Should a child ever get married?

 

Heretic TOC is delighted to welcome a new guest blogger today. This is “Prue”, who recently completed a Master’s degree in critical theory, achieving a Distinction (first-class honours, in effect) with a dissertation on intergenerational sexuality. Prue, who goes by they/them pronouns, is not a MAP but is opposed to MAP demonisation. They plan further research on MAP / youth sexuality issues and aim for an academic career that will engage with related concerns, including pornographic literacies, asexuality, post-feminism (in contrast to victimological feminism), and contemporary fascism.

 

CHILD MARRIAGE: OFTEN IT WAS FOR LOVE, ACTUALLY

Should you go down on one knee for your young lover? (Should they go down on one knee for you?) In Nicholas Syrett’s American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States, published in 2016, readers are presented with an appropriately myth-busting history that will appeal to heretics. To spark some discussion, I’ll address the early chapters.

Reflecting the chronology of the book, Syrett begins by comparing Susie King Taylor’s 1902 memoir Reminiscences of My Life, which narrates her escape from slavery and subsequent participation as a nurse in the American Civil War (1861-1865), with country singer Loretta Lynn’s more recent 1976 autobiography, Coalminer’s Daughter. Taylor married a soldier in 1862 during the war years, but her memoir does not focus on her marriage nor her age (14) at the time. In stark contrast, Loretta Lynn places her youthful marriage centre-stage, capitalizing on the “backwards” American South trope. In fact, “to appear as ‘country’ as possible” Syrett explains, Lynn “lied about the date of her marriage and thus her age […]: she had been fifteen, not thirteen” (p. 2). The difference in emphasis between the two accounts hints at the changing significance ascribed to the categories of ‘minors’ and ‘marriage’ from the 19th century to today.

Unfortunately for boy-lovers, this history is a squarely gendered one, with younger Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB) females typically marrying older AMAB males. It is not, however, a history of dumbfounded girls being forced to marry (either by their parents or prospective spouses). Although Syrett does not support the practice by any stretch of the imagination, he is at pains to explain how the 19th century ethos around youthful marriage meant that while a parent or caregiver (usually a father) had to give their consent, the girls were deciding for themselves.

The image of young girls forced to marry reflects in part, Syrett suggests, the history of American exceptionalism: the belief that “child marriage is practiced only in other places – India, Afghanistan, various African nations – or, if in the United States, only by religious sects where multiple girls marry one man against their will” (p. 6). “These versions of child marriage”, Syrett writes, “forced unions arranged by parents, sometimes the exchange of a dowry, brides below the age of twelve – are indeed different from what usually happens in the United States, where marrying girls have tended to be in their teens and have usually themselves made the decision to marry” (p. 6, my emphasis).

Syrett makes some perceptive introductory remarks. One (p. 11) concerns how research is unclear as to whether minors who marry suffer adverse health consequences because of the marriage or because of the events / conditions surrounding a person who marries. That is, poverty, histories of violence, prior mental / physical health issues, and a lack of access to education, sex-education, contraception, and so on.

The obligatory, problematic, comments on “pedophilia”, however, come as early as page 3. “Before the 1920s”, Syrett writes, “most people […] did not share our understanding of pedophilia”, which he follows up to define as “the sexual predilection of some adults for children” (p. 4). Other than taking this opportunity to point out that Syrett consistently appeals to some mythic shared and obviously superior collective unity – “us”, “we” – “our” beliefs, the author’s diction (word-choice), “understanding” in relation to paedophilia, is a stretch by any standard.

First, the stigmatized and misused term “pedophilia” is commonly invoked to shut-down understanding, especially academic research as per the “pedophile smear”. Second, Syrett’s definition is plain wrong, arguably misleading his readers when the author ought to know better. Paedophilia denotes exclusive or preferential (not occasional or one-time) attraction to prepubescents, whereas most “child marriage” occurs with late-teens! His language here seems even more strange because he later specifies his use of “child” to refer to the current American-legal definition meaning anyone under 18 years old, conflicting with this earlier usage where age demarcations are absent. Syrett’s inaccuracy risks leaving readers easily, and erroneously, conflating those who fancy a teenager with exclusive or preferential paedophiles!

Whilst I agree with him that the “child” as 18 is an “arbitrary” designation, obviously so when the age of consent varies considerably both today and in the 19th to early 20th century, the age thresholds for marriage stipulated by the original American colonies, a minimum of age seven for minors with minors to the more general 12 for females and 14 for males, were arguably less arbitrary in that they aimed to reflect biological processes of puberty and reproductive capacity.

When I first glimpsed the book’s cover, I thought the author was poking fun, making their own meme out of the current America-centric discourse where people under 18 are situated as “children”, with their desires and sexual subjectivities rendered pathological and morally unacceptable as judged by a conservative standard of decency (or Fascist so-called “degeneracy”). But no. In showing a buxom, voluptuous young woman strolling on the beach arm-in-arm with her older husband, the audience are seriously invited to accept, rather than to question and unpack, the labelling of this woman as a “child” (perhaps “woman-child”?).

Child bride? Really? Admittedly Peaches Browning, the buxom young woman featured on the cover with her recently acquired husband, was only 15 when she married 51-year-old wealthy New York property developer Edward “Daddy” Browning, but she was hardly prepubescent at the time. The relationship was nevertheless a sensational tabloid “scandal” nearly a century ago, in the Roaring Twenties.

Reading the first few chapters, which focus on the antebellum period, it’s striking to note that early Americans would typically not know their precise age, meaning that age demarcations would be less noteworthy than today. As Syrett explains, “earlier Americans had a functional, rather than chronological, understanding of childhood” (p. 4).

Of course, this entwined with many things we’d likely find objectionable, such as child-labour, notwithstanding wage-slavery in general. Yet the premise of taking young people seriously for what they can do, and moreover, want and give their consent to take part in (“willingness” being a variable influencing outcome; e.g. Rind et al., 1998), seems preferable to having young people’s identification as consenting agents with positive experiences being denied, obfuscated, overwritten, discounted, essentialized and pathologized based on arbitrary age markers (Bauserman, 1991; Leahy, 1996; Grondin, 2011). It’s become hard to imagine. People not obsessed with “arbitrary” age markers. People not being dismissed simply because they’re deemed too old (senile), middle aged (mid-life crisis), too young (naïve, stupid).

