The Good Old Days

This article will make you lose your lunch. The idea is that sex with children is more taboo today than it was in Roman Polanski’s era — thanks to victims’ rights groups and a family values revival. The evidence? Well, Polanski himself, and this one Woody Allen movie.

The article approaches a good point — that rape victims were treated terribly, and that the culture was disturbingly permissive of a “boys will be boys” attitude when it comes to sexual assault. But it takes almost a wistful tone, as if we’ve lost something culturally and artistically. It also suggests that the conservative upswing in the Reagan years was responsible for the cultural shift away from victim-blaming; in fact, conservatives blocked every effort that feminists made to promote rape shield laws, prevent sexual assault and hold perpetrators accountable.

Feminist successes aside, raping adolescent girls wasn’t acceptable even in the 1970s. Perhaps even more disturbing, though, is the fact that it isn’t wholly unacceptable today — just look at the conversations about Roman Polanski.

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15 comments for “The Good Old Days

  1. October 11, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    this is truly disgusting. why is it that every time someone reminisces about “the good ol’ days” its about something so stomach churning i can’t even believe anyone is yearning for that time?

  2. evil_fizz
    October 11, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Roman Polanski’s arrest on Sept. 26 to face a decades-old charge of having sex with a 13-year-old girl…

    For crying out loud, they DID NOT HAVE SEX. He RAPED her.


  3. Jen
    October 11, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    I saw this in the Kansas City Star at work this morning. I work at a café, and it was all I could do to not rage about this obscene journalism fail to every customer that came in.

    The full article, believe it or not, is actually a little more defensible than the truncated version that ran in the print version of the KC Star today.

    They didn’t post it on the online version, but I did take a picture of the subtitle (is there a real journalist word for this?) that the KC Star editors created to include with the story.
    Everything offensive about the article, condensed into 2 short sentences.

  4. Jen
    October 11, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Oh, and my favorite part of the article, and what makes it such an intense fail, is this half a sentence:
    “…even while acknowledging that the victim, Samantha Geimer (who has since publicly identified herself), had offered grand jury testimony of forcible rape.”
    You know, whatever. No big deal.

  5. October 11, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Toothfairy, I’m deleting your comment, but just in case you read this comment thread: No, the sex was not consensual. Not only was the girl 13, but she was drugged, AND she said no repeatedly. In other words, it was rape in every possibly way.

    FYI to other commenter: No rape-apologist comments, or comments that twist reality, will be allowed.

  6. October 11, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    I actually agree, but not for the reasons they’re offering. Before feminism, rape and abuse of women was acceptable and thus, suitable comedy-fodder. Domestic violence was jokey-jokey too. Recall Ralph Kramden shaking his fist at Alice: “POW! Right in the kisser!”–this joke is simply unacceptable now. (And “The Honeymooners” was regarded as a wholesome comedy.)

    In “Play it Again Sam”–Woody Allen says something about rape and Diane Keaton replies “Oh, I’d never get that lucky,” a really jarring comment that I don’t remember at all the first time I saw it. (Seeing it again, blew my mind that I’d ever missed it)…In (I think) “Bananas”, he jokes that he is “taking courses in advanced child molesting”–which again, I didn’t notice at the time… last time I saw the movie, it jumped right out at me.

    The old Saturday Night Live had a famous, repeating skit with Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman as hyperactive, squealing little girls, happily crawling all over Buck Henry, a neighborhood child molester who endeared himself to parents by volunteering to babysit at a moment’s notice. He would play physical games with them (“There’s a surprise in my pocket, can you find it?”), give piggyback rides, wash their undies, etc. The joke was how wholesome Buck Henry was and how implicitly the girls’ parents (Jane Curtin) trusted him. Once she asked him why he never married, and he replied, “I think the right woman for me just hasn’t been born yet”–considered hilarious at the time and much-repeated, almost a catch phrase.

    Sensibilities have changed in a big way. WE did that, not family values conservatives, and we should congratulate ourselves for turning the culture around in one generation.

  7. October 11, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Agreed, Daisy. My beef wasn’t with the content but the tone — the idea that (a) conservatives did this, and (b) we lost something in the process.

