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Oedipus Wrecked? : The Moral Boundaries of Incest


Nancy L. Fischer Gender & Society 2003 17: 92 DOI: 10.1177/0891243202238980 The online version of this article can be found at: http://gas.sagepub.com/content/17/1/92

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Fischer / THE MORAL / February 2003 GENDER & SOCIETY BOUNDARIES OF INCEST 10.1177/0891243202238980

ARTICLE

Perspectives

OEDIPUS WRECKED? The Moral Boundaries of Incest


NANCY L. FISCHER Macalester College

This article describes the meaning of incest in contemporary popular culture. The author explores how feminism and changes in systems of kinship and sexuality have affected present-day discourse on incest, comparing the significance of blood relations and notions of abuse in constructing incest. The author analyzes media commentaries on two contemporary incestuous events that generated publicity: Kathryn Harrisons memoir of a sexual affair with her biological father and Woody Allens relationship with Soon-Yi Previn. The author explores how commentators framed incest as morally objectionable in reaction to these two cases. She argues that blood ties are prevalent, but are becoming less relevant to discussions of incest in popular culture, and that feminist constructions of incest as an exploitation of power relations have been powerful enough for individuals to apply this framework even when adults (rather than children) are involved.

Keywords: incest; kinship; sexuality; feminism; child sexual abuse

Nearly 2,500 years ago, Sophocles penned the tragedy Oedipus Rex. Oedipus unwittingly kills his father, marries his mother, and produces unnatural offspring from that incestuous union. In the Oedipal myth, Oedipus transgresses the laws of bloodor kinship rulesby marrying and having sexual relations with his mother. The immorality of incest, based on the idea that blood relatives should not mate and the progeny of such unions are tainted and unnatural, is at the heart of Sophocless tale. What is not at moral issue in Oedipus Rex is a complex configuration of issues that today fall under the rubric of child sexual abuse, which rests on notions of incest as wrong because it represents sexual exploitation and an abuse of power between adults and children (Finkelhor 1994; Gelles and Conte 1990).
AUTHORS NOTE: I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers, Lynn Appleton, Christine Bose, Ann Branaman, Lars Christiansen, Patricia Clough, Norman Denzin, Marcia Hernandez, Richard Lachmann, Chet Meeks, Linda Nicholson, Steven Seidman, and Sarah Sobieraj for their insightful comments in reviewing earlier versions of this article. REPRINT REQUESTS: Nancy L. Fischer, Carnegie 207 C, Department of Sociology, Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105.
GENDER & SOCIETY, Vol. 17 No. 1, February 2003 92-110 DOI: 10.1177/0891243202238980 2003 Sociologists for Women in Society

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These two ways of talking about incestin terms of blood and child sexual abuserepresent two ends of a continuum that correspond to older and newer systems of kinship and sexuality. The older system of kinship and sexuality is represented by the symbol of blood, while the newer system is represented by the symbol of desire. The blood end of the continuum corresponds to what Foucault (1978) called the deployment of alliance, an older system of organizing sexuality where the family is defined in terms of biological relations, sex is about procreation, and incest is about offending the boundaries of kinship. The desire end of the continuum corresponds to Foucaults deployment of sexuality, a newer system of organizing sexuality where diverse relationships define the family and sex is constructed in terms of pleasure and perversion. Under the deployment of sexuality, the meaning of incest is about perpetratorspathological desires and the harm it causes individuals. In the words of Bell (1993, 113),
At one extreme are those ways of speaking [about incest] which deny or minimise the existence of incestuous desires and incest in any form and/or set up questions, under the symbol of blood, around the incest prohibition and kinship systems. At the other are those which, under the symbol of desire, focus on the incestuous act and ignore any connections or implications that may have for the family and social structure. What incest is about therefore becomes very different at different ends of the spectrum.

Foucault argued that both sexual systems continue to influence contemporary constructions of sexuality. However, he suggested that the alliance system is fading slowly. This article asks what incest is about in popular culture under the blood-desire continuum. How are blood relations still significant in popular culture in constructing incest as morally wrong? How significant is abuse for constructing incest in popular culture? I find that both blood and desire inform popular understandings of incest. More specifically, I argue that blood ties are significant on a superficial level for interpreting incest as morally wrong but are less relevant for framing incest for two reasons. First, changes in kinship and families in the West have led to questions about the rules and meanings of incest and child sexual abuse. This occurs because increasingly, families are not based on blood relations. Instead, diverse family ties that range from legal relationships based on being an adoptive parent or stepparent to the informal ties of chosen family (that provide intimacy, enduring connection, and emotional and financial support)are as valid for defining families as blood relations (Coontz 1992; Dunne 2000; Rubin 1997). Frequently, when blood ties are discussed, the emphasis is no longer about offending rules of kinship but has shifted to concerns that biologically related individuals will produce defective offspring (Bell 1993). Second, I argue that blood ties are becoming less relevant because of feminist influences on popular discourse. Feminists have been primarily responsible for redefining incest as child sexual abuse. However, while feminists (or for that matter, social workers and sex abuse professionals) have long considered the harm incest

