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Really? Clearly, there are uncertainties on all sides of this particular story: inconsistencies in everyone’s stories (including Allen’s), multiple polygraph tests that may or may not have been agreed to, evidence of coaching, contradictory statements from judges and attorneys, you name it. In this context, is a denial of rape/abuse culture the only reason one might doubt this testimony?
In one Facebook exchange, I asked some friends whether Woody Allen could produce anything that would cause them to change their minds. Two — one of whom, it’s important to note, is a victim of child abuse himself — said no. More than anything else, that unshakable conclusion indicates the peril of deciding a case on political leanings (or emotional scars) rather than evidence.
Conversely, of course, those who write off Dylan Farrow as brainwashed by her manipulative mother are also, often, acting out a script. Woody Allen’s such a great guy, such a genius — he couldn’t possibly have done this. News flash: Many people who commit abuse are people who couldn’t possibly have done so.
Surely we can do better than this. We can be feminists aware of how female victims are often blamed and undermined — and not rush to judgment here. We can be partisans for ambivalence — and yet not deny the troubling evidence that does exist. And most importantly, we can notice our own gut reactions — and then not be ruled by them. A gut sense that one side is right is a great reason to be more careful about assuming it.
Most importantly, the Week of Woody demonstrated that we in the press are not good at not knowing. Unfortunately, this 21-year-old case is not simple. There is an adult woman who insists she remembers a hideous act. Her mother and one brother believe her; the other brother does not. And the accused has brought forth significant evidence indicating his innocence, not least two subsequent decades of blameless behavior. Smart people have lined up on all sides, as have medical and law enforcement professionals.
The fact — and it is a fact — is that we don’t know whom to believe. This could be an opportunity to experience what some spiritual teachers call the “wisdom of insecurity.” We want to know, and it would be good to know, because whether to celebrate Woody Allen or not has become a moral question. But we don’t know, and probably won’t. Can we learn from that tension, observe the urge to resolve it, and reflect on how we fall back on beliefs and assumptions in order to do so?
Could our ignorance be, in fact, a teachable moment?
Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.