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Published on May 18th, 2013 | by anonymous

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Feminism and age of consent laws in modern culture

Historically the age of consent is the onset of puberty

Historically, the age of consent for a sexual union has been determined by tribal custom or has been a matter for families to decide. In most cases, this has coincided with signs of puberty: menstruation for a woman and pubic hair for a man. In Ancient Rome, it was very common for girls to marry and have children shortly after the onset of puberty.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriageable_age

Here is a list of age of consent laws in popular countries before the 1900s and they all seem to revolved around the average age of the onset of puberty. In nature it is important to start reproducing as early as possible to insure the most offspring and the survival of the species. Countries would sometimes lower the age of consent laws to increase the population after famine and war as seen in ancient China.

(Around 680 B.C.)Large numbers of population died because of war or famine. In order to encourage childbirth, the government reduced the age of marriage to 15 for men and 13 for women.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12285484

Most cultures throughout history didn’t allow women to vote. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, society was starting to give women more rights, and with that eventually came the power to vote.

Womens right to vote in the USA

‘Women’s Suffrage’ in the United States was achieved gradually, at state and local levels, during the late 19th century and early 20th century, culminating in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provided: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Age of consent raised past puberty in Europe

In Europe the age of consent was raised after a moral panic in 1885 known as the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 during the rule or Queen Victory, the longest raining monarchy in UKs history.

Age of consent raised past puberty in the USA

In the US there was a sort of moral panic as well.
At the end of the Nineteenth century, middle class Americans were panicking over the transformations to which they believed were contributing to the moral decline of America.”
“Social purity reformers wished to control women’s sexuality to maintain the ideals of marriage, family, and the home.”
The social purity movement was founded by the American Purity Alliance and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union to curb alcohol consumption, obscenity, gambling, and prostitution. The campaign to raise the age of consent was meant to preserve the virtue and moral character of young girls. Reformers claimed that young women needed legal protection from sexual predators in order to maintain their virtue. The low age of consent encouraged prostitution because, once a young woman had been seduced, society left her no choice but to become a prostitute. A higher age of consent would discourage men from seducing young girls and decrease the number of girls becoming prostitutes. Reformers also thought that stricter age of consent laws would replace the double standard of morality, which demanded chastity from women while encouraging licentiousness in men, with a single standard that required chastity from all.”
http://www.law.georgetown.edu

In the USA in the 1890s, several states had an age of consent as low as 10. In 1895, the age of consent in Delaware was 7, according to an article in The New York Times.[27] However, feminists and children’s rights activists(social purity movement) began advocating raising the age of consent to 16 wanting to ultimately raise it to 18 and by 1920 almost all states had raised their age of consent to 16 or 18.[28]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_consent_reform

There have been many initiatives to raise the age of consent. Gratian, a canon lawyer, stated that consent could not take place before 7 years of age. The English government eventually decided on age of 12 for women as their limitation. Liberal Feminists in the nineteenth century began to focus on raising it to at least 16, but ultimately wanting to raise it to 18. At that time the age was about 12 in most countries. Today it is usually set between 15 and 18.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_consent_reform

Age of Consent laws to prevent prostitution?

As you can see, the excuses behind the age of consent laws were largely to stop prostitution(except marriage contracts), but the opposite was true. Marriage only declined, and sexual sexual tourism boomed.

Feminism and Ageism

In an era where American principles of individuality and equal rights were eliminating racism, sexism and religionism, ageism was increasing. For the first time in history women were allowed to vote and pubescent females weren’t allowed to have relationships with adult men. What’s also ironic is that the feminist movements pushing to take rights away from minors/parents used similar reasoning as those opposed to women’s right to vote.

People that opposed women’s right to vote thought that women were generally unfit  to vote and that laws preventing them from voting protected them. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Politics were seen as corrupting those who were involved. source
  • Men thought women were delicate and there was a general belief that political matters would be too much for women. source
  • The physical nature of women unfits them for direct com­petition with men. source
  • There was a belief that most women do not want the vote. source
  • Women were emotional creatures, and incapable of making a sound political decision.(Diane Atkinson, Votes for Women (1988))
  • On the one hand women were considered too precious and innocent to become embroiled in public life, on the other they were thought too irrational and emotional to make an intelligent contribution. (Marij Van Helmond , Votes for Women: the events on Merseyside (1992))

 


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