    Those are interesting examples, though. I think women in my generation are often shocked when we see rape apologism. I remember the first time I heard feminists talking about the “Why did she wear…?” argument about rape — “Why was she wearing a miniskirt? Why did she go there? Why did she do that?” — and I thought it was horribly out of touch. It made me think that feminists were totally outdated, because no one really blamed women for being raped anymore.

    And then I saw it happen. And I saw that as far as women have come, we’ve also really stayed in the same place.

  8. Toothfairy
    October 11, 2009 at 9:43 pm


    Thanks for pointing out that the girl was drugged and did not consent. Unless I missed it, I did not see the New York Times story mention anything about her being drugged. But if she had indeed actually consented, there are published studies and other literature to support my point. Just in case you have not noticed, statutory rape has a basis different from rape and to question the justification for the cut-off age hardly amounts to rape apologism.

  9. beth
    October 11, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    @ jen (your twitpic). un-fucking-believable.

  10. October 11, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Toothfairy, that’s my point — the article didn’t include all the facts. It didn’t include her being drugged, even though that’s totally undisputed. It didn’t include her saying no, even though that’s totally undisputed.

    Of course statutory rape has a different bases from forcible rape — that’s why it’s a different crime. Questioning the wisdom of the age cut-off for statutory rape isn’t de facto rape apologism, but your comment — which was entirely ignorant of the facts — was.

  11. October 12, 2009 at 6:34 am

    I give the internet credit for changing the way the press reports this.
    I remember 1977, and the smirking attitude of the press. One reason is that the real story was ‘unprintable’ so they just did the lazy thing and printed Polanski’s version.
    He is, other than being famous, a typical perp, self-justifying and full of excuses. He isn’t the most interesting or important part of the story.
    The NYT article was pretty good, belatedly pointing out how society had changed, though they give conservatives too much credit.
    Change has come because victims came forward, especially feminists against rape of women and children, and organized groups against clergy abuse. Law has changed.
    And sites like Smoking Gun printed court testimony that shows graphically that Polanski’s crime was drug-facilitated rape of a child. You couldn’t even use those words in 1977.

  12. October 12, 2009 at 7:45 am

    I think I missed the part in Manhattan where Woody Allen drugged and raped his girlfriend. I’m having a hard time seeing how that’s evidence of “in the 70s, Polanski’s actions were viewed as totally kosher!!”

  13. Bitter Scribe
    October 12, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    I think it’s true that in the ’70s, it was easier to find people who thought that having sex with a “nymphet” was cool, cutting-edge, daring, etc. Thank God we’ve backtracked from that.

    The analogy that comes to my mind is that, around the same time, there was a much greater tolerance for drunken driving than there is now. And, while there may be instances in both cases of the pendulum swinging back too far (e.g., teachers afraid to hug students), I think society as a whole is far better off.

  14. October 12, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    In the 70’s the whole thing was treated as a joke. A dirty joke, and if he was seen as doing something wrong, it was in committing immorality. It was not framed as harming a child. she was a ‘nymphet’ — a sort of sub-human species that bore no resemblance to any child you might know.
    One of the most poignant things Samantha Geimer said was– ‘leave my mother alone.’
    Her mother is still alive, still being slandered. But this perp premeditated, set up a situation, lied to the mother, raped the child– and the press is still blaming the mother.
    But very belatedly the press is acknowledging that the crime was rape.

  15. October 12, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    I really like Manhattan, and though I’m a bit uncomfortable with the relationship Woody Allen’s character has with Mariel Hemingway’s character, there’s a big difference between that and what Roman Polanski did. Not only because Hemingway’s character Tracy gave consent whereas Samantha Geimer was drugged and repeatedly said “no,” but also because Tracy was 17, and therefore of the legal age of consent according to New York state law. She was a kid, but she wasn’t underage when it came to sex.

    The comparison of the two is simply disturbing, and it has the additional effect of further demonizing teenage girls’ sexuality by acting like consensual sex with a 17-year-old and rape of a 13-year-old are the same thing. THEY’RE NOT.

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