Fresh Air’s interview with Jennifer Fox

1073Back in April—is it already August?—I wrote a post called Conservatism, neo-Marxism & the Suppression of Sexual Expression, discussing the hostility toward pornography (read erotic desire) couched in the framework of the oppressor and oppressed. In my view, portraying consumers of pornography as oppressors and those in the industry (generally women) as oppressed is ideologically premised and unsupported by any real evidence.

So I was reminded of that essay when listening to today’s Fresh Air interview with Jennifer Fox, director of The Tale. Fox, at several points, was careful to resist being labelled a victim of child sexual abuse, resisting the paradigm of victim-hood. She referred to herself as a survivor. Her dislike of the ‘victim’ label  arises from her belief that labeling children victims robs them of their agency—their control. That’s not to say that children are agents of their own abuse, but that she, as a 13 years old, made choices and had reasons for them; and that these reasons, though they were misguided, were also the means by which she comprehended her abuse and came to terms with it.

“There’s a way that adults want to erase their adolescent narratives, and, personally, I think we want to hear them. I was making choices without the ability to understand or without the experience to know what was in front of me, but in my mind I was making choices. It wasn’t like I was a piece of putty. We can allow that this 13-year-old girl has a voice, has agency, but she doesn’t have experience, and that’s why she needs some adult protection. Maybe she can’t recognize the man manipulating her because she doesn’t have the experience to see, but it doesn’t mean she’s stupid. Society wants to erase the voice of teenage girls. Well, fuck, they have voices. They have voices, they have thoughts, they have ambitions.”

Why, at the age of 13 (and well into adulthood) did she never feel ‘abused’ when, as she now unhesitatingly asserts, she very much was? This is the question her film explores.

She also resists calling her abusers rapists. Legally? Yes. But to call them rapists, according to Fox, precludes a more nuanced understanding of the reasons for the sexual predation. In her view, the best way to prevent sexual child abuse is to understand the psychology behind it. Fox asserts, for example, that the man who abused her would not have considered himself a rapist (nor does she), but as someone who was initiating her into sex and sexuality as an experienced and caring adult (rather than a fumbling and inexperienced peer). Of course, that sort of thinking, as she points out, is narcissistic to the point of sociopathy, but comprehensible in a way that the label ‘rape’—a brutal act of physical force—isn’t. She also suggests that the two adults who abused her were likely abused as children.

Adult erotic desire as enjoyed through fantasy, erotica and pornography is in no way comparable to child sexual abuse, but what reminded me of my former post was a shared resistance to shutting down discussions of sex and sexuality with blanket labels that reduce all interactions to victimizer and victim. In my view, this sort of framing makes sex itself the evil, and the result is reflected in a resistance to sex education, sex work, erotica, fantasy and pornography. Among minors, sexual ignorance is touted as preferable to sexual knowledge (despite the well-documented counterproductiveness of the attitude).

The result is a failure to more fully understand, anticipate and prevent the psychological dynamics behind sexual abuse and child sexual abuse. Worse than that, Jennifer Fox asserts, is that turning a child into a victim risks taking from them their sense of agency. Rather than empowered survivors, they’re made into helpless victims.

I’d recommend anyone listen to Terry Gross’s interview with Fox .

Latest Comments

  1. Princess Crowned says:

    It is very very tricky to define the way abuse is shaded. Rape is rape, abuse is abuse. They often interact.

    A young woman is seen a tender, nubile and ripe for the plucking. She is not seen as the growing child she is, more often than not. We do not die at 35, so we do not need to get married at 15. Yet we still have people acting like we need to start sex activity asap.

    As the author mentioned, the young woman has thoughts and feelings. What adults need to do is realize they are not included.

    It is hard for some to give up the summer of adolescence for the glory of adulthood in Autumn but that is exactly what they need to do.

    I have not had any man (besides those dominant bossy ones) super gush over me as my high school boyfriends did. Well, ok, Goes with the territory of growing up. Maturity means we adapt and grow up, we do not regress. We esp do not intrude on the agency of others younger than us, b/c we are out of sorts.

    I clearly remember being relentlessly pursed in my teen years by boys my age and dudes in their 20’s. A few in their 30’s eyeballed me, too. I knew that those older than me did not want me, they just wanted an experience to sooth their savage egos.

    (I had a few girlfriends who were not aware of that and gbvgot tied up in messes with guys that were adults.)

    • willcrimson says:

      We don’t die at 35, but we won’t be overriding millions of years of evolution any time soon. The beauty of a girl crossing into young womanhood is unsurpassed (as far as many men go, if not most?). Just to be clear though, Jennifer Fox makes a point, in the movie, that she was more of a girl (in appearance) than a young woman. Whatever drove the two adults to sexually abuse her went beyond appreciating a young women’s beauty and child-baring readiness. But then, having written that, there’s a fascinating thread on reddit where alot of women describe the first time men sexually noticed them. One informal graph puts that age as 12 years old for girls, which describes when Fox was abused. So, there’s that. Evolutionary speaking, a 12 year old would be about right.

