In Part 1 of Sex, Shame, and the 47 Ronin, we talked in sort of detached historical terms about the power of shame. The plight of the fallen ronin, after all, while poignant, is buried hundreds of years in the past, and at the complete other end of the world. And this is modern America, after all. We are rational. Our society is ordered in a way that makes sense. And we do not put our own people in such incomprehensible, destructive binds through no fault of their own.
Unless, of course, you count the plight of uncounted millions of sexually abused women in modern America, who exactly like Ōishi and his 47 Ronin are caught squarely in the jaws of a morally unsolvable dilemma that leaves them, unfairly, as objects of scorn and contempt and derision in their own society. Because these women have violated, however inculpable they were in the act, two of the greatest taboos – strict social prohibitions – of modern human society: the taboo against child sexuality, and even more powerfully, the taboo against incest.
I know. We don’t talk about this. And that’s exactly the problem. Nobody talks about this. Because it is shameful, uncomfortable to even discuss in the abstract. Say the words “I was sexually abused”, or “she was sexually abused” and watch everyone in the room start edging away and shifting uncomfortably.
Our own social mores are not forgiving. And they are beyond discussion.
For starters: child sexuality. No one wants to talk about it. To involve children in a sex act is considered one of the most shameful acts in modern society precisely because of the growing awareness of the profound psychological damage premature sexuality can cause to the young psyche. As of 2011 there was no major country in the world where child pornography remained legal, and distributors and even viewers of child porn are pursued and prosecuted with a zeal once reserved for hunting war criminals and ex-Nazis. Even in prison the child molester is considered the lowest and most loathsome of criminals, and must often be segregated from the other prisoners to avoid being murdered…and even then the prison guards are often not exactly proactive about protecting the molesters from the other prisoners.
The prohibition against incest is even more extreme of a taboo. Ultimately its roots are found in the simple fact that the world has become aware that incestuous mating produces unhealthy babies, with reinforced recessive traits that can and often do result in major health problems…ranging from everything to insanity to hemophilia to major physical defects. One has only to look at the stunted, distorted cadavers of unearthed Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, where the royal family married brother-to-sister for generations, to recognize the profoundly negative effects of inbreeding. The taboo against incest – which is not intrinsic, by the way, many societies over the centuries have freely allowed or even encouraged incest – has very powerful and ultimately very rational roots. But in any healthy society with even a minimal awareness of genetics, incest is strongly discouraged – not because there’s anything intrinsically wrong with diddling one’s sister or daughter, but if you get her pregnant there’s going to be major problems with your kids. So human society slaps a taboo on the act, and treats it as an example of great disgust and derision…and those who violate this taboo are programmed at a very deep, everyone-will-hate-me-if-they-know level, to be deeply ashamed of what they have done.
But what of situations where both happen at an early age, where young girls, before they have achieved awareness of these twin social taboos, are encouraged by their guardians or fathers or grandfathers or uncles to violate them? Because the terrible secret remains that young children who are molested often enjoy the molestation, at least initially – leading many molesters to claim, as a justification, that the girl was “asking for it”…and indeed, children who are taught to enjoy sexuality early indeed do seek sexual contact. And why wouldn’t a young girl enjoy it? Sex is exciting and pleasurable. These girls get to feel important, and loved. They get to provide pleasure for someone important in their life, which is itself validating…and this creates the so-called “Lolita” syndrome, sexually precocious girls who seek – often actively – sexual contact from older men at extreme young ages. Minus situations where pain or torture or degradation is involved, the vast majority of sexually abused girls fall into the “Lolita” category, at least until growing awareness of the violation of social taboos causes them to pull away from their abusers. People like to get it on – at any age. It is social pressure that discourages premature sexuality and incest.
This is the unfortunate reality of the “Lolita Syndrome”, of young girls encouraged by their parents or guardians to engage in sexuality at a precocious age. Because these girls simply had no chance for so-called “normal” development. Before they even fully understood what the taboos against child sexuality and incest even were, they had violated – and worse, often enjoyed violating – two of modern society’s most unforgiving social mores, and are tainted with deep shame forever after. Their childhoods are shaped by a growing awareness that what they have been taught to do is wrong, and must be hidden, or it will result in their becoming cast out of polite society if their situation was to be revealed.
