Mackenzie Phillips: Sex With Dad Not Consensual

Illustration for article titled Mackenzie Phillips: Sex With Dad Not Consensual

On last night's Joy Behar Show, actress and memoirist Mackenzie Phillips took back her earlier assertion that the sexual relationship she had with her father John Phillips was "consensual."


Phillips told Behar,

I'd like to reframe my word, 'consensual.' As I was writing the book, I thought, this word, it kept sitting wrong with me, but I used it for lack of a better word, and since then I've been schooled by thousands of incest survivors all across the world that there really is no such thing as consensual incest due to the inherent power a parent has over a child. So, I wouldn't necessarily call it a consensual relationship at this time.

Co-guest Dr. Drew concurred, saying, "The child is trying to make sense of the situation, and she feels that the only way she can survive it is by saying 'I'm creating it, I have some power in this, I'm consenting to it, when the fact is, the kind of relationship a parent has with a child really makes consent impossible." I advanced a similar argument at the time of Phillips's revelation, but not everyone agreed. Broadsheet's Tracy Clark-Flory wrote,

I have a hard time agreeing with the argument that adult father-daughter incest is always, without exception, rape. Unfortunately, sex can be fraught with pressure and indirect coercion — because of a power imbalance or manipulation. Emotionally unhealthy and profoundly destructive sexual relationships abound: Are all of these varied situations necessarily rape? I don't think it's that straightforward. Our visceral reaction to this cultural taboo warps the debate.

But Clark-Flory also pointed out that Phillips's relationship with her father definitely started as rape, since she was blacked out the first time they had sex. And, she points out now, Phillips still doesn't use the word "rape." Phillips says that in her memoir High On Arrival she was "trying to preserve my father's memory" — and perhaps in some way she's still trying. Even this possibility makes clear that it's not just the incest taboo that makes consensual parent-child sex a questionable concept. Nor is it only power. A parent who initiates sex with a child — even if the child is grown, and even if he or she eventually "consents" — is taking advantage of the parent-child bond, a bond that could easily make the child feel it's not okay to say no. I'd still argue that there's an inherent coercion in a parent approaching a child sexually, and that this coercion makes consent, as Drew says, "impossible." The situation in which a child approaches a parent may be more complicated, but that wasn't Phillips's experience. And in fact, because she was frequently incapacitated from drugs — to which her father introduced her in the first place — her case is really pretty clear-cut. The story of Mackenzie Phillips and her father may be like that of Roman Polanski and Samantha Geimer — touching on potentially complicated issues, but in its actual facts, chillingly simple.


Mackenzie Phillips Says Sex With Father Not Consensual [CNN]
It Wasn't "Consensual" Incest [Broadsheet]

Related: Is Father-Daughter Incest Always Rape? [Broadsheet]

Earlier: 10 Reasons Why John Phillips Was The Worst "Papa" Ever
Did Mackenzie Phillips Have "Consensual" Sex With Her Dad?


Mireille is sensational, like a She-Hulk

Whether the sexual activity between Mackenzie and her father is described as rape (which I believe it is) or something else, I think she is incredibly brave to speak about it. She had to have known the kind of mockery and derision she would be subjected to. But she is an example that other people in that situation can now look to.

I think Dr Drew was right on in that she probably didn't want to call it rape because it's very difficult to admit when one has no power in a situation... it's easier sometimes to take some of the blame and imagine she had some control of the situation and allowed it rather than realize she was powerless and victimized. (And being able to admit one was victimized does not necessarily mean one is "playing the victim" for sympathy or what not.)