I was happy to read Cathy Young's lucid, thoroughly-researched and persuasive critique of the misleading HBO documentary "Allen vs Farrow." Amongst many other excellent points, Young notes that pedophiles are creatures of pattern. Before former partner Mia Farrow's allegation that Woody sexually abused his adoptive daughter Dylan at the age of seven, Woody had never before been accused of pedophilia, and never afterward either.
To boost their case, Woody's detractors usually point to his obsession with young women as the coveted sexual trophies of much older men, some as young as 17, as in his 1979 film Manhattan, and certainly that is a recurrent Allenesque motif. But as Young observes, there's nothing new about aging men lusting after womanhood in early ripeness. And even if off-putting to many of us, that is neither a crime nor a pathology.
There is a bright line between erotic interest in young women of, say, Soon-Yi's age–reportedly at least 19 when her affair with Woody began–which has no paraphiliac overtones, and the two other very disturbing erotic age zones that do: hebephilia (a sexual preference for children age 11-14) and pedophilia (prepubescent children). Everyone is conversant with the word pedophilia, but hebephilia not so much.
I only learned of this kink when I read Vladimir Nabokov's infamous 1955 novel Lolita. Lolita was the first elite literary treatment of adult-child sex. It was transgressive in more ways than one. For not only was the middle-aged protagonist Humbert Humbert a self-confessed predator, he was somewhat sympathetic, and his prey, 12-year old Lolita (changed to 14 for the film version) was not a typical victim. She knew exactly what Humbert was up to, and played along with him for her own reasons. So not entirely a victim.
But the American public had already been softened up for a more equivocal perspective of sexual line-crossing by sexology pioneer Alfred Kinsey. His groundbreaking 1948 book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, became an influential best-seller. From it, one was free to conclude that there are no boundaries to sexual appetite and no quantifiable limits to its manifestations. Kinsey made no judgments. Why would he? His own sex life was, to put it mildly, weird. Worse, his methodology was completely unethical and voyeurism-based (some of his central data was culled from a known pedophile who sexually abused babies, masturbating them nonstop for hours, in order to prove that sexuality begins in infancy.)
Just as the history of the eugenics movement was somewhat "disappeared" in order to protect many high-ranking scientists and political figures who had signed on to the culling of society's "unfit" for the good of society, and then went all shtumm after the Holocaust, the 1970s-80s open and non-judgmental fascination with adult-child sex amongst the intelligentsia and other members of the chattering classes fell out of favour when widespread enlightenment–accompanied by revulsion–on the corrosive effects of child sex abuse into adulthood drove its proponents underground.
The banalization of pedophilia seems to be a particularly French malaise. A revival of interest in the subject has come about with some fresh news stories.
In late March, Guy Sorman, a French-American professor, accused famous French intellectual Michel Foucault of being a "pedophile rapist." He said he was exposed to Foucault's open behaviour in Tunisia in 1969. "They were eight, nine, ten years old. [Foucault] was throwing money at them and would say 'let's meet at 10pm at the usual place'. He would make love there on the gravestones with young boys. The question of consent wasn't even raised." Sorman assigns Foucault's shameless entitlement to racism and colonialism: "Foucault would not have dared to do it in France… There is a colonial dimension to this. A white imperialism."
Foucault was no outlier, though, and many other French allies did not lean on colonialism as an excuse, and some of them did dare to do it in France. Such intellectual heavyweights as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simeone de Beauvoir signed petitions calling for the decriminalization of pedophilia. One such petition, in which they were joined by fellow intellectuals Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and, of course, Michel Foucault, included the statement, "French law … should acknowledge the right of children and adolescents to have relations with whomever they choose." Philosopher René Scherrer called for the removal of all sexual taboos: "nothing should be outlawed." This, and other manifestos of the era were not considered shocking; on the contrary, such a line of thinking was perceived as the height of intellectual sophistication.
