Survivor Discourse: Transgression or Recuperation?
Michel Foucault argued that speech is not a medium or tool through which power struggles occur but an important site and object of conflict itself.2 He also claimed that bringing things into the realm of discourse, as the confessional structures brought bodily pleasures into discourse and thus "created" sexuality, is not always or even generally a progressive or liberatory strategy, and can contribute to the containment and domination of embodied subjectivities. These claims are at odds with each other or at least point in different directions. The first suggests that movements of social change should focus on the arena of speech as a central locus of power. Speaking out in and of itself enacts transformations in subjectivities and power relations. But the second claim warns that the tactic of bringing things into the realm of discourse works also to inscribe them into hegemonic structures and to produce docile, self-monitoring bodies who willingly submit themselves to (and thus help to create and legitimate) authoritative experts. Particularly discourses about sex, Foucault warns, are far from liberatory. These discourses developed from a religious/punitive structure into a therapeutic/evaluative structure, but in both cases are organized as confessionals in which the speaker confesses her innermost experiences to an expert mediator who then reinterprets those experiences back to her using the dominant discourse's codes of normality. In this way the speaker is inscribed into dominant structures of subjectivity. Thus, Foucault's description of the confessional depicts it as a mechanism which produces a more effective hegemony of the dominant discourse, an increasingly subsumed subjectivity, and a diminished possibility for transgression or intervention.
It is within the contradictory space of these two claims that we would like to initiate a discussion of the discourse of rape, incest, and sexual assault survivors. This discourse is relatively recent, yet now it is accessible every day on TV talk shows, talk radio, and in popular books and magazine articles. What is the political effect of this speech? What are its effects on the construction of women's subjectivities? Is this proliferation and dissemination of survivor discourse having a subversive effect on patriarchal violence? Or is it being recuperated and coopted in the sense that it is taken up and used but in a manner that diminishes its subversive impact? Our motivation to reflect on these issues emerges from a need to reflect on our own practices. We are two women who share three traits: we are survivors, we work within (and sometimes against) post-modernist theories, and we have been active in the movement of survivors for empowerment and liberation. We have also been affected by the institutionally enforced distancing and dissonance between what gets thought of as "theory" and "personal life," which splits the individual along parallel paths which can never meet. This paper is an attempt to rethink and repair this dissonance and to begin weaving these paths---and their commitments, interests and experiences---together.
The principal tactic chosen by the survivors' movement has been to encourage and make possible survivors' breaking the silence about their trauma, both in relatively private or public contexts. This strategic metaphor of giving voice to those who have been silenced is virtually ubiquitous throughout the movement: survivor demonstrations are referred to as "Speak Outs," the name of the largest national network of survivors of childhood sexual abuse is VOICES, and the metaphor figures prominently in book titles such as I Never Told Anyone, Voices in the Night, Speaking Out, Fighting Back, and No More Secrets.3
Speaking out serves to educate the society at large about the dimensions of sexual violence and misogyny, to reposition the problem from an individual psyche to the social sphere where it rightfully belongs, and to empower victims to act constructively on their own behalf and thus make the transition from victim to survivor.4 As one book on the subject of incest put it, We believe that there is not a taboo against incest, merely against speaking about it. And the reason for this taboo, once examined, is clear: if we begin to speak of incest, we may realize its place as a training ground for female children to regard themselves as inferior objects to be used by men...By beginning to speak about it, we begin to threaten its continued, unacknowledged presence.5
Furthermore, survivors who often have been silent due to fear of retaliation or increased humiliation and who have been carrying around the burden of a hidden agony for months, years, and even decades, report the experience of speaking out as liberatory as well as a relief.6
On the other hand, the speaking out of survivors has been sensationalized and exploited by the media, in both fictional dramatizations as well as "journalistic" forums such as the Rivera and Donahue Shows. The media often use the presence of survivors for its shock value and to pander to a sadistic voyeurism among viewers. The depiction of survivors and of sexual violence has often been eroticized for the purpose of titillating the audience in order to boost ratings.7
Survivor discourse has also been used, in some cases, by the psychiatric establishment to construct victim- and woman-blaming explanatory theories, e.g., the argument that some people have a "victim personality." These discursively constituted subjectivities are then made dependent upon expert advice and help. In short, survivor discourse has, paradoxically, appeared to have empowering effects even while it has in some cases unwittingly facilitated its own recuperation by dominant discourses.
This double effect coincides in an interesting way with Foucault's two disparate claims about speech outlined above. Foucault's analysis of confessional speech in The History of Sexuality suggests that it is a powerful instrument of domination. Yet Foucault (as well as others) have also demonstrated that speech is an important site of struggle in which domination and resistance are played out. Accordingly, we will use Foucault's analyses to frame the problem and help us in reflecting on and evaluating the dynamics of speaking out as a political tactic. However, this paper is not a work of scholarship on Foucault, nor will his accounts sit in authoritative judgement on survivor discourse. Rather, we will set ourselves up as the "experts": fallible, partial, and momentary, but capable of judgement nonetheless without outside expert mediation. We do not want to simply assume a traditional role of expert but reconfigure the practices and meanings of expertise toward legitimating survivor discourse.8
We will begin by giving a general account of speech and discourse in order to explore how survivors' speech may have a transgressive character. Next we will discuss Foucault's account of how the confessional mode of speech participates in the construction of domination. Then we will move to a consideration through the use of examples of the multiple and subtle mechanisms by which dominant discourses have recuperated our collective speech, and whether this tendency toward recuperation can be effectively resisted. One of the central issues here will be whether the tendency of the confessional structure to disempower the confessor can be overcome. Finally we will offer some constructive and reconstructive suggestions concerning the use of speaking out as a political tactic.
"...Speech is no mere verbalization of conflicts and systems of domination...it is the very object of man's [sic] conflicts."9 Speech is the site of political conflict because speech itself is that over which there is struggle. Philosophers have often relegated themselves to an analysis of the content of speech, transforming the lived reality of speech as an event into a set of propositions whose interrelationships and relationships to external entities could be analyzed through procedures of logical and empirical analysis. More recently, however, many philosophers (on both sides of the analytic/continental divide) have pointed out that there are other features of speech which deserve more than sociological or stylistic analysis. Speech is an event involving an arrangement of speakers and hearers; it is an act in which relations get constituted and experience and subjectivities are mediated.10 These facts bear on the propositional content of speech, but they also suggest that an analysis of propositional content alone can only provide an inadequate account of the full meaning of any speech act. We must include in our considerations the diverse variables which are involved in the discursive situation as an event.
In any given discursive event there will be a normative arrangement in which some participants are designated speakers and others are designated hearers. In many speaking situations some participants are accorded the authoritative status of interpreters, and others are constructed as "naive transmitters of raw experience." Thus, speech not only contains sense and reference but it sets up roles for participants and relationships between these roles. Consider the arrangement of speaking in a classroom, a courtroom, a psychiatrist's office, or a child's bedroom. Moreover, the role particular participants are assigned to play affects our internal experience of ourselves as well as our construction of what it means to be a self. What happens to your speech and your sense of yourself as you move from occupying the role of professor in a classroom to the role of daughter or son when visiting your parents, should not be construed as superficial to your "true" self, which lies submerged beneath the influence of such changes. Your true self simply is that changing self. This is part of what it means to say that the structures of speech acts mediate our subjectivity and experiences.
The arrangements of speaking will thus affect the subjectivity and experience of survivors, in both (and simultaneously) political and metaphysical ways. Our power relationships to those with whom we are speaking and our sense and knowledge of ourselves as well as our experiences will be changed by the structural arrangements of the discursive event.
