How do we, in western society, in this era, define motherhood? If you were interviewing someone for the job…probably the hardest, most thankless job…what qualities would you be looking for? What questions would you ask? Would you administer any psychological tests? I think back to a line in the movie Parenthood, where a character (played by Keanu Reeves) says: You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog. You need a license to drive a car. Hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any butt-reaming a**hole to be a father.
The same for motherhood: no licence required.
We, as a society, assume a mother will love their child, hopefully unconditionally. We also assume that a mother will keep her child safe, even sacrificing her own comfort to make this so. And we presume she will teach her children some life skills and some guiding values.
So, as a mother, if you know, or even suspect your partner/husband (or any other family member) is hurting your child, what do you do? Why would you even hesitate to speak to a social worker or even a lawyer, or throw the perpetrator out, or leave with the child if that’s what you have to do? And if it is happening, if he is hurting your child why were you unable to see this? The results, the child’s behaviour changes or physical condition or attitude/mood, is likely to make the abuse very obvious to a mothers’ discerning eye.
In the movie I discussed in my previous blog, Patrick Melrose, the mother, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is portrayed as an alcoholic drug abuser trying to blot out reality. In my novel, Both Sides Now, Rose’s mother is focused on her own victimhood, deep into a self-preservational denial. In my own personal story, my mother hid herself inside her religious fervor.
Even condemning the denial, we must have some compassion for all three of those mothers (and even yours if it applies). It’s a hard job. It is even harder if you are dependent, financially or emotionally, on the abuser. It is even harder if you are also a victim in that family unit. Even harder if you were that child once. And in this patriarchal social structure we live in, even today it is difficult to convince most people that incest is not just a family matter. And too often the solution chosen is to remove the child from the situation. This punishes the child as much as the perpetrator. When a curfew was suggested as a solution to a high rate of rapes, Golda Meir said “But it is the men who are attacking the women. If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home.”
Why punish the victim?
We as a society have done so much work to support women who must escape abusive relationships. There is much more work left to be done to protect our children from family members. Is it motherhood and apple pie to say these children are our future? Don’t leave it to those victimized by incest to break the cycle themselves. I can tell you that is a life-long struggle.
Let’s start talking about incest. This is not an extension of the #metoo movement. This is the #letstalkaboutincest movement.
Are you a mother who has seen the effects/symptoms of incestuous abuse, has believed her daughter(s),and who has removed her children from the control of the pedophile in the family? I want to hear from you. I want to write your story.
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT INCEST
Malcolm and I stumbled across this great British TV series called Patrick Melrose starring Benedict Cumberbatch. We had actually been looking for another film that Cumberbatch narrated, a biography of Thich Nhat Hanh, Walk with Me (‘Yoga teacher’ is my other vocation).
Patrick Melrose is based on a series of semi-autobiographical novels about Britain's upper class by Edward St Aubyn. In the 1980s, a wealthy Englishman attempts to overcome his addictions and demons rooted in the sexual abuse at his father’s hands and the repudiating negligent mother. The script and the performances are stellar.
However, I have tended to avoid stories/movies about childhood abuse. There is the ‘disturbing’ factor, yes. But there is mostly that feeling of being overwhelmingly appalled. Even having gone through it -- even having written a novel on the topic -- I still find it incomprehensible that an adult can do this to a child.
Even more incomprehensible is how this subject of incest still hides in the dark shadows. Daddy is the real monster under the childhood bed.
Even in the #metoo age, which is about what adult men do to adult women, little is being said about what adult grandfathers/fathers/uncles/brothers do to infant/toddler/prepubescent/teen-age female relatives. Everywhere. In all countries and cultures. At every level of society.
A ‘blankie’ of silence.
So Patrick Melrose is a relevent TV series for many reasons. And while I was watching it I remembered a movie I had seen years ago.
There’s Something About Amelia is a 1984 American television movie. In the story shame and fear have kept Amelia Bennett (Roxana Zal) silent about the sexual molestation she's been suffering at the hands of her father, Steven (Ted Danson). But as Amelia starts to believe that Steven might harm her younger sibling in similar ways, she unburdens herself of her awful secret. Confronted with this horrifying piece of news, Steven's wife, Gail (Glenn Close), can't believe it's true, and he professes his innocence. But as new details emerge, the family is shaken to its core.
I recommend you watch it.
Many of you will react by asking many questions. How could he do that? Why did she keep silent? Why didn’t her mother believe her?
But I am reminded of my first public reading from my novel, Both Sides Now, at a small NDG venue. I was one of at least 8 presenters and there were only about 30 attendees, mostly strangers’ family and friends. After the event a young woman came up to me and said, “My father’s name was Sam also.” I don’t think I handled her disclosure very skillfully. It was a first for me and I was surprised more than anything. But I never stopped thinking about her and now that my book has been published, I hope she finds it.
Unfortunately, many of you will already have answers, very personal answers, to the questions above. Many of you are the living reality of that statistic of as high as 20% of father-daughter incest, which is the most commonly reported and studied form of incest.
There is Something About Amelia was the most-watched network television show in the United States for the week of January 9-15, 1984. It won many awards. But I don’t remember any of us talking about it.
Not surprising so many watched it; not surprising there was so little discussion.
There’s just something about incest.