For example, in January 2020, a French woman, Vanessa Springora, launched a memoir, "Le Consentement," in which she recounted her seduction by celebrated writer Gabriel Matzneff when she was 14 and he was 50. An investigation turned up Matzneff's 1974 book, Les Moins de Seize Ans (The Under-16s) in which he had written passages like "To sleep with a child is a holy experience, a baptismal event, a sacred adventure." He boasted of having sex with children as young as eight. Matzneff has been stripped of contracts and honours. But that's today. Then, it's important to remember, Matzneff was fêted and admired for his boldness in flouting outmoded moral shibboleths.
"There is a long correlation between anarchism and support for pedophilia," says American ecophilosopher Derrick Jensen in an informative and entertaining game of "Queer Theory Jeopardy" he plays with students. It just so happens that many of the founding Queer Theorists were French. Their intellectual largesse spread like an oil slick to delight and encourage pedophiles in other countries.
In England, alpha comedian Jimmy Savile was the poster boy for serial predation of young girls. It was no secret. He boasted about it in his 1974 autobiography. By no coincidence, from 1974 to 1984, a group called the Pedophile Information Exchange (PIE) openly campaigned for pedophilia legalization, arguing that child-adult relations were harmless. They pressed to lower the age of consent, and they enabled meetings between adults and minors.
Canada's first open discussion of the issue centred around gay journalism professor and part-time male prostitute Gerald Hannon. In the Nov. 1977 issue of a Toronto LGBT magazine, The Body Politic, Hannon published an article titled "Men Loving Boys Loving Men," a profile of three men in a sexual relationship with underage males. The article included assertions like "Boy-love is not child molestation," which sparked controversy and a strong backlash, with demands that Ryerson College (now University) fire him. They didn't, as they said there was no evidence that he was attempting to indoctrinate his students with such views. In 1994, Hannon wrote an article for Xtra, a newspaper for gays and lesbians, with this gem: "I could never understand…how children's hockey differed from an organized child-sex ring…Both involved danger. Both involved pleasure. Yet we approve of children's hockey and deplore child-sex rings." Today you can get cancelled at Ryerson for holding Christian views.
(This was a time when Woody Allen was in his filmmaking prime, something to bear in mind for context. Today, it is hard to imagine even quite sophisticated urban parents accepting with blasé equanimity their high school daughter's relationship with a man in his 40s. But in the film Manhattan, the wealthy parents of Mariel Hemingway's character didn't bat an eye at it.)
I want to end by circling back to (yet) another French pedophile. In 1975, former hero of the 1968 student revolution Danny Cohn-Bendit, who became a prominent politician in the French Green Party, published an article about his erotic contacts with some of the 20 children in his care at an alternative kindergarten in Frankfurt, where he lived for a while during his exile from France for his role in the 1968 uprisings. The article, and the book in which it appeared, Le Grand Bazar, appeared to critical acclaim.
Cohn-Bendit wrote: "Certain children opened the flies of my children and started to tickle me. I reacted differently each time, according to the circumstances…But when they insisted on it (my emphasis), I then caressed them." Notice how wishful-thinking Cohn-Bendit shifts the burden of aggression to the children, allowing him to sin without guilt. Pedophiles want their critics to believe that the child knows what he or she wants, and is therefore giving consent to the pedophile's seduction. Not only is the adult "participant" blameless, he may be said to be coming to the child's rescue from frustrated desire, which it is the child's right to satisfy.
We hear the same rhetoric from transition zealots who strive to ban any therapeutic intervention other than affirmation for even mildly or transiently gender-confused children. Children know what they want, they say. Listen to them. We do them no harm by treating them as peers capable of consenting to what we happen to have an interest in normalizing for our own ends. Far from it. We are liberating them from the oppression of superannuated social norms and freeing them to be their authentic selves.
Obsession with children's genitals amongst intellectuals can shape shift in its focus, but whatever the covering theory or narrative, the obsession itself is a sign of voyeuristic pathology. Woody Allen is not the enemy. He is a distraction from the swelling second wave of a more powerful, organized and LGBTQI+ collaborative movement, for which the 1970s phenomenon was but a dress rehearsal.