Foucault introduces the concept of discourse as distinct from speech or a collection of speech acts. The term discourse for Foucault denotes a particular configuration of possibilities for speech acts. Through rules of exclusion and classificatory divisions which operate as unconscious background assumptions, a discourse can be said to set out, not what is true and what is false, but what can have a truth-value at all, or in other words, what is statable. Discourses structure what it is possible to say through systems of exclusion such as the prohibition of certain words, the division of mad and sane speech, and the will to truth. In any given context there may exist more than one discourse, though discourses will exist in hierarchical relations with one another.
It is useful to apply this analysis to survivor speech.11 The speech of survivors involving reports of their assaults has been excluded speech. At various times and in different locations it has been absolutely prohibited speech, speech categorized as mad and/or untrue, or speech that presumed objects (such as a rapist father) that were not statable and therefore could not exist within the dominant discourses. The speech of incest survivors has been especially restricted on the grounds that it is too horrible to be heard and too disgusting and disturbing to the listeners (whose constructed sensibilities were and are often still given deferential preference) to be uttered. Incest survivors have also been construed as mad: hysterical women who have lost the ability to distinguish reality from their own imaginations. Truddi Chase recounts how her father kept her silent by telling her that "No one is ever going to believe a word that you say, so my best advice to you is don't say anything."12 Dominant discourses have assisted this silencing strategy by excluding the possibility of forming a "rapist father" or "rapist boyfriend" as an object of discussion or analysis; if the person in question was one's boyfriend or father he could not simultaneously be one's rapist.
This is still the case in most states with respect to legal discourse as well as more generally with respect to informal discourse. Women and children's speech has been historically prohibited in public places, we have been considered incapable of giving credible testimony in legal forums, and though this is now changing for adult women it is not changing for children.13 In relation to men, women and children are usually assigned the role of listener rather than speaker, and rarely assigned the role of authoritative interpreter and judge of men's speech. There have been a variety of discursive strategies by which the speech of women and children generally and survivors in particular have been preempted or dismissed. Homophobia has operated to intimidate male survivors from speaking out, although as one authority on the topic puts it, "A child molester is neither heterosexual nor homosexual. He is a child molester."14 For survivors generally, incest accounts and reports of acquaintance rape have had less credibility than accounts of stranger rape. But even in the case of stranger rape, unless the survivor looked and acted a certain way, she would not be believed. Older women and women who are not conventionally attractive often have a harder time getting acceptance of their accounts. Then again, women who are considered "too sexy" and women who are prostitutes are either not believed or held responsible. Women from oppressed races who have been raped by white men are much less likely to be believed than white women reporting rapes by men of oppressed races. Lesbian survivors may be believed, but their rapes are more often discounted as less important (and may be seen as therapeutic!). The pattern that emerges from these disparate responses is that, if survivor speech is not silenced before it could be uttered, it was categorized within the mad, the untrue or the incredible.15
The concept of a discourse helps to explain why feminist re-naming of sexual violence has incurred so much resistance and why it has been difficult for the dominant discourses to accept. Given that each discourse has its own positivity which sets rules for the formation of objects and concepts, new and anomalous objects and concepts will implicitly challenge existing positivities. Discourses must be understood holistically as interconnecting elements. In Foucault's view, the rules for formation of concepts and objects do not exist prior to or apart from the system of statements but emerge from the configurations of the speech acts and their interrelations. Given this, a change in statements alone, or the emergence of new statements which do not cohere with the whole, will have a disruptive effect on discursive formation rules.16
Survivor speech involves multiple such effects. It is transgressive first of all in simply challenging the speaking arrangements heretofore observed: where women and children are not authoritative, where they are often not given the space to speak or be heard, and where their ability to speak against men, to contradict men and attack men, has been severely restricted to a few very specific types of cases (e.g. in U.S. dominant culture a white woman may speak against, and may even be encouraged to speak against, an African-American or Latino man). The case of Professor Anita Hill demonstrates this claim. Despite all of Professor Hill's extensive credentials, her reports about Judge Clarence Thomas elicited fantastic hypotheses about her psychological and emotional motivations from the Senate and major media and were not allowed to thwart his nomination to the Supreme Court.
Survivor speech is also transgressive to the extent that it presumes objects antithetical to the dominant discourse. Given that such terms as "husband" have historically been defined as the man to whom a woman has given unconditional sexual access, the term "husband rapist" will necessarily transform our previous understandings of the terms husband and rapist, which in turn will affect how we understand wife, woman, sexuality, heterosexuality and even man itself. The formation rules that determine the generation of statements and that tell speakers how and in what circumstances they can meaningfully form and utter specific statements about sexual violence will also be affected. The simple use of the term "husband rapist" will therefore have the effect of calling into question rules of the dominant discourse for forming statements about whether a rape occurred and how to distinguish rape and sex.
Given these features of our dominant discourse, the nature of survivor speech has a significant transgressive potential. To the extent that such speech acts cannot be subsumed within a given discourse, they will be disruptive of its positivity and at least point to the possibility of a different set of formation rules. The tendency, however, will always be for the dominant discourse to silence such speech or, failing this, to recuperate it. Silencing works through physically denying certain kinds of individuals a speaking role, e.g. through institutionalization, denial of access to listeners or readers, or "drug therapy." Recuperation works differently than silencing by allowing the speech but subsuming it within the framework of the discourse in such a way that it is disempowered and no longer disruptive. Strategies of recuperation include categorizing survivor speech as mad, as evidence of women's or children's hysterical or mendacious tendencies, or even as testimony to women's essential nature as helpless victims in need of patriarchal protection. The feminist movement has helped to reduce the effectiveness of silencing techniques, with the result that the dominant discourse has shifted its emphasis from strategies of silencing to the development of strategies of recuperation.
One important form of recuperation which Foucault discusses results from the mere negation of a dominant claim. When resistance takes the form of a simple negation, it remains within the same economy of meaning and signification, and in fact can reenforce the dominant status of the negated term. The primary example he refers to is the way in which the repression of talk about sexuality in the Victorian era reenforced the very power and significance of such talk: the more it is repressed, the more eagerness and pleasure there is in the telling and thus the more incitement to tell. (Foucault's claim is not that repression did not cause suffering but that it incited pleasures and produced a new economy of desire as well.) The key point here is that there is a mutual reenforcing between disclosure and repression which constitutes a single economy of discourse rather than a true subversion. This claim is born out by the fact that it was from within the era of Victorian "repression" that the proliferation of discourses about sexuality emerged, with myriad institutionalized explorations, new categories, sexual identities, performative descriptions, and the like.
The disclosure of survivor discourse may appear to exemplify this form of recuperation. If the survivor must overcome great odds simply to disclose a mere report, the political significance of that report may appear to exist in inverse proportion to its repression, and therefore even to be dependent on its repression. However, the discourse of survivors of sexual violence about sexual violence is not the same in structure or content as discourse about the pleasures of sexuality. Whereas the exhibitionist pleasure of reportage increases proportionally with the degree to which such reportage is frowned upon, a different economy structures reports of sexual violence. One's sense of oneself as a political heroine may be enhanced, but that alone is not enough generally to outweigh the pain and humiliation of disclosure and its forced recollection of the frightening and agonizing assault and abuse. Moreover, if disclosure can make the survivor feel courageous and in charge of her life, this is a positive effect, not a negative or recuperative one.
