Author: has written 29 posts for this blog.

Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

10 Responses

  1. Sarah
    Sarah April 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm |

    This is why I get really frustrated whenever people bring up the “fifteen have always been having sex” argument. Um…first off, no, that’s not universal to all cultures – if you look through church records the average age of first marriage through much of the middle ages in Europe, for example, was between 17 and 20 for young women, 18 and 25 for most men. Anthropologists studying the !Kung tribe found that, while women were “married” when they were in their mid-teens, they rarely began having sex with their husbands until they were at least 16 or 17. Cultures vary widely in what is considered appropriate, wise, or financially savvy, and so behaviors vary widely.

    Secondly, most of those young women who are cited having babies at 12-16 years of age are in societies which saw (or see) them as possessions and brood mares; they weren’t “having sex”, they were being raped. And no, I bet many of them WEREN’T caused a lot of psychological trauma or felt as if they had been forced, because they had been told since they were little bitty babies that it was their role and many of them internalized it; I bet a lot of them “consented” at least in so far as their society allowed them any agency at all. That doesn’t make it consensual, affirmative sex.

    Yet I hear just such an argument employed far too often in the defense of the “hook-up” culture. If we’re going to do a good job advocating the position that fifteen or sixteen year olds who are having sex are doing it knowingly, and in healthy and non-damaging ways, can we please not bolster that argument by saying, in essence, “Women throughout history have been raped at that age and turned out fine”?

  2. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin April 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm |

    I try to think about the historical context, particularly back when the United States was a largely agrarian based country where many people were farmers. Men regularly married multiple women at very young ages since people didn’t really live that long in the first place and also that many women died in childbirth.

    One of my ancestors, circa 1830, was married four times to very young women (aged 13 and 14) because there was a constant need for workers to tend to the farmer and, moreover, three of his wives died in childbirth. There are also stories where women were married off at young ages, but gentleman’s agreements stipulated that the new husband would wait a few years before having sex with his new bride. There were also instances well into the 20th century of young women in poverty who were married off early in life to give their families one less mouth to feed.

  3. Holy!
    Holy! April 8, 2010 at 1:45 pm |

    Human Rights Watch has long been reporting about problems in Yemen, which seem to be plentiful: “Human Rights Watch reported on discrimination and violence against women as well as on the abolition of the minimum marriage age of fifteen for women. The onset of puberty (interpreted by some to be as low as the age of nine) was set as a requirement for marriage instead. Publicity about the case of ten-year old Yemeni divorcee Nujood Ali, brought the child marriage issue to the fore not only in Yemen, but worldwide.
    Forms of hostile prejudice directed towards disabled people, and religious minorities have also been reported. Censorship is actively practiced and in 2005 legislation was passed requiring journalists to reveal their sources under certain circumstances, and the government has raised the start-up costs for newspapers and websites significantly. In violation of the Yemeni constitution, the security forces often monitor telephone, postal, and Internet communications. Journalists who tend to be critical of the government are often harassed and threatened by the police.”

    From wiki

  4. Amarantha
    Amarantha April 8, 2010 at 5:49 pm |

    It’s weird how malleable the conception of adolescence is–a person seen as “merely a child” can be viewed as a full adult in other places and times. Then again, I remember my ability to think/process at age 10, for instance, and wonder how much of my childish thought process was really cultural and how much was just plain dictated by biology.

  5. Amarantha
    Amarantha April 8, 2010 at 5:50 pm |

    Also, the notion that women historically married young is not universally true. In times of poor nutrition, women often did not start menstruating until 18. First marriage/sexual activity has varied with culture and environmental circumstances throughout our history.

  6. abbyjean
    abbyjean April 8, 2010 at 6:01 pm |

    i think “enjoyed” would be the wrong word, but i … appreciated? this piece a lot. i’d be interested in learning more about the economic and cultural conditions that create a society where marriage at 13 years old makes sense – as you say, it seems focusing on those underpinnings is much more productive than attacking, blaming, or demeaning the young women themselves.

  7. Cara
    Cara April 8, 2010 at 6:49 pm |

    Going “OH MY GOD! THAT MUST HAVE BEEN HORRIBLE! OH MY GOD! SOMEBODY GET THE SMELLING SALTS!” is completely uncalled-for. It can often be pretty demeaning, actually.

    I just wanted to say that I particularly appreciated this part. I’ve found it really insulting, demeaning, and “othering” when people have done that to me as a rape survivor. Sometimes sympathy is appropriate, sometimes it’s not. I don’t think that freaking out is ever appropriate. And making it into a Huge. Deal. when the survivors themselves aren’t isn’t either. But my point is really that if I’ve felt that, I can only imagine that it’s a lot worse when the person freaking out holds cultural and/or racial privilege over the survivor, for whom being othered is already an incredibly common experience.

  8. ShelbyWoo
    ShelbyWoo April 9, 2010 at 2:25 pm |

    But I remember – Shakespeare’s Juliet was 13.

    And completely fictional! Aristocracy may have been arranging marriages for their teenaged children during that period, but for the average woman alive during Shakespeare’s time, their first marriage was sometime in their 20s. Girls marrying at 13 was far from “the norm” at that time.

  9. Sonia
    Sonia April 10, 2010 at 1:13 am |

    “Human Rights Watch reported on discrimination and violence against women as well as on the abolition of the minimum marriage age of fifteen for women. The onset of puberty (interpreted by some to be as low as the age of nine) was set as a requirement for marriage instead. Publicity about the case of ten-year old Yemeni divorcee Nujood Ali, brought the child marriage issue to the fore not only in Yemen, but worldwide.”

    I don’t see how this could be changed without getting into conflict with people wanting to follow Islam properly. The 9-yr old age comes from the age of Ayesha marrying the Prophet (PBUH).

  10. Natalia
    Natalia April 10, 2010 at 8:39 am |

    Well, the Virgin Mary was probably 12 or 13 or so when she gave birth to Christ, if you go with Hebrew tradition. Religions tend to be dynamic in many ways – that’s why they survive. Islam isn’t any different in this regard, I believe. After all, back when it was formed, slavery was not an issue, for example, and the texts reflect this reality. Nowadays, slavery is banned even in a hugely conservative nation like Saudi Arabia.

Comments are closed.

The commenting period has expired for this post. If you wish to re-open the discussion, please do so in the latest Open Thread.