Boundaries that parents and parental figures must respect

Jessica Valenti says why it matters how we treat claims about sexual abuse.

I’ve never watched a Woody Allen movie. My parents refused to rent them after he began a “relationship” with Soon-Yi Previn and their explanation stuck with me through adulthood. I was around 13 years old at the time, and always looking to pick a fight—I asked why it mattered since Previn wasn’t his “real” daughter. My parents sat me down and talked about the responsibility adults have to children, and certain boundaries that parents and parental figures must respect.

It’s more than a little sickening how that got normalized over the past couple of decades. The guy married someone he’d been in a semi-paternal relation to, no matter how much he says he didn’t interact with Mia’s children. She was on a tiny list of women who were simply off limits to him.

As I grew older—as I had teachers come on to me as a teen, as I experienced the way grown men get away with sexualizing girls—I understood the significance of what my parents told me. Today, as an adult, I know that when we make excuses for particular, powerful men who hurt women, we make the world more comfortable for all abusers. And that this cultural cognitive dissonance around sexual assault and abuse is building a safety net for perpetrators that we should all be ashamed of.

There’s another thing we do when we make excuses for particular, powerful men who hurt women, besides making things nicer for the powerful men. We also make the world less comfortable for women. We tell women – all women – that women just don’t matter as much as powerful men. We tell women that we’ll throw them overboard in order to hang on to the favors of the powerful men. Mr Big groped you? Well that’s sad for you, but shut up, because we want him to speak at our next event, and frankly we don’t give a fuck about you.

We know that abusers are manipulative, often charismatic, and that they hide their crimes well.

Well yes, and we also know that that’s why they’re powerful, that’s why they make good speakers for our events, that’s why they pull in the start-struck crowds, and that’s why we’re not going to hold them accountable. We like them and we don’t like you, their victims, so just shut up and go away, or we’ll trash you in every newspaper and blog in the land.


  1. Menyambal --- making sambal a food group. says

    I like that you said there is a list of women who are absolutely off limits. Find somebody else to date, or do without, or anything else.

    I try to get that across to teenagers, sometimes. You don’t date your best friend’s ex, you just don’t. You have alternatives.

    Woody Allen doesn’t give a damn.

  2. wannabe says

    Ted Danson’s “Sam Malone”, the recovering alcoholic barkeep on Cheers, had a motto he used for dealing with difficult situations: “Ignore the problem. It’ll go away.”

    Who Wants to Remember Bill Cosby’s Multiple Sex-Assault Accusations?

    Maybe like we did with Bill Cosby nine years ago, we can just stop thinking about it. We can enjoy the movies and comedy routines, and forget all about who our applause boosts and where our entertainment dollars are going.

  3. latsot says

    You might be aware of Operation Yewtree in the UK. This is a police investigation into seemingly countless celebrities who abused children throughout the 70s and 80s. Some of the biggest names in UK TV are among the accused.

    But by far and away the worst offender was Jimmy Savile. He was incredibly popular at the time and was especially noted for working with children. He was a tireless charity worker and even ran marathons for charitable causes into his old age. He was also very, VERY creepy. And he also sexually assaulted at least 1300 children, mostly but not exclusively girls. Yes, 1300.

    This is slightly off topic, but the reason I mention it is that for some people, this was common knowledge at the time. Savile frequently visited hospitals to visit ill children. He visited some hospitals so much that he had his own room in the hospital, so he could stay the night. Alarm bells ringing yet? Nurses at those hospitals have testified that it was well known that you shouldn’t leave Savile alone with children. In other words, they know what was going on and didn’t say anything.

    Savile worked for the BBC and it seems that his behaviour was widely known there. And nobody said anything there, either. It’s only recently – after his death – that some sort of critical mass of victims emerged when these non-victims who had stayed silent all these years suddenly crawled out of the woodwork with evidence against Savile.

    It seemed as though people were going out of their way to enable Savile to abuse children. It wasn’t just that people were ignoring it, some people seemed to be actively HELPING him. The victims – and potential victims – were pretty much entirely disregarded.

    BTW, Ophelia: your RSS feed seems to be broken.

  4. medivh says

    @wannabe, #3: Well that’s nice. I’ll just ignore that I was molested. Then it won’t have happened! I didn’t know it was exactly that fucking simple!</snark>

    Ignoring bad things makes bad things grow. Shine a light, deal with the discomfort of knowing your heroes are really shitty human beings, and maybe, just maybe, the next set of people you idolise will be aware that shitty behaviour will be brought to light. Doing anything else is just asking for the problem to get worse.

  5. Silentbob says

    The guy married someone he’d been in a semi-paternal relation to, no matter how much he says he didn’t interact with Mia’s children.

    Soon-Yi says:

    To think that Woody was in any way a father or stepfather to me is laughable. My parents are Andre Previn and Mia, but obviously they’re not even my real parents. [… ] I came to America when I was seven. I was never remotely close to Woody. He was someone who was devoted exclusively to his own children and to his work, and we never spent a moment together.

    Poor deluded girl. Good thing she’s got those of us who have never met a single member of the Previn/Farrow/Allen clan to tell her what her relationship with Woody was really like.

  6. theoreticalgrrrl says

    How about Woody himself?. On his relationship with Soon-Yi

    The very inequality of me being older and much more accomplished, much more experienced, takes away any real meaningful conflict. So when there’s disagreement, it’s never an adversarial thing. I don’t ever feel that I’m with a hostile or threatening person. It’s got a more paternal feeling to it. I love to do things to make her happy. She loves to do things to make me happy. It just works out great. It was just completely fortuitous. One of the truly lucky things that happened to me in my life.


    …the theory behind polygraph tests is that you get nervous when you’re lying. But if we’ve learned anything from watching this awful case unfold over the past 21 years, it’s that Woody Allen wouldn’t be nervous because he doesn’t believe himself to have done anything wrong—not with Dylan, and (this is where this becomes relevant) not with Soon-Yi. When asked whether he destroyed a family, his response is matter-of-fact. From The Baltimore Sun:

    Q: But Soon-Yi is the sister of all those kids.
    A: Yes, but it’s not that they’re really sisters.

    That’s all right then. Note the narrative Woody tries to propagate here—one far more pernicious than the distortion Dylan’s defenders resort to when they accuse him of incest. (True, he was not Soon-Yi’s legal stepfather.) Woody’s story, which he has doubtless passed on to Soon-Yi, is this was never your real family.

    Or this, to Time Magazine:

    Q. Did you talk to your analyst about how this would affect a child?

    A. It wasn’t so complex. It doesn’t have that quality to it that you think.

    Q. What about how it would affect her siblings?

    A. These people are a collection of kids, they are not blood sisters or anything.

    (Someone who views adopted vs. blood-related this way children shouldn’t be allowed to adopt IMHO).

  7. says

    Silentbob – I didn’t say what her relationship with Woody was really like. I said what it was. I wasn’t talking about what Soon-Yi says about what her subjective feelings were or are. Thanks anyway.

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