I'm not a very good blogger; I missed Blogging Against Disablism Day, and now via Elizabeth I see I've missed Blogging for CFS/ME Day, which is too bad, as I swear I have intelligent things to say about disability and particularly about CFS.
I'm not going to talk about disability today, though. I'm going to talk about Lolita, and radical feminism, and what it's like to believe a certain idea is true.
I go to a book discussion group at my local library. We meet once a month, about four or five conservative, oldish women and me, excessively butch and progressive ; this month's book was Lolita, which of course is the story of a young girl and the pedophile who maneuvers himself into the role of her stepfather and then takes off across the country on a road trip designed to facilitate her repeated rape. And then he murders the guy who (sort of) helps her escape.
Its a horrible story, but the discussion was pretty interesting. Nabokov was a fabulous writer, so there's all kinds of literary allusions, metaphors and tricks to dissect, and the story of course raises all kinds of questions about the nature of insanity, evil, and sex. There are details throughout the book that hint at a story behind the story; I believe the literary device is called the 'unreliable narrator.' So the book group was a good time, but we didn't get into the aspect of the book that I thought was most interesting, which was the problem of consent to sex in a coercive, dependent relationship.
Although Nabokov doesn't necessarily accept it himself, he puts in the mouth of his protagonist the idea that the child Lolita, at age 12, seduces a grown man out of her own free will. This is what the term lolita has come to mean: a sexually cunning girl child who aims to seduce adult men.
Of course the legal standard is that it is impossible for a child of twelve to consent to sex, and I rather think that this is correct. However, when Lolita is only a bit older than the age at which she is said to have seduced Humbert, she runs away from him while on a trip. And I got to thinking, if I approve of a life-changing decision like choosing to run away from the only support you have, in a state you're unfamiliar with, without any money, what is the basis for my rejection of the idea that someone of that same age can consent to sex? Because if running away is an acceptable thing, the issue is clearly not one of mental competence or the ability to make wise decisions. So what is it about sex that makes me so sure that a twelve year old can't choose to do it?
I don't usually consider myself to be a radical feminist. I haven't even read a lot of the philosophy behind radical feminism, but my contemplation of this question makes me think that I probably ought to start reading Dworkin and whoever else wrote on this question back in the day, what I guess is called first-wave feminism. Because I suspect that the answer to why I think sex with children is unacceptable lies in the balance of power between adults and children. Children are dependent on their adult caretakers. No matter what permutation that relationship takes, a child can never be sure that she has power of any kind. A child's "no" is often meaningless, and I think this is the key to why I think a child cannot consent to sex. Of course, from what I know at least (my knowledge of Dworkin is heavily reliant on blogs like I Blame the Patriarchy, which isn't meant to be a course in philosophy, so what I know may not extend very far), one of the key tenets in the "sex-negative" school of feminist thought is that women can't consent to sex while a patriarchal society that denies women the ability to meaningfully refuse sex persists.
I'm not ready to subscribe to the idea that all heterosexual sex is rape- I think there has to be room somewhere for the unique dynamic between two people that may negate the effect that culture has- but I think I finally see where that idea comes from. Feminism is not something that comes naturally to me, not really. I don't really feel patriarchy in my gut. I believe that patriarchy exists because I've seen its effects often enough that I'm convinced that its a real phenomenon, but I don't really feel it on a close, personal level even when those effects are a part of my life. Its too easy for me to assume that the way both men and women interact with me is influenced by other things- my illness, my personality (which borders on Aspergian) - for me to automatically think that patriarchy in my life is really patriarchy. Reading Lolita has been like opening a window, and I think now I understand a little bit better what it means to be a woman in the twenty-first century.