Mark Foley, Scarlett Johannssonn, and Pedophilia
Matthew Yglesias points out that, since Scarlett Johannssonn was very pretty at the age of 16, we should not use the term “pedophilia” when referring to Mark Foley’s hitting on boys of a similar age. I actually haven’t done that, so no correction needed.
Still, it does bring up an interesting debate that resurfaces from time to time. There was, for example, a big cross-blog discussion involving Dan Drezner, Atrios, Yglesias, and myself over three years ago on the topic, “Why is it that some celebrities under the age of eighteen can be universally acknowledged as sexy, whereas if that adjective is assigned to other underage but physically mature stars, people start leveling accusations of perversion and lechery?”
Anna Kournikova was a sex symbol very young and yet no one seemed to object to it. Indeed, it was controversial only in that some contended it was improper for her to get so much attention–and money–for her looks while much better but homelier tennis players suffered. Alyssa Milano, Drew Barrymore, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and the Olsen Twins entered the discussion as well. There are probably at least a dozen others that could be easily named.
Further, as I’ve noted many times over the years, it was not that long ago that girls were married and having children in early adolescence. Clearly, our cultural norms have radically changed in that regard, as people remain “children” longer, postponing jobs, marriage, children and other badges of adulthood for several additional years while attending school much longer.
On the other hand, the reaction to the Foley scandal has caught the Zeitgeist in a way that goes well beyond an ordinary sexual harrassment matter. The gay angle has clearly played some part in that, although I’m pretty sure people would still be appalled if a Congressman were coming onto 16-year-old girls who were working for him. His actions seem viscerally wrong in a way that, say, a grown NHL player hitting on Anna Kournikova did not.