Rocking the Cradle of Sexual Politics // Review

Article excerpt

The reason the New York Times called this book "brilliant and frightening" is that Armstrong's fierce voice tells hard truths. She analyses what happened when women went public, and tried to get legal support to fight incest, from the 1970s through the early 1990s. While the facts are primarily American, one can readily see the same trends at work here in Canada.

TRUTH ONE. Raising the issue of incest, seriously, in the 1970s, brought society dangerously close to the edge of upheaval. If faced squarely, incest would have brought a devastating understanding of the underpinnings of male social dominance. Think about it. If about one-in-four women have experienced sexual abuse, that's an awful lot of upstanding, decent fathers, some who are ordinary, nice, middle-class men, and some who are prominent professionals and leaders in their communities.

TRUTH TWO. Serious social revelation was first muffled, then stopped by the court system. Children were speaking up, as they'd been taught to in school. Mothers were protecting their children by leaving the abusive father figure. The magnitude of exposure had passed from poor families on welfare to "normal" middle-class families. This could have created a devastating blow to the status quo but judges started thinking as Freud had: all these nice fathers can't be doing this. All sorts of doublespeak proliferated. The mother has a financial motive for getting the child to lie. The child is not credible, even with medical evidence; it didn't happen. The mother is in contempt of court for refusing the father private visitation rights. The mother is hysterical; custody goes to the father. So the children who'd been taught to speak up were left further sexually abused by the judicial system.

TRUTH THREE. Incest is overwhelmingly a gender crime, predominantly committed by males, and usually on girls. Pretending it happens as often to males as it does to females obscures its basic cause: male rage.

TRUTH FOUR. Newspeak was created. If incest did happen, then it was no big deal. For the marketplace to hold, for civilization to stand, men must be allowed these private little violences. …