Joanna Schroeder and Hugo Schwyzer react to a moving Salon article where a woman finally realizes she isn’t responsible for being taken advantage of by a 20 year-old man, when she was only 12.
In a recent Salon article by Jillian Lauren, the author admits to having been sexually aggressive with a 20 year-old camp counselor when she was 12 years old. For her whole life, Lauren has felt like the sexual relationship that developed between them was her fault, because she really did want to have sex with the man, and because she enjoyed the interaction.
Now, looking back, she feels that the adult in that situation (and others like it) was responsible for saying “no” to her, no matter how she may have acted. Lauren cannot help but wonder how her life may have been different if this man had done that.
I wonder what I would have learned from not getting what I asked for. Would I have learned that there are other things about me as valuable and compelling as my sexuality? Would I have learned that some men are trustworthy? Would I have had more options than the ones available to “that kind of girl”?
In 2011, Hugo Schwyzer wrote about this exact subject in an article called Can Young Girls Really Seduce Older Men? This article touches upon a taboo subject in our society—the fact that we idealize and sexualize the teenage and pubescent female body. Even Lauren, in her article, refers to watching a friend’s 12 year-old daughter and observing “the sharp lines of the daughter’s body (perfection, by our media’s standards), so like my own at that age. She was dazzling and precious and still unaware of the ruckus she was causing among the male onlookers.”
It seems to me that one of the profoundly disturbing aspects of this narrative is the one where a 12 year-old’s body is considered perfect. This single line shook me to my core. Not only have we, as a society, come to idealize the coltish frame of a 12 year-old girl for fashion and beauty, but also for sexuality. And there is something profoundly wrong with that.
Regarding Jillian Lauren’s article, Hugo Schwyzer had this to say:
The truth is, as Lauren’s essay so poignantly shows, sometimes she is “asking for it.” I don’t mean she’s asking for it by being flirtatious or wearing short skirts. I mean she makes it clear that she wants—or thinks she wants—sex with you, an older man. But when it comes to someone made vulnerable by inexperience, her wants don’t serve as your excuse. In a society where young women are raised to see older men’s desire as a yardstick to measure their own worth, the most valuable thing you can do with a “sexually aggressive” underage girl is to her affirm her value while rejecting her sexually. She’s asking for your “yes,” but she desperately needs—and she sure as hell deserves—your loving, gentle, irrevocable “no.”
That doesn’t mean just 12 year-olds, but other people we have authority over. And this isn’t targeted only at men. A news story recently highlighted a former NFL pro-cheerleader who sexually assaulted a 12 year-old boy, then claimed to be drunk and confused. As Danny points out in his insightful news blog, a storm of tweets shamed the boy for turning the woman down and asking for help.
The boy in the story above did not want the sex, but in other stories like it—think Mary Kay Letourneau—the boys say they desired the older woman. And many in society think that the boy is a hero for landing a hot older chick. But there is little to no difference between these stories. This is statutory rape.
Jillian Lauren cites a Health and Human Services qualifying factor for sexual abuse:
At the website of the Department of Health and Human Services, one of the qualifiers for the clinical definition of sexual abuse is a “knowledge differential.” It states, “An act is considered abusive when one party (the offender) has a more sophisticated understanding of the significance and implication of the sexual encounter.”
This should cause us all a moment of pause in our daily interactions. The vast majority of us reading these articles will ever be in a situation where there is opportunity to engage in sexual activity with someone much younger (or otherwise less able to make sound decisions about sexuality) than us. But we can make our voices matter in this society when it comes to the sexualization of children.
Calling the child who was sexually assaulted by a former cheerleader in her 40s a “pussy” or lobbing homophobic slurs at him is profoundly wrong. This child needs our support, and a message needs to be loud and clear that his alleged assaulter’s behavior was wrong, and that those who are attacking him on social media are also profoundly wrong. We need to send a strong message to the entertainment media that women raping men and young boys is not funny, and should never appear on-screen in a humorous way. And we need to stop making heroes out of older men who date or marry teenagers.
We need to stop holding up innocence, purity, and pubescent bodies as sexual ideals.
And as Hugo says above, adults owe younger people the respect and protection that comes with saying “no”.
For more on this topic, read Hugo Schwyzer’s article Can Young Girls Really Seduce Older Men?