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causes the primary aspect of why it is immoral, in popular culture, transgressing blood ties still remains shocking, suggesting a lag between feminist constructions of incest as child abuse and how incest has been framed in popular culture. I analyze media discourse surrounding two well-publicized incestuous moral dilemmas that occurred during the 1990s. The first case concerns the 1997 publication of the memoir The Kiss, an account of a sexual affair between author Kathryn Harrison and her birth father. The second case involves the 1992-1993 scandal concerning Woody Allens relationship with (ex-lover Mia Farrows daughter) SoonYi Previn. These two cases involve adults rather than individuals sexually abused as children. In popular culture, incest between an adult and child is automatically regarded as morally reprehensible. However, because these two cases involved adults, they were ambiguous, and media commentators were forced to clarify the rationale of their judgments. Had both cases involved children, it would be difficult to tease out whether commentators disapproved of incest because it involved crossing blood boundaries or because it was clearly a form of child abuse. This article contributes to feminist literature on incest in two ways. First, there has previously been little research on how feminists have influenced incest discourse in popular culture (Kozol 1995 is an exception). Second, I argue that feminist constructions of incest as exploitation of power relations and a betrayal of trust have been powerful enough to penetrate interpretations of incest in popular culture even when adults (rather than children) are involved. While most feminist research focuses on women who were sexually abused during childhood by an adult, because of powerful gender dynamics in male-dominated society, incest between adults is also problematic from a feminist point of view because men hold more power and are more able to coerce women into sexual relations.

CHANGING KINSHIP, CHANGING SEXUALITY Before the eighteenth century in the West, kinship and sexuality systems were indistinguishable (Foucault 1978; Levi-Strauss 1969; Rubin and Butler 1994). In premodern society, sexuality was organized around the family (DEmilio and Freedman 1988; Foucault 1978). Legitimate sexual relations were limited to marriage partners, and sexual practices were judged according to whether they were procreative and occurred within the confines of marriage. Rules governing appropriate and inappropriate marriage partners ensured that wealth circulated among families only through legitimate kin. The incest taboo was the penultimate rule of premodern kinship. In the words of Gayle Rubin (1997, 36), The incest taboo divides the universe of sexual choice into categories of permitted and prohibited sexual partners. Specifically, by forbidding unions within a group it enjoins marital exchange between groups. Therefore, the older kinship/sexuality system was organized around the symbol of blood, since only blood relatives were legitimate heirs.

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In the eighteenth century, the organization of sexuality and kinship began to change. As the West industrialized, men who left home increasingly began to have more diverse sexual encounters outside of marital relationships (DEmilio and Freedman 1988). By the nineteenth century, the emerging fields of psychiatry and sexology began to categorize sexual practices on a normal/perverse basis rather than in terms of permissible and forbidden (Foucault 1978). The significance of blood started to fade, and kinship and sexuality began to separate. Under the deployment of sexuality, sexuality gradually became construed in terms of pleasure and the quality of erotic experience (Foucault 1978; Rubin 1984). Sexual practices (such as incest) came to be judged according to whether they were pleasurable and healthy or harmful and perverse (Foucault 1978). Correspondingly, twentieth-century kinship has increasingly moved away from blood relations as defining families. A greater diversity of family forms such as adoptive families, stepfamilies, families headed by cohabitants, and single-parent families have proliferated. Rising divorce rates and remarriages have made reconstituted familiesfamilies configured with a mix of biological and steprelatives such as stepparents, stepsiblings, or half siblingsmore common than the traditional nuclear family consisting of two parents and their biologically related children (Coontz 1992; Skolnick 1991). Divorce and remarriage have changed the role of fathers, leading to less intimate ties between father and child following divorce (Furstenberg and Cherlin 1994; Teachman 1991). Single-parent families have also become a more common family form through rising divorce rates and some single women choosing to raise children on their own (Bock 2000; Miller 1992). Furthermore, lesbian and gay parents have redefined families and kinship ties in terms of support, friendship, and enduring emotional commitment rather than in terms of biological ties (Dalton and Bielby 2000; Dunne 2000; Horn 1992). Today, families are configured by both kin and nonkin and are often organized by ideologies of love and rational choice, in addition to blood relations. While changes in family forms encourage families to be thought of in diverse terms in American culture, blood as a symbol of family still has cultural resonance. Residues of the older kinship system based around blood remain, and the older norms of kinship have not completely disappeared (Rubin and Butler 1994). For example, in the legal realm, courts have been reluctant to recognize nonbiological parents claims to the titles father or mother because of the legal history of defining these relationships as based on biological fact (Rosen 1997). The importance of blood ties is often recast in genetic terms that establish patriarchal kinship ties by connecting biological fathers with children through notions of passing down seeds of genetic essence (Katz Rothman 1989). Specifically in regard to incest, older kinship rules forbidding sex between blood relatives have transmuted into scientific arguments that incest produces genetically defective offspring (Bell 1993). Studies conclude that children of incestuous parents exhibit differences in health and mental ability compared to nonincestuous children (Adams and Neal 1967; Seemanova 1971).

