IPT Book Reviews

Title: Child Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture  Positive Review
Author: James R. Kincaid
Publisher: Routledge 1990

Routledge
29 West 35th St.
New York, NY 1001-2291
$35.00
  

Description:

In four parts, 11 chapters, and 413 pages Kincaid vigorously attacks, often with startlingly clever and delightful literary sound bites, many of the assumptions that often are taken for granted when child sexual abuse is the subject of discourse.  Part I, titled, Preliminaries, describes and sets the directions Kincaid want to go.  Here he makes it clear that he challenges and denies many assumptions broadly accepted in the society about sexuality, children, the Victorians, and adult-child sexual contact.  However, his principal target is what he views as an uncritical and hugely destructive embrace of power as the underlying reality in human sexuality.  Part II, composed of Chapters 2-5, sets out the Victorian ideas on the child, the nature and the understanding of the human body, sex and what it is for, and how children were loved.  Part Ill, Chapters 6-8, expands on the concepts of the child and relates the Victorian views of children as gentle and naughty, and then the fantasy world of children seen through the eyes of Alice and Peter Pan.  Throughout this material the observations of the Victorian views are linked to the continuing development of the contemporary concepts of sexuality and the confusion inherent in them.  Part IV, Chapters 9-11, specifically treats pedophilia as it is presented in Victorian texts and then in the current child sexual abuse system.  The author was apparently a frequent attendee at the McMartin sexual abuse trial and Chapter 10 is a well-done summary of that process and event and what it suggests about current views of children and sexuality.  The final chapter summarizes the relationships between Victorian thought and our contemporary thinking about children and sexuality.
  

Discussion:

Iconoclasm is a relatively rare phenomenon in our society even though we are often hostile and critical as the tenor of the 1992 presidential campaign coverage demonstrates.  There is a difference between the slashing ad hominem attacks so popular today and the selective trashing of the sacred cows or icons of the establishment that is a true iconoclasm.  This book is a courageous iconoclastic attack on at least some of the dogmas that characterize much of the rhetoric of child sexual abuse discussion.

The message of this book is most clearly expressed in the following (p.362).

Take the following two scenes enacted in a shopping mall, say, or on the street or in the park: in the first an adult is striking a screaming child repeatedly on the buttocks: in the second an adult is sitting with a child on a bench and they are hugging.  Which scene is more common?  Which makes us uneasy?  Which do we judge to be normal?  Which is more likely to run afoul of the law?  A society, I believe, which honors hitting and suspects hugging is immoral; one which sees hitting as health and hugging as illness is mad; one which is aroused by hitting alone is psychotic and should be locked up.

While not saying it directly, Kincaid presents our society as mixing up aggression and sex by the mistaken notion that sexual acts are acts of power.  This is a cogent and compelling argument and makes intuitive sense when presented in the clarity of the above scenario.  The disparity in power is the fundamental argument for the belief that all sexual contact between an adult and child is evil and destructive.  This assumption is challenged by Kincaid's analysis of sexuality, the history of children, and the dynamics of children's sexuality.  He asserts that up to about 200 years ago, the world was largely indifferent to childhood sexuality.  He claims the separation into child and adult with the child asexual and the adult sexual is an error.  He presents children's sexuality as inherent, complex, rich, and rewarding to children.  He disputes the common assumption that the Victorian era was one of repression and denial of human sexuality.  Instead, he sees the development during this period of the idea of the child as eroticizing the relationship between adults and children.

With the more recent addition of the undergirding of sexuality with power, the relationship between adults and children is forced into a protective mold.  As so often is the case in human history what appears to be a good thing turns out to be harmful and destructive.  Thus Kincaid sees the current child sexual abuse system as abusive to children in and of itself.  His descriptions of how the effort to protect may be destructive will ring true to anybody who has been the object of a sexual abuse investigation or anybody who has viewed many videotapes of child interrogations.  The cause of this tragedy most likely does include the variables and parameters illuminated by this book.

Though not explicitly stated, the book in a subtle way appears to also be an apologetic for pedophilia.  It openly poses the question about child-adult sexual contact being potentially positive, but does not give an answer.  The reader is left to infer that the answer Kincaid gives is, yes, sexual contact between a child and an adult can be positive for the child.  Perhaps because the author chooses to mute and soften this argument, it is not clear.  At some point, in spite of the furor and rejection this would produce, those who wish to defend at least some forms of child-adult sexual contact are going to need to be more direct and forthright in order to generate a productive debate.  If those whose response is an automatic: "Shoot the perverts!" could grasp what Kincaid says about mixing power and sexuality, then, too, the book may contribute to the ability to talk across the apparently unbridgeable gulf.

This is a provocative book that will make some people very angry.  It will also cause many readers to exclaim, "Now I understand why this system seems so wrong!"  It can be read profitably by both.
  

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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