Posted on | September 16, 2014 | 84 Comments
This is a phrase I never expected to encounter and, when I saw the headline, I misunderstood what the writer meant by it:
What I expected, based on that headline, was an argument by a feminist “deconstructing” the common claim that men are unable to control their physical urges, so that male arousal obliges women to consent to sex. Bracing myself to engage with such a feminist argument, I clicked the link, and found something completely different:
Whenever an article appears about the sexual abuse of men and boys – especially abuse perpetrated by women – you can almost guarantee that a comment will appear saying something like: ‘well he couldn’t have been that unwilling if he got a boner.’
It is an incredibly damaging and harmful myth . . .
WHOA! What strange argument is this? Tell me more, Ally Fogg:
Contrary to popular belief, many men can get an erection when they are too drunk to speak or to remember what they have done the next day. A man in a drunken stupor can sometimes be stimulated to erection without even waking up. . . .
Perhaps more pernicious is the belief that even if a man did not want to have sex before he got an erection, he certainly will once it is in place. This is patently untrue. Men are sentient beings who (mostly) have conscience and self-restraint and make decisions about who they want to have sex with all the time, independently of their erectile engorgement . . .
The academic literature describes how all of the above can play out in abusive situations. A study of 22 male-on-male rape victims by Nicholas Groth and Ann Burgess (1980) found that half of the victims maintained an erection throughout their assaults. The original, ground-breaking paper on adult male victims of female molesters by Sarrel and Masters (1982) described some of the assaults perpetrated on their subjects . . .
Glenn Reynolds yesterday noticed a case in which a 240-pound woman broke into a house and raped a sleeping man. Such cases are obviously exceptional. Where Ally Fogg’s argument is more typically relevant is in understanding cases of adult women (usually school teachers) who sexually abuse underage boys. When we read of these crimes, our instinctive reaction is to discount any claim that the boy is truly a victim. This reaction is particularly common if the perpetrator is young and attractive like Debra Lefave, so as to fit the popular “Hot for Teacher” fantasy. Our jocular reaction — “Oh, yeah, victimize me, baby!” or “Where were teachers like her when I was in school?” — ignores many moral and psychological issues involved, and risks setting up an “equality” argument that would justify underage sex in any case where (a) the perpetrator was attractive, and (b) the underage victim was “consenting.” That is to say, if we argue that Debra Lafave’s victim wasn’t actually a victim because Lafave is a pretty blonde, a logically consistent extension of such an argument would invalidate all statutory rape law in any similar circumstance, regardless of whether the perpetrators or victims were male or female, gay or straight.
Teacher-turned-predator Debra Lafave
Once you stipulate that sex with minors can be acceptable under specific circumstances, you open the door to a stampede of perverts who will use that premise in arguments you never meant to make. Statutory rape laws are often criticized on the basis that they are arbitrary in setting a specific age as the limit of legal consent when, as everyone knows, young people mature emotionally, mentally and physically at different rates. There are 15-year-olds who are more “mature,” in some sense of that word, than the average 17-year-old, yet if the age of consent is 16, the 17-year-old is fair game, whereas having sex with the 15-year-old could put you in prison. Such a limit is arbitrary and therefore, critics of statutory rape laws frequently argue, these laws should not be enforced.
Those arguments completely misrepresent the reasons we have statutory rape laws, although my purpose here is not to mount a thorough argument in defense of these laws, except to say (a) such laws are intended to set a minimal age below which consent is invalid as a legal defense; (b) this prevents prosecutors from having to put the underage victim on the witness stand, if there is evidence that sex occurred or if the perpetrator admits having sex with the minor; and (c) the discretion of prosecutors and judges will tend to ameliorate punishment in circumstances where leniency may be merited.
Furthermore, I will say — as I kept saying during the Kaitlyn Hunt saga — that most incidents of statutory rape never make headlines either because the perpetrator is discreet about their relationship with a minor or else, if caught, they take the plea bargain. Only because Kaitlyn Hunt rejected the plea deal offered by prosecutors, and her supporters tried to turn her crime into a political crusade, did she make national headlines.
Myth, Reality and the Assault on Innocence
Every parent, I hope, understood the danger involved in arguing, as Hunt’s “Free Kate” supporters did, that the law which criminalizes sex with minors (the age of consent in Florida is 16) should be disregarded because Hunt was “only” 18 when she engaged in sex with a 14-year-old girl. Nor could any parent fail to be angered by the claims made by Hunt’s supporters that she was a victim of homophobia, a claim that had the effect of impugning the motives of the 14-year-old’s parents. The effect of all arguments of this kind is to undermine the basic right of parents to protect their minor children. (Let me recommend Neil Postman’s 1994 book The Disappearance of Childhood and Dana Mack’s 1997 book The Assault on Parenthood as useful explorations of this theme.) It is possible to have ideals of youthful innocence that are unrealistic, perhaps even in some ways harmful, but those who criticize statutory rape laws are attacking a legal basis of parental authority in a crucial matter. If we wish to prevent another “Rotherham Horror,” we must take this threat very seriously.