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INCEST, PRESENT AND PAST Older notions of kinship were once central to nineteenth-century social-scientific perspectives on incest. Theorists attempted to explain both the origin and function of the incest taboo in human society (Durkheim 1897; Freud 1905; Levi-Strauss 1969; Parsons 1974). Freuds theory of the Oedipal complex maintained that children had incestuous longings for their opposite-sex parent. Learning to direct these sexual desires toward a love interest outside the family was a key stage in a childs sexual development (Freud 1905). Levi-Strauss (1969) built off of Mausss (1950) idea that the exchange of gifts was the primary means of forging links between members of primitive societies, where women were the ultimate gifts to be exchanged between male family members. The formation of rules regarding with whom one could and could not forge sexual relations marked a move away from the chaos of nature and toward the order of culture. Similarly, Parsons (1974) argued that the incest prohibition propels individuals outside the family and causes them to perform other nonfamilial roles necessary for the functioning of a higher-level social structure. In the 1970s, feminist scholars began to generate arguments that challenged incest prohibition theories. They refuted the idea that incest was a rare occurrence and instead argued that the only taboo surrounding incest was a prohibition against speaking about it (Alcoff and Gray 1993; Armstrong 1978; Driver 1989). Feminists contended that acts of sexual abuse were not committed by perverse individuals but reflected normal gender relations in Western culture. Feminists stressed that incest and sexual abuse are marked by striking gender dynamics: Most victims are girls, and most perpetrators are men (Finkelhor 1994; Sedlak and Broadhurst 1996). They argued that incest is produced and maintained by male-dominant culture, characterized by patriarchal family structures (Armstrong 1978; Driver 1989; Herman and Hirschman 1977). Sexual abuse reflects masculine sexual norms of associating sex with prowess, power, conquest, and domination and expressing affection primarily through sexual channels (Driver 1989; MacKinnon 1987). Incest reinforces conventional feminine sexual norms of passivity, serving mens needs and deriving a sense of self-worth from caregiving and relationships with others (Herman and Hirschman 1977; Liebman Jacobs 1993). Families in which incest occurs have pronounced gender roles where the father has absolute authority and a profound sense of entitlement, expecting to have his demands obeyed and his needs served by his wife and (female) children (Gordon 1988; Herman and Hirschman 1977). Feminist accounts of incest and survivor testimonials emphasize themes of betrayal, breach of trust, abuse of power, and exploitation. These feminist themes reached a broader, popular audience through books directed toward abuse survivors (e.g., Bass and Davis 1988; Courtois 1988). Approximately one in five women in North America have been sexually abused (Finkelhor 1994). Figures from the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect have shown that the incidence of sexual abuse (the number of cases of sexual abuse reported to authorities) has greatly increased since 1980. However, researchers are

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uncertain as to whether increased rates represent an actual escalation in abuse or more willingness of individuals to report suspected abuse (Gelles and Conte 1990). Research has varied greatly in terms of reporting what proportion of sexual abuse cases involve incestor intrafamilial abuseand extrafamilial abuse (Finkelhor 1994). Studies report rates that range from 16 percent of sexual abuse cases involving family members (Russell 1983) to 29 percent (Finkelhor 1994). Sedlak and Broadhurst (1996) found that 29 percent of sexual abuse reports involved the birth father, while 25 percent of victims sexually abused by stepfathers or parent substitutes such as mothers boyfriends. Intrafamilial abuse begins earlier and is of longer duration in the childs lifetime than extrafamilial abuse (Fischer and McDonald 1998). Furthermore, intrafamilial abuse is often accompanied by more serious sexual acts and leaves victims more physically and emotionally injured than victims of extrafamilial abuse (Fischer and McDonald 1998).

METHOD I conducted a discourse analysis of media commentary surrounding two wellknown incest cases to explore how incest is framed in popular culture. Discourse analysis involves a close reading of texts to explore the production and distribution of knowledges in society (e.g., Skillington 1997). I use newspaper and magazine articles because the media shapes public opinion and because newspapers and magazines are indicators of popular culture. My first case concerns the 1997 publication of the memoir The Kiss, an account of author Kathryn Harrisons sexual affair with her birth father. The second case is the 1992-1993 scandal concerning Woody Allens relationship with (ex-lover Mia Farrows daughter) Soon-Yi Previn. I analyzed articles searching for rationales based on Foucaults (1978) and Bells (1993) blood-desire framework for understanding the popular medias meaning of incest. Kathryn Harrison and Soon-Yi Previn were both women in their early 20s when they became sexually involved in incestuous ways with significantly older men who were well established in their respective communities. The primary difference between the two cases is that Harrison and her father were blood related, although they did not see one another during Harrisons childhood, while Woody Allen was not related to Soon-Yi Previn by blood or law but saw her frequently during her childhood when he daily visited her mother and his adoptive children. Thus, Harrison and her father primarily had a blood relationship, while any family ties between Allen and Previn rested on newer notions of kinship and sexuality. The similarities (both women were adults) and differences (the family situations) between the two cases make them ideal for comparing the impact of the blood-desire spectrum on popular culture. Media commentators discussed the moral implications of incest in The Kiss and Woody Allens situation. By moral, I mean that commentators made normative judgments about the actors involved in the incestuous affairs. They judged whether they found these celebrities actions wrong or offensive according to what

