The Mansplainer Disclaimer
I hate having to put these in my articles and often don’t because if one reads close enough, I never justify or condone child sexual abuse. I ask tough questions.
How people answer says more about them than me. How we see a picture, video, or issue is about us, not the poster of that material. We have to start there first. So, this article is not anti-feminist. I am a feminist scholar by trade, but where I differ is that I have a penis. That can be a phallic disadvantage, and it is.
But I also can see feminism differently, from a poor, white-trash, male view. I also can see it from a male abuse and sexual abuse survivor’s view. That also has limitations. I am not a Person of Color or a woman, so I cannot know their struggles, but if I try my very best, I can find connection through our unique suffering.
I hope what I offer here is useful. Again, it is not meant to be critical of feminism. It is a critique. In the end, the only way we are going to be happy is if we are connected to diversity in all its differences, where intersectionality is a positive thing, not a threat.
What is Feminism
My 11-year-old daughter asked me what feminism was. So, here goes, it is a movement that demands that women be treated equally, regardless of their race, religion, etc. But that is not what western feminism really is. It is what it should be.
She replied, “Oh, I thought it was the study of hating men.” When my son was 6 and watching television, he said to me, “Dad, I don’t like boys.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because boys are bad.”
It may be cool to have so many cartoons, particularly commercials with JoJo Siwa encouraging positive girlhood, with over-girlish colors and white blondness, but there is much missing in that push. Context. An 11-year-old girl or my then 6-year-old son is not going to remember the bra-burning seventies.
My daughter would not have witnessed the horrific misonyior tragedy of Sarah Baartman, a black woman with a medical condition that was put on “display” in France, whose genitals were kept in a jar. My son would only know that boys are missing from empowerment, that they are the rapists in rape culture. He rejected boys and painted his nails pink, all the while wishing to be a good person. Is THAT feminism?
Sadly, as a feminist of over twenty years, I first heard of Sarah Baartman’s story yesterday. Because Black Women Don’t Matter to western feminism, a movement of largely white, privileged women from France and the United States. France imprisoned Baartman in the 1700s for circus shows, so people could come and look at her “big booty.”
For years, those in South Africa pushed to get her body back. That did not happen until 2003. The U.S. has long been in racism denial and in denial of its slavery-supported past. Now, many bluntly push to value the white male voter more than one with darker skin. In creating the other, the enemy, we authorize our own superiority, the notion that we are ahead of all “others,” so we are free to abuse them.
Where is our balanced responsibility to our kids?
As I am often accused of generalizing too much, an argument that one can levy at any writer, feminism is a movement that demands fair and equal treatment for all people so that we can have dignity and be happy. The problem is that we all are messy people. I think we need to own our messiness and stop running away from it. Messiness is another word for vulnerability.
The Sex-Negative Nuclear Option: Shame
What is often misconstrued in feminism and in our general society is the history of sex-negativity in western culture. No one is spared, powerful white minister, or poor sanitation worker. In general, sex is very bad. The Good Books have taught us this, though that is not really what they often contain. In our culture, sex equals danger, the other, Satan, or Whore. The problem with religion or religious teachings, western-influenced ones, is that we add our racism, patriarchy, and sexism to our faiths. This is a combustible combination.
We all, to various degrees, want sex, desire it, and we are wired for thrill. Our brains want excitement. Yet, there is this enormous shadow engulfing us, one of shame. For girls in particular, they have been shoved in the virgin-slut binary.
Girls either have to be an angel or a whore. There is no in-between. An angel is a virgin; a whore is a girl that likes sex, even if she had it only once. This view is brutally destructive and shameful. In this way, male attraction moves to minor girls, little ones because they are innocent and virginal, better than women. Women are whores, bad Eves that destroyed man’s paradise. Whether looking at a girl or woman, men can feel contrary and upsetting feelings.
From a heterosexual boy’s perspective, he wants sex, desires it, so when he has such with a girl, he cannot shame himself for being a boy-slut, so he blames her, the bad Eve. He takes his shame and pushes his shame onto her. When he becomes a man, girls are nothing more than objects of desire and shame.
Yet, he, too, is told that masturbation is wrong, evil, even if his parents did not tell him that. It is saturated in our society, so our pleasure, our bodies become shameful. For boys and men, that shame is connected to girlhood and womanhood. They are either Sesame-Street Walkers or Whores. He learns, at the least, to objectify them or to hate them. Has it ever occurred to us that maybe these girls and women, these human beings, are simply gorgeous?
