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Saturday, March 26, 2022

The Female Predator–A Tale Of Precocity, Desire, And Sex

In human affairs who can dismiss the very mature sexuality of young girls whose precocity is as much a part of adult relationships as the desire of the men who cannot resist them? 

Vladimir Nabokov understood this when he wrote Lolita, the story of an older man obsessed with his Lo, a barely adolescent young girl whose unconscious sensuality, whose precocious understanding of its allure and power over men were rare and u

Girls like this are not innocent victims in their sexual adventures, reflects Barb, the principal character in Zoe Heller’s novel, Notes on a Scandal.  They are partners, willing accomplices in every sexual liaison.    For goodness sake, she says, invoking centuries of child brides, child prostitutes, and child lovers, how have we become so horribly boring?

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Shakespeare understood this well.   Rosalind, Viola, and Portia run rings around their male suitors who, so besotted by them, are pigeons - stupid, pecking birds with no vision.  These young women had no time or patience for the mores of the well-stitched Elizabethan society which demanded propriety, aloofness, and reserve.  They instinctively understood their femaleness and the power they had over men.  Women of any age understand this and know that they are commanders of their own sexual fortune.

Both Ibsen and Strindberg wrote about it.   Hedda Gabler, Rebekka West, Hilde Wangel, Laura, and Miss Julie were women of a kind – determined, purposeful, and canny – and used intelligence and stature as means of controlling men.  They were not temptresses and culled their prey rather than enticed them.

So, as the principal character in Zoe Heller’s novel, Notes on a Scandal opines, while society now condemns with extreme prejudice any sexual activity between a male adult and a female minor, the law is – at least in the view of Nabokov and Heller – overly ambitious. If some girls are sexually precocious at twelve, and instinctively aware of their sexual command, then why is any relationship with the older men who desire them so heinous?

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D.H. Lawrence, perhaps more than any other writer, understood sexual dynamics.  Sex for Lawrence was fundamental, essential, and under the right conditions, transforming. Sex is not subject to social conditions, nor considerations of age or social class.  It simply is the most basic, powerful, defining force behind all relationships. There should be no opprobrium or censure when considering sexual affairs, said Lawrence.  Anything and everything is possible.

The story in Heller’s book is about the sexual relationship between an older woman and a young boy, and in the eyes of Barb, the narrator, it was expected, consensual, and proper given the perspective of Nabokov and Lawrence. The woman, Sheba, is eventually found out and pays a severe social price; but unfairly so.  The boy is no innocent victim.  On the contrary he is the pursuer who, like his female counterpart Lolita, has a precocious understanding of women.  He senses Sheba’s sexual need and interest and knows he will be rewarded.

When the news of the affair became public, it was met with snickers and men’s nodding approval of the boy – if only they had had the chutzpah and sexual confidence of Connolly they could have bedded women even more desirable than Sheba.  There was something a bit sensational about the affair, but opprobrium and censure was not part of it.  They knew the boy, the circumstances, and the ins and outs of the relationship.  Most importantly, boys and men being what they are –  determined, inexhaustibly sexual, and flooded with male hormones – the boy was a player, not a victim.

Of course, these same men admitted, if the affair had been between an older man and a young girl, tarring, feathering, torture, and brutal execution would not be enough.  Not our mothers and sisters, they shouted.

In Shakespeare's Measure for Measure questions of legality and morality and the intersection of the two are at the center of the play.  Angelo, the Viennese Duke’s stand-in, enforces a draconian rule concerning illicit sexual behavior.  One is either guilty of fornication or he is not, and there is no question of circumstances, motive, intent, or conditions.  

Isabella, Lucio, and the accused man, Claudio, however, see the nuances in the application of the law.  Claudio was for all intents and purposes married to Juliet and his premarital sexual behavior was by nature, not illicit.  Both Angelo and the Duke were guilty of the same promiscuity for which Claudio was to be put to death. Angelo had illicit desires for Isabella and the Duke had had many affairs.  The Biblical adage, ‘Let he who has not sinned throw the first stone’ did not apply to them. 

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Moreover, as explained by Lucio and Escalus, promiscuity – or rather sexual license – is as much a part of human nature as goodness, charity, or compassion.  Prostitutes have serviced men since the first human settlements.  Adultery is the rule rather than the exception.  Sexual politics are the stock in trade of marriage, at the heart of most divorces, and an indelible feature of human society.  While these men appreciated the principle espoused by Angelo -  the law must be absolute and unequivocal – they wondered why he had chosen such behavior as the first example of its bite?

Given all the above – the considerations of Nabokov, Lawrence, and Shakespeare; and the irrepressible nature of human sexuality witnessed since the beginning of human history– why should the law be so hidebound and intolerant? In an age of feminism and sexual equality ‘sexual abuse’ must be punished without consideration of gender.  Sheba had sex with a minor and therefore was ipso facto guilty.  Yet Connolly was a sexually mature, aware, and very adult in his canny understanding of women.  He was most definitely not preyed upon by an immoral and unconcerned woman.  If anything was consensual, their relationship certainly was; and it was no different from that of Lolita and Humbert, two precociously sensual, aware individuals who knew precisely what they were doing.

The feminist stance – equal genders, equal punishment – denies an unpleasant truth.  Girls are more sexually vulnerable than boys.  If they were not, then why do MeToo, kangaroo courts, and denial of men’s rights in cases of alleged sexual abuse exist?  Women are obviously not as strong and invulnerable as feminists claim.  

A second truth is also denied – the complicity of women in sexual affairs.  The strong women of Ibsen and Strindberg were sexual initiators, and while they all had only self-interest at heart and desired no simple wooing of a sexual partner, they needed no protection.

The insights of Measure for Measure hold today.  The law – any law but particularly that which seeks to regulate sexual behavior – can never be absolute.  The claim that all women are victims and all men are sexual predators is false.  The claim that all relationships between adults and minors is criminal is equally doctrinaire.  The rejection of any notion of genetic determination of sexual behavior is absurd.  Men and women are different, but have equal shares of strength, intelligence, and ability. 

We are living in a neo-Puritan, censorious, gender-obsessed age; and Notes on a Scandal offers an anodyne or at least an expansive view of human sexuality.

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