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commentators believed were community norms. Indeed, sometimes the scandals provoked discussion of whether societys standards regarding incest, privacy, and the family were in decline. I initially located 116 articles published in 1997 on the author Kathryn Harrison and her memoir using Lexis-Nexis and the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature. These included book reviews, editorials, and interviews of Harrison. I investigated these articles, specifically looking for those that offered normative judgments on Harrison and her father. Two general themes repeatedly emerged in commentators reactions to The Kiss: whether Harrisons relationship with her father was equivalent to child sexual abuse and whether her memoir was too offensive to be published in nonfictional form. I initially located 183 articles on Woody Allens relationship with Soon-Yi Previn from 1992 to the end of 1993, spanning the time when the scandal first broke to the immediate aftermath following the custody dispute. These articles consisted of editorials, various experts diagnoses of the case, public opinion pieces, interviews with Allen and Previn, and articles describing the opinion of the judge who decided against Allen in a subsequent custody case (discussed below). Commentators reactions to the Allen-Previn affair can be characterized by two general themes: They discussed whether the affair was akin to incest and the meaning of family and fatherhood. I eliminated several types of articles from both of my final samples because the commentaries offered only facts about the book and no commentary about the incestuous situations; came from foreign newspapers or magazines; were syndicated columns repeated in other newspapers under new headlines; made too spare mention of the book or the affair to be of value; or focused only on the custody case concerning Allens adoptive children. My final sample on The Kiss included 46 articles, and my final sample on the Woody Allen case included 40 articles.

KATHRYN HARRISONS THE KISS The Kiss is a memoir that describes a destructive sexual relationship between author Kathryn Harrison and her birth father. Harrisons parents divorced when she was six months old. When she was 20, her 40-year-old biological father, a minister who had remarried and since had other children, visited and immediately showed sexual interest in his grown daughter, who seemed both thrilled and repulsed by the attention. Following the visit, during which the infamous sexual kiss from the books title occurred, the father seduced his daughter through constant love letters and phone calls, encouraging her to quit college and embark on an affair. Father and daughter became involved in an obsessive relationship. Harrison became highly dependent on her father during the relationship; cut off from college, her friends, and other family members; and became increasingly emotionally unstable. The affair ended after her mother died.

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In the case of The Kiss, blood relations were clearly informing commentators rationales since the only relationship Harrison and her father had to one another prior to the affair was one of blood ties. Twenty-seven commentators supported Harrison, while 19 criticized her. However, all of those who reviewed The Kiss found the situation of a blood-related father and daughter having sexual relations immoral in some way. Whether critical or supportive of Harrison, not one commentator took a libertarian position that the relationship was acceptable because both partners were adults who had consented to the affair. Yet beneath this superficial level of agreement that the sexual relationship between blood relatives was immoral, there were a range of positions on what precisely was deemed wrong with the incestuous situation. The primary issues at the center of controversy concerned whether Harrisons relationship was akin to child sexual abuse and whether Harrison should have publicly disclosed the affair or kept the information private.
Is It Abuse?

Twenty-eight commentators were compelled to state whether they believed the incest depicted in The Kiss was similar to child sexual abuse. Twenty of those described the affair between Harrison and her father as analogous to child sexual abuse (while eight argued that it was not). Commentators could have characterized the relationship as emotionally abusive due to Harrisons fathers cutting her off from friends and family without suggesting it was analogous to child sexual abuse. However, they argued that the affair was abusive because of Harrisons emotional vulnerability as a formerly fatherless daughter and her fathers exploitation of his parental role. Some employed the language of feminist self-help books throughout their essays, referring to Harrison as a survivor of incest and/or abuse. The following passages illustrate how observers framed Harrisons situation as analogous to child sexual abuse:
Whats really going on in this memoir has to do with the shifty issues of power, possession, how families live and lie, how the role of parent is not God-given or inviolate, how a child can be both victim and collaborator. (Roberts 1997, 12K) The period of sexual involvement that followed in many ways was typical of fatherdaughter incest, with the emotional coercion made possible, despite Harrisons nominally having reached an age of independence, by the profundity of her parentless neediness. (Udovitch 1997, 57-58) He abuses his authority as a parent and a preacher, with seemingly little concern for his victim. (Kothari 1997, G10) The Kiss is not a book about incest. It is a book about the power that parents have over their children, and the heartbreaking things that happen when that power is abused. (Peterson 1997, 3)

What makes the incestuous situation abusive for these observers are issues of emotional coercion, a power imbalance between parent and child (rather than only