For gay and POC women or men, or the many that fall outside this “normal” culture, such shame is further compounded. As a Black woman said of her own rape in Virginia back in the 70s. “Black women were never raped. Only white women were raped.” She held such in silence for decades.
When I first came out as a white boy about my abuse, I was told that I should be locked up for life. “You will only be a sex offender.” It seems that such is what people want me to become. For both of us, our pain and suffering are very different, but we both are shamed into silence. I realized at 49 that I, too, deserve sexual pleasure, just like the rest of you. So does she.
The question for feminists, for all of us, is this: is sexuality or sexualizing really rape culture? Maybe abuse and over-sexualizing is rape culture? Or is it that sexuality, sexual expression, sexual freedom has been taken from us, particularly girls and women, stripped from our faiths, and used as the sex-negative nuclear option, to shame us into compliance? A young girl’s greatest threat to men is her virginity/sexuality. She must be stripped of all human qualities, made angelic without a hint of sexuality; while women must be seen as sexual objects, whores, incapable of being truly human. No wonder girls struggle, but not for the reasons we think.
If someone tells us that we cannot touch our own bodies, that we cannot wear something because of other’s behavior, then do we own our own bodies? The person with the privilege to tell us that directive is the one that owns our bodies. Do our parents own our bodies? In the last chapter of my creative work, Hannah, a girl-god, says, “If I cannot consent to yes, then what makes you think I can say no?” Which consent is it? Whose is it? We often don’t examine the other side of the coin, or a major part of most of our lives from birth until death, our sexualities.
The Sex-Trauma Conflation
The problem with the feminist movement—all of us really—and with the social sciences is that they are gender and race skewed. This is also true of history that is about white, male power at the cost of nature and everyone else. What both have in common is their sex-negativity. So, when I wrote the article “Pole Dancing is for Kids, Not Strippers,” finally, a few feminists supported my argument, “This article is fundamentally feminist.”
My point, pole dancing has a long history and is done as a form of exercise for children all over the world. In shaming the sport, in saying a sideways split is child porn is ultimately shaming girls, equating a skilled dance to child abuse, hyper-sexualizing the child, and ultimately pigeonholing them with shame. A little girl’s body becomes sexual abuse. Anything that is sexual to us and to her becomes trauma.
Such, if anything, minimizes child sexual abuse, where a young girl will say after a competition, “I fear I have been abused” simply because she danced. That is brutal control. Sadly, the feminist consensus was, Earl, you are right, but I fear that boys will be boys. Guys will look at young girls in those outfits and sexualize them, so we need to control girls and put the brunt of others’ responsibility onto them. My heart fell. This is exactly why I think girls have it so tough when they face sexual abuse. It’s their faults. We still preach this message.
So many girls struggle with abuse in part because we blame them for their own gorgeousness. She made me do it because she “looked like a little slut.” But that has nothing to do with her, her body, her value both physically and as a whole human being. When we make sexuality negative, we make child development negative.
Men have to behave like adults and learn how to communicate in a community. If I look at that dance and get aroused or get a dirty thought, I should keep it to myself especially given the girl’s age. The reason men don’t is because they have the privilege to say that, or feel they do. If that girl turns them on, and this happens more than most of you think, then she is a slut, a prostitot, even if she is only 9.
In both the feminist case and the sexist male case, the child becomes a hyper-sexualized object: the abuse victim for the feminist; the sex object to the male. What is our answer: suppress the girl, suppress and dictate girlhood. Make her, the dancers, models, cheerleaders, schoolgirls wear more clothes because, if not, such will “encourage rape culture.” Now we made a dance, modeling a swimsuit, cheerleading, and high school attendance, rape. In large part, this is a result of our own traumas being projected on little girls. These girls may or may not be facing abuse, but we assume all are abused because they are “hot” and raped culturally. Such is shortsighted and dangerous and drips with ideas of western superiority over “lesser, third-world” cultures.
Consider this, most in social science are women. How many male feminists do we have? In the field of social work, nearly 80-90 percent of all social workers are women. Of course, this is why the profession has little respect. It’s made up of women, so it cannot be any good. But a similar trend is true with psychology, counseling, sexuality studies, feminism, and most issues that involve human health and wellbeing. Nearly 80% of our teachers in the U.S. are women. Has it occurred that we may not understand male sexuality? Such work is often done with two biases: gender and sex-negativity.
