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Reviews » A Pro-Feminist Journal

Reviews


I would like to thank Amy at Feminist Reprise for conducting me to several sources on the anti-Recovered Memory phenomenon. One source worth reading is Mike Stanton at the Columbia Journalism Review.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3613/is_199707/ai_n8776102

A pointed excerpt from “U-turn on memory lane”:

Among journalists, perhaps the most relentless critic of the [False Memory Syndrome] foundation is Michele Landsberg, a Toronto Star columnist. In 1993, she says, an Ontario couple, claiming to have been falsely accused, contacted her and asked her to write about their case.

Unconvinced, she declined, and eventually started writing instead about the foundation. She attacked its scientific claims and criticized the sensational media coverage. She described how a foundation scientific adviser, Harold Merskey, had testified that a woman accusing a doctor of sexual abuse in a civil case might in fact have been suffering from false memory syndrome. But the accused doctor himself had previously confessed to criminal charges of abusing her. Landsberg also challenged the credentials of other foundation advisers.

She noted that one founding adviser, Ralph Underwager, was forced to resign from the foundation’s board after he and his wife, Hollida Wakefield, who remains an adviser, gave an interview to a Dutch pedophilia magazine in which he was quoted as describing pedophilia as “an acceptable expression of God’s will for love.” Landsberg also wrote that another adviser, James Randi, a magician known as The Amazing Randi, had been involved in a lawsuit in which his opponent introduced a tape of sexually explicit telephone conversations Randi had with teenage boys.

Various other thoughts on Fathering Daughters: Reflections by Men

I.

FOX has a new show called New Amsterdam. It’s about an immortal homicide detective who solves crimes while experiencing flashbacks from days of yore. It’s a story that’s been done before and in far more entertaining ways. Somehow, FOX got the notion that receiving one’s immortality as a thank-you note from a Native American shaman is more “mainstream” than the vampires detectives and Scottish Highlanders that only achieved cult status. That they could think such a thing presents an interesting commentary on racial fetish.

It’s a terrible show.

Before I stopped watching it though, I viewed one episode that really brought home how powerful the “False Memory Syndrome” or “Anti-Recovered Memory” movement is and how successful they’ve been in their public relations campaign. They’re a front-page antidote for a problem that’s on the back-page, if it ever gets space at all.

The plot went something like this:

Immortal dude collars some shell-shocked veteran and gets him to confess to a murder he didn’t commit; immortal dude feels really bad about that and tries to make things right by finding the real killer.

The murder victim was a psychologist who once helped people recover memories but disavowed her work (In Pendergrast speak she’d be “scientifically” labeled as a “retractor”) after one patient accused someone of cooking a baby, something which clearly didn’t happen. She was writing a book slamming a former co-worker. He is another shrink in the recovered memory business who didn’t want to lose his patients, people he ripped from their “families of origin,” who are now loyal to him alone. Thus he kills her for threatening to upset his life. All of which, conveniently, ties thematically into the veteran who believed he did something he didn’t do because of an intense interrogation session.

This story shocked me because this is a show about a homicide detective: every week some act of violence has to happen, each more intricate and depraved than the last, in order to set the plot in motion. The characters live in a world of intense violence where every other person they meet is dripping evil.

How, in such a world, could one even suspect someone of inventing fake crimes? Life exists for crime!

And yet false allegations of abuse were presented as more horrific than the “real” violence depicted as entertainment: false allegations are never sexy; real violence, especially against women, is always sexy. The innocent-accused are always more innocent than the innocent victims of violence; naturally, the former are nearly always men.

Even a decade after the False Memory panic, a silly show about an immortal dude can still recycle it to scare viewers once again.

This is a legacy that DeWitt Henry and James Alan McPherson helped to sustain by dragging Mark Pendergrast into their book. 

II.

Fred Viebahn writes in “Aviva’s World” (p. 100):

It’s hard to remember why I preferred a daughter over a son, and I would never allow a psycho-plumber to snake through my subconscious only to misinterpret the complexities of that wish. I think I was a pretty good son to my parents, so there was no denial and projecting going on, no fear of my own bad example. I can only speculate: as a boy, I often preferred the company of women. During family gatherings, when my father and my grandfathers and uncles played cards in the living room, my boy cousins had to drag me away from the women folk trading stories in the kitchen so that I would play soccer with them. Even now, half a century old, I frequently feel more comfortable chatting with women at social gatherings. End of speculation.

