Girls Go Wild – Not Their Fault?
Garance Franke-Ruta, a senior editor at the liberal American Prospect, takes to the conservative editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to decry the “Girls Gone Wild” problem and call for a nanny state solution: “It is time to raise the age of consent from 18 to 21 — consent, in this case, referring not to sexual relations but to providing erotic content on film.”
It is true that teenagers become legal adults at the age of 18, right around the time they graduate from high school. The age of consent to serve in the armed forces is also 18 (17 with parental consent), as is the minimum voting age since 1971, when an amendment to the Constitution lowered it from 21. But the federal government is already happy to bar legal adults from engaging in certain activities. Most notably, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 raised the drinking age to 21 (by threatening to withhold highway funds from states that did not go along). In practice, the age limit is flouted on college campuses and in private homes. But it has still had a positive effect, not least by driving down fatalities from drunk driving.
A new legal age for participating in the making of erotic imagery — that is, for participating in pornography — would most likely operate in the same way, sometimes honored in the breach more than the observance. But a 21-year-old barrier would save a lot of young women from being manipulated into an indelible error, while burdening the world’s next Joe Francis with an aptly limited supply of “talent.” And it would surely have a tonic cultural effect. We are so numb to the coarse imagery around us that we have come to accept not just pornography itself — long since routinized — but its “barely legal” category. “Girls Gone Wild”–like its counterparts on the Web–is treated as a kind of joke. It isn’t. There ought to be a law.
The problem she’s trying to solve here is not all that clear. Garance is worried about the “transform[ation of] the playful exhibitionism of young women into scarlet letters that follow them around for life.” Yet, she contends that it is “socially acceptable for a freshman at, say, Ohio State — living in a dorm room in Columbus like thousands of freshmen before her — to participate in soft-core porn.” If so, where’s the scarlet letter?
Let’s presume, though, that “going wild” on video actually has not yet become socially acceptable. Indeed, I rather hope that’s the case. How old does one have to be to decide whether to buck social norms for fun, fame, fortune, or foolishness?
In expanded thoughts on her own site, Garance notes that “our laws recognize that maturity comes slowly,” with different age thresholds required for voting, drinking, serving as Representative, Senator, and President. Any “age of consent” line is arbitrary in the particular no matter how scientific it is in the aggregate. Yet we draw lines anyway.
Still, the idea that a 20-year-old woman isn’t responsible for the consequences of getting drunk and flashing her private parts for a strange man with a camera — and then signing a consent form — is hard to swallow.
For one thing, plenty of women are mothers by that age, responsible for the welfare of helpless infants. Surely, that’s a notch or two higher on the difficulty scale than remembering to keep one’s shirt pulled down? Indeed, it was not all that long ago that girls were getting married and having children at 13 and 14.
While we’re on the subject of child bearing, we should recall that girls well under 18 are permitted to have abortions every day, even without parental notification. For that matter, they’re allowed to bring their child to term and give them up for adoption. Or, for that matter, to keep the child and raise it to adulthood. Either way, those decisions will “follow them around for life,” too.
I’m not the first to point out the incongruity of people being eligible to join the military at 18 and yet deeming them insufficiently responsible to make other choices until 21. Until we abolished the peacetime draft, we routinely conscripted men into service at 18. The average age of the soldiers we sent to Vietnam was 19. Far more of the U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq were 21 or younger (974 of them as of March 24), than any other age bracket. Jessica Lynch was 19 when she was taken prisoner. Audie Murphy was 20 on the day he earned the Medal of Honor.
Ezra Klein agrees that taking freedom away from 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old women isn’t the answer but feels something must be done to protect them when they’re drunk, naked, and stupid. He suggests making it illegal to film nude women while they’re “severely impaired” or imposing “a waiting period between signing consent and making your porn so the effects of haste and intoxication are blunted.”
I suspect, however, that Ezra would be in favor of prosecuting 20-year-olds who get drunk and shoot people. Or get drunk and drive? Indeed, we have been ratcheting up the penalties for drunk driving while lowering the threshold as to what constitutes “drunk” for a quarter century now.
Perhaps we should just make it illegal for people under 21 to purchase and consume alcohol? Well, actually, we did that. During the Reagan administration.
We send 18-year-olds off to kill and risk death. We hold them responsible for crimes. Even if they’re drunk. Yet they’re deemed too immature to remember not to flash their boobies at a camera? How insane is that?
At some point, people are responsible for their own actions. I’d suggest that 18 is well past old enough to know when to keep your clothes on.
UPDATE: Jon Swift thinks GFR’s proposal doesn’t go far enough.
Can a girl of 21 really know what she is consenting to when she signs a release form for a pornographer? Does she really understand what the ramifications might be later in life? That is why I propose that we raise the minimum age of consent to participate in pornography to 65.
He fully explores the ramifications of that change at the link.