Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Despite Mackenzie Phillips, Some Sex Between Family Consensual

Mackenzie Phillips appeared on The Today Show, and talked about reaction to her book.

A year and a half after she released a memoir revealing she was the victim of incest at the hands of her singer father, Mackenzie Phillips is still dealing with the fallout - a decided chill from family members, a psyche still bruised over criticism about her confession.

She may have been a victim of bad parenting, but what she really a victim of incest? She was and adult when, according to her, she and her father had a ten year affair that ended only because she got pregnant.

Perhaps less surprising was the family reaction to Phillips’ publicly airing her incest story. While Phillips told Vieira she has received waves of support from other incest victims and has unwavering support from her mother Susan Adams, other parts of her extended family are now lost to her. Her brother Jeff and celebrity stepsisters Chynna and Bijou Phillips no longer speak to her, while her stepmother, actress and former Mamas & the Papas singer Michelle Phillips, has repeatedly lambasted her incest story.

Much of this has to do with prejudice towards consanguineous sex between adults.

In her memoir, Phillips writes that what began as incest under pressure from her father eventually became consensual, but she has since learned through counseling and from other incest survivors that “there is no such thing as consensual incest.”

Yes, there is such a thing. It is when adults, be they siblings, parent-child, or some other close relations have sex with each other without any kind of coercion or incapacitation that prevents them from expressing their rejection. I suspect she wasn’t prepared for the amount of bigotry there still is, and thus is accepting the line that it couldn’t have been consensual.

Based on what Phillips says about her father and her own childhood, I would say there was a lot going on that was wrong, such as substance abuse. I am against grooming; I think parents should raise their children to be independent adults who truly make their own choices about whether or not to even stay in contact with the family at all. (If you’re a good parent, you’re not going to lose contact with your child permanently because, sooner or later, the child will realize you were a good parent, unless something is horribly wrong with the child.) But she only speaks of “grooming” now, not when she first wrote the book. Surely she’d been through enough therapy before writing the book that if she had been groomed, she would have said so originally.

I do believe it is rape when someone is unconscious. I don’t believe it is rape when that adult, when conscious, voluntary returns over and over again to engage in sex.

The only two people who could know for sure what went on between Phillips and her father are those two. Both were frequently stoned at the time and he’s dead. So none of us knows for sure what really went on. But I do know that there are adults who do have consensual sex with family members, whether on a recreational level or a spousal level. I have seen it myself.

Clearly, Phillips has been through much. I hope she is well and stays well. But I also hope that people reject the idea that close family members aren’t able to have consensual sex, because there are many people out there who know differently, and the prejudice against how they are living their lives is keeping them marginalized.

People often cite a power differential as to why such relationships should not be considered consensual. It is argument #20. Where does the power differential end when it comes to parent-child? Is it different between father-daughter, mother-son, mother-daughter, and father-son? What if the parent is 50 years old and the child 33? What if the parent is 70 and the child 53? What if the child was raised by someone else? Why not just let consenting adults do what they want when it comes to sex?
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