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.
Also see: Bad Behavior, Great Art and Woody Allen’s Next Film Features a Sex Scene between a 44 Year-old Man and a 15 Year-old Girl.
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8 thoughts on ““There She Goes Again”: Speaking about Art and Sexual Violence by Carol P. Christ”
I like only three of Woody’s films–uhh, why do we call them “films” and not “movies” like the works of most directors? Because he’s Arty or Intellectual? Oh, well. I like Zelig, Purple Rose of Cairo, and Midnight in Paris. Not December-May love affairs in these three (there aren’t any), but interesting looks at what may or may not be “reality.” And, in Midnight in Paris, time travel and entertaining glimpses of a period of history that I’ve read a lot about lately.
I guess I’m sort of divided about separating an artist’s personal life from his (it’s almost always male, isn’t it?) artistic life. I refuse to see movies by John Wayne, Jon Voight, James Caan (whom I used to like a lot), Mel Gibson, and Tom Cruise because of their extremely conservative political views and/or connections with Scientology (which could be a whole other blog about how women are treated). But I still like John Travolta. Go figure, eh?
Carol, as always you’ve given us Lots To Think About. Even (where I live) at the crack of dawn. Thanks as always.
I no longer hold my tongue either
I don’t think we should hold our tongues, and if we get somewhat heated i(i.e.emotional) in our expression, it’s because these violations have happened to us, someone close to us, or other women who are our sisters. Plus, it makes us angry when men put us down or belittle us to silence us and to win an argument. Cheap tactics!
Thank you always for speaking your mind and heart!
Carol, I absolutely agree with you. “Art” cannot justify crime. I have boycotted Woody Allen for years because of his documented child sex abuse. All of the details are readily available in Mia Farrow’s 1997 memoir WHAT FALLS AWAY–including appendices copying court documents. She tried to bring him to justice in criminal court and ended up settling in civil court. It’s an interesting connection that their biological son, Ronan Farrow, was the one who broke the Harvey Weinstein story (www.newyorker.com). IMO, Woody Allen should have been subjected years ago to the same sanctions now being imposed on Weinstein: he should at the very least be booted out of the Director’s Guild and the Academy. There should be no “next Woody Allen film”.Thanks for speaking out, Carol!
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I think it is a dangerous environment we are getting ourselves into that I’m feeling is perhaps prompted by the Trump era. I hate to make anyone person a scapegoat, and I’ve always had the unwelcomed attention of older men, but somehow lately it feels different, very recently lately. Or have I just grown into a new kind of outrage? Recently, I came across someone commenting about Tomi Lahren and calling her “my girl,” followed by a statement where he wondered if the”progressive liberals would lambaste him for saying that. (He did not use the word ‘lambaste’). I suppose ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ means irrational and unhinged. Another comment I saw was a guy responding to former president Bush touching a model/actress’s backside during a photo-op. He said something like, “What is the world coming to when a woman gets all in an uproar when some senior citizen pats her on the butt? I’m glad the women I know in real life are . . .” I can’t remember how he finished it. Something like the women being stronger or realer or saner. Yesterday, I was sitting down to an opera and the older man sitting next to me looked over at my bare shoulders and commented how I’d be cold in the theatre despite the a thick sweater coat that was clearly visible in my arms. I said, curtly, I would be fine with the sweater and ended up leaving during intermission I was so uncomfortable. Maybe I’m “irrational.” Maybe “unhinged,” but I’m starting to feel more like this is all a real life prequel to The Handmaid’s Tale everyday.
omg #metoo your opera story just reminded me of men exposing themselves to me in the movie theaters in NYC in the 70s when I went alone to the early showing and of men in Athens exposing themselves in cars parked on the streets at night in Athens in the 90s–to the point that I always crossed the street in Athens when I saw a man in a parked car and moved away from men in any nearby rows at the movies.. Siggghhhh.
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Thank you Carol. I’m sorry for all our experiences. What a f-ing reality when we have to circumnavigate the physical spaces in our world just to create safe spaces and uphold basic conditions of consent.
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