When I was 14 years-old, I dated an older guy. My friends were a bit scandalized, but I knew they were just jealous. You see, he was 16. Being a high school freshman dating a junior felt like an incredibly big deal at that age. Though we were only two years apart, we had vastly different maturity levels, as young and quickly-growing children tend to.
That’s part of the reason I am so baffled at the seeming dismissiveness with which some on the right are treating the allegations that Roy Moore, Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, attempted to “seduce” (let’s be honest, the correct term is really “molest”) children as young as 14 years old. (opens in new tab) They’re acting as if it’s normal for a grown man in his 30s to attempt relationships with teenagers.
[pullquote align='center']To some people, especially religious conservatives, a girl's age is not as important as notions of propriety.[/pullquote]
Sean Hannity called Moore’s alleged interactions "consensual" (opens in new tab) (legally at least one could not be); conservative website Breitbart published an article describing Moore’s conduct as “romantic;” (opens in new tab) and Alabama Marion County Republican chair David Hall told a reporter (opens in new tab), “I don’t really see the relevance of it.” And then there were the various allegations from Moore’s supporters of a conspiracy (opens in new tab) to take down the politician—as if that were more likely than the idea that multiple women were simply telling the truth.
On Monday, a fifth woman came forward to accuse Moore of sexual wrongdoing. Beverly Young Nelson says (opens in new tab) that when she was 16 years old, Moore attempted to orally rape her and then told her no one would believe her because “you are a child...I am the District Attorney.” He signed her yearbook before the attack.
MORE FROM JESSICA VALENTI
#MeToo Has Been Empowering, Yes, but Sexism Is Only Getting Worse
MORE FROM JESSICA VALENTI
Oh Look, Betsy DeVos Is Here to Protect Your Accused Rapist
MORE FROM JESSICA VALENTI
What If We Just Believed Women?
This follows several other women who say Moore attempted to “date” them when they were teenagers, and reports from The New Yorker (opens in new tab) and local media that say Moore was banned from his hometown mall for sexually badgering teen girls and that his predation was an open secret. (As someone who spent her college years working at a mall, trust me when I say that for mall security to ban someone he had to be quite the creep.)
But in a country that so frequently disbelieves women—even in the midst of a national movement to counter that very thing—all the accusations in the world won’t change some people’s minds. A poll showed that 37 percent of evangelicals in Alabama (opens in new tab) were more likely to support Moore after the allegations. Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler even rationalized the age gap between Moore and his reported victims by citing the Bible: (opens in new tab) “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” That’s because to some people, especially religious conservatives (opens in new tab), a girl’s age is not as important as notions of propriety.
There’s a reason why Moore said in an interview that he didn’t date any girls without “the permission of her mother” (opens in new tab)—his concern, and his base’s concern, is about the perception of properness, not women’s or girls’ well-being. It’s the same reason that the family of a 15-year-old girl had her marry the 24-year-old who got her pregnant (opens in new tab). It was statutory rape until her attacker “did the right thing.”
[pullquote align='center']14-year-olds aren’t young women who are “seduced” by grown men. They are girls—girls who are abused.[/pullquote]
Since the allegations broke, women online have been posting pictures of themselves at 14 years old using the hashtag #MeAt14 to remind conservatives that 14-year-olds aren’t young women who are “seduced” by grown men. They are girls—girls who are abused. It doesn't matter if a 14-year-old looks 18 or if a teenager is wiser than her years. She is still a child. Have you seen or spoken to a teenager lately? If not, try it...and then tell me you think it would be fine for a 32-year-old man to try to "court" them.
As women continue to come out about the candidate—and of course there will be more—the GOP needs to at least pretend to care about girls more than they care about appearances. This is more than just putting party before country. This is putting party before punishing pedophilia. Is passing tax cuts really more important that protecting high schoolers from sexual abuse? Voters in Alabama—and all Republicans—should be asking themselves that very question.
Jessica Valenti is a contributing editor to MarieClaire.com—read her weekly column here.
Jessica Valenti is a columnist and author of five books on feminism, politics, and culture. Her latest book, Sex Object: A Memoir, was a New York Times bestseller. Valenti is also editor of the ground-breaking anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape and the founder of Feministing.com, which Columbia Journalism Review called “head and shoulders above almost any writing on women’s issues in mainstream media.” She has a Master’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
Black Friday Beauty Deals Live: Sephora, Charlotte Tilbury, Dyson, and More
We hunted down the best beauty deals of Black Friday weekend so you don't have to.
By Jenny Hollander
The Best Holiday Sweaters Offer Plenty of Festive Flair
Far from the "ugly" Christmas sweaters you're used to.
By Emma Childs
Blackhead Removers for Clearer, Cleaner Skin
By Samantha Holender
35 Ways Women Still Aren't Equal to Men
If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, show them these statistics.
By Brooke Knappenberger
How New York's First Female Governor Plans to Fight for Women If Reelected
Kathy Hochul twice came to power because men resigned amid sexual harassment scandals. Here, how she's leading differently.
By Emily Tisch Sussman
Why the 2022 Midterm Elections Are So Critical
As we blaze through a highly charged midterm election season, Swing Left Executive Director Yasmin Radjy highlights rising stars who are fighting for women’s rights.
By Tanya Benedicto Klich
Tammy Duckworth: 'I’m Mad as Hell' About the Lack of Federal Action on Gun Safety
The Illinois Senator won't let the memory of the Highland Park shooting just fade away.
By Sen. Tammy Duckworth
Roe Is Gone. We Have to Keep Fighting.
Democracy always offers a path forward even when we feel thrust into the past.
By Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland, hosts of Pantsuit Politics Podcast
The Supreme Court's Mississippi Abortion Rights Case: What to Know
The case could threaten Roe v. Wade.
By Megan DiTrolio
Sex Trafficking Victims Are Being Punished. A New Law Could Change That.
Victims of sexual abuse are quietly criminalized. Sara's Law protects kids that fight back.
By Dr. Devin J. Buckley and Erin Regan
My Family and I Live in Navajo Nation. We Don't Have Access to Clean Running Water
"They say that the United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Why are citizens still living with no access to clean water?"
By Amanda L. As Told To Rachel Epstein