Seeing Reason: Incest, Ideology, Institutions

Dissertation, University of Kansas (2001)

Seeing Reason is an essay in feminist philosophy, which investigates epistemological issues related to the scholarly understanding of incest in the modern social sciences and to recent controversies about the truth or falsehood of long-forgotten and later recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse . ;The dissertation explores the difficulties women have faced in becoming knowing subjects of their own lives under patriarchy. Masculinist discourses have traditionally denied that incest occurred, either because exogamous marriage customs were assumed to have effectively outlawed the practice, or because women's reports of childhood incestuous sexual relations were interpreted as fantasies. ;Only in the 1970s, as consciousness raising methods became widespread in the American women's movement, did ordinary women recognize that incest is a common experience. An estimated one-third of American girls experience sexual contact with adults. The majority of the adult perpetrators are men known to the victims as close family friends, stepfathers, or family members. The dissertation explores how and why so widespread a phenomenon as incest could have been so persistently ignored or denied by pre-feminist authorities on family life and human sexual behavior. ;The women's movement's efforts to raise public awareness and strengthen legal protection for victims of rape, domestic violence, and incest occurred in tandem with studies of traumatic stress reactions of combat veterans in the Vietnam era. Diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder specify that the observed symptoms result from traumatic experience. Yet much skepticism has been voiced in the last decade by Elizabeth Loftus and other experimental psychologists concerning whether women's memories of childhood sexual abuse are "true" or "false." The dissertation reviews methods for assessing the reliability of memories. An analysis of the two leading explanatory hypotheses for the phenomenon of traumatic amnesia, repression and dissociation, is aimed at determining which of these concepts is most adequate from the phenomenological and clinical perspectives and what the epistemological implications are in advocating either concept
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