Sexual Revolution and the Liberation of Children:
An Interview With Kate Millett
By Mark Blasius
Mark Blasius: How would you envision a sexually free society? Do you think any limitations should be placed upon a sexual revolution, and what role would cross-generational sex play in a sexual revolution?
Kate Millett: A sexual revolution begins with the emancipation of women, who are the chief victims of patriarchy, and also with ending of homosexual oppression. Part of the patriarchal family structure involves the control of the sexual life of children; indeed, the control of children totally. Children have virtually no rights guaranteed by law in our society and besides, they have no money which, in a money economy, is one of the most important sources of their oppression. Certainly, one of children's essential rights is to express themselves sexually, probably primarily with each other but with adults as well. So the sexual freedom of children is an important part of a sexual revolution. How do we bring this about? The problem here is that when you have an exploitative situation between adults and children as you have between men and women, cross-generational relationships take place in a situation of inequality. Children are in a very precarious position when they enter into relationships with adults, not only in a concrete material sense but emotionally as well, because their personhood is not acknowledged in our society.
Do you think that a tender loving erotic relationship can exist between a boy and a man?
Of course, or between a female child and an older woman. Men and women have loved each other for millennia, as have people of different races. What I'm concerned about is the iniquitous context within which these relationships must exist. Of course, these relationships can be non-exploitative and, considering the circumstances, they are probably heroic and very wonderful; but we have to admit that they can be exploitative as well - like in the prostitution of youth.
Don't you think that age-of-consent laws are barriers to exploring possibilities for non-exploitative crossgenerational relationships and, more importantly, serve to further deny the right of youths to sexual expression?
Well, they were originally meant to protect the child from exploitation. But what's interesting is that the right to child sexuality is not being approached initially as the right of children to express themselves with each other, which was the issue in the '30s with the early sexual liberationists. Instead, it's being approached as the right of men to have sex with kids below the age of consent and no mention is made of relationships between women and girls. It seems as though the principal spokespeople are older men and not youths.
That's probably because children or youths have no political voice. But most gay male youth groups seem to support lowering or abolition of the age of consent as a first step. How prevalent are erotic relationships between women and girls, do you think?
In general, women are given more freedom than men within patriarchy to love across generations. But I don't see the correlative of man/boy relationship existing in lesbian culture as I know it. There's a lot of cross-generational contact among lesbians and even heterosexual women -for example between older and young women artists - but they're mainly as friendships or as mentor relationships. And cross-generational sexual relationships are more of a topic within the male homosexual movement than the female homosexual movement and women in the movement often condemn its advocates. As women, we're probably, more protective of children. Also, having been exploited, we're more sensitive to the possibility of exploitation - we've been minors all of our history. We're more sexually repressed than men, having been given a much more strict puritanical code of behavior than men ever have. Men engage in sexual activities that women often regard as promiscuous - it's as though men don't have the defenses that women have against mutual exploitation - against sexual use to the degree of abuse. So as women, we've experienced a great deal of sexual repression; at the same time, we're less exploitative. It's possible also that the condition of lesbians has been so repressive that it prevents them from seeing female people below the age of consent as sexual partners. There's still, I think, a holding back among lesbians from converting that Platonic mentor relationship across generations into an erotic one because of the enormous and potentially catastrophic complications involved in doing so. Catastrophic not only in the personal sense but also in terms of the persecution inflicted by the outside world.
The dialog about these issues within the lesbian and homosexual male movements raises very interesting issues. Have you thought about incest as an issue too? I've always wondered about the power of the incest taboo because, as child and adult sexuality reaches out to greater and greater freedoms, the proximity of family members makes one experiment and challenge this taboo. The incest taboo has always been one of the cornerstones of patriarchal thought.
We have to have an emancipation proclamation for children. What is really at issue is children's rights and not, as it has been formulated up to now, merely the right of sexual access to children.
But shouldn't one of the rights of children be that of choosing to have an erotic relationship with an older person?
Oh sure, part of a free society would be that you could choose whomever you fancied, and children should be able to freely choose as well. But it's very hard to be free if you have no rights about anything, if you're: subjected to endless violence - both physical and psychological, if you're not permitted to speak, if you have no money, if you're already governed by a whole state system whether you want to be there or not. I would think that, given the conditions under which you're a young person in this society, many things would be at least as important to you as your sexuality.
It strikes me that there is a contradiction in supporting children's liberation while maintaining paternalistic age-of-consent laws and stigmatizing adults who have erotic relations with young people.
If you don't change the social condition of children you still have an inescapable inequality. That's like the story of the 1917 revolution. Men and women were declared equal one morning and everybody could divorce each other by postcard. It's just that the women had the babies and getting divorced by postcard when you've been given no means to earn a living and no education and you're in an enormously inferior economic situation meant that you were only being declared equal while not being given the substance of equality.
I can see how gay youth groups would be very interested in abolishing the age-of-consent law because it must he very oppressive for them. But it just seems to me that this has been mainly an issue for older men rather than for gay youth.
The rhetoric of pedophilia-that of older men speaking out for the sexual freedom of boys-reflects the underlying powerlessness of children. One could say that it is symptomatic of this powerlessness. Boy lovers are directly and acutely cognizant of the social and economic conditions which crush kids. But it is these same conditions which prevent kids both from having a real political visibility and from acting on their own behalf.
But what is our freedom fight about? Is it about the
liberation of children or just having sex with them? I would like to see a
broader movement involving young people who would be making the decisions
because it's their issue and their fight. Theirs is the authentic voice.
Kate Millett wrote Sexual Politics, Prostitution Papers, Flying, Sita, and most recently, The Basement. Mark Blasius teaches politics at Princelon. This interview, untitled, first appeared in 'Loving Boys, " Serniotext(e) Special, Intervention Series #2, Summer 1980. Reprinted with permission. Copyright 0 Semiotext(e) Inc., 1980. It also appeared in Daniel Tsang (Ed), The Age Taboo: Gay Male Sexuality, Power and Consent (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1981).