Whilst Syrett’s book doesn’t focus on relationships, he does give many examples, often in rapid-fire succession with the occasional deluge of dates and names. I’d recommend purchasing it ONLY if you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of child marriage as an institution, whereby regulation targets “marital beginnings” – who and when someone can enter into marriage. The book would also appeal, as a starting point, to researchers seeking case studies. Unfortunately, it’s hard to access and expensive for the lay reader.

Alternatively, look out for Syrett’s book An Open Secret, due for publication March 2021. The author also has a book chapter scheduled to appear in the February 2021 volume Heterosexual Histories, has written the chapter on “Age” in the 2020 Routledge History of American Sexuality, an open-access introduction in Historical Reflections’ 2020 journal issue dedicated to intergenerational history, and has argued for “the usefulness of chronological age as an analytic tool” as part of a roundtable discussion for The American Historical Review. For Syrett, as historian Alex Lichtenstein summarized, age “is not a neutral fact, but a vector of power through which officials and ordinary people construct and contest the boundaries of citizenship and belonging”.

Reading Syrett’s book on minors and marriage, however, I found myself suspicious at points, so I did the “sniff test” and checked a source. Having some experience with palaeography (deciphering old texts) myself, I’m aware of how easy it would be for an author to omit crucial details when citing barely known 19th century texts.

For example, let’s take Captain Thomas Mayne Reid. An author by trade, he wrote an adventure novel in 1868 called The Child Wife. At least one edition, Syrett explains, was endorsed by his wife, Elizabeth, claiming that “most of the events related in this book were actual incidents in the life of [or] within the experiences of the author.” (Syrett, p. 47). Elizabeth had married Reid at 15, in 1835.

Syrett uses the novel and Elizabeth’s own reflections on her husband and youthful marriage as an example of one reason for intergenerational marriage. Namely, for love. As crazy as that might sound to present-day readers tricked into believing that “men only want one thing!” (especially minor-attracted men!), Syrett explains how the reasons for intergenerational pairings commonly given indicate some combination of love, attraction, and fun.

Reid’s novel receives exposition (pp. 49-50) but Syrett runs into problems when narrativizing the events the novellist’s future wife recounts in her book. Syrett’s source is in the public domain so we can check it easily. Although his re-telling is broadly accurate, Reid is emphasized as the protagonist whilst Elizabeth’s role goes largely unmentioned, even though the account is hers and from her perspective. Syrett’s readers are told of a two-year gap, but we are not told of its significance for Elizabeth: it was the last time she saw Reid face-to-face, after flat-out rejecting his marriage proposal. In Elizabeth’s full account, she runs to her bedroom window and sees Reid leaving below. He looks back up at her, and blows a kiss…

Then BAM! Smash-cut to two years later, and by pure coincidence they see each other at a speaking-event. Things are different now. “Instantly”, wrote Elizabeth, “as though drawn by an invisible hand”, she followed Reid, and, with him sat at the front, facing the audience, their gazes remained fixed, “seeking each other throughout the whole evening”. In Elizabeth’s words, it was “like being in a dream. There was a sea of faces below me, but I seemed to distinguish nothing”. Nothing, that is, but Reid.

It is no surprise Elizabeth could develop intense feelings for Reid. Research (Hatfield et al., 1988) suggests “passionate love” can be experienced by all ages, and expressed by age four at a minimum. Already it’s becoming clear how much more is going on in Elizabeth’s inner-life than Syrett provides his readers. When Syrett tells us that “Reid thrust his address into her hands” (p. 50), he makes Reid appear forceful. There was no “thrusting”. Again, readers are not informed of how Elizabeth felt an “electric thrill” passing through her at the mere sight of Reid; how, afterwards, she rushed to him and they only just manage to speak before he leaves for a long, nearly-due train journey. Reid asks for her address, and when she doesn’t know, he simply gives his and quickly rushes off (the sheer horror!!! The “thrusting!”).

Captain Thomas Mayne Reid, author of The Child Wife, a book that expressed his reverence and affection for his own young wife, Elizabeth.

In giving his contact details to Elizabeth, the choice fell to Reid’s would-be-child-wife. And, by her own agency they got in touch and by her insistence that they be married, Elizabeth’s father reluctantly gave his consent. Remarkably, Elizabeth recalls telling her father that she ought to be able to marry Reid without his consent! “I remember telling my father”, she explains, “that I should be obliged to marry Captain Reid all the same, even if he could not consent”. (Read Elizabeth’s account by searching “child-wife” here, pp. 122-134). In an era of prohibition (Leahy, 1994) regarding intergenerational relationships, it is terrifying to think what would happen to Elizabeth and Reid today. By both Reid and his wife’s writings, their relationship was not about sex (as today’s reductionist accounts like to pretend), but rather love, affection, romance, companionship and fun.

Syrett’s account obscures the very child subject of the story, reflecting current Anglophone societies’ cultural tendency to place young people’s agency and sexual subjectivity “under erasure”, where terms like “child sexuality” increasingly appear as an oxymoron (Angelides, 2004; 2019). Recently, scholars such as Hoko Horii (2018; 2019; 2020) have begun challenging the global exportation of American norms regarding child marriage, where the agentic capacities of younger persons alongside various cultural differences have otherwise been subjected to denial and erasure.

To be clear, I haven’t taken the time to discuss Reid and Elizabeth’s story to impugn Syrett. Although it is in the author’s interest to present young people as only ever sexual objects to be acted upon, never sexual subjects until they magically transform at age 18, I raise their story and Syrett’s narrativizing as a reminder that all work (including history) can be more or less “objective”, involving the selection of material for inclusion or exclusion.

