Thursday, September 22, 2011

The old may not admire the young?

I was just reading some comments on a random thread about convention photography, looking for some advice about good lenses to use in that environment, and I came across a comment which is not particularly uncommon. The poster of that comment was remarking at how "gross" it is that at conventions s/he often sees "old" men shamelessly snapping photos of all the young girls in skimpy costumes, and oh my god, isn't that creepy? And I can kind of see where that comment is coming from, because I'm not blind to the prudish attitudes that pervade modern sexual politics. And it's not simply a matter of 'guy attracted to girl' - which is, after all, natural - but it's a matter of 'older guy attracted to younger girl' that so often grosses people out.

Like I said, I can see where that's coming from. But that doesn't mean it's a justified reaction. It's no more natural for a young man to be attracted to a girl his age than it is for an older man to be attracted to a girl of that age. I'm hesitant to make a generalization about how all men are interested in young, virile women, but you do see it a lot. And I suspect it's part of biology. But why is it creepy? If the young girl represents a man's ideal of beauty, then why is it gross for him to recognize that, and admire it, regardless of his age? We have this expectation that people only be attracted to other people close to their age, but time and again, experience bears out that this is not always the way that sexual attraction works.

Now I suppose there are reasons why it's easier to date within one's age bracket. Social institutions often tend to be geared toward a generational segregation. You grow up in a system where you spend most of your time in classes with people within a year of your age. You make friends with those people, and often some of those people stay your friends throughout life. But even beyond that, people within a generation share quite a bit, in terms of interests and cultural experiences, so they're often easier to socialize with than people of disparate ages whose life experiences are vastly different from yours.

But you know what? A lot of good can come out of spending time with people who have had different life experiences than you. And a lot of value can be shared between older persons and younger persons (going in both directions), if their minds are opened. I am of the opinion that age is just a number, and I have had a lot of friends throughout my life that have been significantly older than me. I've always expressed a bit of a maturity beyond my years, so I suppose that's not all that unexpected. But as unique as I am, I'm not the only one who can benefit from those sorts of friendships.

Generally, these kinds of platonic friendships are respected, but as soon as the question of love and sex and romance come into play, people get uncomfortable. Anyone who dares to defy the "half-age plus seven" rule is bound to draw suspicious looks and hushed whispers. After all, age-peer relationships are the rule, and we live in a conformity-loving society. It is the popular belief that freaks who flout convention deserve ridicule. As far as condoning age-disparate relationships, it would be worthwhile to discuss the difficulties that such relationships might pose compared to age-peer relationships, but there have been more than enough examples in practice to demonstrate that such relationships can be entirely sincere and positive. Ultimately, the responsibility of choice rests on those engaged in the relationship, and not on society to either condone or prohibit such relationships en masse.

And yet, the greater the disparity, the greater our concern. But neither are age-peer relationships always free of concern and complication. A person is not good (or bad) for you based solely (nor even primarily) on their age. Personality is a much better predictor of character and motivation. I ask you, is there reason to condemn a man's appreciation for the beauty of a young girl, based purely on his age? Does acceptable behavior at 20 become unacceptable at 40? At 60? At 80? Should people in those upper ages be forced to suppress their admiration and appreciation for youth? And if so, on what grounds? Because it looks "creepy"?

Viewing the appreciation of erotic beauty as "creepy" can only come from a sex negative mindset. What harm does appreciation do? Who is harmed by being appreciated? And is it because we love to shame people both for expressing their sexuality, and for being the target of sexual attention (yes, that's right, we just love to blame the victim)? And if so, are we justified in condemning these people when we should be pointing the finger back at ourselves?

As Oscar Wilde once wrote, "those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt." And yet the cultural paradigm is to regard anyone who responds to beauty (if there is any erotic context whatsoever) as a creepy pervert. We inject creepiness and perversion into our conception of beauty. Like as if beauty must exist pure and independent, that it is somehow spoiled if it is recognized, viewed. Or, perhaps, there is something wrong with beauty in itself - that it is some kind of evil, a taunting, sinful lure. If there is anyone at fault here, it is those who view the appreciation of beauty as something ugly. It is their twisted and confused attitudes about the nature of sexuality that need remedying. If we are to be honest, the truth is that these young girls are beautiful and sexy, and I can see no reason why anyone should be criticized for recognizing that fact.

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