Heretic TOC welcomes Peter Herman as a guest blogger today.
Peter is an occasional contributor to the NAMBLA website,
and has been a member and supporter since shortly
after the organization’s founding. He has also been
one of the editors of the NAMBLA Bulletin.
In the late 1960s in the US, child abuse briefly captured everyone’s attention. It was not sexual abuse if that is what you were thinking. It was physical abuse of children. And, no, neither was it the seat of the pants spankings that were a generally accepted form of discipline at the time. It was the broken bones and other traumas for which children were regularly brought to emergency rooms. The covering stories were that the child had accidentally fallen down stairs, run into an obstacle or experienced some other catastrophe while playing. These fictions never added up, and trauma doctors at last became aware that most of these cases stemmed from parental battering. Soon, the headlines became fewer, and little more was heard about these horrific abuses of children. Until… , bear with me…
At about the same time, boys, mostly, were experimenting with skateboards. But the fad then disappeared for a time. As we all know, skateboards eventually came back and are now more popular than ever. The fading and re-emergence of this phenomenon had to do with an important change. The early skateboards were just that: repurposed metal skate wheels affixed to unresponsive boards. When new materials and responsive suspensions developed, skateboarding became an exhilarating sport. Where am I going with this.
Shock about child abuse also came back, and the headlines today never seem to stop. What happened? There now was a new twist — sex. As with skateboarding, a catalyst emerged to change the dynamics in society’s perceptions. Where skateboarding became popular due to technological innovations, child sexual abuse became a public fascination following two major social shifts — the growing empowerment of gays simultaneous with that of women. The Stonewall rebellion in the US and the Pill (itself a catalyst freeing women from the womb) were the pivotal ingredients. Gay advances prompted a backlash in the form of protecting children from the perceived recruitment menace. Women, who had felt the tyranny of male domination, were eager to protect their children from sometimes real but mostly imagined sexual predation (almost exclusively by men). This protectiveness extended to boys as well, to the point that even eleven-year-old boys are sometime seen following their mothers into public toilets. The male child molester bogeyman grew ever more sinister in the public imagination.
It is ironic that today’s liberated women have forgotten that for nearly 500 years many were also the victims of similarly heinous characterization. In the nearly 500 years of witch prosecutions in the West, it was overwhelmingly women who were tried, punished and, more often than not, executed. Women were seen as weak, less intelligent and more susceptible to sin and evil acts. Male lust was projected onto them portraying women as evil temptresses who would have no compunction consorting with the Devil. As with the emergence of the evil pedophile, here too a catalyst can be identified — the printing press. This invention that could spread enlightenment could also spread misinformation and fear.
Early on, witchcraft was seen as simply superstition and did not provoke the fear and loathing that came later. A printed manual, the Malleus Maleficarum published in 1487, could circulate easily and act as the catalyst that transformed a superstition into a great evil. Over five hundred years later not much has changed other than the speed with which misinformation spreads. Our modern day equivalent, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is a fanciful, thoroughly unscientific compilation of mental afflictions. Sadly, it is but one example of unscientific thought that permeates much of psychology today.
Skateboarding may seem a trivial way of illustrating major social shifts, and history is certainly much more complex than what a short essay can convey. Nevertheless the pivotal points (i.e. catalysts) identified in the above examples cannot be denied.