The Limits of Our Pedophilic Culture

The prurience regarding children’s sexuality in the last century and a half is a sadly pedophilic activity. We are concerned about children running about nude. But children are like pets, happy to be free and running about in whatever way feels natural to them. We are concerned with children and adolescents being sexual—in fact, we want to cover over their sexuality with the myth that they are non-sexual beings. The concern regarding children’s sexuality is the imputation we place on them. It is an adult sexuality projected onto children. In such a way, the concern about children’s sexuality, regardless of what one says about it—that it does not exist, or that we have to think about it in highly policed ways—is a pedophilic impulse. Desexualizing children is the very act of sexualizing them according to adult, cultured, constructed sexuality. And thus, desexualizing them is, in a way, ironically pedophilic. Of course, it does not have the same sinister character as pedophiles who care not for the integrity of children’s own agency in exploring their sexuality. But, it is only a difference in degree. We force onto children, with our wild concerns, all of our own fears and beliefs about sexuality. And yet, this is something we take up uncritically. I will not rehash Foucault’s History of Sexuality here. I merely wish to point out that denying children’s sexuality is to completely misapprehend the possibilities of sexuality. And the prurient way that it is done is evidence of a pedophilic imputation of adult sexuality onto children—even if it is to say that they don’t possess it. This is because we don’t stop there. We police it, we worry about it, we build institutional and discursive regimes to watch over it. Ready to pounce. How are we not like a pedophile? Because we don’t force our sexuality on them? And yet, we do. We constantly police it. We worry about it. And we are complicit in a sexism that disciplines women far more assiduously, and men far often more destructively. We build whole systems whose structure is exactly to force our own ideas of sexuality on children.

But, it does point to something. Children themselves are surely sexual, but it is a sexuality that does not possess as much the constructed sexuality of an adult who has been disciplined to understand sexualities in certain ways. Children’s sexuality is not yet determined. It is always an unknown possibility, interconnected with their whole being, each instance a singularity. As such, we are missing an excellent opportunity to study sexuality in general, its more expansive qualities, by not understanding children’s sexuality. By the time we are adults, our sexuality has been given to us, ordered in many diverse ways, but still within the confines of a limit—a limit of discourse, a limit of behavior, a limit of desires, closed off from all of those things it surely is connected with. And yet, we should not wear lab coats in attempting to understand it. That “scientific” perspective has already predetermined certain limits by its very methodology. As such, we still understand so very little about our sexuality. The more we know, the more we cover over. The more we speak about it, the more we speak over it while it whispers its secrets. Understanding sexuality necessitates understanding that everything we say, think and do about sexuality is a kind of knowledge that has nothing to do with sexuality. This kind of knowledge is the effect of various forces using sexuality as a conduit to further their own influence. Knowing about sexuality is economic forces shaping bodies to better fit their increase. Capitalism is much healthier when it can tell us how to desire, what to desire, and in what ways such that we consume, produce and buy in certain ways. Those with some understanding of this kind of knowledge about sexuality become rich by marketing their products, shaping desire, always changing it to allow for further increase in profit. Knowing about sexuality is political and social forces policing the sexual order to push forward the growth of those forces. Gendered and homophobic discourses do the same, and they are all connected. It is no coincidence that those attempting and often succeeding at centralizing power do so by more rigorously policing gender and sexuality. To understand sexuality is to let sexuality speak without all of these forces. And frankly, adults are for the most part too caught up in these forces to hear sexuality speak. Let us not romanticize children, or adolescents in response. They too can be as easily shaped, sometimes in far more brutal or simplistic ways. Advertisers know how easy it is to manipulate children. But, that being said, children often have a much more fluid and natural quality to their sexuality, with moments of exploration that have not been predetermined by all the forces that try to shape it.[1] It is worth looking into as much as it is worth looking into the same instances in adults. To understand sexuality is to be open to it in those places where sexuality is not yet determined.


[1] Is there such a thing as biological forces? And if so, does my analysis here privilege those forces?

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