We would suggest, instead, that survivor discourse is closer to the discourse of the mad, as Foucault discusses it, than the discourse of the untrue or the repressed. That is, it is positioned (or at least has the potential to be positioned) with respect to the dominant discourse not in an oppositional but still harmonious complementarity but rather in violent confrontation, since its expression requires not a simple negation but a transformation of the dominant formulation. The point of contention is not over the determination of truth but over the determination of the statable. When women claim, for example, that our husband/father/brother/boyfriend is our rapist we are often not faced with a reaction of straightforward disagreement but with charges of delusion, hysteria, and madness. As Elly Danica says, when she tried to tell family members that her father raped her, "I don't get disbelief. I get shocked outrage. How could I do this to him? How could I even think this about him? How could I be such a mean and awful bitch." Later she says "I am silent. I have lost the ability to speak. He said if I told anybody he would have me locked up for being crazy. Or he would kill me. I no longer have the courage to
speak about anything (Danica 1988, 37, 54)." How many women consigned to "madness" began their journey in this way?
Our conclusions at this point must remain cautious. Given the structured nature of discourses, survivor speech has great transgressive potential to disrupt the maintenance and reproduction of dominant discourses as well as to curtail their sphere of influence. Dominant discourses can also, however, subsume survivor speech in such a way as to disempower it and diminish its disruptive potential. These discourses should not be conceptualized as static, unchanging, or monolithic entities but as fluid, flexible, and as capable of transforming to accommodate survivors' speech while not significantly changing the underlying systems of dominance. Certainly some have argued that this is occurring in major U.S. media, where previously excluded survivor speech is now included in ways that do not seriously threaten patriarchy.17 We will consider specific examples of recuperation to determine whether and how the disruptive potential of speaking out can be actualized. First, however, we will look at the effects of a very specific discursive arrangement, the one that most often frames survivor speech: the confessional.
II. The Confessional
According to Foucault, the confessional structure achieved a central role in the civil and religious practices of Western societies from the time of the codification of the sacrament of penance by the Lateran Council in 1215 (Foucault 1980, 58). The confessional constituted an imperative to speak those acts that contravened the law, God, or societal norms. In speaking these acts, the agents of the actions would ostensibly be transformed. The confessional would realign the speaker's desires from the illegitimate to the legitimate, and thus change the speaker's very subjectivity from bad to good, from outside law and truth to inside. In this way, the confessional became "one of the main rituals relied on for the production of truth (Foucault 1980, 58)."
The relationship between the expert mediator, or the person to whom one confessed, and the confessor was one of domination and submission. The expert had the power to demand that the confession be made and to decide what was to follow it, thereby constituting a "discourse of truth based on its decipherment (Foucault 1980, 67)." The confessor's status, identity, and value were all determined by the expert mediator through the process of interpreting and evaluating the confessor's discourse. Thus the confessor was by definition dependent on the expert's interpretation of the real truth of her actions, experiences, and thoughts. Much later, confession proliferated beyond the church principally into the domains of psychiatry and criminal psychology, and thus these spheres became organized partially by and through relations of discursive subordination.18
Given Foucault's analysis, although confessional modes of discourse may appear to grant survivors an empowering "permission to speak," it gives the expert mediator the power to determine the legitimacy of survivor discourse. It is the expert rather than the survivor who will determine under what conditions the survivor speaks and whether the survivor's speech is true or acceptable within the dominant discourse's codes of normality. The confessional discursive structure produces an "institutional incitement to speak (Foucault 1980, 18)." or an imperative to speak, based on the presumption (encoded in Christian church dogma through the pastoral and the penance) that the "sinner" has something to "confess."19 The imperative to speak comes in the form of a command or prescription from a dominant figure---priest, psychiatrist, or judge (usually a dominant male)---to a subordinate figure---sinner, "neurotic," "pervert," or criminal (subordinate male, or woman or child).
At the same time that speech is incited, a "policing of statements (Foucault 1980, 18)" occurs whereby the expert sifts through the raw data of the confessor's speech for signs of sin or pathology. The expert will interpret the speech according to dominant cultural codes and on the basis of his interpretation "punish, give console, or reconcile (Foucault 1980, 61-62)" and determine whether the confessor can have absolution. The confessional is always implicated in (both constituting of and constituted by) an unequal, non-reciprocal relation of power. And the explicit goal of the process of confession is always the normalization of the speaking subject and thus the recuperation of any transgressive potential which might exist.
Foucault also argued that the confessional mapped the space in which discourses on truth and sexuality might be joined, noting its genealogy from a religious ritual designed primarily around the organization of sexual practices and imbued with the belief in an intrinsic connection between the body, sin, and truth. The confessional's demand for a transformation of "sex into discourse" resulted in the "dissemination...of heterogeneous sexualities" aligned with heterogeneous subjectivities (Foucault 1980, 61). Through the confessional the parameters of normal and/or moral sexual functioning could be "discovered" or constituted and the forbidden could be articulated.20 From the early Christian dogma of the thirteenth century through to a more contemporary manifestation of the confessional in Freud's work, we find the argument that an individual's sexual history represents the "deep truth" about her moral and/or psychological character.
Moreover, in Foucault's view, the production of sex as a discourse of truth was always predicated on desire and pleasure. The confessor's disclosure was always pleasurable to hear because it paralleled the "entire painstaking review of the sexual act in its very unfolding (Foucault 1980, 19)." The sexual act itself, understood as requiring a full disclosure of mind and body, was repeated in the confessional process that demanded everything be told, be laid bare. And the pleasure produced by the confession was enhanced by the very difficulty of extracting the disclosure. This economy of pleasure therefore had an interest in constructing the confession as a difficult and arduous extraction so as to invest it with more meaning and power and to intensify its pleasure. This required that the confession occur in a privatized space, intended to reinforce the perceived link between sexuality and the "deep, hidden truth" of subjectivity, revealed by the expert mediator as an "individual secret." Given a situation in which sexuality is said to represent the core truth of one's identity as a person but can be revealed only in a private space by a designated interpreter, the power of the expert over the confessor can indeed become enormous.
These recuperative features of the confessional are exemplified in Freudian seduction theory. Many feminists and sexual violence survivors have argued that Freud's attribution of sexual abuse reports to neuroses and internal fantasies effectively rendered the real events invisible and hindered attempts to deal with sexual abuse. As long as women's accounts of sexual abuse could be subsumed under the category of the fantastical or as mere theatrics, they were "far less threatening to the fabric of society (Masson 1986, 5)."
But the seduction theory reveals more than the power of androcentric theories about women's experience. Because the seduction theory originated in the confessional the confessional discursive structure of the therapeutic situation, it also reveals the role that the confessional has in subverting women's autonomy. In a structure in which an individual woman transmits her feelings, as reports of "raw data," to an expert entrusted with the task of interpreting the truth of her experience back to her and prescribing diagnosis and treatment, we see how dangerous the confessional model can be. Because of the authority granted them in the discursive arrangement of therapy, many nineteenth-century French and German psychiatrists were able to reject their patients' reports of real sexual assaults and repackage them as internal fantasies, often traumatizing the women for the rest of their lives.21
The seduction theory also effected a shift of focus away from the perpetrator of the crime and onto the victim, a shift prefigured in the confessional itself, which is organized around locating the problem within the confessor. On the basis of Freudian discourse, many doctors oriented their discussion with and about their patients around the reason for the victim's false accusations, having assumed the perpetrator's innocence of his perceived character in the community based on seduction theories themselves. In such a forum a woman's report of sexual violence was set up to be construed as what French physician Alfred Fournier saw as the "simulation of sexual abuse (Masson 1986, 106)." Fournier wrote that it is the "simulators' perfidious cunning and heartrending despair of their victims [that forced him]...to denounce such monstrosities and expose them to public indignation (Masson 1986, 107)." The word victim here is being assigned to the man accused of rape. For Fournier, the accused perpetrator's speech by itself, the fact that he "energetically denies it [the rape]," serves as proof of the man's innocence. Here, the disclosure and speaking out by victims of sexual violence gets recuperated into proof of their own pathology, while the speech of the accused perpetrator is taken as decisively authoritative and privileged.
