Tag Archives: Victorian prudes

Is David Futrelle defending child prostitution? You decide…

4 Aug

child prostitute

 

Possibly NSFW: naked soldiers swimming – butts only 

 

David Futrelle, who writes at www.wehuntedthemammoth.com, has a long history of interpreting clearly satirical articles as literal truth, deliberately misrepresenting the writing of those with whom he does not agree and relentlessly hounding Dr. Warren Farrell for a single misquoted remark he made more than 40 years ago. Given this pattern of behavior, and given two articles David published in the 90s that have recently come to my attention, I think it is only fair (or at least consistent) to ask Futrelle to clarify just what he meant when he wrote Abuse Excuses and his review of two Victorian era history books in an article called Victorian Secrets

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I will look at Victorian Secrets today, and Abuse Excuses tomorrow. The article has an interesting twist at the end. I’ll give you a paragraph by paragraph tl;dr. He starts off with Patricia Anderson’s When Passion Reigned.

 queen-victoria

Paragraph 1: The word “Victorian”, like” Puritan”, conjures up images of stuffy prudes set on imposing their worldview on others

Fair enough. Victorians, are of course, alluding to Queen Victoria, one of those powerless women who had no voice until feminism came along.

Paragraph 2: There has been a recent resurgence in admiration of Victorian vales

He quotes Margaret Thatcher, another powerless woman with no voice.

Paragraph 3: For all their proclaimed virtues, Victorian men in particular were rather fond of prostitutes aka “white slaves” and novels and pornography featuring “flagellation, fetishism and incest”. The author of the book appears to elevate women beyond such baseness, preferring ladies who stare at crotches and revel in repression.

I haven’t read the book so I don’t know if this is a fair characterization, but at any rate, it’s the men=bad, women=good trope we are all familiar with.

Paragraph 4: Anderson (the author) prefers the demure lady Victorian and ignores the graphic pornography of the era in favor of a more subtlety described female sexuality.

Not surprising, if true.

 

RAAF_1943_swimming_nude

 

Paragraph 5: Victorians were a raunchy bunch, with the ladies exposing heaving bosoms for male admiration and watching men swim nude with “more than purely anatomical interest”.

So nothing has changed much except that men tend not to swim nude in full view of ladies anymore.

Paragraph 6: Futrelle writes that Anderson does not consider what Victorian sexuality meant to ordinary people, and that the absence of explicit talk about sex in public cannot be taken as evidence that “real passion reigned in the privacy of the bedroom”.  He goes on to say that “very little in the history of sexuality suggests that evasiveness and euphemism is the best way to enhance sexual pleasures”.

Can’t disagree, but exactly what expressions of sexual pleasure are we talking about?

Paragraph 7:  Anderson is optimistic that even those left out of the Victorian sexual world would still be okay, writing that “for the unhappily married, the jilted and the lonely, there was leeway for the romantic imagination”, citing the pleasures of small glances or appreciative words from the opposite sex.

What we now think of as harassment?

Paragraph 8: Futrelle finds this a “remarkable statement”, and suggests that those individuals (men) who really craved release could have enjoyed prostitutes or a flagellation novel. “Why should we expect a glance or even a few appreciative words to suffice for anyone”, he writes.

Is it possible these do not suffice for him? Is he part of the jilted and lonely who prefer prostitutes and flagellation?

Paragraph 9: Futrelle moves on the Lucy Bland’s Banishing the Beast, dismissing Anderson as “facile”. He focuses on a group of radical intellectuals who meet to talk openly about sex.

Futrelle has no interest in the more subtle expressions of Victorian sexuality, dismissing them as superficial and simplistic (that’s what facile means) and wants instead to get right into the incest and whippings and hookers nitty-gritty.  Of course that’s the aspect that will capture readers attention, so I am merely noting the enthusiasm and not ascribing any meaning to it.

Paragraph 10: Victorians were conflicted about women’s sexuality – some thought women were more or less asexual, and some thought they were full of ardor, “seldom satisfied with a single sexual act”.

Futrelle gives the impression that male sexuality is not discussed but I don’t know if that’s true. It is certainly not discussed by him.

Paragraph 11: Women’s lack of sexual desire was seen as giving them moral authority over others.

Which others?

Paragraph 12: Working class women, especially prostitutes, who curiously felt that they had a right to determine their own lives.

Prissy middle class women deciding what other women get to do with their lives. Same old, same old. But note the use of the word women.

Paragraph 13: Futrelle reaches the exact same conclusion, drawing parallels with contemporary anti-feminist pornography.

He doesn’t specify which, if any, genre of pornography draws the ire of feminists.

Paragraph 14: Feminist Victorians can be overzealous in their moral crusades and often found themselves “falling back on coercive strategies to control the sexual behaviour of young girls” – Futrelle’s words.

This is the part I find interesting. Throughout the article, Futrelle specifies that he is talking about women, and that Victorian purity campaigns target prostitutes specifically. But when it comes to overzealousness, he identifies not only girls rather than women, but young girls. Let’s assume that a woman for Futrelle is a female who has reached the age of modern consent – somewhere around 17-18 years of age. Girls would be what? 12 – 16? Just how young are these young girls whose sexual behaviors must not be coercively controlled? And note he did not say sexual feelings – this is not about a budding awareness of sexuality – but he very specifically says behaviors.

Perhaps I am reading far too much into this. It’s possible.  Let’s finish this last paragraph.

 

Paragraph 15: If we can’t talk openly about sex, we are bound to obsess over it. Erotic exposure and political liberation should not be conflated. “It is dangerous to elevate sexual unease to a kind of virtue”, because those who do not share our tastes will attempt to impose their values on the rest of us.

Given the preceding paragraph in which the sexual behavior of young girls is described as being coercively controlled, just what kind of sexual unease is Futrelle talking about? And if exposure is not enough, what is? Are inclinations and proclivities that lead to “sexual unease” to result in behavior lest the bearer of such desires become obsessed?

Perhaps my personal feelings are coloring my interpretation here, and it’s more than possible that they are, but I find it hard to understand how young girls and coercive control of sexual behavior can be put together without raising some doubts about the author’s meaning. I myself have written about the sexual behaviors of girls (meaning at least age 13), and I have endorsed on my blog that the age of sexual consent be lowered to 13 with two really important caveats:

  1. Age difference – two 13 year olds engaging in experimental sexual behavior should not end up on a sex offender registry, in my opinion. I would be comfortable with a two year age difference between individuals, protecting them from statutory rape charges. 13 and 15 in my mind is fine. 13 and 19 is a whole different ballgame.
  2. Mistaken identity clause – if a 15 year old is in a bar with fake ID and has consensual sex with someone more than two years older than herself or himself, statutory rape has not occurred because it is reasonable to assume people are presenting genuine ID when asked, by either their sexual partner or the age-restricted establishment in question.

 

So it is not the idea of young girls (or boys) engaging in experimental sexual behavior with peers that bothers me. Futrelle seems to imply that young girls should be free to participate in prostitution with presumably grown men, and with that, I most certainly do have a problem. Teenage girls can be predatory (some of them seem to think it’s a sport) and they are far from blushing innocents but in my mind some coercive strategies (like statutory rape laws) are most certainly called for.

 

I will be interested to hear your thoughts on how I have interpreted this article. Am I being as overzealous as the most ardent Victorian?

 

Or did David Futrelle just offer a defense of child prostitution and paedophilia?

 

Let me know what you think.

 

Lots of love,

 

JB

 

 

 

 


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