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a power imbalance between an adult and child), an exploitation of the parental role, and her fathers lack of concern for the consequences of his actions. Despite the fact that there was a generational difference between Harrison and her father, commentators on The Kiss did not focus on the age difference. Instead, observers blurred distinctions between adults and children in terms of emotional maturity, arguing a parents authority and power can be exploited beyond childhood. They clearly demonstrate a move away from framing incest in terms of blood and instead conceive of it in terms of sexual and emotional harm. The act of incest becomes wrong regardless of the participants agesbecause of the psychological trauma induced from a sexual relationship occurring in the context of power imbalances based on social roles and gender. These commentaries also illustrate how feminist perspectives on incest and child sexual abuse have become influential enough to be used even when adults are involved rather than children. By contrast, eight observers explicitly argued that Harrisons situation was not analogous to child sexual abuse. What was key for them was that Harrison was an adult who willingly became sexually involved with her father. They questioned the degree to which Harrison was personally responsible for being in an incestuous relationship where she found herself emotionally unstable. The fact that she was an adult made her accountable for not spurning her fathers advances. The following passages aptly illustrate this view:
But its one thing to be a small child at the mercy of adults, and another thing to be an adult participant yourself. Her father may have peppered her with wheedling phone calls and letters, but he wasnt looming at her bedroom door, taking advantage of his size and his age. Their affair wasnt a sordid domestic situation, it was a complex operation. (Wolcott 1997, 32-37) Was her dad worse? Of course. Was she vulnerable? Apparently. But at 20 years old, Harrison was old enough to know the act was immoral. . . . Is this what America can expect in the spate of copycat adult incest tales sure to follow? Ambivalence. As if the women are moral children who know they will not be held to the same moral standards sure to pinion their pervert fathers? (Saunders 1997, 9) In the jargon, Harrison is the victim, yet there is something about this memoir that suggests a need to exonerate herself. Is she not culpable? Does an unhappy childhood or even the obvious psychoanalytic interpretation excuse what she has done? (Moore 1997, 44) The problem is Harrison presents herself as a complete victim: she wasnt awake enough to make moral choices, and thus is not responsible for what she has done. There is no price to pay for incest, not even shame. (Bush 1997, 519)

These commentators saw a clear demarcation between childhood and adulthood, where abuse constitutes exploiting a childs physical and emotional vulnerability, rather than exploiting the vulnerability of ones offspring. In this case, abuse is defined as taking advantage of greater adult size and age; once the child reaches adulthood, he or she is assumed to be unsusceptible to abuse. Therefore, emotional coercion of a woman past the age of consent is not abusive.

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Moreover, these critics seemed to hold Harrison, rather than her father, primarily responsible for the affair. This reflects the patriarchal assumption that it is women who bear the responsibility for rebuffing mens sexual advances. In these commentaries, Kathryn Harrison is not afforded the same access to libertarian values of sexual choice and privacy as her father is but is held primarily responsible for the consequences of the relationship. Furthermore, commentators who judged her actions as irresponsible had no deeper explanation for why the affair was wrong other than an implicit assumption that it is immoral for blood relatives to become sexually involved. They nonreflectively employed blood relations as a foundation for why incest is immoral, providing no rationale for why sexual relations between blood relatives should be considered problematic. Interestingly, only one commentator raised the question of whether the sexual relationship between Harrison and her father could have resulted in the birth of genetically defective offspring, suggesting that this was not a main issue for commentators who viewed the incestuous relationship as wrong.
Public/Private Boundaries

The second theme that emerged was whether Kathryn Harrison should have published a nonfiction account of the affair. In 1991, she had published a fictional version of the affair in the novel Thicker Than Water, which by and large received favorable reviews. Thirty-four commentators discussed whether Harrison should have published The Kiss, with 17 arguing that she should not have published it and another 17 defending her right to publish the memoir. Critics felt that Harrison offended notions of common decency, discretion, and privacy by describing her affair in nonfictional form. The following passages illustrate the range of such commentary:
What greater good is Harrison serving by making many thousands of people privy to an intimate and shameful story that should really be between herself, her husband, her analyst, and, if she has one, her God? . . . If Harrison were really courageous as her supporters assert, she would have fought her demons in private and protected her children at any cost. (Allen 1997, 64-70) This woman slept with her father. And then told the world. To put it another way, just because a writer can speak the unspeakable, does that mean that she should? Harrisons mother is dead, but the unnamed father . . . is alive somewhere with his second wife and their children. (Schwarzbaum 1997, 30-31) But its impossible to silence the question: Has she chosen writing over her family? Has she exposed her young son and daughter to a lifetime of taunts about their mother and their grandfather? (Gordon 1997, 136) This confession isnt from the heart, its from the pocketbook. . . . The real dishonesty is this shameful book, which exploits the private life of the authors familyif, by the way, anything herein actually happened as she claims it didfor personal gain and talk show notoriety. (Yardley 1997, D2)

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There were several reasons why commentators felt she should not publish the memoir. Some simply felt the subject matter of adult incest offended notions of public decency and should be disclosed only under circumstances of privacy. Others argued that publishing The Kiss was an irresponsible act that would harm Harrisons family, including her biological father and his (other) children, as well as her own children. They criticized Harrison for placing her biological father in a position where his identity could be discovered. They also assumed that Kathryn Harrisons own children would be traumatized by public disclosure that their mother engaged in incest. Here, the implication is that Harrison was both a bad mother and a bad daughter, not necessarily for having the incestuous affair but for breaking the norms of privacy and secrecy that often surround incestuous acts. Furthermore, no commentators expressed concern that Harrisons father would commit incest with his other children. This position can only make sense in the context of viewing the institution of the family as an absolutely private sphere where family secrets should be kept to protect other family members, including children and (incestuous) fathers. Some profeminist commentators countered this type of argument, noting that critiques of Harrison had the air of depoliticizing the personal. For example, The Womens Review of Books (Alther 1997, 33-34) argued,
And why is it that whenever women describe their experience of life in a public forum, they are automatically accused of being bad wives, mothers, or daughters, while if they nurse their wounds in silence, they are accused of being hypocrites and martyrs?

