ventures helplessly. ‘I admit to it all.’
While admirers and fans may have dismissed the quip as just one more neurotic rambling from the quirky genius, for his daughter, Dylan Farrow, reading those words — spoken by her father, well before she was born — must be gut-wrenching.
The story Dylan tells of what happened when she was seven years old is chilling. What haunts me about her story is how the world turned a blind eye to her claims, because her father was — well — Woody Allen. He’s been praised and revered by Hollywood, by journalists, critics and fans, and almost no one gives a second thought to the little girl who knows him to be a monster.
I understand what Dylan is feeling, when she writes:
So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by (her abuser). Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.
You see, my abuser is popular.
He may not be the proud owner of a shiny teaching certificate any longer, but he is relatively successful. He owns various rental properties, including vacation rentals which rent out at $4,100 to $4,300 per week. He mingles with folks who matter. He is an accomplished athlete, and has won numerous races and awards for his skill.
He fosters dogs awaiting adoptive homes, and has signed up to train service dogs.
I can see, from browsing his Facebook profile, that we have five mutual friends — four of which I met through my original home church, and the last who I met through the resort I worked at the summer I was 18. I’d already started my job when I learned my abuser also worked there, in the same department. I had to go to my supervisor, tearfully explain the history, and ask to be put on a different shift, so I wouldn’t have to see him.
I also see photos, visible to the public, on his profile. Photos of him with a little girl on his lap, and his arm around another little girl, the top of his thumb just below her still-developing nipple. Photos of him and four pre-pubescent girls in bikinis. Photos of him rafting with a girl who went to high school with my daughter.
He is a popular man. Maybe he’s not Woody Allen-popular, but he is popular in a tiny town, where the graduating class of 1992 was 24 students.
And, I must admit, I get it. He’s smart. Brilliant, actually. He’s funny, and resourceful, and he likes to cook and bake (he took me and a couple of my girlfriends to his house to make cookies one day, as a “workshop”).
He is the reason I know the difference between “Can I…” and “May I…” (“I’m sure you can, but no, you may not.”) He is the reason I qualify as a “grammar Nazi,” and am fiercely protective of proper use of our language.
I learned some of the best (clean) jokes I know from him, as well as some of my most effective mnemonic devices. My obsession with certain books, DOS-based computer games, television programs, newspapers… those are all influenced by him.
I am the brilliant, unconventional, genius-caliber bundle of chaos I am today, in part, thanks to him.
What’s my point? I’ve been thinking about this, for days. What am I trying to say?
It means nothing, without repentance.
Woody Allen may be celebrated, honored, revered, even worshipped… but it means nothing, without repentance, if he is guilty of Dylan’s abuse.
My abuser may be talented, brilliant, even likable… but it means nothing, without repentance. He is guilty of abusing many children.
And, when the world holds our abusers on a pedestal, it makes us feel that much smaller — that much more insignificant.
Know this, though… To God, we are not insignificant. We are not small. We are not meant to live in the shadows of our popular abusers.
To the contrary, we are meant to outshine those who have hurt us. In our boldness, our tenacity, our strength, we mean something. We mean more to others who are crying out, locked into their own shame and pain. We mean more to those who will be saved because we choose to speak. We mean more to a world that is quickly tiring of silence and conspiracy… Our voices matter. They matter to so many lost, and they matter to God.
There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. (Luke 12:2-3, NIV)
Our stories will be amplified. The truth will not be hidden forever. Again, I go back to Whitman’s Song of Myself, and his line — I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. — for which this blog is named.
And, the words of Marianne Williamson, author of Return to Love, seem especially on-point, here. (Please note: This quote is often erroneously attributed to Nelson Mandela, but was penned by Williamson.)
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
A certain amount of “celebrity” comes with going public. It’s not the sort of fame we wish upon anyone, but it holds more sincerity and merit than pop culture.
We are… creating a new culture — one in which silence no longer wins, and victims no longer suffer alone.
It’s time for your barbaric YAWP to sound, over the rooftops of the world.
How can I pray for you, today?