Appeals to “objectivity” often claim something to be “true” or “real” (as in material or physical). The problem is that there are multiple “truths” and no neutral way to interpret the “real”, as we are never without values (even unconsciously) and we must interpret information to go from what is (descriptive), to what should be (prescriptive), known as the “is/ought” distinction. Our access to any “reality” is always coloured by interpretation and values, or frameworks, more conventionally known as ideology. Some have been ascribed names – Conservativism, Post-Feminism, Marxism – some haven’t. Even down to the level of word-choice, the values of the author seep in.

“Objectivity” refers, rather, to a willingness to consider, incorporate, or critique and reject information and conclusions that conflict with previously held ideas, values, and information, pointing out where others are unaware of, or unjustifiably dismiss, contrary evidence. Or, alternatively, critiquing the production, selection or use of different research tools / methods used to interpret information and reach a given conclusion. Bruce Rind’s statistical writings (2007; 2013) are exemplary here.

This is important because although Syrett embellishes in this instance, the very fact of his including positive accounts and risking controversy when he ostensibly opposes the practice, is testament to his objectivity. While I am grateful for any work that advances knowledge and highlights the nuances within intergenerational relations, no work is above critique. In Syrett’s case, the copious extent of research coupled with his concise style, neutral and professional diction, makes his work a significant contribution. But this seeming neutrality does not mean readers should abandon a sceptical approach towards historical writing, nor accept the author’s interpretation of material, or their vantage point of cultural superiority, as more “real” or “true”.

Today we tend to romanticize marriage, thinking of it only in terms of “love”. This conception, however, risks obscuring what marriage is and what it involves other than “love”. Marriage is not “just a bit of paper”, it’s a contract that bestows recognition by a state, usually privileging the couple with rights that do not apply to unmarried persons. We might, therefore, ask whether MAPs should oppose child marriage by virtue of opposing marriage in general, in terms of equality under the law?

In the 19th century context concerning child brides, Syrett emphasises how marriage facilitated the movement of property / inherited wealth, asserting this to be a major consideration in marriages before the 20th century, particularly among elites. Making sure a man did not marry only to make-off with a girl’s fortune was partly why parents were the final arbiters to “okay” a marriage. Today, the requirement of parental consent to marry under the age of majority persists as a hangover of this provision.

If marriage was simply a dramatized expression of love, a fun ceremony-party where people come together, it becomes much harder to see why intergenerational couples would be prohibited from expressing themselves. At least, in a society where hostility and dismissal (coupled by prison-terms and iatrogenic harm / secondary victimization) were not the a priori response directed at such couples, the practice might find space for cultural sanction.

So, what do you think?

 

NEW YORK ‘CANCELS’ THEO SANDFORT

Many heretics here will be aware of the ground-breaking research on child-adult sexual relationships undertaken by Theo Sandfort in the Netherlands, in books and articles published beween 1979 and the early 1990s.

He discovered children as young as 10 who were in consensual sexual relationships with adults, some of them decades older, and interviewed both the older and younger partners in depth. He concluded that the children should not always be labelled as “victims”, and the Dutch age-of-consent laws should allow children “the right to accept as well as to refuse the sexual initiative of an adult,” as he put it in the May 1984 issue of the Journal of Sex Research.

His words did not fall on deaf ears. Between 1990 and 2002, the Netherlands in effect lowered the age of consent from 16 to 12. A law passed in November 1990, permitted sex between 12 and 16, but allowed a challenge by parents based on erosion of parental authority or child exploitation, which would be heard by a Council for the Protection of Children. Unfortunately, this pioneering reform was abandoned early in the new millennium under international pressure driven by ideology not evidence.

As all of us here know, such pressures have continued relentlessly right up until the present day, and just last month they caught up with Dr Sandfort personally, not in his native country but in America, where he has been a professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at Columbia University for nearly two decades, during which time he earned a high reputation, not least for AIDS-related research, and he served as President of the International Academy of Sex Research.

And early last month he was riding especially high, reaching wider prominence with the publication of a landmark study he had undertaken for New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services on sexual and gender diversity among the city’s foster youth.

This research, hailed by advocates and covered by The New York Times, led to the spotlight falling on his whole career, including his early work on MAPs.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone liked what they saw. His suitability to lead the city-commissioned project was brought into question. Before you could say “paedophilia”, the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) announced that it had “severed all ties” with Dr Sandfort. A media outlet reported an ACS spokesperson as saying:

The City of New York has zero tolerance for pedophilia, The health, safety, and well-being of children is our top priority, and those who endanger children are contrary to the values of our city.

The implication that Dr Sandfort is a person who endangers children is not only false and insulting to a distinguished scholar who has done vastly more to help young people, especially gay youth, than any number of blowhards like the ACS mouthpiece, it is even borderline libellous. Sadly, though, such ignorant disrespect is par for the course now.

One of his former students and research co-authors in the Netherlands, Henny Bos, a professor of sexual and gender diversity in families and youth at the University of Amsterdam, called it “a strange and stupid decision” for New York City to sever ties with Sandfort. She emphasized the quality of his recent study of LGBTQ foster youth, calling it characteristic of his “extremely important” work on related topics.

She is right, but who is listening?

A follow-up report in The New York Times a few days ago gives an extensive account albeit with a bias towards Sandfort’s critics.

 

MEET PENISMAN: NEW SUPERHERO ON KIDS’ TV!

Denmark, believe it or not, has launched a children’s TV show about a man with a giant penis that has superpowers. This mighty dong can perform rescue operations, etch murals, hoist a flag and even steal ice-cream from children.

The one mission even this prodigious trouser snake will be unlikely to accomplish anytime soon, though, is to get itself aired on British or American channels aimed at a similar age group, namely four- to eight-year-olds! Far too controversial!

See here for a report in The Guardian and here for an episode of the show itself.

Still from the series, which is called John Dillermand. The literal meaning of “dillermand” in Danish is “penis-man” although “diller” (penis) is colloquial. The tone is perhaps more like “dong” or “willy”, rather than words often used in an aggressively pejorative way, such as “prick” or “dick”). Photograph: DRTV

 

5 3 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
24 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nada

Prue:
>Should you go down on one knee for your young lover? (Should they go down on one knee for you?)