A more contemporary version of recuperation is the current public fascination with survivors of childhood sexual abuse who develop multiple personality disorders. Truddi Chase, who has been diagnosed with such a disorder, has appeared twice on the nationally televised talk show "The Oprah Winfrey Show," each time with a psychiatrist who is billed as an expert in these disorders. In the shows, Chase occupies the position of the spectacle which the media requires for viewer interest while the psychiatrist sitting next to her establishes the validity of Chase's discourse by reference to dominant theories. The shows are structured around the assumption that Chase's own description of her ninety-two personalities will not (and should not) be believed by the audience until the expert validates it as true and not a lie or an act. What is especially alarming about these dialogues is not only that Chase's subversive speech patterns are recuperated within the terms of a "scientific" demarcation between the sane and the insane, the normal and the abnormal, and the medically treatable and the untreatable. These are binaries that effectively efface the political content and subversive potential of Chase's speech through discursive segregations. Such conversations are also distressing because Chase and other victims of multiple personality disorder are now presented as functional respondents to traumatic experiences. By splitting their ego identities and isolating their memories of sexual abuse, these survivors are able to develop alternative, supposedly untraumatized identities who can function "normally" in society. But by heralding this dramatic act of self-splitting as a functional survival mechanism, the expert psychiatrist reveals a preference for system stability (with the system a society in which there is ongoing rape and assault of children within families) over system disruption. The mechanism of multiple personalities causes the survivor rather than the society to bear the burden of her own survival. To call this a functional, positive response, as the expert does, is to valorize a terribly unjust distribution of burdens caused by sexual abuse.22
Many more unfortunate examples exist of the recuperation of survivor speech through the confessional structure. In the past decade first-person sexual-assault accounts have made headlines and been featured prominently on TV talk shows, reaching an audience of millions. The very act of speaking out has become performance and spectacle. The growth of this phenomenon raises questions: has it simply replayed confessional modes and ended up being recuperated without subversive effect by dominant patriarchal discourses, or has it been able to create new spaces within these discourses and to begin to develop an autonomous counter- discourse, one capable of empowering survivors? Given that power operates not simply or primarily through exclusion and repression but through the very production and proliferation of discourses, should we not be more than a little wary of contributing to the recent proliferation of survivor discourse? The answers to these questions will involve paying close attention to the structural features of the discursive arrangements, as we have tried to show in these last two sections.
III. Survivor Speech: Methods of Recuperation
On a recent "The Home Show" hosted by Gary Collins two student activists were invited from our university to discuss rape on college campuses. Our university was chosen because it had recently gained national notoriety for the high number of rapes reported by its students and for the occurrence of one of rapes on the chancellor's lawn. The producers contacted a student group founded for the express purpose of discussing and preventing such rapes and asked specifically for survivors who would appear on the show. They also said that they would prefer recent survivors and survivors of rapes that occurred on the campus itself. The students in the group discussed this, and one survivor volunteered to do the show, along with a male member of the group who is not a survivor.
When the segment began, the camera zoomed in on Tracy (the survivor) as Collins and his co-host, Dana Fleming, asked her to tell the audience "what happened." Tracy proceeded to outline her acquaintance rape, focusing on the normality of the situation and on her own actions prior to the assault. Her goal was to say something useful for other women who may be struggling with the aftermath of an assault and feeling as uncertain about what to do as she had felt. Fleming, wanted to focus on the violent act itself; she asked Tracy to explain to the audience whether she had done "anything that in any way could have provoked him [the rapist]." Fleming prefaced her question by saying "You have to understand that we are on your side but I think the question has to be asked," implying that the audience may not comprehend Tracy's behavior. This, of course, made assumptions about the audience's authority and ability to judge or evaluate her status as a speaker, positioning it as unfriendly or skeptical. This involved a displacement of Fleming's own reaction onto the audience.
And thus it was not Collins but his female co-host who put Tracy in the position of having to defend herself. Tracy tried bravely to respond by shifting to the issue of why the assumption is usually made that the woman is responsible. Then Collins took over, taking the focus off Tracy to ask what parents could do in preparing their daughters for college to reduce the risk of rape. An "expert on rape prevention counseling" then proceeded to discuss the ways in which women in our society have difficulty in communicating their sexual desires and how sex can be more pleasurable for men when it is done with a willing partner.
What did this show do? It produced an emotional moment of a survivor's self-disclosure to get audience attention, it focused a discussion of rape on women's behavior, and it created or re-created a scenario where older women are skeptical and judgmental of younger women and where older men are paternalistic protectors. Tracy became an object of analysis and evaluation for experts and media-appointed representatives of the masses (Collins and Fleming) to discuss. The camera insistently cut away to Tracy's face even when others were speaking, as if to display the "example" being discussed. Tracy's attempt to focus on the institutional and cultural ways in which rape is excused or is blamed on the victim was effectively circumvented when the show's hosts put her in the position of having to defend her own actions and when they directed the discussion to the ways in which women should change their behavior to prevent rape and how their (paternalistic) parents could educate them toward this end. The contribution of the "expert" was to reiterate the hosts' focus on women's behavior and parental protection. When she was asked to say something about men, she discussed the enhancement of their sexual pleasure. The entire show was characterized by an objectification of survivors, a reaction to survivor accounts than mixed pity and skepticism, and a deflection away from men's responsibility for rape. And the repeated invocation of the idea that "our daughters" leave "a protected environment" when they leave home for college reinforced the myth that rapes most often happen away from home, when the reverse is the case. The notion that the "home" signals safety and protection is a claim that is not only wrong but complicitous with sexual violence.23
Numerous "Donahue," "Geraldo," and "Sally Jessy Raphael" (and, to a lesser extent, "The Oprah Winfrey Show") shows have produced similar effects. These shows display the emotions of survivors for public consumption and unfailingly to mediate the survivors' discourse through expert analysis and interpretation. Usually the format follows this pattern: at the start of the show survivors are shown in close-up, "telling their stories." The host of the show makes sure to ask questions that are sufficiently probing to get the survivors to cry on screen (this can be accomplished by discovering their most vulnerable issues in a pre-show interview and then keying in when cameras are rolling). After a few minutes of this, the host usually says "wow" or something comparable and breaks to a commercial. The show resumes with a period of audience questions; then (or sometimes beforehand) the inevitable expert shows up: almost invariably a white man or woman with a middle-class and professional appearance, who, with a sympathetic but dispassionate air, explains to the audience the nature, symptoms, and possible therapies for such crimes of violence. The survivors are reduced to victims, represented as pathetic objects who can only recount their experiences as if these are transparent, and who offer pitiable instantiations of the universal truths the experts reveal. These shows especially like to get victims with personality disorders, such as multiple personalities, because this can expand opportunities for sensationalism and widen the emotional distance between the audience and the survivors, making it easier to objectify them as victims. Rivera consistently heightens the drama of his shows by including participants who contradict the stories of the survivors. His shows are often organized around survivors, rather than perpetrators, explaining and defending themselves.24
In a culture where audience sensations are dulled by graphic depictions of violence (both real and fictional on television and in films) and in which mass sensibilities have atrophied in the face of late capitalism, these shows provide a moment in which the audience can confront real, raw, and intense feelings (possibly feelings borne of their own experiences as well as those recounted by victims.) This emotional "shock value" is their use value as a media commodity. It appears, however, that the goal of producing disturbing feelings for the audience must be tempered with a dose of moderation: too few feelings will make for a boring show but too many may frighten and alienate viewers and induce them to change the channel. The mediation of a coolly disposed expert can serve as a mechanism for displacing identification with the victims to reduce the emotional power of the survivor presence.
