In Clinton’s famous defense against the accusation of consensual sex with an intern, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” he was careful to frame the 21 year old Lewinsky as an adult. By calling her “that woman”, he helped to ensure that Lewinsky would be presented by the media as an adult person on the same level as himself, despite his being 30 years older. It made it more difficult for Republicans to describe her as a “girl” or “child” or “youth”.
Today, another Washington D.C. scandal has emerged with some similarities to the Clinton situation. It differs in that the politician is gay, and that the allegations are not that he had consensual sex, but that he sexually harassed his interns — interns who quite responsibly alerted superiors to the unwanted advances.
It differs also in the matter of age. The interns are said to be as young as 16 years of age. It may be worth noting that the age of consent for sexual relations in Washington DC is 16 years of age or older. Possibly the current politician was taking care to respect that particular law, or possibly the Congress doesn’t hire interns who can’t drive cars yet.
The politician is being portrayed in some of the more sensationalistic media outlets as a “predator of children”. And so far, the politician has not stood by a podium to declare that he “did not have sexual relations with that man”. So we stand amid a swirl of opinions as to whether the people he harassed are to be portrayed as children or adults.
This leads to the indepent question — independent of this latest political scandal — of whether a person 16 years of age who does consent is a “consenting adult”, or if it means they are a “consenting child” — which sounds like an oxymoron, but may be closer to the truth.
I don’t know. All I can say from personal experience is that when I was in my early thirties, I wanted very much to date a particular young woman who was perhaps just 19. Only a fifteen year difference, but it meant she was 3 years old when I graduated high school. Eyebrows were raised, and my ambitions were poo-poo’d (a mature expression!) by older adults, and so I hesitated to press my interest in her. My conflict between my rational mind — which listened to the seemingly good advice that she was too young for me — and my emotional self — which simply wanted to be with her — became stressful when I was in her presence, so I eventualy dropped off the face of her earth. I did try to get one of her essays published in a philosophy book, as a parting gesture.
Clearly I was unsure at that time about whether a 19 year old was a child or an adult. But she did not have the same indecision. She started dating a 44 year old who took her on a vacation to Scotland. She brought me back some jam.
Perhaps the difference between adults and children is the loss of indecision.
I am in my mid to upper 30s now, and I know now that the connections between people that could turn into something long-term come along all too rarely. We shouldn’t do anything to prevent possibly viable partnerships from existing, as long as they’re on the good side of the law.
(Ok, this essay started out strong and then spun out into B- territory. Sorry. I am out of practice, so my blog gets the unfinished essays).