A delightful, and fitting, brain teaser!

>Syrett’s inaccuracy risks leaving readers easily, and erroneously, conflating those who fancy a teenager with exclusive or preferential paedophiles!

The average age of menarche was higher in the 19th century (16.5 in 1840).
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12319855/

>their desires and sexual subjectivities rendered pathological and morally unacceptable as judged by a conservative standard of decency (or Fascist so-called “degeneracy”).

From Syrett’s post, partially honest about the feminist hostility towards girls and men and their marriage, we can infer a feminist standard:

https://historiann.com/2016/10/19/the-great-life-long-mistake-young-marriage-in-the-united-states/

If we consider the conservative, relative to feminist, hostility over time, what can be said at small times? At large times?

It’s curious that Syrett’s obsession with power and age asymmetry, coupled with hostility, is limited to heterosexual men. Are ‘queers’ not well-behaved enough (pun intended!) for Syrett’s analysis?

Thanks for an important and enjoyable blog.

Prue

Cheers for the comment and the links! I’m really glad you enjoyed the blog. Personally, although Syrett’s book might come off as neutral to Anti-esc types, I started to find it depressing after a while. Especially after I checked some references it was clear to me that, as I’m sure we’re all very aware, intergenerational sexual (even simply romantic) experiences exist along a continuum, and can be very pleasant and positive in nature. Syrett often adds a line here and there to remind the reader of his tacit disapproval, and, honestly, it feels a little unnecessary and obstructs the flow of the text when I a a reader am more interested in learning rather than taking on an author’s particular ethical / moral prescriptions.

Even so, I’ve known about Tom’s blog for at fair while now, so I’ll try and comment more. Syrett’s thinking is very heavily influenced by old fashioned feminist though. I think feminist though in general is mired in 2nd wave, especially anti – pornography era feminist ideas – i think heretics will generally find much to agree with in 3rd/4th wave feminism, with authors like Emma Renold, Jessica Ringrose, R. Danielle Egan and Gail Hawkes. These authors address the discourse on sexualization but, unlinke others, they take children’s sexuality seriously. I think feminist discourse in academia has moved towards empowermant. It’s gone way past 2nd wave notions which often employ essentialist ideas of young girls’ sexuality as always risk / at risk. We should remember that it usually takes a long time for academic discourse to filter out into the population more generally, and often people like David Finkelhor and Diana Russell were exploiting a particular moment which coincided with a particular, 2nd wave brand of feminism which still predominates in Anglophone culture, at least in my view. I hope Heretics can look at the authors mentioned, and post feminist discourse more broadly, and see that there are authors who take children’s sexuality seriously, rather than dismissing it.

And yes, in Syrett’s case, he’s almost lucky that marriage under a given age of majority tends to involve an older heterosexual male marrying a younger female (though age differentials vary considerably). He’s able to exploit the still-prevelant gender norms that girls and their sexual expression are somehow inherently more vulnerable and at-risk (whatever we define ‘risk’ to mean). Rather than challening age binaries and a unitary theory of power (that a given individual irreduciably holds power, as opposed to negotiations of power differences with foucauldian/ post-foucauldians such as Steven Angelides), it’s easier for Syrett to exploit dominant images of vulnerable, passive girls. Unfortunate really. The case would surely change if addressing ‘queers’ more broadly; the image / fiction would be harder to maintain if gay “child” marriage, or other various forms, were more of a thing.
All the best!

Nada

Syrett’s hostility, while annoying, is to be expected – not his failure to apply his own model to “queer”relationships, which he has written about (even mentioning NAMBLA) or to gay marriage (between age asymmetric adults).

The hostility, towards men and girls and their relationships dates back to at least the 19th century. How are Finkelhor and Russell relevant to the past? How is mutual cooperation exploitation?

I have found no evidence the current (or previous) wave of feminism have broken with history. Howls about sexualisation or faith based rape claims does not a defense of marriage make.

Freetheteens69

Hey Prue. Who do you think is more opposed to giving teenage girls, 13-17, the legal right to choose who they want to be in a relationship with. Prudish, sex hysterical feminists. Or satanic ritual abuse conservatives.

Prue

Hi to both of you. To respond to Nada quickly, I agree with what you’ve said about Syrett’s hostility etc, and that hostility towards men and girls and their relationships dates back to at least the 19th century. The rest I was a bit confused by, and perhaps I should’ve contextualized my comment more. I brought up Finkelhor and Russell because, in my view, they “were exploiting a particular moment which coincided with a particular, 2nd wave brand of feminism”, and to suggest that Syrett’s follows in a similar lineage. Although Fink and Russell’s writing dates from recent, 20th century history, they are very relevant to history in that their ideas follow along a lineage of seeing girls’ sexuality as always risky / at risk, that it’s somehow wrong for cisgender females under a given age to behave sexually, make sexual choices or form relationships with those over a given age, or have those choices socially sanctioned. Fink, Russell, and to an admittedly much lesser extent, Syrett, exploit traditionalist images of girl’s as being sexual objects that are acted upon, rather than sexual subjects or active, willing, desiring participants. In Syrett’s case I would suggest he does this subtly by implication, tone, and even omission as with the case of Thomas Reid and Elizabeth Hyde I presented in the main blog piece. The point, which perhaps I didn’t make clear enough, is that all these author’s views didn’t come from nowhere; they’re part of a historical lineage, and in that sense they’re very relevant to history in the same way that we’re all products of history.

On to the rest, it seems both comments here are rather hostile to the label “feminist / feminism”, and assumed a lot about the authors I named (Renold, Ringrose, Hawkes) based on that. Although hostility is understandable, I should make clear that the authors I gave are critical of the discourse around sexualization, not defenders, hysterical or otherwise! There are many different “feminisms”, it’s not a monolith, and critiquing sexualization from a 3rd/4th wave feminist standpoint predicated on sex positivity and empowerment is absolutely necessary for a defense of child marriage, or any kind of intergenerational relationship for that matter!