While Viebahn shows the characteristic hatred of psychology required for authors in Fathering Daughters, it’s significant that he confines such talk to the realm of personality, rather than politics.

As often as feminists write apologias that they’re not “man haters,” it’s interesting to note how freely and easily distrust of men comes to males. We might sometimes apologize for it, too, as Viebahn does, but we never really expect anyone to be surprised by it. It makes sense to fear men, to watch your back when amongst them, to prefer gatherings without them: males know this easily, females have had it bred and beaten out of them to the point where they often have to relearn the obvious.

Many pro-feminists have written passages similar to Viebahn. Typically, they go further, urging males to overcome such fear as it hurts women (who are burdened by us foisting our emotional lives on them alone) and results in other phenomena such as homophobia. I find such work, by John Stoltenberg and others, to be highly convincing — at times. Other times, I wonder if it’s possible for a male to be a separatist, avoiding men whenever possible, without placing undue burden on women or barging in on sisterhood. It might be possible. Or it might not.

III.

Scott Russell Sanders, in “To Eva, on your Marriage,” writes about how his daughter’s birth made the “condition of women” more personal to him. “Statistics on rape, on poverty, on wife beating, on single mothers, on jobs and pay for women, became disturbing facts about the society in which my daughter would grow up” (p. 197).

His report is hardly novel. The belief that fathering daughters compels a man to feminism is a common one. It’s exactly for that reason that there’s so little skepticism of Dads and Daughters. Everyone feels safe in assuming that they’re natural feminist allies after their “Road to Damascus” experience of being charged with a baby girl.

What makes Sanders different is another realization that he proffers, how being heterosexual (in a way that might cause such a baby to arrive), never compelled him in that same way (p. 198):

Even falling in love with the woman who would become your mother had not inspired in me such troubled questioning, because she was brilliant in science, in music, in writing and speech; she was poised and confident; she was balanced on her own center. She had found a husband with plenty of flaws, but one who would never lay a hand on her except in love, never betray or desert her. To my bedazzled eyes, this Ruth McClure seemed to have emerged into womanhood unscathed. But you were just beginning. How would you fare?

He writes similarly, here:http://www.kenyonreview.org/interviews/sanders.php

I thought very little about gender as a child. I simply accepted what was around me as the way things were. Then, when I went to college, as I’ve written in “The Men We Carry in Our Minds,” I ran into women who had radically different notions about gender roles than anything I’d ever encountered. Trying to figure out why these women were so angry started me on a long, slow educational process. That process was accelerated through my long courtship of Ruth McClure. Ours was an epistolary romance. Living a thousand miles apart for five years before we got married, we exchanged hundreds of letters. Then after our daughter Eva was born, I became even more thoughtful about the fate of women. What barriers would she run into? How would she learn what it means to be female? Once our son Jesse was born, I had a burning personal reason to reflect on how the world defines maleness, as well. Then, when my father died, I realized that he had been confined and even tortured by inherited notions of masculinity.When I first recognized sex discrimination, I thought naively—as I did with racism—that people of good will should be able to talk about it openly and then grow beyond it. It shouldn’t be so hard to begin treating everybody fairly. Why shouldn’t discrimination go away in a few years? Now I realize the problems are more stubborn. We carry a lot of evolutionary baggage, including some deep biases linked to sex. Unless we acknowledge this biological inheritance, we’ll be trapped by it.

I am unsure of what he means by “evolutionary” and “biological inheritance.” Creative types, or at least those celebrated as such, can usually get away with being essentialists, whether by design or by accident; the rest of us generally need to learn to be precise with our speech, lest we be punished.

Still, the interview is certainly more nuanced than his chapter in Fathering Daughters, where his wife was some shining white beacon of effortless grace and perfection (not to mention where he appears to think he deserves special credit for not being a batterer). It seems that he either knew her rather poorly — to be unaware of her own struggle against sexism — or that some women are simply so wonderful that they couldn’t possibly inspire a mate to take up feminism.

Where does one sign up to date them? I’m sure demand is through the roof.

My intent isn’t to pick apart Scott Russell Sanders or his relationship, or even his status as a feminist ally (indeed, his chapter is one of the best in the anthology), but to use his admission to investigate another common trope:

“Beware those men who use feminism to get laid.”