However, another feminist reviewer critiqued Harrison on this same count, arguing, The helpless victim stance . . . is hardly helpful to women either personally or politically, and it certainly cant be characterized as liberating (Lehrman 1997, C3). The criticism that Harrison was wrong to have published a nonfiction account of her incestuous affair illustrates the feminist contention that there is a cultural prohibition against speaking out about incest. The silencing of incest survivors supports a patriarchal social system by demanding that women (and children) hide the personal indiscretions of their fathers (Alcoff and Gray 1993; Armstrong 1994; Barringer 1992; Gordon 1988). The other 17 commentators who defended Harrisons right to publish The Kiss all directly responded to the critiques of Harrison described above. These commentators argued that Harrison had the right to publicly air the pain that the affair had caused her and that it was a well-written memoir that deserved an audience. For example, one reviewer asserted, Not to want to know, not to speak the truth would, I believe, be the real obscenity (Wood 1997, 8J), and author Tobias Wolff (1997, 19) defended Harrison in the New York Times: Ive never met Kathryn Harrison, but I have read her book, thought it remarkably courageous and well-told and have been happy to recommend it. In summary, blood relations remain important in moral rationales by media commentators, demonstrated by the fact that all commentators viewed the

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relationship between Harrison and her father as inherently wrong. No commentator argued that Harrison and her father were consenting adults and could thus engage in sexual relations as they so chose. However, beyond this superficial level of agreement, commentators disagreed on whether they viewed Harrisons incestuous situation as analogous to child sexual abuse. Those who viewed the relationship as abusive argued that her father exploited his parental role and psychologically and emotionally coerced his daughter into engaging in an affair. They viewed the relationship as wrong because it was asymmetrical in terms of power relations, causing Harrison psychological and emotional trauma as the less powerful player. On the blood-desire continuum, these deeper commentaries fell toward the desire end, questioning her fathers incestuous desire and the harm it had caused his biological daughter. This framing was obviously influenced by a feminist perspective of incest. By contrast, those who blamed Harrison indicated that as an adult woman, she was responsible for rejecting her fathers sexual advances or at least was responsible for keeping their sexual indiscretions private. The relationship was wrong because it offended blood relations and notions of familial privacy.

WOODY ALLENS INCEST CONTROVERSY In 1992-1993, filmmaker Woody Allen was mired in an incestuous scandal. When he was 57, Allen became romantically involved with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted 20-year-old daughter of his long-time lover, Mia Farrow. Debate ensued over whether his relationship with Previn was incest. Allens relationship with Mia Farrow and her 11 children was legally complex. He had been romantically linked with Farrow for 12 years, though they neither were married nor cohabitated. He had adopted her son Moses and her daughter Dylan and was the birth father of her youngest son Satchel. Thus, Allen was not biologically or legally related to Previn. Woody Allen was also accused of having sexually abused his seven-year-old adoptive daughter Dylan. Allen sued Farrow for custody of Moses, Dylan, and Satchel in 1992. For the most part, observers separated their commentary on Allens affair with Previn, the sex abuse charges, and the custody case, so I focused my study only on commentary concerning Allen and Previns relationship. Most observers focused on whether the Allen-Previn relationship was incestuous. Out of 40 articles, 29 commentaries were critical of Woody Allen. Of these 29, 18 believed Allens relationship was incestuous and 11 argued it should be considered incest but could not be because of the informal ties of Allen and Farrows family. The final 11 commentators were supportive of Allen, arguing the relationship did not constitute incest and that Allen was not a father figure to Previn. Commentary on the controversy was fascinating because of the nature of the Allen-Farrow postmodern family consisting of two unmarried parents with biological and adoptive children (who had been adopted by two different fathers). Arguments about whether the relationship was incestuous almost completely hinged on commentators thoughts on whether Farrow and her children constituted a real family and

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whether Allen was a real father. Usually, those who considered Allen a father to Farrows children also felt that his relationship with Previn was immoral because it smacked of incest. Some used the Allen-Farrow-Previn controversy to discuss changing conceptualizations of the family and fatherhood in American society.
Incest and Abuse of Power

With the Allen-Previn controversy, 18 observers felt the relationship was incestuous. They argued that Allen was a father figure who had abused that role to gain access to Previn. The following quotes represent these views:
His relationship to Soon-Yi Farrow Previn . . . is unavoidably about leverage: Parental nurturing and adult example have been put to ulterior purpose. (Trueheart 1992, C1) That would put him into violating generational boundaries. He is put in a parental role, regardless of whether he is the parent or not. (Bonker 1992, Q1) As a parental figure, Allen did not enter his relationship with Soon-Yi on a level playing field. In a strictly legal sense, Allen is guilty of neither harassment nor abuse. But by falling in love with Soon-Yi and acting upon that emotion, he has severely damaged the family structure of which he is a part. (Wall 1992, 795-96)

