The Courage to Reconsider
Salon recently posted a fascinating interview with journalist Meredith Maram, who falsely accused her father of molesting her during the heyday of the 1980s “feminist-inspired… mass panic” about “repressed memory syndrome” and has now written a memoir exonerating him and explaining how she ultimately became deluded. In spite of having repressed nearly all memories of that lousy decade, I seem to recall a conversation between my snotty teenaged self and a therapist in about 1988 that went almost exactly like this:
Therapist: We often find that most young people with your particular issues (anger, apathy, depression, melodrama- being a teenager) have been the victims of sexual abuse. Do you remember anyone touching you inappropriately?
Therapist: Now it’s really surprising how much in line your issues are with the issues that victims of molestation experience. I want you to try to remember if anyone every touched you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable.
Me: Uh… no.
I was told to think about it some more when I got home. It’s probably fortunate that I didn’t trust therapists, guidance councilors, or most adults at that age because, as Maram’s experience suggests, we’re more suggestible than we like to believe. All authority figures can be foolish but, as Joe Orton’s great play What the Butler Saw sends up beautifully, a foolish head-doctor can do more damage than nearly any other. My understanding of the “repressed memory syndrome” movement is that it likely did some good and a great deal of harm. My wife, the therapist, considers the theory to be mostly nonsense.
Maram compares this to “birthers”, those people who believe Barack Obama was born in Mecca to Malcolm X and Mata Hari, “even though the politics were certainly different”, but the comparison seems inapt- I think it was J.G. Ballard who said that the mentally ill tend to project their fantasies onto public figures, but, after all, we’re supposed to project our fantasies onto public figures. Projecting delusions onto family members seems far more sinister.
But the implication that the repressed memory movement was political raises a bothersome question for me, and I’d like to hear suggestions (I should note that I’m really not soliciting Limbaugh-style musings about “femininazis” here). What are “the politics” of such a campaign? The Salon article says it was fueled and driven by feminists and thus “political”. But what could possibly be the political goal behind trying to uncover molestation victims? And I might sound naive here, but how did “feminism” get hitched to a (still) very controversial theory in psychotherapy?