Read chapter 1 of Creating Hysteria
Read the NY Times Review

Open Season for Abusers

On Joan Acocella's "The Politics of Hysteria"

About the article which became
Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder
10/9/2004 - ann

The Politics of Hysteria (New Yorker, 4/6/98) presents a confused and even pathological view of sexually abused women.

With a kind of post-modernist zeal the author, Joan Acocella, exonerates the entire male community for sexual abuse and piles the blame on feminism, the media, therapists and self-help books -- especially The Courage To Heal. Unfortunately, she reflects a current international fad that both socially and legally discredits women who recover memories of child sexual abuse. This article adds Multiple Personality Disorder (M.P.D.) to the growing list of induced "female troubles." Her troubles are supposedly being implanted by external sources -- even by attending a feminist meeting. Ms. Acocella claims that M.P.D. along with recovered memory (R.M.) are "in large part feminist movements" and "probably a side effect of the women's movement." For the writer the huge number of cases clearly points to a conspiracy -- a "feminist conspiracy." Sisterhood is powerful -- but this is ridiculous. She critiques the way women express their dysfunction without acknowledging the high price women pay emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually so men can continue having sex their way. The number of females whose lives are ruined every second by male sexual violence is a staggering reality The New Yorker, like most publications, ignores.

By the article's own admission, the majority of women diagnosed with M.P.D have already spent 7 years in the mental-health system: 90% are depressed, 61% had made serious suicide attempts and 53% had a history of substance abuse. The majority have suffered child sexual abuse and a regular feature of the disorder is self-mutilation, including cuts and third-degree burns. Self-mutilation, which is receiving a lot of press, may be an expression of self-loathing that gives individuals physical corroboration for their torturous past. Courts that once allowed women to sue their abusers now insist on corroborative physical evidence -- an impossibility for abuse that occurred in women's childhood.

According to Acocella, the media duped thousands of women into whipping up multiple personalities because they saw it on TV. In short, The Three Faces of Eve (1957) and Sybil (1973) were culpable. After all, M.P.D was rare before Sybil came out. In 1944 only 76 cases met the definition. According to Acocella, "one expert estimated that between 1985 and 1995 there were almost forty thousand new cases." Like Sybil, "the model M.P.D. patient was a white Northern American female around age thirty." M.P.D. patients fed by a media frenzy of fast-cutting visual entertainment, started reporting Mr. Spock alters and Ninja Turtle alters. The fact that women with such painful backgrounds become someone else -- anyone else -- might be interpreted as a brilliant adaptive mechanism to help diminish their misery and increase their ability to function.

"The R.M. [recovered memory] movement persuaded hundreds of thousands of women that they were part of a world-wide sisterhood of sex-abuse victims, condemned for the rest of their lives to live out the consequences of the trauma‚like survivors of the Holocaust. . . Suddenly, with the establishment of the abuse history, they were no longer downtrodden. They were courageous -- survivors." It never seems to occur to Acocella recovery is a courageous act that does not follow a time clock. This may be why socially "stable" women, in their mid-20's to 40's, who are not presently being sexually tortured by their childhood abuser, have often been able to allow the memories to manifest.

But, according to Acocella, it is therapists who make these women sick, using hypnosis and guided imagery to force the idea of multiple personalities and repressed memories on their clients. I am not claiming every therapeutic encounter is beneficial. In fact, I believe therapeutic time would be better spent putting women's pain and anger within the larger political context of male domination. Spending time encouraging victims to use their anger and self -- loathing to fight back against the perpetrators would prove much more productive. Even so, to blame therapists for claims of male sexual abuse and the myriad of attendant abnormal behaviors that women present as a result of coping with the hell of male domination is ludicrous.

One case of a clearly abusive therapist is cited throughout the article. A patient who recants her M.P.D. stories and successfully sues her abusive therapist plays the article's heroine. This one case is deemed sufficient to discredit every therapist, every report of childhood sexual abuse, the existence of women exhibiting multiple personalities and/or recovered memories. Every case of recovered memory appears false to Acocella. The author reveals disgust at a popular culture where memoirs include child sexual abuse. "R.M./M.P.D. enthusiasts retailing sex stories under the banner of child protection."

