In Victorian times the age of consent for a young girl was as low as thirteen. Yet girls matured much later then than they do nowadays; menarche was around sixteen or seventeen. Marrying girls off before puberty! It shows yet again that the more sexually repressed a culture, the more perverse it actually is.
We do the exact opposite of the Victorians — early maturity and late ages of consent. It’s another example of the infantilization of teenagers. Treating a fifteen-year-old as the equivalent of a six-year-old has no basis in logic but plenty of basis in law. We don’t let teens have any responsibilities, and then complain that they’re irresponsible. We don’t allow them to have mature friends, then complain when they act immature.
Check out this advice column I found:
Dear Prudie, I am a 16-year-old girl in love with a 26-year-old man. This isn't the problem; I love him and he loves me, and he's never abused or coerced me into anything. We haven't had sex, even though I wanted to; he wants to make sure that I'm not doing anything I don't really want to. . . . I am tired of keeping our relationship a secret, but I will if revealing it would get him in trouble. That leads to the other part of my question—if I have to keep it hidden, how do I respond when people ask if I'm involved? I don't want people to think he's a predator, because he isn't.—Not a Victim
Full disclosure: As a teenager I generally preferred the company of older people. And I dated my share of older men, too. Hell, it wasn’t until I hit about twenty-five that I began to enjoy the company of people closer to my own age.
So far as the letter-writer is concerned, I certainly hope she doesn’t want to get engaged to this guy — but that’s just because I think sixteen is far too young to settle down. Of course, I personally am not planning to marry until I’m at least seventy-five, and only if I can figure out a way to commit tax fraud by doing it, so maybe I’m wrong when I say sixteen’s too young for marriage. But I doubt it.
Now here’s the columnist’s response:
If Hamlet is still taught in high school, you've probably heard the phrase, "The lady doth protest too much." When you write about how great your boyfriend is, it's hardly reassuring to hear your protestations that whatever it looks like, he's not a sexual predator. . . . if you agree to have sex with him, he won't get arrested. But I wish the fact that you are worried he could be makes you realize you should run from this relationship. While this guy sounds like he only has half a brain, at least he's using it because it's kept him from taking advantage of you so far.
“The fact that you are worried he could be?” No, it’s “the fact that you are worried your friends and family will think he is.” Perception, not reality, is this girl’s problem. And why, exactly, does everybody make the default assumption that whenever a girl below the age of eighteen has sex she’s being taken advantage of? I was capable of amazingly complex dirty thoughts at sixteen (and I was a late bloomer, too). As a former teenage girl I demand to know: why did the law restrict me to fumbling inexperienced boobs for sex partners? Why should it have been illegal for me to be with a man who knew what the hell he was doing? God knows I didn’t.
Whoops, I’m going off on a tangent. Let’s get back to that advice column, only with a couple of words changed:
I am an American woman in love with an Arab man. This isn’t the problem; I love him and he loves me and he’s never tried to hit me or force me to wear a burka or anything. I don’t want people to think he’s a misogynist, because he isn’t.
You've probably heard the phrase, "The lady doth protest too much." When you write about how great your boyfriend is, it's hardly reassuring to hear your protestations that whatever it looks like, he's not a misogynist. . . . But I wish the fact that you are worried he could be makes you realize you should run from this relationship.
Now I know the many ways the Arab analogy doesn’t hold up. Still: knowing nothing about the girl except what’s in the letter (and misinterpreting a good bit of that), there is no reason to assume this girl would be better off dating an eleventh-grade boy than a young man of twenty-six.