walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

black is white, and white is black

From Judith Levine's _Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex_, a book I would _desperately_ prefer to like, but am currently feeling like I can no longer continue with.

From page 48:

"Normal is not an exact scientific term. It can mean what most people do or what some people consider healthy, moral, regular or natural, as opposed to sick, sinful, weird, or unnatural. It can mean what my mother, my priest, or the psychologist on Oprah Winfrey says is okay. Or it can mean what I think is okay. Normal is enormously susceptible to swinging with the gusts of politics and history. Disguised as scientific and fixed, it is subjective and protean."

Now, this is problematic. Normal _is_ an exact scientific term. It is also used in a variety of other ways, as she lists out. Kinda like "work" is an exact scientific term. And is also used in a variety of other ways. Fine. The usual course of action here is to say which one you intend to use and stick with it, alternatively, to pick another word to indicate _which_ meaning of normal you intend. She chooses (b).

"That is why I used the word normative above, a term derived from statistics, simply meaning what most people do."

Now THAT is a whopper of epic proportions. Normative is indeed a word in statistics. It does not mean "what most people do" (altho that _is_ one of the social sciences uses of the term "normal").


While normative can mean "what people do", it is generally used that way when "what people do" is being treated as equivalent to "what people ought to do" (where do can also mean think, say, etc.).

How, how, how can someone do this? And get published by a University press! And then spend the intro lamenting how people wouldn't publish the book because of political stuff. No, dear, that was not the whole problem.

Holy crap.

Am I being unreasonable? To be utterly fair, this came up in the chapter where she's going after the locking up of the underage person for sexual activity. While I think this is a lousy solution to the problem of underage people who sexually molest siblings (and while I'm certainly open to the proposition that some of these underaged people were convicted/diagnosed of something they didn't actually do, because _that's_ a common problem, too), I am _not_ okay with the idea that sibling incest is a harmless "normal" or "normative" activity, and I was complaining about the way no one took that seriously well in advance of the cases she mentions because I was a victim of sibling incest. If you'd asked me at the time, I would have agreed that I "complies willingly, enjoys or does not notice the "abuse"", which she uses to question whether this is coercive. But a few years later, without any therapists being involved, I was real clear on how this had messed me up -- and on how seriously disturbed the person who'd done it to me was.

So I could be a bit tetchy on her Humpty Dumpty approach to language here.

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