If this is not gender and sex bias, I don’t know what is. So, if we speak of the sexualization of girls, do we get an inclusive, diverse viewpoint? Further, if a Mexican child dances, should she be subject to a western feminist put down, or a male sexist one? Should Venezuelan child models be censored because U.S.-based feminists don’t like it?
What makes us think kids are asexual? There is zero evidence that they are asexual.
They are not asexual. We are forcing them to be asexual. Yes, gender constructs will come through because they are cultural, major phenomena. What I have observed is that professions like social work and even feminism in academics seem to have very high rates of participants that were sex abuse victims, so a dance or a child modeling becomes “triggering” for them. They, then, through transference, project their trauma unto the child and say it is child abuse. I have heard such terms as “legal child porn” when referring to a stock photo of a child eating ice cream. Some of these pictures are being removed, as our whole society hyper-sexualizes and then desexualizes kids.
This problematic view is awfully offensive and can be shaming to the model, ones that often come from diverse or different cultures. Maybe the girl is simply gorgeous or pretty to some people? Maybe it’s simply a kid dancing or eating ice cream. The result is that we have moved to make many if not most visual representations of girls’ child abuse if any hint of sexuality or sex appeal shows. Little girls become “suggestive” or if they “pose” for the camera, it equals child exploitation! Child abuse becomes the Child Abuse Industry. Police learn how to over-sexualize kids in order to “keep kids safe.” An innocuous picture becomes abuse if one is aroused by it or uses it in fantasy. Child abuse becomes as common as our thoughts.
This leads to my second tough question: Can a child have sex appeal?
Yes or no! For clarity, can one under the age of 18 have sex appeal? Yes, they can. That is a fact. This is what we all are running from, and we are creating a lot of harm in the process.
When we say no, we strip that child of sexuality. We make them a Barbie Doll, full of what it “means to be a girl” but she has no genitals. She is mutilated. Does a child have genitals? “Her and his” dolls should have genitals. They should have penises and vaginas, just like your child has. Anatomy does not equal abuse. Even in sex education programs, why put a condom on a banana or carrot? Put it on a dildo because that is what a penis, yes, a penis, looks like. Your dog has a penis or vagina. Do we cover these? Why do we treat our kids less than animals?
It is not safe for us to show people the way they really are, so we create magical thinking. Some still tell their kids that they come from storks. They lie, and lie, and lie. How does this keep our children safe? Those that offend against kids use the child’s ignorance, what we call, innocence, to abuse the child. No, I am not blaming the child. I holding society accountable for its sex-negative viewpoints.
I am watching ballet dancers, children, perform conditioning exercises. They are in leotards. I look at the comments before YouTube takes them down. One says, “Child abuse!” I look at another, “Future babymakers;” another “Jail for life!” I look at some more, “Beautiful girls;” “This is why Russia is the best at the dance” and so forth. The video picks up 1.3 million views in no time. Eventually, it will get taken down, flagged, not because it’s child pornography. I worked on CP cases and have a good idea what that is, but it will be taken down because we cannot accept the idea that I child can be attractive. What if we get aroused by looking at a kid? So what? There is a difference between fantasy, arousal, and making choices that harm others. Mind control and sex-negativity are not the answers.
With no scientific evidence, we will say such viewing leads to offending. Pedophiles will emerge, fly out of the sky, and attack our children. Pedophile rings will emerge, and children everywhere are being abducted. No, they aren’t! Most child sexual abuse is not done by pedophiles. Stop listening to the news media, where the goal is constant reader fear and trauma, outrage! It is brutally offensive to call a dance “child abuse” or the girls “future baby-makers.” Both severely limit and objectify these children, one as a brutal act, the other as a sexual object only, the angel/whore construct.
Sex Panic Equals Sex Abuse
A while back, I saw another video of kids in the backyard, two girls. One is about 7, the other 10. They are playing with water while in swimsuits. At one point both girls come to the camera, stick their rears in the camera, look back at the camera, and shake their rear ends. They get the usual comments. “Nice fitting suits,” some eroticize them because they have “accents.” Another comes from the “YouTube Wake Up” crowd that does nothing more than further oversexualize these two young girls, through their desexualized “angel” objectifying narrative. In a week, the video gets nearly a million views. The video is taken down.