So they hide it. And their family groups, who are often financially and emotionally dependent on the abusers, almost invariably hide it as well.
So if it’s all under the rug, what’s the problem?
Because, plain and simple, it is not under the rug, and these women grow up to be anything but okay. Because these women get it, deep down. They know they will be treated with disgust and distaste and at best, pity, if the world was ever to know. They know that any future life partner will likely be disgusted with them if their past history is known and that many of these women in fact enjoyed performing sex acts upon their own family members while still children. The twin taboos against child sexuality, and specifically against incest, are so deeply-ingrained and so deeply-conditioned that most men, frankly, would be revolted to discover that their wives or girlfriends or partners had engaged sexually with their own fathers and family members. This is the problem with social taboos – we’re programmed to react to them on a very deep, very visceral level, without even realizing we’re doing it.
And so these women hide in plain sight, pretending to be normal. And knowing that they are in possession of terrible secrets that can destroy their families and relationships – cause expulsion from the tribe – if these secrets ever come to light. And the psychological burden is enormous.
Make no mistake – these women are our modern eta. They know that by the standards of society, they are in violation of modern society’s most fundamental taboos and as such are objects of disgust. They are…whores. Filth. Damaged goods. They understand that the best they can hope for is…tolerance, a life of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” where their baser urges and most fundamental nature are not discussed, buried under the rug, hidden from public sight. And so most duly do bury their baser urges, and suppress their fundamental sexual natures. Many go the other way. Sex workers, erotic dancers, and pornographic performers were almost universally sexually abused as young girls, and are in the trades they are in, plain and simple, because however ‘shameful’ their trade may be it remains one of humanity’s oldest and still most profitable professions…and also frankly, because these women were taught at a very precocious age how to fuck, and that is itself a marketable skillset. But whether suppressing or re-enacting, most of these women still equate their own sexuality with social rejection, being found out and cast out, and the link is often so developed that following the sex act many formerly abused women feel a dramatic and profound sense of disgust and self-loathing.
This is not a minor thing. When the sex act itself has been linked with the twin taboos of child sexuality and incest, with the basic human fear of being found fundamentally unacceptable to the tribe and cast out, alone, into the jungle, intense neurosis results – with a myriad host of psychosexual symptoms that can be crushingly destructive. According to the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, sort of the Webster’s dictionary of mental illness) the symptoms of sexually abused women commonly include:
* Physical Presentations
* Chronic pelvic pain
* Gastrointestinal symptoms/distress
* Musculoskeletal complaints
* Obesity, eating disorders
* Insomnia, sleep disorders
* Sexual dysfunction
* Asthma, respiratory ailments
* Chronic headache
* Chronic back pain
* Psychologic and Behavioral Presentations
* Depression and anxiety
* Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms
* Dissociative states
* Repeated self-injury
* Suicide attempts
* Lying, stealing, truancy, running away
* Poor contraceptive practices
* Compulsive sexual behaviors
* Somatizing disorders
* Eating disorders (bulemia/anorexia)
* Poor adherence to medical recommendations
* Intolerance of or constant search for intimacy
* Expectation of early death
Those are some pretty profound symptoms. And again they are largely manifestations of an irreconcilable shame reaction, a shame reaction suffered by women who had absolutely no role whatsoever in their own condition. And precisely because the taboos against child sexuality and incest are so strong, there is still largely no way out for these women. Again like the 47 Ronin, this is an often irreconcilable problem that society and its unforgiving taboos provide no good answers for.
What, then, is the solution? Psychological help, well, helps, but the problem is that psychologists by definition maintain a professional distance, and by definition intense shame reactions are a social reaction. How can a woman so damaged overcome the programming that she is an object incapable of being loved…without being loved? This is where modern therapy fails, and where modern society itself lets the women caught in the jaws of sexual abuse flounder. There is simply no built-in mechanism, no good process, for expunging these women of their shame. And so they carry it with them – usually for their entire lives. Because again, the intrinsic problem is, the damage caused by sexual abuse is largely social, caused by the taboos are mores of society itself, and far from helping them, society in actuality targets these women to discourage similar behavior in others. They are casualties of society’s war on child sexuality and incest.
Society writes them off as collateral damage, and tells them to suffer their shame in silence. In later blogs I’ll talk about what I think of this – and what actually has to be done help to the victims of this enormously destructive social epidemic.