In her keywords essay, Marah Gubar contemplates the concept of “innocence” and its relationship with its opposite—sexaulity. Gubar writes, “Certainly, it is extremely difficult to define this quality without invoking its antonyms” (Gubar, 2011, p. 121). Today, many discuss childhood as referring specifically to childhood purity, however, Gubar reminds the reader that childhood innocence is an adult construction and one that needs to be adjusted. To investigate further, I will compare one of our course readings to an item in popular culture. In Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the idea of “innocence” is practically nonexistent, while in 10 Things I Hate About You, “innocence” is represented by an overprotective father.
In Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the fact of slavery as a condition of oppression that is inherited at birth is reiterated numerous times throughout the text. Because enslaved children are born into this system, there is no delay or period of “innocence” for these individuals to be protected from the harsh realities of slavery. This truth becomes apparent in a specific way beginning in Chapter 5: Trials of Girlhood. In this portion of the narrative, the fact of sexual harassment during childhood/girlhood becomes clear. In this instance, children/girls, who would rely on their own parents for protection, cannot do so. Higher forces of authority interfere with these people’s parental authority. The idea of childhood “innocence”—that children ought to be protected—becomes impossible under a system in which this type of violence is normal.
In the classic 90s comedy, 10 Things I Hate About You, Larry Miller as Walter Stratford portrays an obstetrician, single parent who is overprotective of his daughters Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). This truth becomes especially apparent in a scene in which Bianca, his youngest daughter, heads out to a party with her sister, Kat, and a friend. Before the girls leave, Walter insists that Bianca wear a fake pregnancy belly around the living room for a minute “to understand the full weight of her decisions.” Even though Bianca states she is perfectly aware, her father insists on protecting his daughter from his own fears and her loss of “innocence.” The scene continues with more orders. He says, “Alright, wait a minute. No drinking. No drugs. No kissing. No tattoos. No piercings. No ritual animal slaughter of any kind.” The idea of childhood “innocence”—that children ought to be protected—is a luxury that these girls can afford, whether they like it or not.