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March 09, 2005

Comments

La Lubu

in the above comment, I was not suggesting that it's ok for older teenagers to hit up on grade-schoolers, just that there are some very immature high school boys who may not realize the import of what they are doing, especially when they're being egged on by a crowd. Just so we're clear.

And Meta, this conversation is not about "older men, younger women".

Amanda

You know, I think one of the reasons that people don't talk to girls about the adult men who will harass them, taking advantage of their youthful confusion to get their jollies, is that most adults cannot even comprehend what's going through the mind of an adult man who walks up to a 12 year old and asks her for a blow job.

Luckily, we have the internet now and more of an opportunity, in this thread even, to view the inner workings of the minds of men who think they are entitled to the bodies of young women, or at least entitled to humiliate them. :)

Hugo

Well, Amanda, if that isn't a dubious advantage of cyberspace, I don't know what is.

Sally, I'll humbly ask you to look at Brumberg's work. It may be that the same point made by a woman with impeccable credentials in feminist scholarship will be less offensive to you. If not, she's still on the Cornell faculty, and you can send her an e-mail. I'm not being dismissive, just trying to point out that my perspective here is not rooted in my maleness, but rooted in the work I've read.

Meta, thanks for your thoughtful comments, but please, I will start enforcing a word limit in the comments section of 250 words per comment, and no more than two consecutive comments. Thanks.

Amanda

That comment was a tad harsh and I think I was misunderstood. I do think it's indicative our way of thinking, in a way that's hard to root out, that we find it easier to fantasize that women's bodies change than to fantisize about a change in male behavior. That's all. Nothing against you--I myself find it easier in many ways to submit to social expectations placed on my body rather than ask society to change.

Sally
I'm not being dismissive,

Could have fooled me.

Does Brumberg really pronounce on what nature intended for young women's bodies? It seems to me that historians really don't have the tools to figure out what "nature intended." I understand that Brumberg's is a polemical rather than a scholarly book and that you can take some liberties with works aimed at a popular audience, but if she really is saying that, it seems kind of sketchy to me.

Hugo

Sally, Brumberg does not use the phrase "nature intended". She does say that late menarche was NOT a function of malnutrition, and occurred in cultures where women were more than adequately fed. I urge you to read it and then respond.

Amanda, my remark was that knowing the inner workings of the minds of certain men was a dubious advantage over remaining ignorant of their fantasies. I'm sorry if that seemed harsh -- it was aimed at the men, not you!

Sally

Thanks, Hugo, but I'm not one of your students, and I'd appreciate it if you'd not patronize me by handing out reading assignments. I'm objecting specifically to your suggestion that my adolescent body was unnatural, that it was not what "nature intended." And apparently that's your suggestion, not Brumberg's. I'm suggesting that when you call girls' bodies unnatural, you're part of a society-wide tendency to fixate on girls' bodies, to judge and medicalize and stigmitize those bodies, and to blame the bodies rather than the culture for the way girls get treated. All I'm saying, and I stand by it, is that little girls (and grown women) get enough messages about the wrongness of our bodies without having supposedly-feminist guys tell us that our perfectly healthy bodies are not as nature intended them to be. And it's even worse to act as if our supposedly-unnatural bodies are in any way to blame for the fact that adult men believe they're entitled to sexually harass little girls.

Hugo

Sally, I am sorry my tone has seemed patronizing.

I must be unclear and doing a poor job of getting my point across. It is not that an individual girl's body is "unnatural" when it begins to menstruate. It is doing what bodies do, and every girl begins at a different time. On the other hand, we have pumped incredible amounts of synthetic hormones (especially bovine growth hormone, one of many culprits) into our food in recent decades, and as we have done so, that has lowered the age of menarche. The connection between BGH (usually taken in through cow's milk) and menarche is documented many places (see the references under here: http://www.babyreference.com/EarlyPuberty.htm).

Unless you are willing to make the argument that BGH is "natural" (it is based on natural elements but is added to cow's diet), then it seems defensible to say that in some sense early menarche is unnatural without attacking young girls themselves.

rabbit

"Answer two. This is the only culture that goes *batshit* whenever older man plus younger woman relationships come up. Absolutely batshit. Peronally, I like them young and sweet - because they are young and sweet. And because they're still confused over what is their responsibility and what is not - you can have interesting conversations about guilt and innocence, responsibility, duty, and obligation, trth and lie - without encountering the huge chip-on-the-shoulder that seems to dominate any woman who has a degree. Something happens to most women in college that puts years-long scowls on their faces that just aren't cute..." - Meta

Uch...that made me feel sick. Pretty much what you're saying is that you like to play the big older man to the young innocent girl. I hate this kind of attitude in men. I think it says that they don't care for the partnership/equality aspect of a relationship, they want someone innocent they can mold. My boyfriend's diagnosis for this situation is less odious than mine: he just thinks that older guys who date young girls (and this means legal but immature as well) are doing it because women their own age can tell what losers they are. :-) Either way, its a man who doesn't care for a woman with a back-bone or brains. And that makes me feel gross.

Hugo

Rabbit, I am with you 100%.

Maureen

Hugo--just to let you know, I'm not accusing you of opposing refrigeration :)

I think there are really two issues here:
1. Girls who develop really early (as in, have fully grown before they're even technically teenagers)--it seems like there are more cases of girls developing at eight and nine then there were fifty years ago, when Americans had an equally protein-heavy diet and similar amounts of light exposure (both artificial and natural) but perhaps our meat and dairy supply had few artificial hormones (could these hormones also be contributing factors to childhood obesity?)

2. Our toxic culture (see posts above).

So how do we detoxify our culture?