Acocella emphasizes the fact that M.P.D. being a disorder primarily of sexually abused women can never be proven. The impossibility of proving recalled childhood sexual abuse with physical evidence or eye-witness reports allows thousands of women's recollections to be disbelieved. Given of the current controversy over the validity of recovered memories many legal cases demand physical evidence. The law prefers to present itself as a neutral forum where disputes are settled fairly yet, women and children come from a position of social and historical inequality. Any woman or child who accuses a man of sexual abuse years after the abuse has a huge disadvantage.

When a woman accused her father, a man with a Ph.D. named Freyd, of molestation throughout her childhood, he not only denied charges but helped found the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (a.k.a. Fraudulent, Misogynist, and Sinister). They help accused families sue the therapists rather than allowing the one abused to sue the father, uncle, or brother for the unprovable abuse. As the False Memory Syndrome (F.M.S.) Foundation gains power, survivors' voices have become much less audible.

Acocella admits that now since the accusations of sexual abuse have spiraled up the social scale and hit people of power, women with R.M. and M.P.D. will be discredited. She seems loathe to de-construct the legitimacy of the F.M.S. Foundation, whose members function socially and financially so much better than the damaged women she gleefully satirizes. And understandably so; a quick scan of the ads in the New Yorker reveals few items for women disadvantaged by years of sexual oppression or mental hospitals. Acocella's desire to ignore the continued sexual abuse of women is clear when she quotes a no-name study that finds "a majority of victims suffer no extensive harm."

Acocella declares that recovered memory and M.P.D. have never been real science but rather a belief system. "In part, R.M./M.P.D. was a liberationist movement, akin to the human-potential movement of the sixties." She lambastes The Courage To Heal co-authors Bass and Davis, who dare to mention how transformative healing can be.

The fact that feminists choose to believe women's stories of ritual abuse is further reason to attack feminist's work to stop violence against women. She asks rhetorically, "How was it possible for feminists to support a movement so conservative, so alarmed about sex, so concerned with the endangerment of females, who obviously, for their own protection, should not go out in the world and, above all, should never place her children in day care?"

Acocella attempts to denigrate those with M.P.D., claiming their behavior "was an answer, a club to join, it gave their life meaning." She even calls it a job -- the job of being a multiple. As if women have nothing better to do than to wallow in false memories wasting insurance money and their lives inside a therapist's office! A therapist's job, according to Acocella, is to convince patients that not only were they abused by Uncle Ned, but also by cloven-hoofed devils who eat babies for dessert. The latter, she claims, was the final undoing of these silly female troubles -- satanic-ritual abuse or S. R. A.

For Acocella, childhood sexual abuse is a mere fantasy world of fabricated stories, "the therapeutic procedures that had produced the S.R.A. stories -- indeed, in many cases, the patients who had produced the S.R.A. stories -- were the same as those that had produced the M.P.D. stories." The stories of cannibalistic Satans were so unbelievable that Acocella becomes, "nostalgic for the old-style abuse stories, with Uncle Joe out by the wood shed. At least, they were about human things: sex, weakness, sorrow." What? Transforming sexual abuse into a romantic notion when Mr. Joe is still actively forcing his idea of sex, using blackmail, coercion and his male dominance on kids every single day -- is so transgressive of The New Yorker. A Brave New World. The New Yorker luckily found a "Joan" to complete their dirty work. It matters not whether real women are hurt, damaged, lost, suicidal and prostituted as a result of child sexual abuse. The obvious goal of this New Yorker story is to absolve the thousands of men who rape and abuse children, then blame this behavior on feminists.

Acocella seems to rest easier knowing that currently therapists are fearful to even query clients about childhood abuse. If a client brings it up, better change the subject. As Acocella notes, no one can afford to have M.P.D. these days since insurance for therapy is down to 50% of the cost of 20 sessions per year.

The diagnosis of M.P.D. is a tradeoff, Acocella whines, "The patient forfeits the privileges of being an adult -- self-knowledge, moral agency. In return she is given back the sex-child dream, the cotton panties of yesteryear." And all disadvantaged groups, according to Acocella, are wandering refugees looking for truth. In her final gasp, she selflessly promotes the likes of the National Association Against Fraud in Psychotherapy helping those sad wanderers known as retractors and accused families. It is appalling what absurdist drivel The New Yorker will stoop to print. -- copyrights Ann J Simonton [See F.M.S.: Fraudulent, Misogynist and Sinister, Trouble & Strife #31]

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