Never in a million years would it occur to me now to go gunning for him as a perv, even if he were a Conservative politician.
Do we remember what it was like to be eighteen? We think we are all grown up and we are champing at the bit to get on with life and to experience as much as possible. Back in my day that meant the freedom to engage in sexual experimentation with older men, because there was a persistent myth that they were experienced and would be better at sex than our own fumbling male cohort. The only thing wrong with my English teacher, from my perspective, was that he was not my French teacher, whom I wanted to make mad, passionate love to. I would have happily exchanged one thirty-something for another. And I may or may not have been disappointed in the experience, but I certainly would not have felt taken advantage of.
What we are doing now is taking away agency and responsibility from our girls. At eighteen I would have been outraged at society telling me that I could not choose to experiment with an older man, or any man for that matter. That's agency. Responsibility is in choosing the man and the circumstance. For instance, I would have never gotten drunk in a bar and let a man take me home; being a grown-up meant thinking of the consequences of my actions. But now eighteen-year-old women are expected to be children who need society's protection. In fact, there is talk of extending the upper limits adolescence to twenty-four because of the suggestion that under that age youngsters are incapable of weighing the consequences of what they do. What kind of stuff and nonsense is that?
I have a young relative who is in her first year of university and a few months ago she told me that some of her house-mates came home in tears because a group of boys made fun of them. My cohort would have sent the boys packing with a few zingers about their manhood and laughed about the experience. What have our young women become if they cannot even defend themselves verbally against a clutch of boys their own age? And why are we encouraging their infantilization?
I have long been an advocate of self-defense training for girls. I grew up in a society where men were predators and women moved about with the knowledge that they were prey. My attitude has always been that if men had to worry about their own physical safety when they raped a woman, there would be fewer rapes and assaults. But in this discussion about thirty-something politicians taking eighteen-year-old women to their rooms, we are not speaking about rape, but consensual sex. Are we now saying that eighteen-year-old women are not allowed to have consensual sex? Are we trying to limit the age of the men they have consensual sex with? Or are we saying that men who have had sexual relationships with young adult women when they were in their thirties should not contemplate entering politics?
Some would retort that the issue is the power imbalance between the eighteen-year-old woman and the much older politician, or teacher, or professor. And to that I would say that the answer is not for society to say that the young woman needs protection because she cannot take care of herself or be trusted to know her own mind, but for society to empower that young woman to exercise agency. That power is not in her saying #metoo ten, twenty, thirty years later. That power is for her to be able to decide in the moment whether this is a sexual encounter she wants, and to be able to walk away without consequences. That's what I hope #metoo leads to.