Returning, then, to the “Erection Equals Consent” myth that Ally Fogg examines, we must ask what this tells us about women predators who take advantage of teenage boys. When I call attention to these cases, the same issues are raised by commenters: Here is a female teacher in her late 20s or early 30s (the typical perpetrator) who is at least moderately attractive and in many cases married, yet who has engaged in sex with a boy (or sometimes multiple boys) as young as 13 or 14. “Why can’t she get a grown man?” commenters will ask or, raising the same point from the obverse angle, “Why does she want to have sex with boys?”
These questions plague the minds of sane normal people who take for granted that everyone views sex in a sane normal way. We assume, for example, that people prefer (and believe they should prefer) an approximate parity of age in their romantic partners.
We view as creepy the middle-aged executive who divorces his wife and acquires a much younger girlfriend. It’s not just that the 25-year-old female is young enough to be the 50-year-old executive’s daughter (triggering our crypto-Freudian suspicion of symbolically incestuous ideas lurking in the old man’s depraved psyche) but that we assume, without need for any evidence, the young girlfriend is a selfish gold-digger who is cynically trading sex for money and status. Certain other assumptions are involved in the case of an older woman who goes into “cougar” mode, pursuing sex with virile young studs.
Many reasons (moral, political, anthropological) could justify our negative attitudes toward relationships between consenting adults of widely varying ages. People who engage in such relationships are guilty, at least, of disregarding common opinion that disapproves of wide age differences between sex partners. We are prone to suspect that people who flout social conventions are not trustworthy.
It is impossible, really, that the 28-year-old teacher who engages in sex with a 15-year-old boy is not aware that what she is doing is (a) against the law, and (b) strongly disapproved by society. She knows there will be terrible consequences if she is caught, but she wants to do it so badly that she convinces herself she can get away with it. Her willingness to engage in this illegal and socially disapproved behavior implies a risk-taking attitude that can only be explained by the perpetrator’s profound interest in the sexual attributes specific to a very young partner. We therefore are tempted to categorize any person caught in such crimes as perversely abnormal — that loathsome creature, the pedophile.
Defendants in these cases, however, quite understandably try to avoid this implication. They made a mistake, they showed poor judgment, they understand what they did was wrong, but please — please! — don’t put them in the same category with predatory perverts.
These typical defenses represent a belief that sex offenders can be clearly divided into two categories, one of which is the dangerous pedophile that everyone should hate and fear, and the other category (in which the pleading defendant always includes herself) of basically good people who are well-meaning and harmless, but just sort of accidentally happened to engage in sex with a minor.
That 15-year-old boy’s penis in her mouth? A random coincidence!
Such defenses involve at least three myths about these crimes:
- There is no significant number of adults who might seek sex with teenagers, if they thought they could get away with it;
- There is no objective or rational reason why any person would ever prefer an adolescent sex partner; and
- Laws against sex with minors were enacted by people who were ignorant of facts regarding Myth 1 and Myth 2.
Let me suggest (contra Myth 3) that lawmakers who established legal limits on consent, going back to Roman law and English common law, were as fully familiar with basic human nature as any latter-day sociologist or psychologist. Furthermore, contra Myth 2, it does not take much imagination (perhaps no imagination at all) to see why someone seeking to satisfy their sexual urges might select a 15-year-old as the object of their desire. And, contra Myth 1, if society did not exercise its legitimate authority to protect juveniles by enacting laws against sex with minors, the number of adults who might seek adolescent partners could prove much larger than anyone now imagines.
This is the “Sexual Anarchy” scenario that Matt Barber has warned about: People who want to normalize pedophilia typically claim that only bigotry and ignorance can explain society’s strong disapproval of underage sex. They ask us to believe that there is no real danger involved in a lenient attitude toward sex offenders.
The pro-pedophile activists accuse their critics of exaggerating these dangers and fostering a climate of irrational fear, so that when we point to a clear trend — e.g., the frequency of child pornography arrests, the discovery of organized child-prostitution rings, etc. — this evidence is denounced by pro-pedophile activists as an attempt to stir up a “sex panic,” a “witchhunt,” a hateful “hysteria.”
