I was at a dinner party for twelve lovingly prepared by two ex-pat friends, when the subject of Woody Allen’s most recent film came up. I don’t remember which one of them it was, because, as I said at the time, “I vowed never to see a Woody Allen film again as my response to the way he treats women in his films and in his personal life.” I was immediately challenged by–it seemed to me at the time–everyone else at the table.
“But this is not just about keeping an artist’s personal life separate from his work,” I responded, “Don’t you remember the film where Woody Allen was over 40 and having an affair with Mariel Hemingway when she was a teenager? Or the one about the doctor who had his wife murdered got away with it?” At this point a white male academic film critic interrupted to point out that I (who by the way also had a Ph.D.) simply did not understand what makes a film or a filmmaker great. And that was the end of the conversation.
I am thinking of this incident now because of the current public discussion of famous men’s sexual harassment and rape of women initiated by victims of Harvey Weinstein. This time the world is listening–at least temporarily–more carefully than it did when Woody Allen bragged about seducing his step-daughter when he was 56 and she was 19 or when his 7 year old daughter accused him of raping her.
Despite the fact that I was silenced, my response to my friends’ discussion of Woody Allen’s films was apparently coded by at least some of my friends as one of Carol’s “emotional outbursts” that for a moment “spoiled the party.” I admit it, I sometimes get emotional in the midst of rational discussions of ideas. The reason that these discussions are not simply “academic” or “party chatter” for me is because ideas have consequences.
Are we really supposed to find it charming that a 44 year old Woody Allen seduces a 17 year old Hemingway? And if we don’t find it particularly charming because we take the perspective of the girl rather than that of the filmmaker, are we supposed to hold our tongues? And if speaking up is greeted with raised eyebrows suggesting “there she goes again” is it any surprise that I and other women get emotional?
Am I meant to forget the scores of students who confided their experiences of sexual abuse and violence, when discussing Woody Allen? Or that I entered into sexual relationships with older more powerful men that harmed me, when thinking about Woody’s story of his affair with a teenager? Am I meant to forget that when we call stories that condone sexual abuse and sexual violence against girls and women “great art,” we are also condoning what happened to me and to so many other women in real life?
I don’t know about you, but I will not hold my tongue to keep the peace at the dinner table. And yes, sometimes I will get emotional. If that makes me unwelcome at the party, so be it.
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Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.
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Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger