The Harvey Weinstein scandal exploded almost three years ago thanks to two articles that earned the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service to its authors: The New York Times’s “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades” by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (5 October 2017), only available to subscribers, and The New Yorker’s “From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories” (10 October 2017, Read it, please, it’s a historic text in the evolution of gender issues world-wide, I really mean it.

According to Farrow’s own 2019 book Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, which (oddly) avoids any reference to sex in its title, he would have been able to publish before Kantor and Twohey if it weren’t because his employers at the time, NBC’s news subsidiary, were busy protecting their own predators. In this substantial history of how Farrow wrote his story the tale which emerges is one of how Weinstein managed to fend off the attack because, in essence, he was blackmailing NBC with his knowledge of his fellow sexual predators’ operations. If was then not just a matter of ‘catch and kill’, the practice of silencing victims by using NDAs agreements usually backed with hush money, but of Farrow’s gradual realisation that he need not go far to find sexual predators of Weinstein’s own ilk. If you’re wondering why Farrow ended up publishing the story in The New Yorker, that’s the answer: NBC was not free from guilt and able to cast the first stone. Less afraid to lose his job than others and perhaps protected from his status as Hollywood royalty, Farrow persisted, for which we need to honour him.

Catch and Kill is a superb exercise in journalism, and a wholly recommended read, but it is at the same time a strangely naïve book in terms of what the author is actually doing, which is contributing in a major way to dismantling patriarchy. Ronan Farrow, the only biological child of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, is a sort of intellectual wunderkind who managed to give himself a very solid academic training, perhaps a very unusual one in the field of journalism (he happens to be a lawyer and has a PhD in political science). So to speak, great things were expected of him and great things are to be expected. His onslaught on Harvey Weinstein is one, not just for the legal and judicial consequences of Farrow’s report (Weinstein is now in prison) but for how it unleashed the worldwide #MeToo movement we are all aware of. Kantor and Twohey’s article obviously also contributed to the explosion of that movement and it would be unfair to credit Farrow with all the merit, but it would also be unfair to ignore his task as women’s champion in this matter. Plainly, if it weren’t for Farrow’s obsessive insistence and staunch professionalism many of the women who spoke against Weinstein and described how the culture of sexual predation works in practice would have remained silent. He did act as a knight in shining armour. I hear my feminist readers groaning but this is the truth of the fact.

He also acted as a man plagued by a guilty conscience. It is inevitable, when discussing Farrow’s motivations to refer to the sexual abuse allegations made by his (adoptive) sister Dylan against their father Woody Allen, which the director has always denied. According to Dylan, Allen abused her when she was a seven-year-old child (remember that this is the guy who eventually married another adoptive daughter). Ronan did believe Dylan but as he confesses in several passages of Catch and Kill did not support her ongoing feud with Allen, basically telling his sister to move on with her life and bury the hatchet. Farrow explains that listening to the women abused by Weinstein made him finally understand what Dylan had gone through and he reports a series of calls asking his sister for advice about how to proceed with his investigation of the cases. Her words, he said, were essential in the process.

It is then tempting to read Farrow’s motivation to doggedly pursue the rumours that lead to the testimonials as atonement for the sin of not properly supporting Dylan. It is also tempting to interpret his hunting of the monster Weinstein as a haunting of the abuser Allen. Even the fact that he does not carry his father’s surname (technically Mia Farrow was a single mother when Ronan was born as she and Allen never married) helps stress his position on the side of the women and against patriarchy. I am not sure that Farrow’s being a gay man is a relevant factor but since he does refer explicitly to his partner in Catch and Kill, I must assume that this is also important. I am not so naïve as to believe that gay men can never be sexual predators but in a way a gay man is in a better position to dismantle patriarchy’s heterosexism than a heterosexual man.

Farrow is not a gender issues activist in the sense of being specialized in the field as a journalist. Judging from his other major book, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence (2018), he appears to be a political journalist or perhaps more widely an investigative journalist. In any case, his work reporting Weinstein in the New Yorker and Catch and Kill are enough to put him on the honours list of the men who have opposed patriarchy so far and are opening the way to out not only the monstrous abusers but a whole culture of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, Weinstein has turned out to be one among many in a constellation of harassers in the high positions of all types of business and institutions. This is what is really important: anti-patriarchal men, we learn from Farrow’s reporting, are essential to undermine the regime by which the patriarchal men rule, not only in their own domain but the whole nation. From Weinstein to Trump, it turns out, there are less than six degrees of separation.

Reading these days, after Catch and Kill, Michael S. Kimmel and Thomas E. Mosmiller’s thick anthology Against the Tide: Pro-feminist Men in the United States 1776-1990, a Documentary History (Beacon Press, 1992) a few thoughts occur to me. One is that this book should be much better known. I’ve come across it absolutely by accident even though I am much alert to any volume dealing with the good men who have helped the feminist cause. The other is that I find more optimism in the texts written by pro-feminist men up to 1920, when US women were granted the right to vote in national elections (some states had authorized the female ballot in the 1890s), than in the texts of the 1970s to 1990. By this I mean that there is a clear line of progress which earns women the rights to be educated, to be employed in all professions, to keep their own property, and to vote as one by one the absurd arguments against first-wave feminism fall. Next, there comes what Leila J. Rupp and Verta Taylor called the doldrums in their book Survival in the Doldrums: The American Women’s Rights Movement, 1945 to the 1960s (1987). Then some matters progressed but most remained stagnant until the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) and the onset of second-wave feminism. The problem is that I do not see much progress in the texts of the 1970s to 1990 in relation to today, or very little. And that is very worrying.

The text before the last in the volume is Senator Joe Biden’s 1990 “Statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Violence Against Women Act of 1990” which sought to make all violence against women a civil rights offence apart from a criminal act. Biden wanted the “something horribly wrong” in America’s treatment of women to be made visible and to be destroyed, but I should say that thirty years later matters are much worse. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the USA Constitution written in 1923 by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex has not been passed yet, almost 100 years after its was first submitted to Congress. Biden’s act, proposed jointly with Senator Orrin Hatch, did pass in 1994 and was signed by President Clinton (a feat that should be recalled rather than his hanky-panky) and there is hope that the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket wins the election in November against Trump. Yet, many more Ronan Farrows are needed to force the patriarchs out of power and it is hard to see where they are.

Kimmel and Mosmiller refuse to look into the personal motivations of the men that sided with women and exposed themselves to the derision and the violence from the men who considered them traitors to the patriarchal cause. They warn that many men who helped were far from being angels (their word, not mine); often, men behaved in a pro-feminist way in public and in a patriarchal way at home, even with their own feminist wives or lovers. I don’t think we need angels but we certainly need allies, as their book shows. The question they ask is one that is quite scary: why did men help at all, knowing as they did that their pro-feminist ideas would undermine their own privilege? It is simple, actually. As I am constantly saying patriarchy is not as monolithic as it looks. It has plenty of dissidents for whom the answer to Kimmel and Mosmiller’s question is straightforward: some men help because it is the only right thing to do, and this is what they feel. This is what Ronan Farrow felt: that he was doing a public service by pointing his finger at Weinstein, and this is what the Pulitzer Award committee acknowledged.

Maybe because I am part of a public service, that offered by public higher education, I very much like the idea that advancing equality is a matter of serving the public. What I like about this idea is that public service is done for the good of the community, not in the expectation of personal reward but simply because it is right. The other aspect I like about public service is that it is gender-neutral, meaning that it is open to anyone, of any identity, as Farrow’s work shows. Men doing a public service can hardly be accused of promoting the ‘wrong’ causes, which is why I think that there is potential in the concept as an alternative to individualistic heroism or chivalry (I have called Farrow a knight…). If the cause for equality is seen as a pillar of the community then defending it can be seen as public service, which might help many men to act in pro-feminist ways without being questioned either by men or by women. If equality is presented as a civil right, which is what it is, then there is no excuse to remain uninvolved, just as there is no excuse to condone racism. I am just thinking out loud about what should be the mechanism to recruit more Ronan Farrows to the cause…

Thanks, then, to all the pro-feminist men, those who have helped are those who are helping. Let’s just hope that there is less and less need for their help because patriarchy has been finally defeated and equality is really respected as a fundamental civil right.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from Visit my website