In these accounts, the immorality of incest encompassed exploiting the parental role, violating generational differences, and damaging the family structure. Observers contend that Woody Allen used whatever power and admiration he might have gained by virtue of being an adult presence in Farrows household to gain sexual access to Soon-Yi Previn. The fact that Previn was an adult mattered less to critics than the idea that there was a power imbalance between the two based on Allens father figure status and the age difference between them. Commentators also argued that Allens relationship with Previn hurt Farrows family, dividing family members. Soon-Yi Previn became cut off from her adoptive mother and siblings when the affair was discovered. Critics of Woody Allen (including the judge who presided over his custody case) maintained that what was immoral about the relationship was that he did not consider the consequences of his actions and how he damaged the family of which he had been part. The same 18 observers who viewed Allens relationship with Previn as incestuous argued that Farrows family was legitimate and that Allen had been a father figure regardless of whether the parents and siblings were biologically related or joined by legal ties of marriage. The following quotes represent the range of these views:
Still for all its Norman Rockwell asymmetry, the Farrow-Allen polyglot was every much a family unit as that statistical anomaly with a working father, stay-at-home mother and 2.3 children. Mutual nurture, support and respect not only sustain, but also defines families. All of which combines to make Allens love affair with Farrows 21year-old daughter as morally repugnant as incest between blood relatives. (Editorial Staff 1992, A8)

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That means Woody Allen knew Farrows previously adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Farrow Previn, as a child and watched her grow up. He was a stepfather to her, and to her brothers and sisters. Even though Allen and Farrow never married or lived together, they still formed a family, albeit an untraditional one. And Allen, as patriarch, assumed the rights of fatherhood. (Lofas 1992, 55) Allen and Farrow have not forged a typical family unit, but to the adults and children involved it is their family and their home, the place where they eat, where they sleep, and where they should expect to be protected and not exploited. (Wall 1992, 795)

The family is defined here in social, emotional, and even geographical terms rather than merely by blood. Emotional ties and the social role of being an adult caretaker took precedence over biological relations for defining fatherhood. The family becomes wherever children call home, and adults who engage in any sort of caretaking role while there constitute parental figures. These commentators employed a broad meaning of incest to fit the untraditional family structure at issue in this case, reflecting a feminist influence. Eleven other critics of Allen provided a variation on this theme. They argued that the Allen-Previn relationship should be considered incest but could not be since Farrow and Allen had not married. Articles that featured expert commentary by psychologists, psychiatrists, and family therapists often utilized the Allen-Previn affair to consider whether the decline of the nuclear family (consisting of two biological parents and children) would contribute to a potential rise in the incidence of incest in society.
The [Allen-Farrow] clash raised troubling questions for every nouveau Brady Bunch family, every jerry-built alliance of siblings who are more like classmates and parents who may be only lovers. What is incest? How affectionate can a man be to those in his care? What is a father? How much distance must he put between himself and his unofficial children before he is free to date one of them? (Corliss 1992, 54-58) In biological families . . . incest is regarded as a crime against nature. In stepfamilies, where a natural attraction exists between stepparents and stepchildren of the opposite sex, there are few taboos against acting sexually. (Lofas 1992, 55)

These commentators used the ambiguity of the Farrow alternative family to decry the declining significance of marriage and the spread of more diverse family forms. They seemed to assume that biological relations formed a fundamental, natural boundary that effectively prevents incest within families. The Allen-Farrow-Previn clan was used symbolically in these accounts to represent more fluid family relations that trouble notions of the traditional family. This sort of rhetoric expressing fear over the decline of family values was common in the United States throughout the 1990s, both in public rhetoric and within academic circles (e.g., Popenoe 1999; Quayle 2001). Not surprisingly, Woody Allen himself did not think of his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn as incestuous because he did not see himself as having been a father

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figure to Previn. Allen defined his relationship to Farrow, Previn, and their family in the following way:
I am not Soon-Yis father or stepfather. Ive never even lived with Mia. Ive never in my entire life slept at Mias apartment, and I never even used to go over there until my children came along seven years ago. I never had any family dinners over there. I was not a father to her adopted kids in any sense of the word. . . . This was not some type of family unit in any remote way. . . . These people are a collection of kids, they are not blood sisters or anything. (Corliss 1992, 59-61)