Now, the preceding account may appear to be an excessively pessimistic reading of these programs. Certainly it is a one-sided analysis. The media moguls, producers, and show hosts do not have absolute control over audience reactions to their products. In a discursive regime in which survivor stories are excluded speech, hearing these stories can be very powerful for a survivor in the audience. This has at least the potential to help the survivor name and validate her experience and to bring the trauma out of the privacy of her psyche and into the public arena. And the visual image of the survivor, although it can be used to objectify, has the potential to explode stereotypes about who survivors are as well as counter an invisibility that in the long run serves only to hide the true nature of patriarchy, a patriarchy that condones, if not promotes, sexual violence.
But recuperation occurs when the public arena does not take up the survivor's discourse except as a way to experience a sensational moment of confession. And the transgressive potential of the discourse is lost when the victim is reified as pure object, in need of expert interpretation, psychiatric help, and audience sympathy. The most transgressive moments have occurred on TV talk shows when the splits between victim and audience and between recorder of experience and interpreter of experience are obstructed. This has occurred not surprisingly on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" when Winfrey has referred to her own history as a survivor and thus subverted her ability to be a more objective and dispassionate observer of the victims on the stage. Because of her own identification with survivors, Winfrey rarely allows them to be put in the position of having to defend the truth of their stories or their own actions. And when the focus is on child sexual abuse, Winfrey does not always defer to an expert but presents herself as a survivor/expert, still working through and theorizing her own experience.
One particularly transgressive segment of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" stands out: nearly (or possibly all) the entire audience of about two hundred women were themselves survivors and a wide-ranging "horizontal" group discussion took place with little deferral to the designated expert.25 This show had the most potential to thwart the efforts to contain and recuperate the disruptive potential of survivor discourse precisely because it could not be contained or segregated within a separate, less threatening realm: there was too much of it for any one expert to effectively handle and the victim-expert split could not be maintained. Without a segregated discursive arrangement, victims of sexual violence could speak as experts on sexual violence. For at least one brief moment on television, survivors were the subjects of their own lives.
IV. Dangers of the Confessional Mode
Survivor discourse and the tactic of speaking out may often involve a confessional mode of speech including personal disclosure, autobiographical narrative, and the expression of feelings and emotions. This mode of speech, as we have discussed, is wrought with dangers. As in the television examples above, one of the dangers of the confessional discourse structure is that the survivor speech becomes a media commodity that has a use value based on its sensationalism and drama and that circulates within the relations of media competition to boost ratings and wake up viewers. In this way, a goal or effect probably not intended by the survivors is made the organizing principle for how the show gets arranged, produced, and edited. The results of this process may well have no positive effect on the production/reproduction of practices of sexual violence.26
Another drawback of the confessional mode is that it often focuses attention onto the victim and her psychological state and deflects it away from the perpetrator. Although a rule of exclusion is broken when a survivor names and describes her experience, the move from privatization to a public or social arena does not occur if the survivor speech gets constructed as a transmission of her "inner" feelings and emotions, which are discussed separately from their relationship to the perpetrator's actions and the society's rules of discourse. The discussion of the survivor's "inner" self and feelings replaces rather than leads to a discussion of links to the "exterior" and ways to transform it.
Given its historical trajectory through religious ritual to institutional therapy, the confessional mode can also invite or appear to necessitate the invocation of a dispassionate mediator. If there is someone playing the role of the confessor, historical precedence and the logic of the confessional's discursive structure dictates that there needs to be someone who is being confessed to someone who has the role of the absolver, interpreter and/or judge. This strips the survivor of her authority and agency. Such an effect can be mitigated if the one being confessed to is also a survivor, for example, within a survivors support group. Disclosing to another survivor works to undermine the assumption that a mediator must be neutral and objective and must derive her authority not from "personal experience" but from "abstract knowledge."
The confessional mode also reproduces the notion of "raw experience" and sets up binary structures between experience and theory, feelings and knowledge, subjective and objective, and mind and body. These binaries are instantiated in the discursive arrangement of the confessional, which splits speaking roles on the basis of these divisions. Such a split is not only possible but considered necessary for the development of a credible theory because of the internal structure of the binary, which subordinates one term to the other. The first part of the binary---experience, feelings, emotional pain---provides the raw data needed to produce theory and knowledge. But these "subjective" entities will be obstacles to the production of theory unless they are made sharply subordinate to and contained and controlled by the theory, knowledge, and "objective" assessments of the second half of the binary structure. The confessional constructs a notion of theory as necessarily other than, split from, and dominant over experience. And it creates a situation in which the survivor--because of her experience and feelings on the issue--is paradoxically the least capable person of serving as the authority or expert. The survivor's views on sexual violence will often enjoy less credence than anyone else's.27 The female witnesses who testified before the U.S. Senate on behalf of Anita Hill were each asked before giving testimony whether they had been victims of sexual harassment. If they had been, they likely would have been disqualified as incapable of providing "objective" and therefore credible testimony.
There is one final danger survivors face in confessional discourse. When breaking the silence is taken up as the necessary route to recovery or as a privileged political tactic, it might become an imperative whereby survivors are coerced to confess, to recount their assaults, to give details, and even to do so publicly. Their refusal to comply might then be read as weakness of will or as reenacted victimization. But it may be that survival itself sometimes necessitates a refusal to recount or even a refusal to disclose and deal with the assault or abuse. At any given time, some survivors will have difficulty emotionally or financially dealing with their experience of sexual violence. However, we must recognize that to view survivors as "ill-equipped" or as emotionally defective essentializes the survivors of violent sexual crimes as "the problem." Our effort as survivors is to mark out a space for the emotional dimensions of this crime while not falling back on discursive arrangements that once more recuperate such emotions and essentialize the survivor once more as a "victim."
As we know from our own experiences and from countless other survivor accounts, survivors might make healthy decisions not to tell anyone about the assault, not to talk endlessly about it, or to decide they will not deal with it today, this month, even this year. Many survivors are put in risk of physical retaliation by disclosure and may also face difficulties on their jobs, negative repercussions for their supportive relationships or the welfare of their children, and debilitating emotional trauma. Disclosures can elicit horrifying flashbacks, insomnia, eating disorders, depression, back pain, and other assorted problems, which the survivor often has to hide from co-workers and cope with alone. The coercive stance that one must tell, must join a support group, or must go into therapy, is justly deserving of the critique Foucault offers of the way in which the demand to speak involves dominating power and an imperialist theoretical structure (Foucault 61, 1980). This is, of course, doubly the case when it is an expert, therapist, or "well-meaning" outsider who demands of the survivor that she speak.
Our summary of these dangers is not meant as an argument that speaking about one's experiences on TV or in any public arena will inevitably be recuperative rather than transgressive. The nature of the discursive landscape involves enough indeterminacy and instability to resist absolute predictability or mono-dimensional effects. As we stated earlier, a show's producers cannot have total control over audience reactions. However, in evaluating the likely political effects of various speaking events, the structural arrangements of the speakers and hearers will be key determinants, and the dangers listed above are nonetheless significant even though they are not inevitable. In the following and final section we want to turn to a more constructive question. How can we maximize the transgressive potential of survivor discourse in such a way that the autonomy and empowerment of the survivor who is speaking as well as of survivors elsewhere will be enhanced rather than undermined?
