Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Hot for teacher?!?

An unusual number of teachers have been indicted in the past year for inappropriate sexual relationships with their high school (and even junior high) students. What is noteworthy in this case is that these teachers were women.

The Smoking Gun has a series of postings on these cases. You can find all of them here. Another interesting article is posted here. One female teacher is accused of having sex with her 13-year-old student (!!) 28x in one week! Simply mind boggling...

There are several elements of this phenomenon that I find intriguing. First, I find the actions of these women incomprehensible. Although several are somewhat 'homely' in appearance, none of them are repulsive and several are quite beautiful. The often have families and children of their own. Many of us are familiar with the case of Mary Kay Latourneau, an attractive teacher who married and has two children with a student who was 13 years old when they began an affair. Prior to her arrest, she was (to the outside world) an apparently happy wife and mother. The ambivalence with which society approached that incident was surprising, but even more surprising is the apparent 'trend' that Ms. Latourneau began. It seems that this trend has now turned into something of an epidemic.

However, after speaking with one female teacher friend of mine, I am starting to understand the twisted dynamics that apparently underlay at least part of this grotesque phenomenon. For one, the males (students, children) are often the aggressors in these situations. The hyper-sexualization of society creates young men who are extremely sexually knowledgeable and often quite sexually aggressive. Unhappy teachers lose a certain perspecitve on reality, and begin to view these children who are making aggressive sexual advances as exciting, thrilling in a way that their quotidian suburban lives are not. Often these 13-16 year old males are physically mature, taller than their female teachers and quite capable of "talking the talk." They are often quite willing participants in their own statutory rape, aggresively pursuing the relationship and bragging to their friends about their 'conquest' of the teacher.

Additionally, society does not view female-to-male sexual assault in nearly the same terms as it views male-to-female assult. The uneducated often assume that it is not physically possible to sexually assault a male in the same manner as a female, while even the educated offer a much more muted criticism, blaming the teacher for an ethical violation, while making gestures to the idea that 'boys will be boys.' Some even offer a tacit endorsement, with suggestions that laws should be changed to decriminalize at least part of this behavior around the age of 16.

Frankly, I think this undermines the common understanding of men as the primary sexual predators in society. This is perhaps the most interesting element of these stories to me. As a man, I find myself under significantly more scrutiny than my female friends when it comes to my association with children. People are often suspicious of any involvement of men with their non-biological children. There is the presumption in society that men who associate with children are strange and likely sexual offenders. These men are viewed with open suspicion. This occurs at all levels and is 'enshrined' in a policy on two Australian airlines that stipulates that unaccompanied minors are never seated next to men. Apparently, all men are potential sexual predators? Apparently women are not? Perhaps we ought to rethink our prejudices...

Grace & Peace