Some of the commenters on the recent blog posts (here and elsewhere) about Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter Jon Favreau have suggested that his tacky groping of a Hillary Clinton life-sized cutout, his decision (or acquiescence) to be photographed doing this, and then the publicizing of this photo on his Facebook page, was perhaps due to his dewy age and youthful inexperience. “Sure, it was ugly and stupid, but you can’t trash a young man’s career over prankish hijinks,” they say. “Besides, he was drunk.” (I’m paraphrasing here.) Many other commenters here and on other blogs have cried foul at the implicit extension of “youth” to age 28 (at least?) There was a humorous thread at Talk Left in which some commenters were presuming that Favreau was under 25 and commenting on the behaviors of men 12-24, until another commenter pointed out that he’s actually 27.
I agree that this extension of “youth” to the late twenties is ridiculous, because it clearly only applies to middle-class or elite men. We don’t extend the same courtesy to young women who drink too much, party too hard, and do stupid things. In fact, the standard young women are held to is precisely the opposite of the standard applied to privileged men: whereas “boys will be boys,” girls are daughters of Eve and therefore they’re never too young to be blamed for everything we hate about ourselves and our culture. I don’t read tabloids, but since I buy food at grocery stores, I’m well aware of the unstintingly harsh glare that was trained on singers and actors like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan in recent years. (By the way, Spears just turned 27, and Lohan is all of 22, according to their Wikipedia pages.) The emotional investment–to say nothing of the investments in money and time–some people have in trashing young women is truly shocking and disturbing. Last year, when it was announced that Spears’ sixteen year-old sister Jaime Lynn was pregnant, she was held up as an example of everything wrong with the United States today. So, talking about Favreau’s “youth” is yet another example of male privilege.
The Spears sisters and Lohan appear to be troubled, but they’re insulated by their wealth and fame from the more violent fates suffered by many other young women. When young women drink and engage in sex outside of marriage, that’s frequently used as an excuse to victimize them sometimes through rape or sexual assault, both by their attackers (“she was asking for it”) and by the public at large (“what was she thinking, drinking and then walking home alone in that state?”). The men who attack them frequently were engaged in the same behavior, but although they are in fact the criminals, they’re rarely held accountable because of course, “boys will be boys.” As grandoc pointed out helpfully in the comments on the previous post, testosterone does not in fact lead to greater criminality, so it’s clearly our culture that’s to blame for male predation. But acknowledging and confronting that would be soooo hard, and it’s so much easier just to blame women for their own victimization.
Aside from the sex inequities, the “youth” dodge to excuse the criminal or merely embarrassing actions of men like Favreau in their 20s is also an expression of class privilege. It’s only college men whose criminal behavior gets a pass because of their supposed “youth.” College frequently functions as a magic shield of immunity for all manner of bad behavior, something I’ve always thought was terribly unfair. Teen-aged and twentysomething non-students or working stiffs don’t get the same breaks that college men get when they engage in drunken criminal mischief or assault. Because they hold down jobs and pay rent, like the adults they are, young working men are held to different standards than their infantilized and more privileged peers.
You don’t have to be a woman or a feminist or an old fogey to think that holding these men’s feet to the fire would be a good thing. Depend upon it: the fate of the nation might have been different if at least one entitled, lazy, drunken idiot had been held accountable for his actions when he was younger. Or since he was selected President.