Paedophilia has gone from being a taboo to being a source of prurient interest. What is going on?by Bella Thomas / April 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Paedophilia is an oddly exalted term for so vile a deed. Not that the sound of a word necessarily says anything crucial about its meaning. But I remember it being a bit of a surprise when I discovered at school that it did not refer to a variety of butterfly, or even to a bicycle enthusiast (a lover of pedals) both of which had flashed before my free-associating eyes as possible definitions. It was in the lunch queue. A trendy girl spat out the word at the climax of her tirade against the biology teacher, who was both “grotesque and disgusting” as well as being a “paedophile.” As a biology teacher he could still conceivably have been a butterfly expert, but the venom with which she said it made it unlikely.
When, at the beginning of this uniquely psycho-sensitive century, psychoanalysts needed a scientific tag for the sexual abuse of children, they turned, as was traditional, to the Graeco-Roman languages for inspiration. Science and technology continues (for some mysterious reason) to use Latin and Greek even for its most up-to-date inventions such as the fax or the modem. But “paedophilia,” to the ancient Greeks, had quite different connotations to the sinister ones we now recognise. As is well known, relationships between older men and young boys were actively encouraged in Greek society as a way of imparting virility to the younger generation, and ensuring that young boys had protectors and sponsors as their careers developed. A Frenchman called Pascal Quignard even claims that the Latin word “inspirare” (to inspire) comes from the Greek for “sodomy.”
This etymological probing is not designed as a prelude to a shocking endorsement of paedophilia. It serves merely to reinforce the dizzying sense of how much times change. And possibly to accentuate the strange proximity of good to evil. ( In any case, the Greeks hardly promoted the activity among small or pre-pubescent children.)
For a child today, given the shame it provokes (quite apart from any pain associated with the act itself), paedopohilia must be a horrendous experience. And the child’s subsequent ability to trust and to form relationships is likely to be badly damaged.
But what I have come to question is the relentless obsession with paedophilia in the media and the mindless vilification of suspects. The prurient interest in such cases speaks of an astonishingly warped attitude to sex in general.…