Feminism, paedophilia, and children's rights

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In 1980 I published a two-part article in The Advocate, critiquing American age-of-consent laws. While extremely controversial, the articles did hit print and spur discussion about the sexuality of young people, intimate relationships between men and boys, and the dangerous implications of banning all erotic images of minors. Eleven years later, I am writing this piece. It will be translated into Dutch and published abroad in a special issue of Paidika on women and pedophilia. I support Paidika and enjoy working with the editors of this special issue. I also know I probably could not get anything on this topic published today in the American gay and lesbian press. [...]

The American government's campaign against the sexual rights of young people has been so successful that most gay men, lesbians, and feminists are convinced that the movement to repeal age-of-consent laws was nothing more than an attempt to guarantee rapacious adults the right to vulnerable child victims. The North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) has been banned from so many annual gay pride marches that people are astonished when the organization does appear. [...]

The feminist antiporn movement routinely trashed its feminist critics by attacking them as perverts and advocates of rape, battery, and child abuse. Members of the antiporn movement have been so successful that most people - including the press - today assume that they represent the only feminist position on issues of sexuality, censorship, pornography, violence against women, and the sex industry. The feminist antiporn movement mirrored a growing conservatism in American society about all sexual matters. As economic conditions here got worse, people began to look toward "traditional values" to provide a feeling of security and safety. It became much harder for women to survive economically outside the nuclear family or to criticize it. Plenty of evidence exists to show that the traditional family is not a particularly nice place to grow up. Sexual abuse is a common experience for girls (and not so uncommon for boys) in the family. Federal law-enforcement figures indicate that five children per day (mostly infants and young children) are murdered by their parents in the United States. Yet the nostalgia for this ideal, safe, loving, nurturing, patriarchal family persists. The panic over child pornography and pedophilia that has racked American society since the '70s is an inseparable part of our society's denial of the shortcomings and failures of the family. Moral crusades have also been used to attack both feminism and gay rights, and neither of these progressive movements has been very successful at defending itself against such attacks or at presenting a complete analysis of them. [...]

It's certainly true that some of the young people who appeared in this material were coerced into modeling and were damaged by that experience. But it would be a mistake to characterize all child porn as "a record of child abuse". Sometimes it was a record of children's exhibitionism and free erotic play with one another. Sometimes it was a record of adolescent vanity, pride, and budding sexuality. Sometimes it preserved a moment of exceptional trust and pleasure between partners whose ages would normally have kept them apart. To simply speak this truth is very dangerous today. But we do not serve ourselves - or children - very well when we interpret all sexual experiences in the most negative terms possible. Sex is not simply a matter of violence or danger. And issues of consent, autonomy, and power are never simple to sort out, especially in the realm of the senses. Adult panic or disgust about young people's seeking pleasure for themselves is responsible for much of the trauma that minors experience when they are caught behaving 'inappropriately' for their ages, even in a consensual context.

source: Article 'Feminism, Paedophilia, and Children's Rights' by Pat Califia (feminist); www.ipce.info/ipceweb/Library/califa_feminism.htm; Paidika Volume 2, Number 4, Issue 8; Winter 1992