      I’ve heard other women describe their teen years, and the pursuit of men. Some miss it (including some who didn’t like it at the time). Many don’t. I always wanted to be looked at by girls the way we looked at them, and I know that was true of all my friends, but that never happened—or not in the same way. When you’re a boy growing into a young man, there’s always that drive to impress girls/women with your strength, prowess, and standing among your peers, etc… One might think that’s all silly and immature, but it emphatically is not. It’s all practice for adulthood. Nothing succeeds, when courting women, like success. Ones learns subtler ways to impress women and master social hierarchy.

    • Princess Crowned says:

      I’m one who thinks we can reason with what evolution says we should do, if we try, in certain circumstances. The young all deserve their chance to be young and grow, w/o the undue influences of those older and more experienced. I say that as one who was not pleased that grown men thought I was fair game. I know that women vary in their rates of maturity but I wasn’t nubile, I was athletic. The adults eyeballing me were misguided in their desires. WTF did I have over a ripe woman glowing with fertility? nothing. (It had nothing to do with that but with a predatory desire to ruin me.)

      And yes, I had a few try to tell me that I need an real ‘experienced’ man. *triple eyeroll* Luckily, I escaped with any scars or wounds. but it was scary at times and always baffling. Why salivate over 15 yr old me when there were college girls, who were truly in bloom? Legal and ready to mingle. Isn’t that a lot more appealing?

      As for looking at boys my age, I did. I just did not wish to be tied up to anyone guy nor did I want to bear a child. Biology has always put a damper on my imagined plans.

      I do not see young men as I see actual grown up ones. (That might be a womancentric thing, perhaps.) A 20 yr old man does not look to me like a sexy 35 yr old prime specimen but we all have our own tastes.

      What I do know is that we are worshiping youth to a fault in our society, so it is not being drummed into heads that teens are still developing at their own paces and do not need any help.

      We cannot turn back the clock nor do we have the right to speed it up for others.

      A friend theorized that many want the thrill and excitement of “the new”, so they look to younger for partnership. That was in relation to the female teachers who were on a tear to bed a student. (She also said she would snap a bitch’s neck who put her hands on her HS age son but that is a diff convo.)

      She has a point, esp in our very causal Tinder-style hookup culture. It is nice to be the focus of a man’s attn, not a side note. To be wooed and pursued is quite a diff situation than to get a late night text with misspelled words and an emoji, asking for a screw.

      And yes, men do need to show certain signs in their pursuit of women. Not silly and immature at all.

    • willcrimson says:

      I agree with you in every way.

      I have told my own daughters, however, that human nature is, in a way, two contradictory words. Only the careless and clueless would go climbing the mountains with insufficient gear in a chancy season. Nature is unforgiving and indifferent to your suffering or death. Some men (and woman) are more nature than human. We are not created equal. There are men who are dangerous by a fault in nature’s workmanship. The human mind is an incredibly complex thing for nature to create. So, I tell them, don’t go unwisely into the company of humanity, let alone men. To assume otherwise is to assume that a sudden winter’s storm at 6 or 12000 feet cares about you survival.

      //WTF did I have over a ripe woman glowing with fertility? nothing. (It had nothing to do with that but with a predatory desire to ruin me.)//

      I know, but as a scientific matter, the athletic body type (like that of a girl/young woman’s) is perceived to be more fertile than a “ripe woman’s”, if I understand you correctly.

      For example:

      Ideal to real: What the ‘perfect’ body really looks like for men and women

      And this:

      Hip to waist ration and feminine beauty

      So, I suspect your athletic body was perceived as more “ripe” than a full grown woman’s. That’s evolution at work. That preference in men, and it’s true of me, is hardwired. As you rightly point out, however, that’s absolutely not a rationalization to interfere with a girl’s right to grow and explore on her own terms.

      To say that the adults wanted to ruin you is, to me, an insight. Not that they wouldn’t have ruined you, but that you perceived it that way (rightly or wrongly as regards their intent). I think that’s likely true. Not in all cases, but to ruin a girl is to control a girl. I don’t doubt that an element of contempt, resentment and misogyny plays its part.

      I do get the attractions of the new, but I also know that it’s mostly a mirage. Writing erotic stories is the way to go. :)

    • Princess Crowned says:

      I am pleased you did tell your daughters to be thoughtful and wary. We should not send the tender lambs out unarmed amongst the ravenous cunning wolves. (That goes for young men, too.)

      I must digress on my level of sexy, as compared to the ripe-n-juicy. We are talking pre Kim K and Beyonce current ‘bootylicious, mind you. I was just about model thin; I was not muscled athletic, like my volley ball playing friends. I was a dancer and trust me, I was as narrow and flat as I could be, as that was the goal–to look fragile. My more developed friends all got way more attention from older guys than I–which was totally fine. You have heard the joke about men want meat but only a dog wants a bone? I was happy to be considered bony.

