The “Lethal Lolita” Myth

Sue Lyon in Lolita. Copyright MGM, 1962.

Sue Lyon in Lolita. Copyright MGM, 1962.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is a novel that has stuck with me. Since my first time reading it as a 14 year old, I was haunted by the obsession of Humbert and disturbed by the internal and external tortures of Dolores (Lolita) herself, who was not much younger than myself. And while I could spend a whole post (or more) discussing this amazing piece of literature, that is not what I am going to write about. Instead, I am going to discuss the (as Elizabeth Patnoe calls it in her essay Lolita Misrepresented, Lolita Reclaimed: Disclosing the Doubles) the “lethal Lolita” that we, as a society, have created. Inspired by the novel, but not actual representative of the character, this “lethal Lolita” is the seductive young woman of lore, and not a young girl who has been abducted and raped by a man she thought of as her step father.

And while the debate of Dolores’ role in the novel (wither she is a victim or a seductress) still rages on to this day, the creation of this “lethal Lolita” has taken a firm place in pop culture. From Amy Fisher, the 17 year old who shot her adult lovers wife, who is frequently referred to as the “Long Island Lolita” to The Police song “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”our society has completely accepted this idea of the nymphet.

And while this may just seem like a harmless aspect of pop culture, what it does is sexualize children, and makes it easier to make young victims of rape  and abuse at fault. For example, the case of the 11-year-old Texas girl who was repeatedly assaulted by 20-year-old Jared Len Cruse and twenty of his friend over the span of four months. Cruse’s defense attorney  Steve Taylor is arguing that, because the child answered “yes” when she was asked if she was a “willing participant”, she is a seductress. Never mind that, as Sgt. Chad Langdon, the lead investigator on the case, pointed out, an 11-year-old cannot legally consent to sex. No, Taylor says “Like the spider and the fly. Wasn’t she saying, ‘Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly?'”

Taylor is able to make a defense like this because we have already accepted the idea of the “Lolita” as a society. We already think 11 and 12 years as possible seductresses, so why wouldn’t Taylor’s defense make sense? So please, little girls, don’t stand so close to me. I don’t feel like getting caught in your web today.

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