I would like to offer my own thoughts on how the profanation of sexuality
is an important piece of the picture in the whole false memories tragedy.
In the little I've been reading and talking with parents, I think there's
a tendency to blame parts of the feminist movement. While I don't want
to in any way minimize the effects of a subculture that all too often provides
inappropriate validation of a victim mentality, and also too frequently
promotes mistrust of men and heterosexuality, I think there are other just
as powerful forces at play.
A question that is important to ask is, Why is the social crisis of
false memories taking a particularly SEXUAL form? Why are these young people
not accusing their parents of, let's say, economic exploitation? Why are
the memories not of sweatshops, but of sexual abuse? Why is it primarily
women making the accusations, and not men? The women who make accusations
are feeling raped, exploited sexually in the very core of their being.
They (we) are hurting in a specific way - why? I hope to try to begin to
answer these questions.
The world I grew up in had sexual content everywhere. Every time I turned
on the television set, every time I opened a newspaper, every time I encountered
any form of advertising, I was confronted with a woman's body being used
to sell a product. I don't know the statistics of how many hours most teenagers
spend in front of the television set, but we all know that it's staggering.
Interestingly enough, there's a lot of talk about the effects of violence
on television on both kids and adults, but the impact of the intense doses
of sexuality on TV goes less noticed. On an average night of viewing, how
many sex scenes are there? How many women appear wearing clothing that
emphasizes their bodies rather than their dignity? How often is a subject
which should be treated with respect, sensitivity, and maybe even awe,
handled with just the opposite values?
I think it is impossible to minimize the impact these images have on
a young woman's sense of self. I'm sure that many women who grew up in
the fifties didn't feel so secure about themselves and the way they looked,
but the pain my generation, and those growing up now, feel about their
bodies I think could be unprecedented. It is no accident that eating disorders,
and the accompanying misery, exists in such terrible numbers at the same
time as such a rampant media explosion. The messages that the media gives,
"What's important about a woman is her sex appeal". I know of no woman
in her twenties who has not had to struggle with making peace with her
Many of us, on one level or another, dealt with the messages by buying
into them, and internalizing the idea that what's most important about
you is the fact that you have sex to offer. In this climate of loose sexual
boundaries, there are plenty of men around who are willing to validate
that perspective, and it's pretty easy to act on it, especially when in
need of some love or affection. This attitude, of course, leads a woman
on her deepest level to feel exploited, undervalued, and degraded.
My parents' generation, while it was hardly free from objectification
of women, suffered much less from this plague. Mary Pipher, in her analysis
of young girls' misery in Reviving Ophelia, discusses how if parents spent
a day living in the shoes of their teenage girls, watching what they watch,
talking about what they talk about, listening to their boy classmates,
they would be shocked and alarmed. The social climate that was normal for
me, because it was the norm, would be seen by a previous generation as
maybe crude, coarse, or even disgusting.
It makes a huge amount of sense, then, that a sensitive young woman
or man who cared about such things such as the objectification of women
in the media would identify with feminist causes. When I was at Columbia,
I used to hand out stickers that said, "This offends women" that we used
to slap on ads. We were right. It was in the effort to create a space that
would be emotionally safe for women from the constant media noise where
things got warped and destructive.
Additionally, the utter chaos in the area of sexual mores is very confusing
and hurtful to women. Clear boundaries and expectations of acceptable social
behavior between men and women have been sacrificed in the name of sexual
freedom. A man and a woman, or a boy and a girl, meet - what does he want?
What does she want? A relationship? Sexual? Non-sexual? That elusive fantasy,
a "Platonic" relationship? The capability of self-delusion, often especially
pronounced among women in areas of romance, can lead to terrible problems.
A woman may sleep with a man with whom she has no relationship, in which
case she has made herself extremely vulnerable to someone who doesn't really
care about her; she may sleep with a man with whom she WANTS to have a
relationship, but he may reject her, in which case her disappointment and
pain is even more intensified than if she hadn't; she may sleep with someone
with whom she has "a committed relationship," which is somewhat more secure,
but still leads to terrible heartbreak when the relationship ends. (If
she doesn't sleep with anyone, she may wonder what's wrong with her.)
All of this is a recipe for disaster. Between the media and lack of
sexual standards, the most private, sacred, intimate aspect of human contact
is being terribly damaged. Areas of vulnerability most essential to self,
most subtle, instead of being gently nurtured into adulthood in true, real,
satisfying relationship, are leading to intense confusion and pain. I know
for myself, and I would imagine for many other young women who went through
the ordeal of FMS, that the feelings of exploitation, anger, and pain were
so profound that the explanation of sexual abuse made perfect sense. The
social climate both in the media and "relationships" can leave her feeling
exploited and violated, but she doesn't have the distance from the culture
to be able to accurately name the sources of her pain. She picks up a copy
of a self-help book about sexual abuse, or goes to a rally, or goes to
a badly-trained therapist, and gets steered in the wrong direction.
I imagine that this perspective might sound extreme, that the reader
may be thinking, "Oh, I hear her point, but it can't be that bad. She's
projecting her own experience." Obviously, coming to terms with what I
went through has informed my views, but my professional contact with young
American women in an educational setting has confirmed my assessment. My
colleagues who are also involved with these women are also concerned about
their body image, ability to function healthily and happily in marriage,
and sense of sexuality. I wish that I was wrong. Thank God, not every young
woman today goes through all of this emotional turmoil, but I think it
would be a mistake to underestimate the impact of the media and change
in sexual norms.
I hope this angle will be helpful to people in their understanding
of these issues, and I welcome any form of feedback. Lastly, about FMS
in general, I strongly encourage you to not give up hope, and please try
to stay patient. May G-d bless you and help you all in your struggle and
efforts to reunite your families.
(Reproduced from the November 1998 issue of the printed Illinois
FMS Society Newsletter.)