Older men, younger women

Philip Ferguson plf13 at SPAMit.canterbury.ac.nz
Tue Nov 7 00:42:26 MST 2000

Yoshie writes:

>If you can separate age difference from all other social relations,
>then, yes, the relation between an older man and a younger woman
>involves no power inequality (at least no more than in the relation
>between an older woman and a younger man).

Actually, it doesn't involve any power relation different than that between
a young man and a young woman either.

For instance, Mine said her relationships with men are usually with men 15
years or more older than herself.  I think you'd have a hard time
convincing her that there is something inherently more 'unequal' in this
than if she had relationships with men of her own age.

Age is not a power relation (despite Lou Paulsen's take on the issue).

>BTW, the age of consent is actually an interesting question, now that
>I think of it, since we have been discussing the origins of
>capitalism, etc. in different threads for some time.  One of the
>modern reforms of marriage laws has concerned the age of consent.
>Moreover, we now tend to think of "teenage pregnancy" in rich nations
>as if it were some kind of sin or crime or abnormality, unlike in the
>past.  The issue must have been revealingly tangled up with the
>emergence & uneven development of capitalism (esp. the question of
>optimal reproduction of labor power from the point of view of
>capital, as well as working-class & female resistances -- which may
>be sometimes contradictory to each other -- to the bourgeois state
>control of fertility), though I don't know if any Marxist has ever
>commented on it from this angle.

Well, yeh, the age of consent is an interesting one.  I used to strongly
support age of consent laws (the influence of American puritanism, I'm
afraid, drummed into me via my membership of the NZ wing of the US SWP).

But I've kind of changed my mind, or at least now question my old position
on the issue.  I remain totally opposed to adults having sex with small
kids, because there's no way a child can give meaningful consent, but there
are plenty of other laws which cover that.

It's interesting also to see how/when age of consent laws came about.  I
remember when I thought the US 'Militant' was the font of revolutionary
wisdom on the planet, reading a big article on the issue (an attack on a
former SWPer called David Thorstad, I think) which claimed that age of
consent laws were fought for by the working class and were an historic gain
of the 'class'.  Like a lot of 'facts' published in the 'Militant', this is
just an outright lie/falsification of history.

In my PhD I am researching the origins and development of White New Zealand
immigration policies.  And I am looking, among other things, at who drove
these policies and what kind of things were happening politically at the
same time, and what cross-polination there was.  In NZ the age of consent
was 12 up until well into the 1880s.  In the 1890s it was raised to 14,
then 15, and finally 16, where it has been ever since.

The same milieu of people who drove the campaign for raising the age of
consent drove campaigns to drive out the Chinese, ban the liquor trade,
stop people reading 'dirty' books and so on.  White puritan nationalism -
based around ideas of 'improvement' - and promoted by a section of
capitalists and the middle class, pulling a section of the 'upper' and
'respectable' working class behind them, was the main force in all this
stuff.  The middle class white nationalist puritans providing the shock
troops and ideology.  (ie these were not white nationalists in the KKK
sense, but more in the Fabian/pinkish mold.)

I have read a fair smattering of stuff on the 'great white walls' erected
in the US (especially in relation to the anti-Asian campaigns in
California), Canada and Australia and in all the white Pacific Rim emerging
(developed capitalist) nation-states, it is pretty much the same.  Keeping
these countries 'white' meant stamping out 'immorality' and Asians.
(There's a very good book, btw, on this stuff in relation to Canada, called
'The Age of Light, Soap and Water' by Maryanne Valdeverde.)

In terms of your point about age-of-consent/marriage laws/optimal
reproduction of   labour-power, I'd actually say that the main point here
was 'respectabilising' the working class - ie making them observe official
capitalist morality was essential to social stability in the 1800s, a
century marked by revolutions, revolts and class conflict.  In the 1890s
and early decades of the 1900s, the ruling class eventually achieved this -
and imperialism certainly helped here! - and did so with such success that
some people on the left think all this was a 'gain' for the working class.


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