People seem confident that impregnating a woman and raising a resulting female child can drive a man to become a feminist loyalist.

People seem equally confident (although not in Scott Russell Sanders case) that regularly fucking a feminist woman can inspire a man to take up the cause.

And yet thinking about feminism before those two steps is grounds for suspicion?

That’s probably the time when it would do the most good!

IV.

I don’t deal very much with adjectives in my writing; I seldom need or choose to describe people. That’s a copout in a way, as it lets me sidestep a problem that the contributors in Fathering Daughters didn’t seem to acknowledge they had: how do you write about your daughter’s appearance without falling into patriarchal patterns of speech? How do you counter the male gaze when it’s your own?

What words are appropriate? What words invariably place a girl in a police lineup of sorts, comparing and contrasting her with other girls and standards of acceptability? And what of those other girls — those spectral children, not your own — who are summoned to that lineup, what responsibility does a proud father have to them?

Gary Soto, in “Getting it Done,” describes his nearly adult daughter as “five foot even, a hundred and six shapely pounds, bright, kind and thoughtful, well read, and shy as a pony” (p. 119).

Mark Pendergrast presents the daughters who would accuse him of sexual abuse as being “exceptionally attractive, intelligent, creative, caring young women” (p. 153).

What shape are those pounds? What shape, out of many, is the incarnation of shape itself? Why does the physical always precede the internal, as if excellence begets excellence?

The white writers seem to pay special attention to the “differences” they find in their adopted and biracial (or even technically white) children.Philip Lopate writes of his daughter Lily’s delivery (p. 17):

The doctor passed the newborn to her mother for inspection. She was (I may say objectively) very pretty: like a little Eskimo or Mexican babe, with her mop of black hair and squiting eyes. Something definitely Third World about her.

I can’t speak for the Inuit, but most Mexicans I’ve met would disagree with his “Third World” assessment, whether out of nationalist pride or anger that an American would feel perfectly safe to make such a bizarre assertion about his child out of the blue, anticipating that his readers would reward him for it.

In “A Story for Ancient Moon,” Adam Schwartz tells of his trip to China to meet his adoptive daughter (p. 21):

Her eyes stared calmly back at the camera, a look so clear and knowing that she truly did have an ancient countenance. Her eyes were exactly like the “ancient, glittering eyes” of the Chinamen in Yeats’ poem “Lapis Lazuli.”

Li Li told me that the shape of Annie’s eyes was considered very beautiful in China. I had actually heard the same comment from other Chinese women. Before we left for China to adopt Annie, I passed her picture around to my classes, and all the Chinese students remarked upon the beautiful shape of her eyes. Li Li explained that no woman in China would want to give up a daughter with such rare and beautiful eyes, and that no doubt the birth father gave the orders.

It is beyond me how such infinitely rare eyes could have been possessed by all of Yeat’s “Chinamen.”Samuel Shem (pen name of Stephen Bergman), also adopted a daughter from China. His chapter is called “A Prayer for Connection.” He writes (p. 39):

I sit in the balcony looking down at Katie in gymnastics class. Up here, distanced, it is suddenly as if I’m watching a group of five year olds whom I don’t know, Katie among them. She is the only Asian. I notice her trim, lithe body with long legs and not an ounce of fat, her coordination, her popping energy. I bring her back to being ours for a second, remembering how, after our being with her for the first several months, Caucasian babies’ eyes seemed strange to us, too round, foreign. Our world was china, Chinese, eyes shaped like teardrops on their sides, pupils as dark as history. We became a family of color. We felt the joy and encountered the racism.

His structural composition allows the perception that her thinness and coordination logically stems from her Asian status, the topic of each of the two sentences surrounding his brief mention of her talent. Where does that leave the girls standing around her, clumsy in comparison, lacking in ancient heritage? And what of Asian girls who don’t fit that model of diminutive grace?

And joy? Good grief.

It’s easy for me to pick apart all of these descriptions. After all, I’m not personally tasked with finding a solution to this problem; I can easily avoid it if I like.

I fault the contributors of Fathering Daughters not for failing to arrive at a solution, but for refusing to acknowledge that there is a problem. It’s hypocritical to blame the advertising industry for creating body image problems when a bunch of literary greats can’t even talk about their own daughters without objectifying them.