If children’s sexuality is thought to always come from the outside, imposed on them by peers, porn, etc, as the discourse on sexualization typically claims, rather than what is actually the case – that people of all ages are normatively sexual, and do not necessarily conform to an innocent, asexual ideal, then the sexualization discourse needs to be challenged to show that young people’s sexuality is immutable, that they’re not just objects, sexual or otherwise, they have their own desires, including the possibility of desiring to marry! So yes, whilst “Howls about sexualization” won’t help, critiquing sexualization, including its premises that being sexual or being exposed to sexual material is somehow inherently dangerous to young people, will certainly help.

Heretics might like the paper, Feminisms re-figuring ‘sexualization’, sexuality and ‘the girl’, (see link: https://doi.org/10.1177/1464700113499531 ). Older feminist writing would include Shulamith Firestone’s chapter on children and sex in her book The Dialectic of Sex, and Kate Millett with her essay ‘Beyond Politics? Children and Sexuality’, in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. by Carole S. Vance, or her interview in Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia, entitled Sexual Revolution and the Liberation of Children. Again, I understand the hostility but feminism, just like Heretics here, are not a monolith. It’s just that right now it’s a very dangerous, non-hospitable space for critical writing in the area of intergenerational sexuality.

All the best!

Nada

>exploit traditionalist images of girl’s as being sexual objects that are acted upon

Except for the fact the feminist, not the traditional, conception of a girl object lacks methods to handle sex.

>On to the rest, it seems both comments here are rather hostile to the label “feminist / feminism”

Or, more parsimoniously, opposed to demonization of MAPs and the denial their relationships. Had it been Fascists, would you assume the label, not the actions, were the issue?

>I should make clear that the authors I gave are critical of the discourse around sexualization, not defenders, hysterical or otherwise!

You missed Ringrose’s spurious claims about rape, and her contempt for the public, asking her for evidence?

>critiquing sexualization from a 3rd/4th wave feminist standpoint predicated on sex positivity and empowerment is absolutely necessary for a defense of child marriage, or any kind of intergenerational relationship for that matter!

Then we’re well and truly fucked!

How on Earth could you predicate a defense of intergenerational relationships on feminism? Do you predicate a defense of giving children presents on Father Christmas, or of math on conservativism, or of biology on Marxism?!

>It’s just that right now it’s a very dangerous, non-hospitable space for critical writing in the area of intergenerational sexuality.

We would expect to find earlier feminists, also defending the rights of men and girls couples (not merely considering homosexuals).

Stephen James

>Then we’re well and truly fucked!

Nada, feminism just means equal rights irrespective of gender. I don’t see how that rules out intergenerational sex.

Nada

>Nada, feminism just means equal rights irrespective of gender.

The feminist attack on the rights of men and girls is sufficient to disprove this.

>I don’t see how that rules out intergenerational sex.

If feminists defend gay marriage or homosexual age asymmetric relationships of some other sort, does that imply a defense of marriage, or sex, between a 9-year-old girl and a man?

Zen Thinker

The idea of intergenerational marriage is certainly a nice ideal, as marriage connotes a spiritual bond between the two persons, and raises it above a mere casual relationship. The idea of guardianship in such a marriage would also be interesting, with the older spouse taking on a guardian role with the child – on the assumption that the child could not function fully and autonomously in society without adult assistance, which is a reasonable assumption at least without innovations such as lifelong UBI.

However, this belongs more to the realm of fantasy in my opinion. Admittedly it would be my dream, but I see no mechanism for the State to sanction such a relationship. Also on a practical level, there would have to be some provision for the lesser power of the child, especially psychologically and developmentally – it would be very much a guardianship-marriage.

I love the fact you put forward this idea even as an abstract and ideological possibility – because speaking for myself (everyone is different) I value the potential emotional and spiritual bond with a child over and above anything sexual, the latter being a very contentious area although sexuality is complex. We can feel a sexual attraction without necessarily wanting to realise that in any physical act. The contention at the heart of MAP demonisation is that sexuality harms children, which I believe is palpably false, but would I feel comfortable engaging sexually with a child? Not at all, In the current sociological climate I would feel shame, dread and anxiety. It would take the sanctioning (i.e. legality) of intergenerational sexual expression, and a widespread change in social mores, for me to ever feel comfortable in such expression, rather than simply within the demarcations of private fantasy.

The marriage question is important because it raises the question of intergenerational relationships above the merely sexual, to the emotional and spiritual, and therefore this I feel is a wonderful ideal. However to even allow for child marriage in law there would first have to be a revolution regarding attitudes towards the sexual child, which is one of the most contentious topics in Western society at the moment, despite the widespread evidence that children are becoming increasingly liberated and sexual. Child marriage in my opinion is therefore a high ideal but one that is fundamentally unrealisable without a seismic social shift in attitudes and values regarding the role of children in society.

Prue

I’m so sorry for not responding sooner. Every time I sat down, before I could start something came up! Anyway, thanks for your comment, and thanks for your short piece on Tik Tok in Tom’s previous blog, as well as your follow up comment. It was a great piece and I hope their accounts don’t get banned by Anti’s who’re simply disgusted at the existence of young people dancing, and also, of course, that said young people don’t get harassed.

Anyway, on to your comment. You’re right that marriage does elevate a relationship above being ‘casual’; often it’s a mark of commitment and seen as a significant declaration of sentiment. That’s actually part of why Anti’s oppose it. Similar to the recent brouhaha over gay-marriage, marriage as an institution has typically been seen as transformative, conferring legitimacy on a relationship. As Syrett writes: “marriage was seen as transformative. It made illicit sex licit. It legitimized offspring. Actions performed outside marriage that were dangerous, debasing or immoral were transformed into safe, respectable, and moral within marriage” (p. 7). Syrett’s problem seems to be that it conferred full adult citizenship to the younger party, which I’m not sure applies as much today, nor would be quite as desirable in some respects in today’s world (many people want to live with their parent’s, for example, but marriage might be the only way their older partner might avoid being arrested – it doesn’t necessarily mean a person wants, or does, begin taking on typically ‘adult’ responsibilities!). I should point out that part of why Anti’s have chosen marriage as a topic is because, under certain conditions, it is legal in some American states. So it’s already happened and clearly not impossible, but I’d agree that arguing for marriage provisions to be extended or more inclusive wouldn’t fly on social media or in press; even if many people privately agree they won’t speak out in our hostile climate.

