linked to this précis 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?