A headline from the Boston Globe:
Bill Maher, who aided Yiannopoulos’ fall, also defended sex with children
While from USA Today:
Like Milo Y, Bill Maher once defended sex between adults and minors
And so on.
Allegedly “soft” views on the subject of underage sex, in some instances dredged up from some time ago, are now regularly weaponized in public controversies; a few weeks ago Piers Morgan opportunistically denounced the actor Ewan McGregor as “paedophile-loving” for having expressed sympathy when Roman Polanski was arrested in 2009, but the trend has become turbo-charged this week with the fall of Milo Yiannopoulos.
Yiannopoulos reacted to criticism of his own views as expressed a year ago by referring to old comments by George Takei, and Maher has now come under focus because of Yiannopoulos’s recent appareance on Maher’s show. At the time, Maher lauded Yiannopoulos as a “young… Christopher Hitchens”, but he has since claimed to have exposed him as an “Ann Coulter wannabe”.
The lurid headlines give the impression that Maher was formerly some sort of NAMBLA advocate or an American Tom O’Carroll. In fact, he had made comments on his Politically Incorrect talk-show in 1998 defending Mary Kay Letourneau, a teacher who had been convicted of having had sex with a 12-year-old pupil in the state of Washington. Maher, to studio laughter, said that she was in prison simply for having fallen in love and not conforming. This wasn’t just a case of being provocative to make the show lively: Maher made similar comments at later dates, and also lewdly lamented that Debra Lafave, a glamorous teacher convicted in Florida after sex with a 14-year-old student in 2005, had not been videoed in the act.
Maher’s attitude is commonplace, and the Daily Show dug up comparable material about Donald Trump in September. Such views reflect the sexist idea that a boy engaging in sex with a woman has achieved a precocious maturity of which he can be proud, while a girl in a similar situation with a man has been taken advantage of and seduced. Age may have something to with it: although we now take it for granted that age of consent laws should be gender neutral, even in the 1980s California law excluded the possibility of a female perpetrator of statutory rape. This was confirmed as constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1981 (the case of Michael M.), on the grounds that such laws were designed to protect girls from unwanted pregnancy.
However, Maher’s 1998 comments were challenged at the time by Celeste Greig (a California Republican who later came to grief due to a comment of her own about rape), and it doesn’t take much reflection to understand why Maher’s dismissive attitude is wrong. Of course a boy in such a situation cannot give informed consent; such experiences may be emotionally damaging and adversely affect psycho-sexual development; and in the Letourneau case, the boy became a child-father.
When Yiannopoulos was poised to address CPAC, his conservative enemies were able to present his January 2016 comments as a pernicious threat to the general consensus on consent – but using old quotes to whip up a never-ending stream of outrage about alleged “pro-paedophile” views once expressed by this or that public figure is tabloid politics and does not seem to me to be a sensible way forward for public discourse.
Incidentally, incidents of female teachers having sex with male students is an odd obsession of the conservative news website WND.
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