It was a painful time and a shameful time, and many who lived through it would rather just forget. If you are younger than 30, or even 40, you may never have heard of it. Many will speak about it only in general terms, talking about friends, or family, never themselves. The wounds of that time still smart. Some families, some marriages, some friendships, never recovered. People killed themselves in shame, spiralled into addiction, moved away and broke all ties, or just shut down emotionally and traded life for existence.
That’s not what was supposed to happen. The therapists, and all those who wrote books and recorded cassette tapes (remember them?) and spoke at conferences, they all found fortune and a few found fame. They promised a panacea, an all-healing explanation for everything in your life that you didn’t like. Or that you did like.
The Recovered Memory Movement, as it came to be known, implied, forcefully, that:
- If you were fat
- If you were thin
- If you were promiscuous
- If you were frigid
- If you drank
- If you did drugs
- If you abstained
- If you had nightmares
- If you had daydreams
- If you were musical
- If you were artistic
- If you were organised
- If you were chaotic
- If you were human
- If you were inhuman
You had, most likely, been sexually or emotionally abused as a child. Probably both.
The RMM depended on a specific, post-structural reading of the work of Sigmund Freud. Which – given that his work is the basis for post-structuralism (reading against the grain, turning things on their head) – is quite specific. And psychologically unfounded. Therapists, belatedly – after about a decade of accepting fees to encourage mostly young people, mostly female, to rehash memories they’d read in books and heard on tapes, mostly – admitted that they were now more ‘cautious’ or even ‘wary’ of diagnosing someone as an Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual or Emotional Abuse; but they didn’t follow up that admission with an offer to repay any fees. People were generally too ashamed, or broken, to sue them.
Need I say that some children are indeed abused and there is no doubt of the trauma that causes? I hope not. Would that it were not so, but it is. That is not my topic here.
Rather, I want to highlight the effect on the collective psyche, the, mostly, White, western, middle-class, post-industrial, liberal psyche of widespread shame, rage and moral panic from the late 80’s to the late 90’s.
This was the time when disillusion with monetarism, and even with capitalism, was general on the Left. Reagan and Thatcher had fallen, Bill Clinton followed George Bush the elder and John Major was hardly charismatic. Ecology and demilitarisation (especially after the first Gulf War protests) could have had a chance. We could have taken action then to avoid the ecological crisis we’re in now.
But, apart from demonstrations, the 90’s was the beginning of political apathy for young people especially. The numbers of non-voters rose massively: researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, looking at voter data from 31 European countries from 1918-2016, “found that from around 1990, non-voters made up the single biggest block”. Other reports confirm this as a global phenomenon among (comparatively) well-off Millennials.
The RMM spread a gospel of interiority and selfishness. Being a ‘caretaker’ (caring about someone else) was one of the worst things you could do. A better use of energy was to devote it all to ‘me time’. This was also the period of the rise of co-dependency, an addictive add-on with a definition that became so vague it eventually just meant ‘wrong’. Anyone who was anyone who was politically (which meant personally) sensitive during that time was either realising that they been abused or was supporting a survivor. Usually both. Which was caring and caretaking and co-dependent and therefore wrong.
The holy book was The Courage to Heal and the sacred mantra was: “I’m not crazy and I’m not making this up!”
Many of us who were in our twenties in the 90’s are now in our 50’s, many of us have raised children, especially girls, to believe in ‘me time’ and not listening to friends or family who don’t believe in ‘my truth’ and that ‘what I feel is my truth’.
Does this sound familiar? Did you think the trans phenomenon came out of nowhere? Now, of course, kids don’t depend on books (what are they?) or cassette tapes (museum much?) for social contagion. They don’t depend on their parents or elders for support and advice either. One generation has taught the following to be wary of older people, especially men, but also of women who are complicit in their machinations – enablers.
So we have an entire generation across the comparatively rich world of independent, vulnerable, inexperienced young people, mostly girls, brought up to focus on themselves, to see themselves as victims, to embrace an ideology that explains why they feel socially awkward or depressed or angry or embarrassed about their bodies.
It’s a club. Non-members are not invited. Girls are going to take over the world. Even if they have to stop being girls to do it. And boys are slipping into the gaps they leave behind. Anyone who doubts must be barred or cast out. They’re not crazy and they’re not making it up. That’s their truth.
That’s their pain. That’s what they’ll have to live with, and regret, for the rest of their lives.
Meanwhile, our planet home is dying. Because our selfishness and self-obsession is killing it. Think of all the people who could make a difference – if we could just stop tearing each other apart over identity politics.
The personal may be political but, right now, the politics that counts is planetary. It’s time to forget me time and devote ourselves to Earth time. While we still can.
I’m not crazy and I’m not making this up.
Thanks to Video Girl for releasing ‘Unicorn Beach Swimming Ring’ into the Public Domain.