Clearly, a primary disabling factor in the confessional structure is the role of the expert mediator. In order to alter the power relations between the discursive participants we need to reconfigure or eliminate this role. And this requires that the bifurcation between experience and analysis embodied in the confessional's structure be abolished. We need to transform arrangements of speaking to create spaces where survivors are authorized to be both witnesses and experts, reporters of experience and theorists of experience. Such transformations will alter existing subjectivities as well as structures of domination and relations of power. In such a scenario, survivors might, in bell hooks' words, "use confession and memory as tools of intervention" rather than as instruments for recuperation.28
In her essay, "Feminist Politicization: A Comment," hooks offers a suggestion about how the production of personal narratives can effect political transformations instead of increasing the privatization and individualization of political phenomena.29 In part, this discussion connects to the ongoing debate among feminists about the political effects of consciousness raising groups. Critics of CR argued that it moved politics into the realm of the personal and the individual, and emphasized individual transformation at the expense of struggle in larger social spaces. In our view this critique correctly perceived the recuperative strategy of the therapeutic establishment at work in CR---which promoted a solution of private therapy geared toward social functioning rather than political action geared toward social change. But the critique erred in presupposing once again a personal/political split. Individual empowerment through therapy or CR is itself a political action with social consequences (unless the therapy is not designed to empower but to shut the person up, which has until recently been the purpose of most therapies designed for women).
Another more current critique of the production of personal narratives has been that they essentialize experience and often identity as well. This happens when individual narratives are related as if they are not narratives but simple reports, thus obscuring the way in which all experience is itself discursively mediated. In hooks' view the realm of the personal can become politically efficacious and transformative, and need not obscure the conditions of the production of experience, if women do not merely "name" their experiences but also "place that experience within a theoretical context."30 In this case, "Story-telling becomes a process of historization. It does not remove women from history but enables us to see ourselves as part of history."31 If the narration of experience is not bifurcated from theory, then, as hooks suggests, the act of speaking out can become a way for women to come to power.32
One already existing example of this is self-facilitated survivor support groups in which speaking out is done among other survivors and in which the process of analysis and evaluation of experience is done collectively. Such a collective process may enhance a survivor's individual ability to act as the theorist of her own experience.
We need not only new ways to analyze the personal and the political but new ways to conceptualize these terms. Experience is not "pre-theoretical" nor is theory separate or separable from experience, and both are always already political. A project of social change, therefore, does not need to "get beyond" the personal narrative or the confessional in order to become political but rather to analyze the various effects of the confessional in different contexts and struggle to create discursive spaces in which we can maximize its disruptive effects.
A non-bifurcating ontology of experience and theory requires us to relinquish the idea that in reporting our experiences we are merely reporting internal events without interpretation. To become the theorists of our own experience requires us to become aware of the ways in which our subjectivity will be constituted by our discourses, and aware of the danger that even in our own confessionals within autonomous spaces we can construct ourselves as reified victims or responsible for our own victimization.
This recognition that no experience is "pre-theoretical" does not entail a complete relativizing of experience or of the effects of sexual violence. It does entail that there are multiple (not infinite) ways to experience sexual violence, e.g. as deserved or not deserved, as humiliating to the victim or as humiliating to the perpetrator, or as an inevitable feature of women's lot or as a socially sanctioned but eradicable evil. And this more adequately reflects the experience most of us have had of "coming to" our anger and even our hurt only after we have adopted the political and theoretical position that we did not deserve such treatment nor bring it on ourselves.
Our analysis suggests that the formulation of the primary political tactic for survivors should not be a simple incitement to speak out, since this formulation leaves unanalyzed the conditions of speaking and thus makes us too vulnerable to recuperative discursive arrangements. Before we speak we need to look at where the incitement to speak originates, what relations of power and domination may exist between those who incite and those who are asked to speak, as well as to whom the disclosure is directed. We must also struggle to maintain autonomy over the conditions of our speaking out if we are to develop its subversive potential. And an important aspect of this autonomy is the disenfranchisement of outside expert authority over our discourse, thus obstructing their ability to "police our statements," put us in a defensive posture, or determine the focus and framework of our discourse.
We want to stress that we are not arguing that (non-survivor) experts cannot contribute to the empowerment and recovery of survivors. This contradicts our own experience and those of nearly every survivor we know. Our point is that, as we begin to break our silences, we must be wary of helping to create a public discursive arena that confers an a priori advantage on the expert's analysis and credibility over the survivor's. We may be able to use expert help in individual and even sometimes in group therapy situations, but we do not need authoritative mediation of our experience for public consumption or for experiential validation. Nor will we submit our experience uncritically to the judgement of outsider's theories: we ourselves will determine which theories have validity and usefulness, or we will construct our own.
Thus our argument here is not directed against theory per se, but against theories which position themselves as dominant over a survivor discourse conceptualized as "non-theoretical." The point is to redefine theory and re-understand its relationship to experience, and then to claim it for ourselves. Both the psychiatric theories and Foucault's theories of speech and sexuality (and anyone else's, for that matter) can then be submitted to an interrogation on our terms, rather than allowed to pass judgement on us as if from a more "theoretically advanced" position.
The issue of emotional disclosure is also important to consider here, since it is used to establish the hierarchy between expert and survivor and to discredit survivors in a variety of ways. Some scenarios demand that the survivor discourse involve an intense and explicit emotional content before it will be believable. If the survivor does not cry when she tells her story, she will not be believed, and this is true in places as diverse as police stations and TV talk shows. And certainly in all media situations, some emotional content is encouraged because of its commodity use value for the anesthetized market of overly stimulated media consumers. However, in other scenarios, the emotional content of survivor discourse has to be toned down to be accepted: if a survivor is giving a speech about the issue of sexual violence, for example, she is permitted to be angry but not too angry and to be emotional or upset but not too upset. If the authors of this paper had at some point disclosed our own intense emotions on this issue, even if it was done in connection to a relevant point, it is likely that some of our readers would be concerned about the "inappropriateness" of such emotional content in the middle of a theoretical discussion. And on this basis it is possible that our arguments in other sections of the paper might be called into doubt as well. "Too much" emotion is often viewed as conscious manipulation, evidence of lack of control, or as simply inappropriately personal. Within a context where the figure of the female hysteric, popularly understood as imagining and thus producing her own trauma and incapable of self-control, is ever present as a background code interrogating each representation of female anger, a discursive strategy which might be viewed in another context as original and effective is here always under suspicion. The fear of being seen as "overreacting" has quelled many survivors' desire to speak out. The emotional content of survivor discourse is thus policed in regard to certain rules and codes, which vary from context to context.
We must therefore question a position which assumes that it is always a good thing for survivors to "control" our emotions in regard to our experiences of sexual violence. Who benefits the most from such control? Certainly it is true that survivors benefit in the sense that with some control we can continue to function in society, keep our jobs and relationships, and thus get some of our important needs met. However, uncontainable emotional outbursts may cause harm not only to survivors but also threaten to disrupt the smooth flow of patriarchal social commerce. When such outbursts or displays are turned into commodities to boost ratings, their impact has been recuperated to serve the needs of commodity capital. We must develop and identify methods and forums in which their expression can actualize the subversive potential of survivor outrage. And it is important to remember that too many survivors feel no such outrage and experience little or no anger except directed at ourselves. Women's righteous anger on our own behalf is a success won through political and theoretical struggle. The difficulty we are made to have in experiencing anger on our own behalf is indicative of the threat it poses for patriarchal society. In what ways can we express this anger and unleash its disruptive potential while minimizing the adverse effect on survivors?
