As Editor of the (Canadian) False Memory Support Groups' Newsletter and contact for people falsely accused of incest and child sexual abuse in Canada,I have a particular bone to pick with Gloria Steinem and one of her addresses. It will highlight one of the most absurd and irrational aspects of Steinem feminism.
False Memory Syndrome is a name coined by my organization in March 1992 at the founding of our organization by a group of about 200 families all of whom had an older daughter who as a result of a mid-life crisis had gone into psychotherapy.
In the latter part of the eighties a form of therapy had been made popular by what could best be called "traumatologists," therapists who assumed that almost any form of mid life problem, lack of self esteem, eating problems, relationship problems, etc., an endless list, had to be caused by the effects of childhood trauma the memory of which had allegedly been forgotten. The Freudian term for this is "repression' recently more often called "dissociation" by those who find Freud too patriarchal and because Freud later rejected this idea.
In the eighties the idea of the repression of child hood sexual abuse was revived by feminists such as Alice Miller and Judith Herman, a psychiatrist, the latter a member of the Boston Women's Health Collective, which produced the popular and excellent Our Bodies, Ourselves. Herman's own book, Trauma and Recovery, focused on incest and became seminal for many other literature on the subject. Although her early research makes no mention of "repression" of incest memories, she shifted to that idea later and greatly influenced Steinem.
Most of the women clients (and a few men) involved in this kind of therapy accepted the theory and eventually began to believe that hidden memories of unspeakable acts of abuse were perpetrated on them in childhood.
Gloria Steinem had been herself involved in this kind of therapy with the Swiss analyst Alice Miller, a foremost traumatologist with a string of books to that effect. Steinem describes about her own therapy in Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. Although she speaks disparagingly about her mother, she does not accuse anyone of sexual abuse directly. When however books appeared by a slew of therapists all of them in search of hidden memories of childhood sexual abuse, many of them feminists, Steinem endorsed their therapies.
She notably supported two radical lesbian feminist writers, who were not psychologists, but had led women's groups, Bass and Davis, whose book, The Courage to Heal, was to become the bestseller of this new therapeutic movement. Childhood trauma invariable became incest, either overt of covert, by word or by deed, and was seen ideologically as the ultimate expression of male dominance over the females in the family. In some lesbian feminist circles the therapy also became known as Radical Feminist Therapy. One of the books of this new movement written by Bonnie Burstow indeed has this title.
The accused as a result of this therapy were nearly all older men and often their wives became the co-accused labelled "enablers," as if women idly sit by while their husbands go about sexually abusing their children for years on end.
One such couple was Peter and Pamela Freyd, both academics and members of a group of families that had found themselves accused. Pamela, a born activist and educator was at the time without employ and was elected to lead the group - the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) - which had spread and made contact with similar groups of families across the continent. All devastated by the serious accusations these families had turned to mainstream psychologists and psychiatrists to explain what was happening to their daughters.
These psychologists were of course aware what had suddenly turned on many of their colleagues about "repression" and they in turn referred the parents to contact a noted psychologist memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, who in 1991 had addressed the APA on this subject attacking the notion of "repression" as an outmoded concept in memory research. As a result of these contacts the parent groups coalesced and also a prominent group of psychologists, psychiatrists and research scientists in the areas of memory, hypnosis, and therapy came together. Many of these agreed to serve on the Professional Advisory Board of the FMSF.
Although most of the accused are of course men, it is their wives who became the most outraged and active in opposing the therapy that had destroyed their families with the most horrendous of all accusations: incest.
The Freyd family, like many but not all families, became seriously divided with one older family member, William Freyd, taking the side of the accusing older daughter, Jennifer Freyd - herself a promising psychologist and feminist. The Freyds soon became the symbol to attack in feminist-therapist circles and the name of our rapidly growing organization the FMSF became the focus of their anger, ridicule and scorn.
In 1995 however, on the PBS program Frontline a documentary series "Divided Memories" created by noted director Ofra Bikel was shown, exposed some of the worst excesses of what for want of a name had become known as 'repressed/recovered memory therapy." In one of the segments exposing this dangerous form of psychotherapy was an appearance of Peter and Pamela Freyd. William Freyd, was enraged and poured out all his venom and hatred for his brother Peter in the nastiest of letters to the local PBS station that had screened "Divided Memories."
Gloria Steinem, was also enraged about the documentary because it had shown her to be in support of some of the worst traumatologists, one of whom later became the subject of a huge malpractice suit by one of his patients resulting in a $10.6 million settlement against him, Dr Bennett Braun, of Rush Memorial Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago.
Gloria had earlier produced her own documentary on the subject: The Search for Deadly Memories, once shown on many women's programs. It is a documentary that is now hard to get hold of because it clearly shows Steinem to be in support of some of the worst aspects of this kind of radical therapy. Home Box Office Video which produced it does not show it in their catalogue. They seem to have sold it to a British firm.
In this Home Box Office Video, narrated also by Steinem, a young woman called Gretchen. is strapped into a straightjacket, held down by nurses, because theory has it that when patients come "out of denial" they may hurt themselves. She is then injected with sodium amytal, because this will allow her to tell the truth and name her childhood abuser. This video shows the worst aspect of what 'traumatology' had led to.
Later, in another PBS Frontline series, Ofra Bikel presented another documentary: "In Search of Satan" which again showed Steinem to be in support of the leaders of what can only be called the worst form of quackery, therapy that causes people to believe that they were sexually abused in Satanic cults. Now proven to be utter nonsense, it was firmly believed not only in some women's circles, but also in some fundamentalist Christian therapies.
Steinem soon took revenge. A radical feminist segment within the much divided American Psychological Association, led by Laura Brown, had managed to get her invited to deliver the keynote address at its April 17,1995 annual convention in New York, NY. Steinem used the occasion to show her support for "repressed memory therapy" by attacking our group of falsely accused parents and personally attacked the Freyds when she read the letter by William Freyd to the gathering of mainly clinical psychologists in the recovered memory camp who had come to listen to her. To the everlasting shame of the APA, Steinem received a standing ovation for this shameful performance.
Pamela Freyd in the FMSF newsletter responded to this outrageous departure from civility by Steinem and the deeply hurting personal attack on her family, with characteristic dignity and restraint, something that has given throughout its history, the organization Pamela leads as executive director, its credibility, strength and cohesion.
The support for this segment within the APA was not to last. The radical feminist lesbian candidate it fielded to be president, Laura Brown, co-author of a book defending this infernal therapy, finished last in the election.
Radical feminist therapy, the support of Steinem and many others in the women's movement for therapies that aim to find hidden memories of childhood sexual abuse allegedly to cure a host of ills surfacing at mid life, will be shown to be one of the darkest chapters in the women's movement. It has reduced thousands of women to zombies and torn apart their families of origin.
Because it has resulted in suicides, marriage breakdowns, self-mutilation, mothers incapable of looking after their families as they became obsessed about digging up more and more memories, this form of therapy has been not only anti-family, but has ruined more women than any other quackery I have ever heard of. It never has given any of these women the self-esteem they were searching for.
My remarks should not be construed as homophobia or a condemnation of all that is feminist. Outside of mainstream Steinem feminism there are many rational feminists who heartily disapprove of the nonsense I have described.
Wendy Kaminer, Christine Hoff-Summers, Elizabeth Loftus, Elaine Showalter, Tana Dineen, Donna Laframboise, Carol Tavris are but of few names that come to my mind, all of whom have written books attacking the direction that Steinem has taken. Some of these women have formed a small group called the Rational Feminist Alliance.