"We Own Her Now"
Cultic Studies Journal
Vol. 14, No. 01
Once, in a leadership meeting, my cult leader scoffingly
remarked about a relatively new member, "Hah, we own her now!" This victory was
proclaimed by our leader in response to learning that the young woman had just broken her
engagement with her fianc�, someone who had not been interested in joining our group and
who, it was feared, would hold the woman back from deepening her commitment to us.
own her now. I own her now. I own them now. I own you now.
How often must such thoughts run through the minds of
psychopaths, con artists, cult leaders, and out-of-control authoritarian figures? Some
historians and researchers say that ownership of women and attitudes of dominance and
control date back to the "humblest beginnings of social order" (Brownmiller,
1975); and many social commentators would argue that these oppressive attitudes prevail
yet today-despite the advances in consciousness, perception, and legal rights favoring
women that have been brought about by various progressive social movements.
Yet, how infrequently we explore these unequal power
dynamics, and how little we truly comprehend their effects on women today. Even more
sequestered from our view are the countless hidden, coercive relationships: the terrified
woman held in an abusive "intimate" relationship, the "chosen" student
intimidated into having sex with her teacher, the trusting parishioner tricked into a
secret affair with her pastor, the selfless devotee caught in a web of pseudospiritual
sexual shenanigans with her guru, the confused client persuaded to indulge the fantasies
of her self-serving therapist. The acts of exploitation and abuse found in what might be
described as ultra-authoritarian or psychologically coercive settings range from a woman
being subjected to obey rigid (and often arbitrary) rules governing her daily life,
personal life, intimate life, and sexual mores, to having marriage and childbearing
controlled, to being a victim of ongoing sexual harassment, rape, and physical violence.
Are women more susceptible to the psychological ruses
employed by others to gain power, control, and sexual favors? Are women more compliant
because of their socialization to endure more, complain less, doubt themselves more, trust
authorities (especially male ones) without hesitation? I have done no studies to prove it,
but I think so. Almost without exception throughout the world, women are taught-directly
and indirectly, and in practically every avenue and milieu of our existence from the time
we are little girls on-to put ourselves aside and put the other first. What better setup
for the person (male or female) who-whether motivated by delusion or downright evil
intent-desires and conspires to take advantage of others?
Talking openly about such issues is never easy, especially
when one has been the object of such humiliation, manipulation, and in some cases
excessively dangerous behavior. Public understanding is lacking, at best, and is blaming
and deprecatory, at worst. And professional comprehension, or even a serious tackling of
this topic, has not fared much better. Yet, open discourse is the only way as a society we
can learn of these harsh realities and begin perhaps to do something about them.
In the preface to a new edition of her seminal study, In a
Different Voice, psychologist Carol Gilligan wrote that women speaking out is part of
"the ongoing historical process of changing the voice of the world by bringing
women's voices into the open, thus starting a new conversation" (1993, p. xxvii). For
that reason, I salute the women who, upon invitation, contributed to this special issue.
Whether writing as professionals with some experience in this area or as survivors of some
form of authoritarian abuse or power imbalance, these authors have honored all women who
have been entrapped, hindered, traumatized, and harmed by a perpetrator of psychological
manipulation and control. Women's voices coming together to bring new perspectives, a
broad understanding, renewed hope, and eventually change-that was my dream in putting
together this special volume. I thank my colleagues here for making my dream come true.
We don't pretend to have "the answer"; rather,
with these essays, our hope is to begin a discussion (or many discussions) on a topic much
in need of airing, where both public and professional scrutiny have been lacking for far
too long. So, let the stories be told, the data gathered, the conclusions drawn, the
questions asked and re-asked. Let's do it for the women, the children, the men, each
other, and the world.
From the Editor
AFF's conference in Philadelphia, "Psychological
Manipulation: The Abuse of Women", was a wonderful success.
This issue of AFF News contains a selection from the most
recent issue of the Cultic
Studies Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1, "Women Under The Influence." This
is an outstanding issue!
A warm thanks to Janja Lalich for her work as the Guest
Editor of this special issue and for her special contribution to this issue of AFF News.