How old is the model in this photo?
And if I tell you your reputation and your freedom depend on the answer, does it change? Now how old is she?
The answer is 14, but it’s absolutely meaningless. She’s made up and Photoshopped to look not just like an adult, but like a somewhat sexually stimulated one. She could be any age from the one she is to 40. In fact, minus a little of the high-gloss, low-contrast treatment, she looks an awful lot like a 27-year-old Anne Hathaway.
Or she could be a mannequin, if we’re going to judge by anything but the ridiculous standards of glamor photography.
What shouldn’t be in doubt is that this picture is an incredibly poor choice to illustrate the question that documentary filmmaker Jan-Willem Breure claims to be asking and answering in his new film, Are All Men Pedophiles. If people viewing your picture can’t tell that she isn’t an adult, you’re not telling them anything about their age-related sexual preference if they happen to find her attractive.
That’s hardly the only bad argument Breure makes, even just on this poster. There’s also the title of the film. A pedophile is attracted to prepubescent children–you know, up to age 9 or 10. All you guys reading this who are now feeling a bit nauseated? You’re all the answer needed to the question as it’s posed. Not that that’s the substance of the film. The title is like those bad headlines that ask ridiculous questions, then answer them, “Nah.”
Specifically, the film advances the claim (with the help of guest experts like a neuroscientist, a psychologist, and a model scout) that all men are “hebephiles” — that is, attracted to teenagers. It argues that we need to make a distinction between hebephiles and true pedophiles, who are attracted to prepubescent children. The film also claims that a variety of cultures — it mentions everything from ancient Greece to the Lolita community in modern-day Japan — have accepted sex between adults and teenagers, and implies that maybe everyone else should, too. It closes with the line “eighteen is just a number.” Are All Men Pedophiles? jumps from graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse (a victim tells her harrowing story of being raped by her father) to suggestions that teen-adult sex really isn’t so bad.
What Breure claims to be talking about in the film is hebephilia, but even that isn’t related to the poster. Nor is it related to his motivations in asking the question.
Breure, who is 23 and bankrolled the film entirely himself, said it was inspired by his own attraction to teenagers: recently, he said, he’d come to realize that he was attracted to girls as young as 15. He wanted to explore whether this attraction was truly pedophilia. Making the movie, he said, taught him that “there is a difference between the public definition and the real definition of pedophilia” — the public definition includes attraction to teens, while the “real” definition excludes this.
I have to wonder how good this documentary can be if the creator didn’t manage to learn in the process that his own attractions aren’t even hebephilia. We’ve covered hebephilia on this blog before (interestingly, responding to someone else who claimed his sexual orientation was universal). Hebephilia is an attraction to pubescent children, those whose bodies are in transition, generally those from about age 11 to about age 14.
That means that if he’s attracted to “girls as young as 15”, Breure is not a hebephile either. He may, possibly, be an ephebophile, someone attracted to post-pubescent children, but only if he’s not attracted to those who are fully adult. Otherwise, he’s just a plain old vanilla teleiophile, someone attracted to adults, who is reacting to children who look adult to him. You know, like the model he chose for the poster of his movie.
This movie appears to be attempting a bizarre form of medicalization of sex. “Oh, see, there’s a name for what I want, so it must not be my fault if I take it.” At the same time, of course, it’s going for a bandwagon defense. “But everybody does it.” Neither one cuts it on its own. Putting them both together suggests the filmmaker is having a tough time figuring out what he’s trying to say.
That’s not surprising. What he’s trying to say is something that will justify him having sex with anyone without regard for his partner(s). The thing is, while we do badly misuse the word “pedophilia” in our society, what we mean to be saying instead is “child rape”. All the twisting and turning and talking about irrelevancies and misusing words on his own can’t be allowed to obscure that.
While it may be true that “18 is just a number” (actually, this obscures how ages of consent are handled in most places), 15 and 23 are numbers too, and those numbers are quite different in ways that are important to decision-making, power dynamics, and sexual and emotional health outcomes. There doesn’t appear to be any attempt to deal with these realities in the film, just a bit about pregnancy and keeping kids in school. Good goals, but irrelevant to the age of a teen’s sexual partner.
The funny thing, as I sit here tearing apart the descriptions of this film and Breure’s statements about it, is that I would like to see a good documentary done on the topic. Yes, that documentary would include sympathy for people with pedophilia and hebephilia and ephebophilia. It’s anything but impossible. I’ve done it myself.
Such a documentary would also, however, display sympathy for those children who are working on growing up to be healthy adults. It would talk about how sexual interactions between children and adults make that more difficult. In short, it would act as though sex is something that happens between people, each with their own needs and interests.
A documentary like this, however, treats these children more like a masturbatory aid, something there only to settle an urge that “all men have”. As such, it just adds to the pile of evidence that anyone trying to say there’s nothing wrong with being an ephebophile should probably be kept as far away from teenagers as possible. They’re just not grown up enough to handle it. And yes, I’m talking about the ephebophiles.