Sexual consent and the adolescent male, or what can we learn from the Greeks?

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As the historians Steven Schlossman and Stephanie Wallach showed in an influential 1978 article, the age of consent was raised and vigorously enforced in early 20th century America not out of any concern with adolescent male sexuality so much as with the control of "precocious" female sexuality, which threatened to escape the bonds of patriarchal control due to rapid industrialization and urbanization. The age of consent was as low as 10 or 12 in the mostly rural society of early 19th century America.

Although clad in the rhetoric of public health and social hygiene, the move to raise the age of consent was closely connected to the racist preoccupations of the eugenics movement, as well as to concerns about mass immigration, miscegenation, and "public morals." Sexually active women and girls were identified as socially dangerous "deviants needing permanent care and, if possible, sterilization." The focal concern was control of young female bodies: when the patriarchal family could no longer retain its control, the state stepped in to control female sexuality by the force of law. The intent of the age of consent laws was not to protect children from predatory adults, but to keep young women's desires under control; at the same time that the law denied adolescents the ability to "consent" to sexual contact, it did allow them to marry at a younger age if their parents consented, or not infrequently, coerced.

Contemporary feminists should not support the strengthening and extension of laws that were in their origin designed as tools of state paternalism and patriarchal control over young, female, working-class, ethnic bodies. In the Progressive Era, the age of consent technically applied to underage males as well, but was seldom enforced or used to control sexually active boys.

source: Paper 'Sexual Consent and the Adolescent Male, or What Can We Learn from the Greeks?' by Thomas Hubbard;; 2009