In part it all depends on how different societies conceive of marriage, and whether, socially or in law, marriage gives one a privileged status, as it currently does. That’s part of why I suggest it’s possible that MAPs could oppose child marriage – not because people under 18 are too stupid, innocent, or anything like that – but precisely because right now marriage isn’t just about love or a bit of paper. Ironically, it could be used a possible point of agreement to start a dialogue with Anti’s, even if just to tease out whether opponents have any arguments other than disgust. If society thinks of marriage as all about expressing love, and this is what people today tend to marry for, then why not oppose marriage in its current form until it reflects a fun ceremony party declaring one’s love?

In that sense we could even think about marriage between lots of partners, polyamorous marriage or harem marriage! Sounds fun! It would be ridiculous, after all, to argue that someone under a given age cannot love someone 5 years or more older, or vice versa, or that it would be somehow intrinsically harmful the participants to have a ceremony-party to express it. I also like the idea of ‘guardianship’ as / as part of a discourse going forward. I can see this fitting in well with something like ‘open families’ which I mentioned in my other comment (see https://www.jstor.org/stable/583357?seq=1), where parental responsibility includes making sure that children always have some other household / stable place to go to, so always have the choice left open to leave and come back. There’s no reason this couldn’t include MAPs in the future if we keep at it challenging stigma and make sure people know that paedophilia literally means ‘child lover’, not child rapist and/ or murderer, and merely denotes attraction, not action. The term ‘guardian’ also suggests responsibility, protection and care, which I’m confident would appeal to most Heretics in how they typically feel about youngsters.

You wrote: “I value the potential emotional and spiritual bond with a child over and above anything sexual […] We can feel a sexual attraction without necessarily wanting to realise that in any physical act”.

This is really important! In my view anyone who writes on this issue must make clear that intergenerational attraction (and sexuality), like teliophilic or any other attraction, typically consists of multiple components as opposed to sexual aspects alone. Sensual, aesthetic, romantic, affectionate, parental and, like you say guardianship or a desire to protect and / or nurture, and potentially infinite others we haven’t identified or named yet. I find it useful to use the term “assemblage”. There’s a really good, quite beautiful paper yourself and other Heretics might like, Naomi Holford et al., “What (else) can a kiss do? Theorizing the powerplays in young children’s sexual cultures“, which uses this language and explains it well in my view. I find it’s very important to keep defining terms even if it seems repetitive. Often I find that Anti’s don’t know what paedophile or paedophila even mean, so they literally cannot define what they’re supposedly against; they’re literally raging over an image in their head! Because of a seemingly generalized ignorance, whenever a heterosexual teliophilic ‘situational offender’ does something horrible, using a young person sexually against their will, they get conflated with MAPs and it’s MAPs who get the blame! Ridiculous!

To emphasize attraction as a multifaceted “assemblage” is part of why I’m interested in asexuality. It’s quite radical in our current climate if we take asexuality seriously, because it’s then possible to conceive of asexual intergenerational relationships as well as sex acts. Some asexuals claim to engage in sexual activity without feeling sexual feelings / desire. Instead, romantic, sensuous, and other kinds of feelings are foregrounded, and this development could make for some really important nuance if we can start to recognize Asexual intergenerational relationships and bring them more into view alongside other kinds. It would also allow for probing whether those prohibitionist who oppose positive, non-violent and non-forced intergenerational relations, are opposed because of the sexual aspect, or whether they’re simply disgusted at the idea or image of older and younger people being attracted to one another or even in proximity to one another, which would be the case in a romantic relationship without any contact which could be deemed sexual.

Lastly, I completely understand why, as you explain: “In the current sociological climate I would feel shame, dread and anxiety [engaging sexually with a child]. It would take the sanctioning (i.e. legality)”. I think this completely justified. At school I experienced sex scandal, where a girl I was friends with was forced to leave school and most of her friends behind, and the man was put, incorrectly of course, on a ‘pedo watch list’ when he’s obviously just a hetero teliophile (sigh)… One of the remaining friends of this girl at the school told me explicitly to keep quiet about it, and it became a taboo in school to say the name’s of the people involved, even though (and probably because) we all had a shared understanding that the girl in question was neither a virgin nor a passive victim with sexuality forcibly ‘imposed’ on her; like many, she wanted to engage sexually, sought and happened to find. Sexually empowered by any definition. There was nothing ‘innocent’, if that term is supposed to mean innocent of sexuality or sexual desire; she and others were all very sexually active prior to their older partners. It shocks me looking back how dangerous it was for those men and how the illegality of it imposed a conspiracy of silence over the whole thing – the girl’s were very wary of talking about it to anyone, fearing the teacher’s would find out. Blanket prohibitions produce some awful problems in pushing things underground, and this could also apply to young people who are married or seeking to marry. Namely, that someone might be in a positive relationship and have some mild difficulties or complaints, but if they talk about it to the wrong person their partner will be arrested and dubbed a defacto ‘abuser’, heedless of the young person’s account, thoughts, feelings, agency and subjectivity. They’re structurally and institutionally disincentivized from airing their concerns if things aren’t perfect when they also don’t want their partner to go to prison; there’s no middle ground at present so it’s very dangerous. I fail to see how people think they’re protecting young people rather than making a subset of relationships more vulnerable 🙁

I’m telling this story simply both to show I agree with you, but also to ask your thoughts about what ‘pro contact’ means. Here, I literally saw iatrogenic harm / victimization as it was happening. In another kind of harm, surveillance increased and petty fights or threats that would have been part of quotidian, nonchalant childhoods are all on record and turned into criminal affairs, quite literally transforming and, in this case I think destroying, a hitherto important aspect of childhood – the ability to make a mistake, learn from it, and move on, as well as developing peer solidarity sub-cultures away from the prying eyes of adult norms – smoking by the bike sheds etc (rendered impossible).