      I looked younger than my age for a bit longer than some, as well. If that is the trigger for the hard wire, where is the wire cutter? (And what on the hard wires of women? Another convo, another time.)

      My youth was precious to me and I was in no rush. I refused to let anyone eat it, be he 20, 30 or any age above I also knew my limits and a guy my age was more amenable to them than a 21 yr old.

      As an adult women, when it is actual work to be slim-n-trim, now that is a diff story to tell. But then? I didn’t have any fertility symbols to wave. None of my truly thin friends had much older dude issues, btw. One used to cry in the lavatory after she was teased for being ‘built like a boy”.

      And yes, those old ass grown men (I was a teen, so yes they were all old) would have ruined me because they would have twisted, thwarted or broken my natural development. They had a fascination with purity and virginity, no doubt on it. And I’m only a virgin once, so once that is done, on to the next. Being a checkbox on a perpetually growing list violates my hard wiring.

      We are not in the caves, traversing the hills or scampering across the Savannah, depending on genetic background.
      I expect better behavior. I don’t always get it but I do look for it.

      I’m cool with those who need a new set of X in their bed, be it every week or month. I only believe they should be adults with adults, not adults siphoning youth off a young person.

    • willcrimson says:

      Yeah, I was also in no hurry. Youth was precious to me as well. That being said, my perspective was a little different. Rather than being the fish in the pond, I was the budding fisherman; but the thought of actually catching a fish always sent me packing. I always, wrongly, assumed that women wanted relationships rather than hook-ups. Given all the feminism I was exposed to while in grade school and high school, it took me a while to realize that respecting women didn’t mean not having sex with them. Respect and sex could coexist.

      As for your ‘female’ hard wiring. Sounds like it was intact and finely tuned. Everything you’ve written, from an evolutionary standpoint, is exactly what one would expect. You knew you had your pick. You weren’t going to bite the first lure dropped into the water.

      Your anecdote about your friend crying in the bathroom is revealing. Men don’t do that. Young women and women in general want to be appealing to, and looked at, by men—just not men who have no business looking at them. I’ve never heard of any men crying in the bathroom because their bodies weren’t developing (which isn’t to say that men don’t want women’s attention). Gay men on the other hand… I read a story written by a gay man who dressed up as a woman for a high school costume party. The other men and boys, his classmates, didn’t recognize him and were ogling him openly and sexually until they realized it was him — then, of course, they freaked out (until cooler heads reminded them this was a costume party after all). I think they were rattled by how convincing a girl he was. What interested me though was the gay man’s comment: He loved the male gaze. He felt he had always had to hide from it (to not invite it for his own safety) but this one night gave him an excuse. His perspective was more like that of a woman’s — in certain respects. Their gaze validated him.

    • Princess Crowned says:

      Feminism and all of that went over my head–I’m hardwired in the old ways when it comes to personal relationships, much to the chagrin of a few friends (and deluded exes) who wish I was more modern. Nahh, ain’t happening,

      I think that you were successful because you were always respectful versus just approaching it as you wanted some trim right now, so bend over. Or something like that.

      My goal was to enter my adult life with choices and having a baby and a cranky ex wasn’t the way to do that. I didn’t care how cute the lure was, if the guy didn’t have certain qualities, he was not even on my ‘hi there’ list.

      My buddy was tired of being picked on because she was herself. Very pretty, glossy mane of hair, etc. But she was naturally very thin-which is working super great for her now. Back then, not so much.
      She had a few guys who liked her but to be bothered with assholery daily was a pain. She eventually slapped the living shit out of the ringleader (right in his mouth) and that made things better.

      I’ve read studies on the effects of testosterone and estrogen on the emotions. I do not expect a boy to cry because he is called scrawny,

      To be noticed by someone we think is attractive is nice. But even then, when it goes from a pleasant smile to a leer, it is not so nice.

      I’m not too sussed on attention, as I am not about to give the querant what he might, which is a piece of my ass.

    • willcrimson says:

      Wanting pieces of asses… we can’t help ourselves And i”ve always favored the scrawny, bony, tomboyish girls. But I love your attitude. Love it. And admire it. I have hopes that my girls are just as smart and no-nonense. :)

    • Princess Crowned says:

      I notice you cannot, as a group, stop wanting. That is what it is.

      I wasn’t a tomboy, I was a delicate dancing flower. :-)

      I credit my parents for my sassy attitude. I did not become this wicked and monstrous without help.

      Something from long ago I wrote, which dovetails into our little convo: https://princessrecrowned.wordpress.com/redux/undrilled/

    • willcrimson says:

      I was the mushroom in the corner.

      I read ‘undrilled’. There are some poetry anthologies that’s good enough to fit into. I like your use of figurative language. Good stuff. I do get a sense for your experience, so unlike my own, and also strength through your pride. I would have commented there, but didn’t see a way to do so.

      Could also be a short story. Inspires me to write…

    • Princess Crowned says:

      BTW data is beautiful and I’m quite fond of SPSS. ;-)

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