Girl after girl has their channel taken down because of what adults think. How harmful is that to a generation that has grown up online, every memory erased because what? Someone may look at you and get aroused? Are we serious? Sadly, we are.
The truth is that these kids are just being and acting naturally like kids. This is what kids do. And this is what adults do. For those kids, the video, nothing is exploitative or abusive about it. We have our own heads, and we seem to be moving to a new kind of Orwell’s 1984 where even our heads are monitored and controlled. But when we take down videos of kids being kids, we make kids being kids invisible, something shameful and oppressive, again if it has a hint of sexuality in it. Generally speaking, we are most afraid of rear ends, that they will appeal to us or make us “pedophiles” in this case, but that is magical thinking. We eliminate anything that shows a child’s body, but this ups the ante. When viewers do finally see a kid’s rear end or a body part we decided is taboo, thrill sours and more and more seek it. It turns out that angels are hard to find.
What censoring does is it takes the sexual development, the natural progress of being kids away from kids. We replace sexual behavior and development with lessons of fear and trauma. “You have been scarred for life!” “You don’t understand that there are dangerous people out there.” Yep, there are, and there is little you or your child can do about it but be educated.
For kids, the most danger is found in their households or from their close relations. Think of both gymnastics’ scandals in the U.S. of horrid abuse. Both men knew the girls well and had free access to them. These crimes have nothing to do with sexuality, arousal, attraction, or desire. It has to do with a coach and doctor putting themselves ahead, seeing themselves as better, and their brutal objectifying of young girls and women. That is not sexuality. It is abuse. Few look at a kid in a bikini and then go and molest someone. Nonsense. When such happens, it involves other comorbid factors that most newsmakers, editors omit. Outrage, not explanation, sells. Emotion wins over reason. None of that helps our kids.
Both sides fail to see what is really there, gorgeous human beings showing you what they learned through artistic exercise and discipline or two girls simply playing and being kids in a backyard. Yes, there is a sexual element. One cannot look at one without seeing one’s body. Contrary to our beliefs, sexuality is fluid and generally has three parts: desire, arousal, and attraction. Each are different. People, whether kids or adults, can have characteristics that draw us to them. If we could see people as gorgeous instead of “abused” or “hot,” we could limit shame drastically for the viewer and the viewer, and that would move us much closer—not only to equality—but to more realistic and healthy sexualities.
Whether feminist or Proud Boy, we have had any hint of positive sexuality stripped from us. In place, we have been shamed, threatened, and secretly molested. Sex has become crime and trauma. Pornography is seen as a public health issue. It is not. Our negative view of sex and sexuality is a public health issue. Our kids will view pornography because that is the only way they can learn about sex. The adults are too busy criminalizing it, or even going further to criminalize any child that can be “sexualized” in any way. Out of fear for our children, we are stripping them of any attempt at sex appeal, and though it is natural for kids to play adult, to observe, because that is the only way kids learn, we censor and offer very limited alternatives.
Sarah Baartman’s brutal abuse is two-fold. Being the other, gave western adults free range to abuse her as an exotic other, non-angelic, a sluttish heathen. It allowed viewers to freely abuse and sexualize her without them ever seeing her as the gorgeous woman, the human being, she really was. This is all about sex-negativity, that sex appeal is evil, bad, of Satan, so we become Satans to “others.”
Sexuality and sexual expression are not abusive. Sex appeal, even in minors, is not abusive. Taking advantage of them, harming them is abusive. As long as we are controlling what people wear, how they look, and what they say, there will never be equality.
Earl Yarington is a social worker (LMSW) and an associate professor in literature, writing, and cultural studies (PhD) at Prince Georges Community College and adjunct professor at Indiana University East. He is the author of many publications under his name and under pen name Justin Forest. Earl’s focus areas are the representations of girlhood in media,, eroticism, and child pornography law, paraphilia, sex offending and criminal justice. He is especially interested in the treatment of those with sexual challenges such as minor-attraction (pedophilia, hebepedophilia) to help prevent child sexual abuse while providing humane support for individuals seeking help. His book Lolita in the Lion’s Den challenges readers to address what is so often hidden and misunderstood about minor-attraction, sex offending, and the child emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse. Earl provides sex therapy under supervision for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. Earl writes about sexual issues, education, and occasionally politics. His writing is based on his expertise and knowledge, and such does not represent the opinions or positions of agencies, universities, and colleges that employ him, nor that of the Baltimore Post-Examiner LLC.