The Swiss Army Knife of ‘Consent’
Yet how do these arguments appear in light of the “Erection Equals Consent” myth as explained by Ally Fogg, and in the context of the typical “Hot for Teacher” scenario, where a reasonably attractive woman in her late 20s or early 30s is having sex with her 15-year-old male student? If we set aside all moral, legal, social and ethical objections to such behavior, must we pretend that we are unable to explain why a woman would be interested in a 15-year-old boy? Oh, hell, no.
Having once been a teenage boy, I know exactly what she enjoys in this activity. If erection equals consent, I was in a condition of permanent consent from the time I was 13 years old. A teenage boy is capable of sexual arousal with the least provocation, or no provocation at all.
Any adolescent male’s penis is, so to speak, the sexual equivalent of a Swiss Army knife — a tool that can be adapted to any purpose.
Furthermore, even if we ignore whatever aesthetic appeal there might be in the youthful appearance of an adolescent, there are other attributes typical of youth that might lead an adult woman to desire a 15-year-old boy as a sex partner. The teenage boy is more or less a tabula rasa, a lump of unmolded clay, an empty page on which she can inscribe whatever she wishes. Suppose that the teacher, attractive as she may be, is dissatisfied with the quality of her relationships with adult men. There in her classroom is a teenage boy, who is ready, willing and able to attempt any sexual act his teacher may desire him to perform. Not only is the boy’s impetuous eagerness flattering to her ego — adult men are probably less impetuous and more demanding — but as the teenager is less experienced in sexual activity by comparison to her adult male partners, the teen may be more easily tutored to perform sexually in the precise manner that pleases his teacher the most. The boy is more eager to please, more cooperative and less judgmental, and probably far more grateful to have her as a sex partner than any adult male would be.
The reader knows very well that I am not arguing in favor of such criminal activity. Instead, I am saying that if we are willing, for the sake of argument, to look at the situation outside of a moral framework, we can easily imagine why a Debra Lafave (or any other woman who was less than fully satisfied by her relationships with adult men) might find a teenage boy particularly appealing as a sexual partner. And we can extend or adapt this reasoning — in terms of objective incentives to illegal sex with minors — without regard to whether the victim is male or female, whether the perpetrator is male or female, whether the criminal behavior is heterosexual or homosexual. Once we are willing to recognize that the underage partner might have qualities that are sexually desirable to an adult, we can stop pretending to be mystified by these crimes.
Beyond that, if we can put aside our moral sensibilities for the sake of argument, we don’t have to pretend that the legislators who enact statutory rape laws — or the police or prosecutors or judges who are charged with enforcing these laws — are ignorant of the fact that a large number of adults might seek sex with young people, who might enthusiastically consent to those acts, if it weren’t for widespread social disapproval and strong legal sanctions against such activity.
We don’t have to pretend that sex crimes against minors are only perpetrated by a tiny group of predatory weirdos. We don’t have to pretend that minor victims of sex crimes are always helpless, unwilling innocents who were coerced or brainwashed into sexual activity. There is no need for us to prefer a convenient mythology to inconvenient reality. All we need is to agree that adult/minor sex is wrong, and that the laws against it should be vigorously and fairly enforced, and we can then reject as dangerous every nitpicking criticism made by moral relativists who want to squawk about how “arbitrary” these laws are.
Finally, let me point out (as if it were not already apparent) some reasons why this is relevant to my critique of radical feminism.
Readers of the “Sex Trouble” series are by now familiar with my contention that feminist theory has been decisively shaped by arguments put forward by radical lesbians, whose anti-male/anti-heterosexual biases have pervaded the field of Women’s Studies. Insofar as any woman’s attitudes are influenced by feminist theory, her attempts to live in accordance with these doctrines will make it difficult for her to find happiness in a life of men, marriage and motherhood. Let me further explain (again, as if it were not already apparent) that after more than 40 years of feminist activism, these ideas have been dispersed so widely through our society and culture, it is possible for a woman to have internalized feminist beliefs simply by conforming to what she is taught in school, what she absorbs through watching TV and reading popular magazines, and what she is told by her peers.
Therefore (and yes, you have now finally reached the conclusion) it is not surprising that many women are unhappy in their adult relationships with men, which are in many ways sabotaged by the influence of feminism. Nor is it surprising that these unhappy women, who have been told that sexual “empowerment” is an ideal goal for women — a goal thwarted by the compromises women must necessarily make in their relationships with adult men — should seek to exercise their “empowerment” in relationships with teenage boys.
You may be certain that somewhere a Gender Studies major is examining cases of female teachers caught in sex crimes against minors, and theorizing a way to blame these crimes on the patriarchy.
Of course, as every feminist knows, the patriarchy is always to blame for everything, especially anything that involves an erect penis.