Monday, December 06, 2004

Pedophilia Chic Revisted...Again:

The Weekly Standard revisits the “pedophilia chic” issue (in the form of a movie review) that they originally raised concern about in these two articles. Kudos to the Standard for running this article that contradicts the laughable thesis of the original “pedophilia chic” articles, that this problem is endemic to the gay, not the straight community. As Mary Eberstadt’s original article put it: “The reason why the public is being urged to reconsider boy pedophilia is that this ‘question,’ settled though it may be in the opinions and laws of the rest of the country, is demonstrably not yet settled within certain parts of the gay rights movement.”

Jonathan Last’s article, on the other hand, nary mentions homosexual pedophilia, but rather focuses exclusively on the heterosexual community’s problem with pedophilia. And he aptly demonstrates what a canard Eberstadt’s original thesis was.

BEFORE LINDSAY AND HILARY, before Amanda, before Kirsten and Britney, even before--if you can imagine--Mary-Kate and Ashley, there was Natalie [Portman]….

This isn't the first outbreak. In the '60s, Stanley Kubrick tippy-toed up to the edge when he cast the 16-year-old Sue Lyon in Lolita. In 1980, the syndrome flourished with the scantily-clad Brooke Shields in Blue Lagoon. Shields made an entire career out of that semi-soft core movie. She was 15 at time, so director Randal Kleiser coyly used body-doubles for the nude scenes, a fact which was not widely advertised. America was gripped in Shields-mania and for a while, Blue Lagoon became short-hand for the pervy thrill of seeing naked adolescent girls….

And after Natalie, the deluge. There was Britney Spears's dirty-sweet school-girl act. The celebrated website devoted to a countdown to the Olsen twins' 18th birthday. And then the crowning moment: Vanity Fair's Youngest Hollywood issue, which displayed on its cover nine underaged vixens in various states of get-up-and-go, along with a headline proclaiming: "It's TOTALLY Raining Teens: And it's, like, so a major moment in pop culture."

Even the taboo of Blue Lagoon lust is a thing of the past; today we celebrate the sexualization of young girls. Thanks, Natalie.

As Last’s article indicates, this “question” clearly is not and in fact never was “settled” “in the opinions and laws of the rest of the country.” A problem with both Last’s and Eberstadt’s theses is their contention that this phenomenon is “chic” (or cutting edge, new, most likely a product of post-60s sexual modernity). As Last puts it, “[Portman] is patient zero in our culture's latest epidemic of pedophilia chic.”

First off, let us understand the “problem” that Eberstadt and Last refer to: It is not authentic “pedophilia,” which technically is sexual attraction to a prepubescent boy or girl. No, their examples in all of these articles are almost entirely sexualization of post-pubescent, but underaged, teens.

This phenomenon is known as ephebophilia, and while I agree with the Standard that this is wrong and thus unacceptable (both pedophilia and ephebophilia are wrong for the exact same reason—they both harm the underaged), it is important to note the difference between these two phenomena.

Pedophilia, from a statistical point of view, is extremely abnormal (relatively rare). The sexual attraction of the pedophile tends to be exclusively or primarily directed towards prepubescent children. And the orientation is strongly resistant to treatment. As far as I know this culture has never accepted real pedophilia (nor should it).

Ephebophilia is a behavior that is far more common, and that’s because the attraction is more natural. A post-pubescent teen is, let us not forget, a biological adult. Generally, there is no exclusive “ephebophilia” orientation; rather the desire stems from a general heterosexual (or homosexual) orientation. So while it would be a mistake to refer to a man who is exclusively attracted to pre-pubescent boys as “homosexual,” (just as it would be a mistake to describe a man who is exclusively attracted to pre-pubescent girls as “heterosexual”) men who have relations with post-pubescent, but underaged girls or boys, most likely do have general heterosexual or homosexual orientations, respectively.

Oh sure, some have predilections, or “fetishes” towards underaged teens, in the same way that some have racial, height, weight, etc., predilections (some adults have preferences for significantly older partners as well). But these are usually not understood as exclusive and separate sexual or romantic desires. Moreover, many adults who partake in ephebophila have no preference for younger partners. The underaged actor simply is biologically fully developed, as much as a legal adult is (one thinks of 6-foot tall, 14-year-old golfing sensation, Michele Wie).

How does the difference make a difference? Because sexual relations between an adult man and underaged teen girl is biologically natural (from a procreative point of view), this behavior has been “normalized” throughout Western Culture, so long as sexual relations took place within the context of a marriage. So can we note a point of origin in Western Culture, “normalizing” this type of pedophilia? Yes, when the Ancient Jews declared women to be adults at the age of 12 and men at the age of 13. It’s not hard to understand why they drew that line. Typically, that’s the onset of puberty, when nature declares us to be adults.

So is this behavior a product of post-60s sexual modernity? Hardly. In the heyday of social conservatism—the South in the 1950s—marriages between adult males and girls as young as 12 were allowed. Some prominent celebrity examples—both Loretta Lynn and Jerry Lee Lewis were involved in marriages where one party was an adult male and the other was a 13-year-old girl. We can assume many non-celebrity examples as well. (Could you imagine the outrage if gay marriage advocates like Andrew Sullivan or Jonathan Rauch wanted to marry 13-year-old boy partners?)

Adult-teen marriages are important to note because foes of same-sex marriages argue that marriage confers the ultimate status of “normalization” upon such legally recognized relationships. If that’s the case, then traditional pre-1960s Western sexual morality has conferred the status of “normal” on sexual relations between adults and 13-year-olds, exactly the sorts of things with which the Standard's articles are concerned.

In fact, as far as I understand, the modern-post-1960s-trend has been to raise the age of consent to uniformly closer to 18. In all fairness, until the changes of the 60s, girls were somewhat protected the by fact that teenage sex was only socially permitted when it took place within the context of a marriage. And since the sexual revolution, since people more freely and openly began to have sex before marriage, exploiting underaged girls thus became easier. Hence, it became more readily apparent that sex between and an adult and a 13, 14, 15, or even 16-year-old ought to be permitted in few if any circumstances.

But that, and not pedophilia is the “modern” or “chic,” post-sexual revolution trend.


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