Thursday, October 12, 2006
We are tired of living in a pro-homo society where this is the norm and this is reality. But what is really surprising here is that the author is a columnist for the NYTimes, you know, that bastion of lack of integrity and scruples regarding homosexuality and violence issues. How did this happen, I have no idea, I have never heard of this guy in particular before.
This is a tale of two predators. The first is a congressman who befriended teenage pages. He sent them cajoling instant messages asking them to describe their sexual habits so he could get his jollies.
The second is a secretary who invited a 13-year-old girl from her neighborhood into her car and kissed her. Then she invited the girl up to her apartment, gave her some vodka, took off her underwear and gave her a satin teddy to wear.
Then she had sex with the girl, which was interrupted when the girl's mother called. Then she made the girl masturbate in front of her and taught her some new techniques.
The first predator, of course, is Mark Foley, the Florida congressman. The second predator is a character in Eve Ensler's play "The Vagina Monologues."
Foley is now universally reviled. But the Ensler play, which depicts the secretary's affair with the 13-year-old as a glorious awakening, is revered. In the original version of the play, the underage girl declares, "I say, if it was a rape, it was a good rape, then, a rape that turned my (vagina) into a kind of heaven."
When I saw Ensler perform the play several years ago in New York, everyone roared in approval. Ensler has since changed the girl's age to 16 - the age of Foley's pages - and audiences still embrace the play and that scene at colleges and in theaters around the world.
But why is one sexual predator despised and the other celebrated?
The first and obvious reason is that male predators are more disturbing than female predators. But the second and more important reason is that they exist in different moral universes.
Ensler's audiences are reacting to the exuberant voice of the young girl, who narrates the scene. They're embracing - at least in the fantasy world of the theater - a moral code that's been called expressive individualism. Under this code, the core mission of life is to throw off the shackles of social convention and to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Behavior is not wrong if it feels good and doesn't hurt anybody else. Sex is not wrong so long as it is done by mutual consent.
By the rules of expressive individualism, Ensler's characters did nothing wrong. They performed an act that was mutually pleasurable and fulfilling.
This code dominated cosmopolitan culture during the 1970s and 1980s. When Rep. Gerry Studds of Massachusetts was censured in 1983 for his relationship with a 17-year-old page, he argued that the sex was consensual, and he was re-elected several more times.
But there's another and older code, and people seem to be returning to this older code to judge Mark Foley. Under this older code, we are defined not by our individual choices but by our social roles.
Under this code, when an adult seduces a child, it tears the social fabric that joins all adults and all children. When a congressman flirts with a page, it tears the social trust that undergirds the entire page program. When an adult seduces a teenager, it ruptures the teenager's bond with his or her family and harms the bonds joining all families.
This older code emphasizes not so much individual exploration as social ecology. It's based on the idea that people are primarily shaped by the moral order around them, which is engraved upon their minds via a million events and habits. Individuals are not defined by their lifestyle preferences but by their social functions as parents, job-holders and citizens, and the way they contribute to the shared moral order.
In this view, the social fabric is a precious thing, always in danger. And what Foley, and the character in the Ensler play, did was wrong, consent or no consent, because of the effects on the wider ecology.
In the long run, the party that benefits from events such as the Foley scandal will be the party that defines the core threats to the social fabric, and emerges as the most ardent champion of moral authority.