As the feminist psychiatrist Judith Herman puts it in her book Trauma and Recovery: “His correspondence makes clear that he was increasingly troubled by the radical social implications of his hypothesis…. Faced with this dilemma, Freud stopped listening to his female patients.” If they were telling the truth, he would have to challenge the whole edifice of patriarchal authority to support them. Later, she adds, “with a stubborn persistence that drove him into ever greater convolutions of theory, he insisted that women imagined and longed for the abusive sexual encounters of which they complained.” It was as though a handy alibi had been constructed for all transgressive authority, all male perpetrators of crimes against females. She wanted it. She imagined it. She doesn’t know what she is saying.


Still, even now, when a woman says something uncomfortable about male misconduct, she is routinely portrayed as delusional, a malicious conspirator, a pathological liar, a whiner who doesn’t recognize it’s all in fun, or all of the above. The overkill of these responses recalls Freud’s deployment of the joke about the broken kettle. A man accused by his neighbor of having returned a borrowed kettle damaged replies that he had returned it undamaged, it was already damaged when he borrowed it, and he had never borrowed it anyway. When a woman accuses a man and he or his defenders protest that much, she becomes that broken kettle.

Rebecca Solnit, “Cassandra among the Creeps”