Girls are fine — just don't get caught

Girls are fine — just don't get caught
© Getty

There’s a saying down south: politicians can get away with purd’ much anything, `less you rape a boy or kill a girl. There are a number of regional variations. The Alabama one has been in the news today, but they all amount to the more or less the same thing: Watch it with the boys; girls are fine, just don’t get caught.

Over the last few weeks days, actor Kevin Spacey has gone from A-list celebrity to having his face erased from films not yet released — banned from Netflix, dumped by his publicist, persona non grata everywhere. Not that what Spacey did was good — it wasn’t — and public condemnation and its consequences were staggeringly quick in coming.

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Roy Moore, on the other hand, might just be headed for the U.S. Senate. And I’m not really sure why we’re shocked: Bill O’Reilly got a golden parachute. Trump got the White House. You kind of have to wonder what — if any — the consequences would have been for Spacey if he’d had a thing for young girls instead of young men.

And you’d be well within your rights to wonder, a little, what Leigh Corfman’s mother was thinking — if she knew about it — when the girl allegedly took Roy Moore’s phone calls, went off with him in his car, to his house in the woods.

I think I might have an answer to this last question, or at least a partial one. Leigh Corfman and I are around the same age, and the news threw me back to a moment when I, too, was 14 years old. We were in my father’s Buick, on a flat stretch of old highway. Southern pine barrens, in the southern, coastal part of Mississippi. The family headed from Tennessee to Florida, to spend a week at the beach. This was back in the heyday of CB Radios (if you’re under 40, you might have to Google that one). The ostensible justification for those devices was dodging speeding tickets; the real reason probably had more to do with being good ole boys together on the airwaves.

I was sitting in the back seat, probably next to my younger brother (though I tend to edit him out of most scenes for reasons that are not germane to this post). Probably reading — the default assumption where adolescent me is concerned. In cut-offs (also default assumption), my legs clearly visible from the vantage point of a trucker’s cab.

Comments were coming over the CB, something about a long-legged, red-headed cool drink of water in blue-jean shorts (I was both tall for my age and an early developer), and it gradually became clear that object of the comments was 14-year-old me.

My father whooped and laughed and winked at me in the mirror, like I had just won some kind of prize. “That’s my girl!”

I don’t remember my mother’s reaction. Today, in my mind, it is subsumed with Leigh Corfman’s mother’s probably somewhat flattered trust in the man in a suit who’d offered to take care of (he probably said something like “look after”) her daughter while she attended to business in the courthouse. If my father thought it was funny, then it was okay.

I’ve tried all day long to make contact with the memory of my own reaction to the sudden knowledge that men — men at least as old as Roy Moore was when he drove 14-year-old Leigh Corfman to his house in the woods — were looking at and talking about me in those terms. And I think I have to admit that I was kind of pleased, in a bashful, squirmy sort of way: Those comments, after all, had elicited a “That’s my girl!” from my father.

I had to unlearn that lesson, and it took a long, long time.

Fourteen-year-old girls, of course, are sexual beings. They’re curious, they want to try things. Like drinking and kissing. With boys (or girls) of their own age, or maybe a little older. Just not old enough to be their fathers. That’s a male fantasy.

I like to think that, today, girls and their parents would, in such a situation, behave in a much more enlightened and evolved way. That society no longer grooms girls to accept — and even to seek — objectification. But I have a sneaking, nagging, unpleasant suspicion that things haven’t changed all that much. We just have the Internet now.

Cynthia Robinson is a writer and professor of Medieval and Islamic Art at Cornell University. Her debut literary fiction novel, "Birds of Wonder," will be released February 20, 2018.