Unfounded but Confusing Effects of Social Panic

[Hi all! I’m Kathleen, a 4th year English and TAPS double major.]

Both the Rubin piece and the Sedgwick piece dealt with the idea of social panic or hysteria in relation to a certain sexual practice which is considered outside the norm. The general public is quick to associate any sexual deviation with all deviation, as well as to assign a contagious quality to that act. This hysteria is then extended to those that practice the act, assuming into their identity the exaggerated beliefs about the practice. The Rubin piece was clearly written from a political and personal bias. Her language was strong and at times felt outdated. Social panic regarding sexual deviance is certainly still a part of our society (I think back to recent debates about the Boy Scouts forbidding gay troop leaders which demonstrates people’s incorrect associations of homosexuality and pedophilia,) but I do think that historically speaking we are not in the same place that we were in say the early 80s when misinformation about the AIDS epidemic resulted in greatly exaggerated social panic around sexual minorities. Rubin also did not address any solutions to her concerns. She endorses a removal of any moral or purity related legislation, but she fails to address the less tangible social legislation which, while legal legislation is challenging to change, at least there are existent structures to change it. Social attitudes and outlooks are much more hesitant to change and the process of doing so is messy and unmandated.

I also found it interesting that Rubin repetitively brought up pedophiles as a falsely demonized sexual group. I agree that they are; I understand that attraction does not automatically yield to action and prejudice for a desire should not be tolerated, but I struggled with this concept in light of the tone of the rest of the article. Rubin spoke to my concerns warning that “In twenty years or so when some of the smoke has cleared, it will be much easier to show that these men have been the victims of a savage and undeserved witch-hunt,” (273). Modern efforts place a heavy emphasis on the idea of consent and re-scripting sexual experiences to ensure that thorough and comprehensible consent is attained, yet I question how this translates to children. Society allows for parents to provide consent for their children’s bodies in other realms, think for example about medical procedures, so ought it allow for parents to grant consent in sexual matters? This seems strange and doesn’t sit well with me, but perhaps that is showing my bias that Rubin also speaks of in that “sexual acts are burdened with an excess of significance,” (279).


One thought on “Unfounded but Confusing Effects of Social Panic

  1. Although Rubin doesn’t expressly outline a specific solution, I think her intent is to reform by making people aware of the types of sexual thoughts that are embedded in our current society. People don’t even realize that they have these certain prejudices, and by simply writing and exposing people to their own inherent biases, they can be made aware and inspired to think more radically about sex.

    On your point about pedophilia, must parents give consent for sexual matters? We say that one must be 18 years old in order to give consent, but the fact that this age varies from country to country just goes to show how arbitrary that number is. Is there a clear line where one suddenly becomes a consenting adult, capable of making informed decisions without a parent? In fact, one might say that the very fact that we consider parents as needing to give consent for children’s sexual matters implies the very stigma and hierarchy of sexual behaviors that Rubin discusses: parents need to approve of what they deem to be “correct” sexual behavior.

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