Thursday, October 05, 2006

What if It Had Been a Girl?

I believe that the best and the fairest way for anyone who automatically thinks from a heterosexual perspective to evaluate the Mark Foley scandal is to ask a simple question. What if it had been a girl?

It can be very difficult, from a heterosexual perspective, to get a proper grasp of when a homosexual man's interaction with young boys is or is not appropriate. It is all too easy, from a heterosexual perspective, to fall into one of two errors. One is to become homophobic, to read sex into the most innocent interaction between a gay man and a boy. The other is to be dismissive, to fail to see sex in any association between males until it becomes so obvious as to be impossible to overlook.

Michelle Malkin exemplifies the homophobic approach. She takes the mere fact that Foley knew so many pages by name, could recount personal details about them, or made friendly gestures, as in itself sinister. This is, of course, the reaction of the Religious Right, of people who fear gay scout masters, school teachers, priests etc. It ultimately poses a danger, not just to gay men, but to all men. Make no mistake there are heterosexual child molester, too, and heterosexual authority figures who make inappropriate advances toward adolescent girls. Allow the paranoia to spread and sooner or later all men who associate or work with children or adolescents will be suspect. (In many ways, that is happening already).

I personally confess to the opposite error -- to having great difficulty seeing anything sinister in the "overly friendly e-mails.

i just emailed will . . .hes such a nice guy. . .acts much older than his age. . . and hes in really great shape. . . i am just finished riding my bike on a 25 mile journey now heading to the gym. . . whats school like for you this year?

How are you weathering the hurricane. . . are you safe. . . send me a pic of you as well....

Glad your home safe and sound. . . we don't go session until Sept 5,,,,si it's a nice long break. . . I am back in Florida now. . . its nice here. . been raining today . . . it sounds like you will have some fun over the next few weeks. . . how old are you now?

I am in North Carolina. and it was !00 in New Orleans. . . wow that's really hot . . . well you missDC. . . Its raining here but 68 degrees so who can argue. . did you have fun at your conference. . . . what do you want for your birthday coming up. . . what stuff do you like to do.

So, are these sinister on their face? Obviously we know now that they were sinister, that Foley had exchanged extremely explicit instant messages with other pages. And we only know the e-mails. We do not know the totality of circumstances between Foley and the page. We do not know how Foley behaved toward the page in person, which would mean not only his words, but his tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions and body language. We do not know what intermediate stages Foley may have pursued with other pages between the "overly friendly" overtures and the truly graphic exchanges. But given what we do know, once again, I can only ask, what if it had been a girl?

What if it had been a girl? The uproar would lack its homophobic undertones, but I believe it would be about as strong. The Religious Right surely would be outraged, considering their concern about discouraging sexual activity by teenage girls. The graphic IM's would probably be even more shocking if a female had taken part in them. On the other hand, the messages would be so shockingly unfeminine that it would probably be easier to write the girl who wrote them off as a dirty slut who led him on. Instead of an uproar over whether it was safe to allow gay men around young boys, there would be lesser uproar, but an uproar nonetheless over whether it was safe to allow men around adolescent girls.

But the ultimate question, to me, would be what of the "overly friendly" e-mails? Would the majority who is heterosexual see a sexual intent when a 52-year-old man e-mails to a 16-year-old girl, commenting that another girl acts much older than her age and is in great shape, asking for a picture, her age, what she wants for her birthday, and what she likes to do. And the answer, I would say, is yes, such comments, when addressed from a grown man to an adolescent girl would be sexual and inappropriate, especially if she complained about them.

Well, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. And imaging a "goose" in the "gander's" place is the best way for a heterosexual - including Foley's colleagues - to evaluate the appropriateness of his conduct.


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