Hugo

Maureen, I'm with you. The toxic culture is where our energy ought to be -- it certainly is where mine generally is. (Once we get into discussions of the more technical aspects of biology and diet, I get lost.)

Sally

I don't think there's very much about the modern diet that's "natural," Hugo. Refrigeration is unnatural. Transcontinental shipping is unnatural. It's not natural that people in Minnesota can get grapefruit in January. And I'm sure that our bodies have been reshaped in many ways by the modern, unnatural changes to our diets. We're taller than our ancestors. We're fatter. We're less likely to have skeletal deformities because of childhood rickets.

But only some bodies get called unnatural and constructed as a problem. Chances are pretty good that you're taller than your 19th century ancestors, but nobody is going to call your body unnatural. Nobody is going to suggest treatment to fix your body, and I bet that no one has ever suggested to you that your height is a sad byproduct of modernity but not at all your fault. Nobody is going to blame your body for social problems. You teach women's history, and I guess I just don't think it's too much to ask to expect you to be the tiniest bit sensitive to the harm done to women when our perfectly-functional bodies are talked about as if there's something wrong with them. My body was fine. The problem was with how people reacted to my body.

La Lubu

"So how do we detoxify our culture?"

Exactly. I mean, I've heard commentary from plenty of average folks, the kind who aren't ambivalent about child molestation, that seems to say they feel it's the girls who are setting the sexual pace and boundaries, not the men who are pushing the envelope.

Amanda

http://www.msmagazine.com/blog/archives/2005/03/growing_up_free.html

Ms Musings wrote on the subject today. When I think about men whose feelings of entitlement are so thick that they feel entitled to Humbert Humbert despoilage ego-boosting sex with young girls, like for instance the kind we've seen on display here, the only solution I can think of I shan't repeat for fear of offense. Suffice it to say, if you feel entitled to ruin a child's life for sexual thrills, then education is probably not going to help you.

mythago

Something happens to most women in college that puts years-long scowls on their faces that just aren't cute.

Years of being hit on, harassed, and slimed on by creepy older guys would put a chip on any young lass's shoulder, don't you think?

If you're going to justify getting excited about children by saying "men are Neanderthals," then you should happily applaud gold-diggers. Because the evolutionary view that says men are pigs also says women only want you for your wallet. Wanting women because they're "young and sweet" is just counter-evolutionary.

Chris Burd

Sorry for the late comment, but I was immediately skeptical about this alleged 5-year drop in the age of menarche. First, 'cos I've heard lower figures bandied about; second 'cos the 5-year figure is catnip for people who want a deterministic explanation/justification for the post-1960s revolution in teenage sexual behaviour; third, because there are plenty of examples in older literature of young teenaged girls having sex, getting married, and having kids.

So I did a little bit of digging on the intenet. Here are a couple of decent links:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1310280.stm

http://www.mum.org/menarage.htm

The short version is: the drop is likely only 2 or 2.5 years, and it's not so much that late 20th century menarche comes early than that 19th century menarche came late.

No source I see puts the current average age of menarche in North America at 11 or 12, if by that you mean 11.5-ish. A 2003 study in Pediatrica says 12.4 years. The 19th century estimates of 16 or 17 seem to derive from Tanner, who's the Big Man in this field. While his later data are generally accepted, some have questioned these 19th century figures as being based on narrow samples, and on retrospective accounts taken decades after the fact.

The BBC link above refers to a one-year drop in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, and a possible 6-month drop since the late 1950s. Add in another 8 months or so for the mid-century (a study of Glasgow women born 1919-1952 suggested a 0.7 year drop for that period), and we've just over 2 years in total.

Now that's Britain, but remember, you'd actually expect less change in a country like America, which historically has been better fed than most countries (I don't see evidence that the American drop is less, though). Some Eastern European countries have supposedly seen drops of up to 4 years over the century, but they suffered a lot of malnutrition a century ago.

Another key question is whether the 19th European figures represent the historic average or were the result of malnutrition associated with the Industrial Revolution. A few generations of living on tea, white bread, margarine, and jam doesn't do much for your overall health.

In fact, some historians think the expected age of menarche in the Classical and Mediaeval periods was 12-14, only marginal later than today. (This looks to me like the consensus view, but I'm no expert.) After all, it's said that Juliette was 13, and I doubt she was pre-pubescent. And so the tradition that Mary was 13 when she gave birth to Jesus also seems reasonable. Of course, that tradition would never have grown up in a society were menarche at 16 or 17 was normal.

On a related subject, it's worth noting that sports historians are beginning to reassess their assumption that modern athletes are vastly more fit than sportsmen in earlier ages. That was the result of using stunted, pigeon-chested 19th century workers as their baseline. But now it looks like some 18th century English runner (working class types) were actually clocking very respectable times, possibly even breaking the 4-minute mile. Age of menarche poses the same issue.

Cheers,

Chris

Hugo Schwyzer

Chris, we can agree on this much: this is not a settled debate. Browsing the internet, one is likely to find all sorts of competing studies (Brumberg, like others, seems to base her conclusions on the famous Frisch studies, to which I can't seem to find a link at the moment).

I can put on my medievalist hat for a moment, and point out a couple of things. We know that in the Middle Ages, folks from different social classes were nourished so differently that their skeletons still bear the marks of their station in life. The Juliets of the world came from wealthy families, where earlier menses might be expected due to far more consumption of meat. But it would be absurd to suggest that poor medieval serfs were better fed than the average 19th-century Briton; despite the Dickensian horrors of early industrialization, conditions were no worse than those many centuries earlier for the rural poor.

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