He added in a Newsweek (Allen and Kroll 1992, 54-55) interview, I was a father figure to my own children, period. Those are the three in my will. Soon-Yi Previn concurred (Corliss 1992, 61): To think that Woody was in any way a father or stepfather to me is laughable. My parents are Andre Previn and Mia, but obviously theyre not even my real parents. The roles of fathers were important in both The Kiss and the Allen-Previn scandal. Harrisons father was physically distant during her childhood, which therefore allowed him to think of his daughter as sexually approachable. Allen was seemingly emotionally distant as a father figure and therefore could not understand why the public viewed his relationship with Previn as incestuous. Eleven supporters of Allen agreed that Farrows family did not constitute a real family and that Allen was not a father figure to Previn, only to her siblings for whom he was seeking custody. Commentators supportive of Allen also did not view Farrows family as a legitimate family or Allen as a father figure. They did not see his transgression as incestuous. As these editorials most clearly framed it,
And we must be clear here about the nature of Woody Allens crime. It was not child abuse. And it was not incest, for Allen was never a father to Soon-Yi. Allens crime was to fall in love in a way for which society was not really prepared. (Lewis 1992, 11-12) The pursuit of youth and beauty has been an integral part of highly accomplished male life for centuries. Allen has the right to seek his muse wherever he may find her. (Paglia 1992, 42)

These rationales arguing that the Allen-Previn affair was not incestuous rest on the libertarian assumption that Allen and Previn were consenting adults who were free to become sexually involved as they so chose. By contrast, with The Kiss, critics argued that sexual relations between consenting (but blood related) adults was wrong. Blood relations play a strong role in this argument, providing a rationalization for why the relationship between Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn was legitimate: Real relatives are related by blood; therefore, they were not committing incest. Such an argument employs a traditional definition of incestlimited only to sexual relations between blood relativesthat cannot encompass alternative family arrangements where family ties are not defined by law or blood.

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In summary, although Woody Allen was not related by blood or legal ties to Soon-Yi Previn, most commentators found the relationship morally wrong, and they often defined the relationship in incestuous terms. Critics of Allen employed more flexible definitions of incest and the family that instead hinged on psychological, emotional, and social ties binding family members. In terms of the blood-desire continuum, most comments on the Allen-Previn affair fell toward the desire end, reflecting values associated with Foucaults (1978) deployment of sexuality. Allens desire for a younger woman with family-like ties to himself was viewed as problematic, and the relationship is framed in terms of harm. Contrastingly, for supporters of Allen, the immorality of incest depended on blood relationsAllens actions were not immoral because he was not a blood relative.

CONCLUSION: OEDIPUS WRECKED? Sophocles composed the tragedy Oedipus Rex when Western society was organized around a different system of kinship and sexuality. Incest was thought of strictly as sexual relations between blood relatives and was considered morally wrong because it produced tainted offspring and threatened to confuse lines of inheritance around which premodern society was organized. This embodies the blood end of the continuum that Bell (1993) referred to in interpreting the meaning of incest. In the contemporary context, where marriage is based on emotion and families are constructed by will and choice in diverse arrangements, does the tragedy of Oedipus still make sense? Is it the case, as a reviewer of The Kiss commented, that there is no price to pay for incest, not even shame? Or, as 11 expert commentators on Woody Allens affair suggested, can stepfathers and boyfriends feel free to pursue their lovers daughters in the absence of legal and biological ties that traditionally defined children as part of families and therefore as sexually off limits? Has a moral vacuum been created where an incest prohibition once existed? My study suggests that changing family configurations have not created a moral vacuum where incest is concerned. Power relations are now central to discussions of incest as a moral issue. Norms and morals for protecting children have been reconstructed in feminist terms indicating that incest represents an abuse of power. The meaning of incest has shifted to represent the sexual exploitation of emotional ties between relatives of all sorts including stepfamily, blood relatives, and chosen kin. Feminist perspectives on incest represent the desire end of the continuum where incest is about incestuous desires and the psychological, physical, and emotional harm experienced by incest survivors is often phrased in terms of child sexual abuse. Changes in institutions of family and kinship have transformed the meaning of incest. In the cases discussed here, the impact of changing family relations on incest discourse is apparent. In media commentary on Woody Allens relationship with

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Soon-Yi Previn, although they were not related by blood or by law, commentators explained why they nonetheless found the relationship incestuous and morally suspect. Blood relations were not needed by the commentators in this case to define the relationship as incestuous, even though biological relations have traditionally been the foundation of what incest means. Thus, the meaning of incest changed to fit the new family forms that Mia Farrows family represented. In seeming contrast, commentators on The Kiss universally found the sexual relationship between blood related father and daughter immoral, suggesting that blood is still significant for understanding incest. However, most commentators did not focus on offending blood relations as the primary wrong, but they instead honed in on the fathers abuse of his parental role and his controlling manner within the relationship. Thus, most commentary on The Kiss and the Woody Allen case framed incest in terms of the desire end of the continuum, constructing incest in terms of immoral desires on the part of the offender and the harm it causes. This is based on feminist perspectives on incest as sexually exploiting the role of parent, even if the meaning of parent has expanded to include different relationships. Feminism encourages framing incest in terms of sexual abuse, even when children are not involved. In recent years, feminist ideas in popular discourse have often been met with ridicule or sharp criticism (Ashley and Olson 1999; Faludi 1992). However, the media commentaries on the incestuous situations presented by The Kiss and Woody Allen illustrate that feminism has had an impact on popular constructions of incest.

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Nancy L. Fischer is a visiting assistant professor of sociology at Macalester College. She researches and teaches social theory, culture, sexuality, and law. Her current research explores legal constructions of sexuality, particularly how the perception of childrens sexuality shifts on the basis of gender within legal discourse.

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