Bearing in mind how these people’s lives and so many other’s are ruined in the current climate, made all the worse by iatrogenic harm, including mandatory victimization therapy even for those who are psychologically well adjusted, I couldn’t agree more with being extremely cautious and remaining celibate in regards to IRL young people and sexual engagement. It’s simply too dangerous for both parties and even marriage is risky given the vigilante terrorists out there – especially in America. Private fantasy is preferable in the current climate and doesn’t preclude good arguments. There are plenty of examples of intergenerational sex within scholarship to draw on, and people under whatever age is set to define a “child” will continue to be normatively sexual despite many societies’ attempts to deny or downplay it.

Finally, with all that in mind, I’ve been thinking a good way to explain ‘pro-contact’ is to say that it’s not the view that an older or younger person should, right now, seek sexual relations with a person 5 years or more in age difference, or, alternatively, accept another person’s advances / propositions. Rather, ‘pro-contact’ represents a loose set of philosophical, empirical, and ethical prescriptions. That, in a social order hospitable towards non-forced and non-violent, positively experienced intergenerational relations – one which recognizes these forms of sexual activity are not de facto intrinsically damaging – harms that might otherwise be iatrogenically induced could be more readily studied, identified, acknowledged, and then minimized, expunged and / or prevented. Ethical behavior could be practiced, examined, debated and so on, where in the current climate it is theorized and then largely marginalized and / or dismissed. Relevant distinctions which separate experiences along a continuum, function to prevent coercive, forced and violent sexual activity with a focus on harm reduction for those who are raped, assaulted or harassed. This could or would also apply to marriage, of course.

The ‘pro-contact’ position, then, is that, in the current climate, intergenerational sex IRL is to be avoided and deferred. The subset of intergenerational sex discussed is not categorically harmful in itself, but rather, some discernible harm arises as a product of external social artifacts. Relations are not inherently harmful because of a 5-year or greater age gap, but through iatrogenic harm (secondary victimization); current external forces of stigma, violence, censure, erasure, minimization, denial, institutional barriers and forced practices which need to be addressed and resolved before intergenerational sex can be rendered as psychologically and physiologically harmless as possible. As Malon wrote (2010 10.1007/s10508-008-9465-3): “neither is there reason or excuse for continuing to find—and even to create—childhood trauma when it does not, or otherwise would not, exist” (p. 645).

What do you think of that characterization? I think it’s important to be clear about what ‘pro contact’ means because the term could be misinterpreted or go undefined (though of course I am happy to be wrong or to disagree, I just think definitions and distinctions are pretty crucial). Of course, anyone else is free to chip-in to any of this and the main piece itself. I’ll try shorter comments next time – sorry for writing another essay! XD

Zen Thinker

Hi Prue, I’m aware Tom and most Heretics have a pro-contact position, as opposed to “Virtuous Paedophiles” which is anti-contact. However the latter seem to be a lot about self-flagellation and a guilt complex; maybe that is an exaggeration but they deny the essence of their sexuality.

“Pro-contact” obviously does not mean license to engage in “abusive” behaviours in the way “abusive” is currently construed, i.e. the illegal touching of a child. “Pro-contact” means a desire for a future social and legal settlement where the sexual child is properly understood and allowed to engage in relationships of their choosing. I think it is indeed helpful to think of some loose parameters such as friendship, romance, an emotional bond, which even now are not illegal…basically the tacit acceptance of love between an adult and a child which is different from and related to familial love. There is no reason why a MAP adult-child relation must be “defined” by eros, after all philia is friendship rather than erotic desire. But human beings are generally sexual in some form (I accept asexuality of course) so if a child desires sexual expression, that should not be denied them.

I think a simplistic perception of “pro-contact” is that it is “evil-doers breaking the law” but as I explained it is rather about a future settlement, and anyway love is (or should be) the hallmark of any relationship rather than sex; the emotional bond is more important than the sexual act itself. As for iatrogenic or secondary harm from “victimisation” I think this is a genuine and very sad and regrettable problem, that minors who engage in a sexual relationship are only traumatised and given psychological problems by the hysteric and sometimes brutal adult reaction: immediate family going into hysterics and the brutality of the State in its forced victimisation therapy and the heavy involvement of the police.

It is of course inevitable in my view that pro-contact means “don’t break the law and risk a long incarceration” but rather “fight for the social, legal and political improvements to this draconian situation”; also a responsible pro-contact position always puts the child first and their needs and provisions. In practice of course I am anti-contact, but in theory, or rather in ideological persuasion I am pro-contact, so far as the politics of this will ever change. But there are tentative signs that the politics will change, and long before the social stigma does (as occurred with homosexuality).

So yes, sexual attraction encompasses a wide range of things, of thoughts and behaviours, although ultimately one must be responsible towards any child and bear in mind the fragility of childhood. Personally, I feel better not knowing any children because that leaves me happier in the current situation, but everyone is different.

Prue

I should quickly say thanks for this. I think you explain the pro contact position, and other related facets, really well, and far less convoluted than myself. And yes, I’m no fan of Vir-Ped. Though some scholars lend their support to them becuase they’re the only group other than B4U-ACT they could safely support at the present time, Vir Ped would indeed appear to “deny the essence of their sexuality”, as you say. I think, to the wider, more bigoted public / media landscape, Vir Ped is seen as disingenuous for that very reason, and Anti’s of all kinds are just waiting for a chance for any Vir Ped followers to slip up or fall foul of the law. I think the position you outlined is far more cogent both philosophically and empirically.
All the best!

Stephen James

Officially at least, Vir-Ped do not “deny the essence of their sexuality”. For me, the problem with Vir-Ped is that they want to see non-offending MAPs accepted by mainstream society, but they do nothing to effectively combat the idea that MAPs are ‘dangerous’ other than claiming that they themselves and some other MAPs don’t offend. Mainstream society won’t be convinced, since as far as they are concerned the risk is too great. The only way to convince them is to get them to change their attitudes to child/adult sex. however hard that may be.

