Apr. 6th, 2009

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[livejournal.com profile] silverblue  linked to this precis of a report into the false accusations of rape. It reminds me I've been meaning to write a post on the false rape accusation that is central to To Kill a Mockingbird. We watched the film of it recently (having named our daughter after the author of the book it was based on, it seemed appropriate).

I remembered it as a story about racism and about class (well, poverty and education levels in America, which amounts to class). If there was a feminist aspect to it, I would have said it was in Scout as the narrator, a young tomboy who Harper Lee is supposed to have based on herself.

Listening to Atticus's closing remarks during the trial, I suddenly realised there was a very advanced feminist statement about female desire in there, about the way that society polices women's desire and how Mayella's father has punished her for having that desire. To cover up patriarchal violence against women and control of women (literally the rule of the father), Mayella falsely accuses the object of her illicit desire of having taken what she was profferring (or in those days, what a kiss promised to proffer). The issue I have is about this false accusation: is this a feminist defense of false rape accusations? I can't imagine a feminist author today being comfortable having this as a central moment for a key character. Yet it's hard to imagine another option for Mayella given her time and circumstances. An English teacher I spoke to on the weekend about this actually sees Atticus as defending his client using the "victim was actually asking for it" defense, which I hadn't considered (mainly because I don't think Atticus is implying that sex occurred and is clearly blaming Ewell for her bruises, so he doesn't seem to me to say she was asking for anything).

Anyhow, I wonder if it would be possible to make the points of To Kill a Mockingbird without a false accusation and I wonder whether that is an artefact of the time or something else entirely...

And if Ewell is in fact a metonymic representation of the patriarchy, then who is the object women falsely accuse to disguise the battering we receive for daring to display our desire?

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