Sunday, 24 May 2015

WHY I HATE THE MYTH OF PHAEDRA AND HIPPOLYTUS

Mirren: Undermining Female Credibility
On Friday Hampshire Police finally apologised for mistreating a rape victim from Winchester. She reported the crime at the age of 17 in 2012. They threatened her with prosecution for lying about the attack. I remember a male ‘friend’ crowing to me in 2013 that she was one of the allegedly enormous number of women who, ‘like Phaedra’, frame innocent men for sex crimes because they have been rejected or out of simple spite.

One of the Most Familiar Stories in the Ancient World
When the police finally bothered to do forensic texts on the T-shirt she had provided, they realised her evidence was entirely credible. The rapist was charged and convicted. The case has clarified my intuitive loathing of Euripides’ tragedy Hippolytus, a play of exquisite poetic beauty but toxic ideology in which Hippolytus’ stepmother Phaedra falsely accuses him of rape.

Between the Greek original, Seneca’s Phaedra and Racine’s Ph├Ędre, let alone descendants like O’Neill’s Desire under the Elms and Mike Nichols' The Graduate, this story has been mightily applauded on centuries of stages and screens. Countless star actresses like Bernhardt and Mirren crave playing the mendacious rape-accuser of fiction. Every performance constitutes another ‘proof’ of the mass delusion that information imparted by women is unreliable—the delusion which philosopher Miranda Fricker calls Epistemic Injustice against them.

Potiphar’s wife in Genesis is one of multiple counterparts of Phaedra in every world myth system. Patriarchy needs this fiction. Without belief in it, far more prosecutions would  be mounted relative to reports of rape (in the UK, only one in 38 of cases reported to the police—let alone unreported ones—ends in a conviction).

Society’s attitude to female testimony is summed up in the standard textbook on evidence used to train US lawyers in the mid-20th century, by J. Wigmore:   ‘Modern psychiatrists have studied the behaviour of errant young girls and the women coming before the courts in all sorts of cases. Their psychic complexes are multifarious and distorted ... One form taken by these complexes is that of contriving false charges of sexual offences by men.’

Madame Rachel in Racine's version
Doubting women’s evidence is an international menace. At its most extreme, under Sharia law, women’s evidence is officially worth half or quarter of a man’s, if admissible at all. At the other end of the spectrum, it has merely impeded women’s progress in professions where custody of the truth is central—the church, the law, academia.


Hampshire Constabulary’s Chief Superintendent David Powell concluded the lukewarm official apology to the Winchester victim with an attempt to ‘reassure all victims of sexual assault that we do take you seriously. We do believe you, we appreciate how hard it is to come forward to report these offences, we do not judge you and we are committed to ensuring a professional and supportive response.’  Sorry, David, but it’s too late. It’s women’s turn to doubt the credibility of what men say.

4 comments:

  1. ego me etsi peccato absolvo, supplicio non libero; nec ulla deinde impudica Lucretiae exemplo vivet.

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  2. Dear Edith, I used to read (bits of) Seneca's Phaedra when I was still active as a teacher, along with the wife-of-Potifar story. I am happy to discover your blog and this blogpost, with your concise and so accurate analysis of the topic. And yes, ancient greek mentality had more in common with islamic attitudes to the position of women than one would think, as I have mentioned in the last paragraphs of my blogpost on Euripides' Elektra. (Sorry, in dutch ;-)
    http://www.cycade.blogspot.be/2011/01/nieuw-op-de-cycadewebsite.html

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