If you ask the question “what is the age of consent?”, the most reasonable answer, perhaps, would be: “it depends”. Because, as can be seen, the age of consent varies a lot around the world. Therefore, there is no universal understanding of what the age of consent should be.
Taking it a step further, further analysis would reveal that throughout the changes in the modern state the age of consent has been lifted up from 10-15 years of age to 17-22. What would that mean? Are we less incapable of having consent after a century? The non-universality, both in location and in time, of the concept of age of consent makes one rethink the laws and regulations that revolve around the idea of age of consent. For now, let us dig deeper into what ‘age of consent’ means to the state. For the modern state, a person is considered as a ‘child’ until that person reaches a certain age. For the state, a ‘child’ is a person who can not decide for his/her own self because that person “does not have the capacity” to self-govern and take responsibilities. Therefore, the state takes away all the responsibilities from those whom it considers as a child by not endorsing any self-made decisions and neglects the idea that ‘children’ can take up responsibilities for themselves. An example for this claim could be the mandatory educational period every child has to go through under the supervision of the state.
The idea of childhood as a period of innocence is a modern invention and the idea of adolescence has been formed with the turn of the century. Modernity has brought a binary understanding of the citizen, as one that is an adult and one that is a child. However, the boundary that divides these imaginary classifications of the citizen is very opaque. After a certain year of age, the day you wake up on your birthday, suddenly you are responsible for your actions as if you went through a vast transformation of consciousness overnight. However, the logical inconsistency of the concept should not divert our attention from the fact that such binary understanding is a way of justification for the state to intensify the power it exerts over the individuals. With the label of ‘child’ the state is able to put the individual through a specific mold designed by the state to enhance the homogeneity among the nation state. The ‘child’ is thought what the state claims to be ‘right’, fed with what the state claims to be ‘healthy’ and prescribed with what the state claims to be ‘beneficial’… Such modes of action are a way to force the embodiment of the normalizing and the universalizing claims of the state by the individual. Hence, the concept of ‘age of consent’, taking it further: the concept of ‘age’, is a modern construction of the nation-state.
Quite an interesting and thought-provoking post!
In America, age of consent laws vary by state. Typically, the age of consent is either 16 or 18, depending on the state.
Now here is what I have heard. Almost all such laws date back to circa 1900. Prior to about then, many states did not have age of consent laws, or had laws that placed the age of consent younger than the 1900 laws.
What happened is this: The age of consent laws caught up with industrialization. The idea was to encourage people to wait to have sex or get married until after they had enough education to get jobs in the new factories and thus be able to support themselves or themselves and a family.
At least that is the story I have heard. Since I am not a social historian, I am not wholly certain it is true. But if it is true, then it jives with your thesis that the age of consent laws are a product of modernity.
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