One possibility that has been attempted recently is the method of anonymous accusation. In the Fall of 1990 students at Brown University began listing the names of rapists on the walls of women's bathrooms.33 By not signing such lists, and by choosing a relatively secluded place in which to write, the women could minimize their own exposure and recrimination, though more than a few survivors felt too afraid to participate even in this for fear that the perpetrator would guess or surmise who had written their name. But this represents an interesting and innovative attempt to make survivor discourse public in such a way as to minimize the dangers of speaking out for survivors yet maximize disruption.
And in fact, this incident created a tremendous amount of disruption. There was great consternation on the part of the named perpetrators and frantic responses by administrators over their inability to "contain" the discourse about sexual assault on their campus. Despite the fact that custodians were instructed (in some cases against their wishes) to erase the lists as soon as they appeared, the lists kept reappearing, and grew from ten names to about thirty. The "Brown Alumni Monthly" reported that the university was currently in the midst of a "thorough examination of its policies relating to sexual assault" when the list began to appear. In other words, there was already an officially organized and sanctioned discursive arrangement for speaking about the issue when the students decided to create their own discursive space on the bathroom walls. Their belief that the official avenues for survivor discourse were ineffective was clearly the motivation behind the graffiti, as evidenced by what the women wrote. Here is a sample:
[X] is a rapist.
Report the animal.
If you think "reporting the animal" will do any good at all, you have a lot to learn about the judiciary system.
Let's start naming names. If we don't take care of each other, no one will.
Who erased all the names?
Don't let this get washed away. Fight!
[Y] is a rapist. Nothing can get him off this campus. He's been tried, went home for a week for "psychiatric evaluation." Rich white boys can do whatever they want on this campus.
You have erased our list, but that doesn't erase their crimes. We, the survivors, are still here.
The administration was so incensed by their loss of discursive control that they publicly accused the list-writers of libel, harassment and of "striking against the heart of the American judicial system." They also wrote to the men on the list offering to help them file a complaint. However, the bathroom lists ultimately resulted in an increased commitment by the university to strengthen and improve their procedures of dealing with crimes of sexual violence, and the creation of two new administrative positions to deal with women's issues.
This suggests again that Foucault is correct to argue that speech itself---the very words, their discursive context, and the conditions in which they are spoken---is a critical site and object of conflict. We conclude that survivor strategy must continue to develop and explore ways in which we can gain autonomy within (not over but within) the conditions of our discourse. And the disruptive potential of this strategy must override a concern about "bringing sex into discourse" since a strategy of discursive autonomy will resist the effort to inscribe this discourse into dominant codes. The applicability of Foucault's analysis to survivor discourse thus ends here: what we need to do is not retreat, as he might suggest, from bringing sexual violence into discourse but rather to create new discursive forms and spaces in which to gain autonomy within this process. In a poem entitled "One Hundred and Fifty-Seven Ways to Tell My Incest Story" Emily Levy expresses her determination to speak out in ways that cannot be contained, recuperated, or ignored:34
Tell it in Spanish
In Sign Language
Tell it as a poem
As a play
As a letter to President Reagan
Tell it as if my life depended on it....
Tell it as a court case
As a congressional debate
As if the power of children were respected
Tell it as domestic terrorism
As a national sport.
Tell it as a jump-rope game...
Tell it as graffiti
As a religious service
Tell it as a classified ad...
Tell it as a TV commercial
As a science experiment
As a country western song.
Tell it as ancient history
As science fiction.
Tell it in your sleep...
Tell it as a map of the world
As if I were still forbidden to speak the
Tell it so it will never happen again.
1 We would like to offer our gratitude to the following people for their generous help with this paper: Dympna Callahan, Susan Jeffords, Tracy Lawrence, Ingeborg Majer O'Sickey, and Robyn Wiegman.
2 Michel Foucault, "The Discourse on Language," in The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language, trans. by A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon, 1972), p. 216.
3 VOICES can be reached at VOICES in Action, Inc., P. O. Box 148309, Chicago IL 60614, (312) 327-1500; Ellen Bass and Louise Thornton eds. I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (New York: Harper and Row: 1983); Toni McNarrow and Yarrow Morgan, eds. Voices in the Night: Women Speaking About Incest (Minneapolis: Cleis Press [P. O. Box 8281, Minneapolis MN 55408], 1982); Sister Vera Gallagher Speaking Out, Fighting Back: Women Who Have Survived Child Sexual Abuse in the Home (Seattle: Madrona Publishers [P. O. Box 22667, Seattle WA 98122], 1985). The metaphor of unsilencing what has been made secret is also found in these titles: Anna Clark Women's Silence Men's Violence: Sexual Assault in England 1770-1845 (London: Pandora press, 1987); Diana Russell The Specter Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women (New York: Basic Books, 1986); Sandra Butler Conspiracy of Silence (San Francisco: Volcano Press, 1985); Caren Adams and Jennifer Fay No More Secrets: Protecting Your Child From Sexual Assault (San Luis Obispo: Impact Publishers, 1981); Jennifer Fay et al He Told Me Not to Tell (Renton: King County Rape Relief [305 So. 43rd, Renton WA 98055], 1979); Linda Sanford The Silent Children: A Parent;s Guide to the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse (New York: McGraw Hill, 1980); Karen Johnson The Trouble with Secrets (Seattle: Parenting Press, 1986); Carolyn Polese Promise Not to Tell (New York: Human Sciences Press, 1985); Elly Danica, Don't: A Woman's Word (San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1988); Florence Rush, The Best Kept Secret (New York: McGraw Hill, 1980).
4 See the chapter "Breaking Silence" from The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), esp. p. 95.
5 Voices in the Night: Women Speaking About Incest, p. 15.
6 See, for example, Liz Kelly, Surviving Sexual Violence (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p. 13.
7 There is a market among pornographers for survivors; e.g., Penthouse magazine paid Jessica Hahn, a rape survivor, large sums of money to pose, and have tried to entice other publicly known survivors to pose for them.
8 We realize that part of Foucault's project as well is to criticize the authority of experts, and this is in fact one of the features we find useful in his work. Our concern is with the way in which Foucault's texts are sometimes used as authorizing citations against certain kinds of voices, despite his own repudiation of that role.
9 Michel Foucault, "The Discourse on Language," p. 216.
10 The concept of mediation comes from a Hegelian tradition which opposes the notion that experience or the self exists in a pure, uninterpreted, directly apprehensible state. For Marx, labour or practical activity provides the mediator between human beings and nature, whereas for Foucault, discourses and epistemes would seem to play this role. But the critical point here is that no entity such as "human being," "nature," or "experience," can be described or apprehended prior to its mediation. See "Mediation" in Tom Bottomore, ed., A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), pp. 329-330.