Prue

Hi ,Stephen. Yes I think largely this is true. Vir Ped point out something that should have been obvious – that many MAPs do not, or have not, engaged is some kind of activity deemed criminal which involves minors. It’s unfortunate that many MAPs are effectively thrown under the bus in this kind of discursive mileau / media-scholarly landscape. Progress is being made with B4U-ACT etc, helping to challenge stigma. But it seems at the moment we’re only seeing the idea of MAPs not being risky / or dangerous being challenged by showing that there are MAPs who don’t offend (which should have been obvious); not so much by pointing out that MAPs predominantly engage in non-violent, non-coercive behaviour, sexual or otherwise, with young people, that typically, MAPs quite literally love their younger counterparts (see 2020 paper https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01579-9 ) and feel a deep affinity and tenderness for them, and that this is itself is much less dangerous / risky than the wider public has been led to believe. Combating the conflation of terms like ‘pedophilia’ with murder and forced sexual activity, i think, is going to require that scholars, MAPs and media point out the multiple ways in which MAPs, their sexuality and sexual expression aren’t nearly as dangerous / risky than has often been sensationalistically claimed.

Out of interest, what do you think about the term ‘adult/child sex’? I’ve always though it sounds misleading b/c people hear ‘sex’ and they think ‘penetration’, not kissing and mutual masturbation. I get that advocates don’t want to infantalize or delegitimize children’s sexual activity, but the label seems very easily exploitable.

Stephen James

Hi Prue. Yes, you are right that the term ‘adult/child sex’ can be misunderstood for the reasons you mentioned. I actually said ‘child/adult sex’, which does have the merit of suggesting that the child might have a more pro-active role, which is often the case. Or another possibility would be ‘child/adult intimacy’, though that might be thought to be skirting around the key issue (that is, the aspect which tends to provoke condemnation and legal sanctions).

Zen Thinker

Yes, “pro-contact” has the unfortunate connotation of illegal assault upon a child. “Pro-legalisation” makes much more sense. No responsible MAP would touch or instigate online communication with a child unless it was in the context of a future legal framework with the attendant stringent safeguards to protect the unique vulnerability of childhood. And the draconian punishments involved ensure compliance with all except mostly low IQ MAPs.

Illegal images is slightly different as that is an easy trap to fall into, even with the highly intelligent as was seen for example with the Hebrew scholar Jan Joosten last year. It is at one remove from reality so can be beguiling. But considering the proliferation of legal images on the likes of Instagram and YouTube in recent times, it is completely unnecessary to delve into illegality and one can be careful to stringently avoid that trap.

So really a typical MAP (and there are probably hundreds of thousands in the UK) is a responsible citizen. Image crimes are a contentious area as it is used as a tool to trap, ensnare and demonise ordinary people. But “pro-contact” as a term confuses the notion of legal responsibility in the popular mind, and reinforces the ‘MAP as predator’ fable.

Stephen James

While I am certainly against non-consensual contacts, I get uneasy when people talk about responding to them by imposing ‘draconian punishments’. It is probably true that we cannot run society without some elements of coercion. But I think we should always look for alternatives where possible. In my view, only the very violent and truly dangerous should receive really hard treatment for the sake of protecting the public.

Nada

>No responsible MAP would touch or instigate online communication with a child unless it was in the context of a future legal framework with the attendant stringent safeguards to protect the unique vulnerability of childhood.

Then we’d better pray for “irresponsible” MAPs, who aren’t easily fooled by appeals to keep children “safe”, or the belief laws cannot be used against them – not false flagged “MAPs”, looking down their noses at us.

>one can be careful to stringently avoid that trap.

Presumes one can stringently prove what is always legal. I’ve recently read that (further) censorship of TikTok is probably on the way. Enjoy it while you can.

Zen Thinker

Nada, there is definitely nothing illegal on YouTube, Instagram or TikTok: keeping to these 3 sites would ensure compliance with the law.

Not quite sure if you’re suggesting MAPs should touch or (sexually) communicate with children, but that is a recipe for disaster. Punishments are too strict but the reality is MAPs could receive significant custodial sentences, which no-one wants to see. It’s important to be responsible, and facilitate change through legal means.

Christian

Usually youth (ages 10 to 24) is devoted to studying, going out and having fun, which is rather contradictory to having to raise a family yourself. Give young people contraceptives and sexual freedom, without marriage.

Prue

Hi Christian, thanks for your comment. While you’re right that youth in the age ranges you give, is usually “devoted to studying, going out and having fun”, I don’t see why a person cannot study or go out and have fun because they are married. This is especially the case in today’s Anglophone world, where people tend to marry more explicitly for love. I have no doubt that plenty of people study or go out to have fun whilst married; being married does not necessitate being trapped in domestic life; one an be married but not necessarily move in with their partner.

Moreover, if one partner (presumably a young female) decides to move in with their partner, and then chooses to take on a more domestic role, that 1.) might not be a great leap from their parent’s household if they grew up and / or enjoy domestic activities, and 2.) can be negotiated with other priorities that you named, as many people in any committed relationship do, such as education and having fun outside the domestic sphere. Should young people be forced to stay with their parents? Or, should there be avenues for youth to have more choice and freedom over where they live? We have to remember that there are other ways of childrearing besides the nuclear family, such as “open families” as practiced by Larry Constantine (see https://www.jstor.org/stable/583357?seq=1 ). In our time, pushing for universal basic income from birth to death might help facilitate young people’s choices in this regard.

Being married also doesn’t necessitate that you have, or are going to have, a family, assuming by that you mean go through pregnancy, give birth and begin raising a family. Neither does it necessarily follow that a youth who marries would be left to raise a child by themselves! Completely agree with contraception and sexual freedom, but I’m not sure that marriage itself is what you’re concerned with. Perhaps you’re more concerned about stigma, lack of financial and / or social support for young / single mothers, if not intergenerational couples more generally?

24
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x
Scroll to Top