Thursday, February 24, 2005

Leaving the Saints

I just finished reading the NYTimes about Dr. Martha Beck, daughter of one of the most prominent and leading figures in the Mormon religion. She published her memoirs, "Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith" which includes how she was sexually abused by her father ritualistically as a child.

Of course, there is extreme controversy from the Mormon Church, she is receiving death threats, and even her siblings have hired lawyers and "experts" to sue. They are grabbing hold of the fact that Dr. Beck's memories of sexual abuse were suppressed for many years and alleging that their recovery is false.

Besides saying that I would not at all doubt the possibility that a leading religious figure would sexually molest their own child - AGAIN: DO NOT AT ALL DOUBT THAT A LEADING RELIGIOUS FIGURE WOULD SEXUALLY MOLEST THEIR OWN CHILD - I have to say I am equally incensed by the response to her book.

What kind of community, what kind of morals, what kind of "values" give rise to ostracization and even death threats to someone who has recovered such memories. Does anyone actually believe that such a crime is outside the realm of possibilities, not worthy of investigation, not part of a more overall pattern? Even if these memories were false (not that I am in a position to imply that they are) doesn't it say something about this woman's family life that she believes them to be true? Doesn't she still need support? What message is this sending to others who are experiencing sexual abuse in this community? What kind of green-light is this giving to other sexual predators?

Years ago I read "A Wife for My Son" by Ghalem about an arranged Islamic marriage in Algeria. At one point a woman goes to visit a friend, but in the middle of the night her friend's son climbs on top of her and rapes her. While I have forgotten most of the specifics of this book, this scene has always stayed with me because she doesn't yell or resist him, she tries to submit silently so that no one will know. She knows that where she lives she will be blamed and punished for tempting the son and for being impure herself. After that, she never visits that friend again.

A little message to George Bush and all the rest who claimed to be going into Afghanistan to "liberate women" from such conditions - why don't you check out Utah? How about all the rest of the "Red States?" As Jeanene Garafolo likes to say, Bush and his crew are the "American Taliban." And - even as I am learning more each day about the history of various strains of religion, how each evolved and the different characters of each - in this element I have to say the similarities trump the differences.

And a bigger message to the world: there is really no reason this shit has to still be going on. We aren't in the 9th century any more. In a revolutionary society women will not be re-victimized if they came forward to talk about their abuse and mistreatment. Sexual assault and rape will be punished and women will be mobilized to ensure that this is the case.

But even more, the proletariat in power, led by its vanguard party, will struggle to transform the outlook of people today so that the abuse and humiliation and domination of women is uprooted from the fabric of society - not just punished. Although I have to say, when thinking about some of the twisted individuals who are given a green-light to sexually prey on children, that re-education camps stop sounding so bad - that is not what I am talking about.

Avakian has talked about three ways of going at this contradiction. First, there will be things that are a matter of law and will be punished (rape, assault, trafficking of women, discrimination in work, etc.). Then there will be things where there are mass campaigns launched - where there is mass debate and struggle over social questions around the role of women regarding things like pornography and the portrayal of women in mass culture, or science (think about the president of Harvard).

And then - this is extremely important and something new that Avakian has emphasized because he recognizes that even mass campaigns have an element of coercion and play a positive role, but fundamentally the socialist transition to communism must be voluntary and conscious on the part of the people as a whole - there will be general education on the conditions of women and the roots and playing out of women's oppression, and when women step forward to criticize their conditions they will be supported in doing so. In other words, as people's thinking changes and the environment changes so that they know they will have air to breathe to come forward and criticize, women will at their own pace refuse to put up with things so many of us just accept and never think twice about today and this will be supported and popularized.

Also, there is something else that must be said about the moral absolutes of religious fundamentalism and how this is so different than morals that could really anchor a liberated world. There is not "good" and "evil" and while rape and sexual assault will be punished, there will not be the view today that throws people away when they have done something wrong. There will be room and air to breathe for men to struggle and transform as well. Even on the "little things" which, taken as a whole, are not that little at all - but are not things around which laws will be created.

If you want to get a taste of what some of this would look like, read the Dispatches from Nepal that Li Onesto did. The interviews with the women who have joined the revolutionary People's War there, who comment not only on how they do not fear assault by the men they fight along side, but also marvel at how them men help with the cooking and cleaning (not a minor thing here, not to mention in a feudal peasant society!!!).

Anyway - this is appalling. If a woman can't come forward and expose and explore sexual abuse at the hands of a leading figure in a severely anti-woman fundamentalist nightmare without being threatened and slandered, this alone is reason enough to move to a different era. The world really does NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.

An interesting last point which I would like to know more about. It seems this Dr. Beck also wrote a book about ten years ago claiming that homosexuality was a compulsive behavior that could be overcome - and since then has come out as gay herself. Hhhhmmmmmm.

posted by Sunsara Taylor at 9:16 AM


Blogger Araby Carlier said...

i'm really glad sunsara pulled this article out of the paper and dug into it. i agree with what sunsara says, especially about the re-victimization of women who submit allegations of sexual abuse and i would like to add two anecdotes readers of this article will find interesting.

on mormons: the US outlawed polygamy in 1882 and it was done in a supreme court case regarding mormons demanding their right to have multiple wives. they claimed it was their religious right, that it was ordained by god and to not practice polygamy would be a violation of their religious beliefs. the us gov't clearly distinguishes the difference between religious belief and religious practice - you can believe god wants you to have more than one wife but you cannot engage in such activities in this country. the state has the right to intercept in religious beliefs when the "health, safety and morals" of citizens are at risk (morals is an interesting choice for this government to throw around). what i really want to say is it is interesting that the "safety" aspect the supreme court was concerned with regarding polygamy was the higher numbers of girl children being entered into marriage in mormon communities than other religious communties at that time - a practice we know has not disappeared.

the second anecdote i want to share is regarding the silence women are intimidated and forced into keeping around sexual abuse, assault, and rape. the threats Dr. Martha Beck is facing is a testament to the fact that women remain silent out of a real fear of the serious and often deadly reprocussions of speaking out. think about slavery in the united states. this is a real conversation that slave women had to have with their daughters: they had to tell their daughters that they would definitely be raped by a white man and that when it happened .. imagine saying that to your daughter 'when he comes to rape you'- they had to tell their daughters not to struggle because it could result in their being beaten or worse. and they had to tell their daughters that more than one man might rape them at a time and they shouldn't fight back and they should not tell anyone. this was crucial to protecting the woman who was raped as well as her family - telling someone was a sure way of getting someone killed - a justifiably outraged father could rightly go after the white man who raped his daughter and he would be lynched - and his daughter would be re-victimized for speaking out.* does this break your heart? bc it surely breaks mine.

the attacks on Dr. Beck and countless others for speaking out run deep in this country's history and to paraphrase avakian: just knowing this, how can we continue to allow this society to exist?

*a professor shared this with my class

2/25/05, 3:10 PM


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