11 The analysis in this paper is primarily applicable to the experiences and the situation of survivors who are female. We wish to stress that the reason for this is not because we do not recognize the existence and special difficulties of male survivors. The significant majority of the problem of sexual violence occurs between male perpetrators and victims who are women or children (because of the difficulties with reporting, all statistics are provisional, but the portion of sexual violence that fits this model ranges between 80% to 98%), but this fact means there are unfortunately many men as well who are survivors of sexual violence from their childhood and adolescence. However, the reason for our focus is not based on numbers, but because the strategies by which survivors are silenced vary by the gender of the survivor. The violations and silencing of women and children are intrinsically connected to the system of male dominance and to ancient structures of asymmetrical discursive relationships, and this is true even when the victim is male and the perpetrator is female. To some extent children occupy the same position vis-a-vis dominant male power regardless of their gender. But there is also some specificity to the relationship females have with respect to the dominant discursive structures as opposed to males. For example, where a young girl may not be believed or be called crazy, a young boy is more likely to be silenced through homophobia. We regret that we have not had the time or space to explore adequately the specific strategies imposed on adult male survivors, but it is likely that we will not be the best theorists for that issue in any case.
12 Truddi Chase, "Oprah Winfrey Show," May 21, 1990.
13 Many prosecutors still routinely refuse to put forward cases that involve a child's testimony against a male adult's, unless there is "corroboration" by physical evidence or a witness. And many prosecutors will defend such decisions arguing that, though they themselves believe the child, it is extremely difficult to get juries to convict on the basis of a child's testimony by itself.
14 Linda Tschirhart Sanford, as quoted by Florence Rush in The Best Kept Secret, pp. 172-173. Most perpetrators against boys under 12 are not exclusively homosexual, but will also assault girls.
15 For example, Sandi Gallant, a policewoman and investigator with the San Francisco Police Department, says that, concerning ritual sexual abuse cases, "The reason so few of these cases are successfully prosecuted is that the information is so unpleasant that no one wants to believe it. The investigators hear these stories and they say to themselves, "No, this can't be true," and so they don't write it down, they don't document it...The most unfortunate thing is that the victims are so often accused of making all this up. The victims end up being the suspects, and the suspects end up being the victims." See The Courage to Heal, pp. 420-421.
16 Liz Kelly offers an insightful discussion of the ways in which the dominant categories of sexual violence and conceptualizations of sex offenders in the literature of psychology and sociology function to minimize the harms to victims and deflect responsibility from the perpetrator. Thus, they function in general as an attempt to minimize the disruptive potential of survivor reports on dominant discourses and practices. See her op. cit.
17 See for example the review article by Louise Thornton, "The Personal is Apolitical," in the "Women's Review of Books," March 1990, where she criticizes self-help books and "I-story" collections as (what we would call) species of recuperative survivor discourse.
18 We do not mean to suggest that discursive subordination operates only in the spheres of psychiatry and criminal psychology, thus leaving out economic, sexual, or social subordination. Rather discursive subordination, as we understand it, is also inseparable from, inclusive of, transformed by, and subject to these other oppressive relations themselves.
19 Foucault traces the Western evolution of the Christian dogma through its focus on penance, absolution, and its use of the confessional discursive structure early in the thirteenth century through to our present day. While once bound exclusively to the Christian church, at present the confessional structure has been radically decontextualized oftentimes working outside contemporary Christian doctrines. Yet this confessional structure still produces similar discursive arrangements. Historically within Christian dogma, Foucault states that the disclosure of sexual acts was the "privileged theme of confession (Foucault 1980, 61)." In this specific ritual of discourse, both within and outside Christian dogma, the one who speaks the confession is always also the subject of that speech. It is this ritual of confession that continues to unfold "within a power relationship, for one does not confess without the presence (or the virtual presence) of a partner who is not simply an interlocutor but the authority who requires the confession, prescribes it, and appreciates it (Foucault 1980, 61)."
20 According to Foucault, the Christian pastoral prescribed the imperative that Christians must confess all acts to seek to transform their every desires into discourse (Foucault 1980, 21). The confessional was the space in which those vocabularies censored elsewhere were not simply allowed to be spoken. As Foucault elucidates, this "duty to confess" prescribed earliest by the Christian church also effectively rendered such speech "morally acceptable, and technically useful (Foucault 1980, 21)."
21 For a more sustained argument on this view see Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson's A Dark Science: Women, Sexuality and Psychiatry in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Noonday Press, 1986) with an introduction by Catharine MacKinnon. As MacKinnon asserts about these German and French psychiatrists, "the doctors say that the victims imagine sexual abuse, which is fantasy, not real, and that their sexuality caused it (xiv)."
22 This is not meant to deny that the act is indicative of enormous strength and resilience on the part of the survivors.
23 It is complicitous because it makes it more difficult for women and children to name their fathers, brothers, uncles, and neighbors as their attackers and be believed. It also makes it more likely that, internalizing the ideology of "home," women and children will blame themselves when the romantic image is not fulfilled, rather than understanding the structural dangers inherent to a system that makes women and children vulnerable to and dependent on men.
24 For example, on Geraldo's November 14, 1989 show on "campus rape", one of the survivors was challenged by the Vice Provost for Student Life at her university, thus undermining the credibility of her disclosure and analysis by presenting the skeptical and contradictory views of an "authority," i.e. someone higher up on the dominant discursive hierarchy. It also diverted the discussion from its earlier focus---on the problems of security and support procedures for survivors on college campuses---to a debate over whether a rape really occurred at all.
25 April 14, 1988.
26 This point as well as others are corroborated by a study that sociologist Joel Best undertook of the cultural representations of child abuse in the U.S. over the last thirty years. Best demonstrates, for example, that the structure of news shows is such that they tend to describe the problem rather than explain it or consider solutions, and that their descriptions are usually misleading, e.g. in characterizing the problem as involving strangers in most cases rather than family members and as caused by individual deviance rather than social forces. He also shows that "...the press is most likely to repeat...claims that are constructed so that...there seems to be a consensus among knowledgeable, interested parties, and the explanations and solutions offered are consistent with existing institutionalized authority. Of course, radical demands for social change cannot meet the latter two criteria, and it is not then surprising that radical claims rarely surface on the network news." See his Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern About Child-Victims (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), p. 110 (our emphasis).
27 Valerie Heller explains this point, in terms of child sexual abuse, as follows: "The myth is that adults who were sexually abused see sexual abuse everywhere...that they are 'too sensitive' because of what happened to them...The result is that...the survivor's reality is seen as fantasy. The truth is not that sexual abuse survivors are 'too sensitive.' It simply is that we know what abuse looks like, what it feels like, and what effect it will have on the abused." See her excellent article "Sexual Liberalism and Survivors of Sexual Abuse," The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism ed. Dorchen Leidholt and Janice Raymond (New York: Pergamon Press, 1990), p. 159. In The Second Rape the authors discuss a case where a rape survivors account is discredited on the grounds that she was molested as a child. (pp.) This has been the experience of nearly every survivor we know, as well as our own. One of the authors of this article is currently the target of a rumor campaign, directed against her whistle-blowing on a sexual harassment case, on the grounds that she is "overly sensitive because of her childhood experience and because she is Hispanic." Here, racist images of Latinas as "over-emotional" collude conveniently with sexist dismissals of women on the same grounds.
28 Bell hooks, "Feminist Politicization: A Comment," in Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (Boston: South End Press, 1989), p. 110.
29 For an example of the discussion over personal narratives and whether or not they are political, see the review article by Louise Armstrong in the "Women's Review of Books," op. cit., and the heated ensuing debate in the Letters column in the following issue.
30 Hooks, p. 110.
31 Hooks, p. 110.
32 Hooks, p. 129.
33 This incident can be read about in People magazine, December 17, 1990, p. 102, and in the "Brown Alumni Monthly," December 1990, pp. 13-15. It was also the topic of the Donahue Show on December 4, 1990.
34 The complete version of this poem can be found in The Courage to Heal
, pp. 101-103.