Friday, March 31, 2006

What is it with the double standard?

So today I went out for lunch with a couple of male colleagues. They assured me that a big greasy burger was the best cure for a raging hangover*. But that's another story.

One colleague has grown up children, and one has a 8 year old son. My kids are younger yet, at 7 and 5. So, somehow we got on the topic of older female teachers having sex with teenaged boys. We discussed our own reactions to this as parents and how we'd talk about this stuff with our kids. The general consensus was that a 16 year old male would be happy as heck to be introduced to carnal delights by an older woman and how can that be so wrong. But then, the clincher came; why does it seem so wrong for a older man to introduce 16 year old girl to carnal delights? How big a deal is it if the older person is a teacher or not associated in any way? These were deep questions we batted around over lunch.

Care to share your thoughts?

*I'm feeling much better now thank you very much :-) The hamburger cure worked.

8 Thoughts:

Blogger Doug said...

I'm not at all sure a 16-year-old male would be thrilled to be bedded by an older woman/teacher. Again, we've probably all had the fantasy, but it is interesting how reality diverges...

One example (ironically, drawn from fiction) is the relationship between a high-school senior (male) and the wife of his football coach in The Last Picture Show (Bogdanovich, 1971). Not only is the sex uninspiring, but the emotional issues are wrenching to both. There is a good deal of happy moments, too, of course.

I guess that's the difference between fantasy and reality -- reality is messy; emotions are real; outcomes are often unpredictable. In fantasy, everything proceeds according to (solipsistic, narcissistic) plan; emotions are conveniently simplfied and bent toward wish-fulfillment (or sub in whatever analogous term you like); and events are, perhaps by definition, predictable.

I had a huge crush on a teacher at 16. I'm sure it was obvious -- she drove me down to a Westinghouse science fair thing in her car, but wisely left me outside when she ran into her house to get something.

The key here is consensuality, rather than gender, I think. I'll say up front that, sure, regardless of genders involved, it is surely possible for a romance between a 16-year-old whatever and an older teacher (whatever -- homo or hetero) to be perfectly fulfilling to both. Possible, but the risks are high. First, the teacher has more power, in age, experience, and more obviously, especially if the student is in that teacher's class. The teacher also has the responsibility. Having taught a lot, I know of "crushes," and to give into a student's crush -- I never did -- is so irresponsible and cowardly, it just strikes me as "imperialist" -- just as Sartre, to his credit, labelled his constant seductions of his young female students to his partner, Simone de Beauvoir.

Funny how folks' theories are better than they're actions -- true of all of us, no doubt -- and Sartre at least had the honesty to admit as much.

Teachers, like parents, have a special responsibiity to nurture children, or young adults. By all means, let young adults have as much sex with each other as they like -- I lost my virginity at 15, to a 16-year-old woman, so I have no issue with that. But, just as parent-child incest is an illegitimate intrusion of sex into a special kind of nurturing relationship, so, too, a teacher should not pollute the relationship with his or her student with sex, and all the complexities that gives rise to.

So very often, especially in young adults, "crushes" are simply sexualized expressions of respect and the reflection of interest taken by the older mentor (or parent). While it could possibly work out, even, I'll grant, in a parent-child relationship, the question really is, why bother risking it? Isn't the young adult's interest and well-being, over which the older person has much power, the primary concern?

Yes, I conflated, or at least compared, incest with the less taboo teacher-student liaison, but I think they are on the same scale. A difference of degree -- one may say a difference in kind, and might be right, but the key notion here is still: "What is in the young adult's best interest?" Let's face it, to take advantage of "puppy love" is to knowingly gratify oneself at the potential, if not likely, emotional peril of the far less powerful.

My two cents.

Friday, March 31, 2006 5:51:00 PM  
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

wow, and a very fine two cents indeed. :-)

I think you hit on the things that set my ethics alarms off; One is, there is a definite power dimension between students and teachers that can't be ignored, and also the relationship is supposed to be nurturing and hopefully built on trust.
The adult in the relationship should be selfless enough to ignore their own interest (if it exists) in favour of the child's interest.

In our lunchtime discussion we went around the 'emotional' debate. Everyone assumes that teenaged boys don't get emotionally involved, they just want to get laid and that teenaged girls do get emotionally involved and want to be loved. I think there is a danger in stereotyping like this. Lots of major emotional events happen for males and females in the teen years, right?

We talked about the ages of participants. I would certainly rather see my kids exploring their sexuality with someone their own age than with someone a lot older. There is a huge difference in the teens between say 14 and 19, let alone 14 and 25 or more. I also think kids shouldn't be discouraged from self discovery. The guys I had lunch with were kind of embarrassed by that, as if its a poor alternative to 'real sex'. Also, the men seem to have a harder time with 14 year old girls having sex than boys. I see this attitude in my husband too (and a lot of women I know). Certainly the risk of pregnancy is there but why should it be that girls need to be protected from their sexual development?

I'm not really making a point here, just throwing out a few thoughts. Brain is still a bit mushy.

Friday, March 31, 2006 6:43:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I don't see any difference, really, between when a girl or a boy should have sex. It kind of comes up, so to speak, and in my family, crazy as it was, sex at least was not a taboo. So, we all just did what we did when we wanted to, and I think that was great. No pressure in any direction. Could bring the boyfriend home (sister) or girlfriend (me) in our teens. Things were looser then, I guess, in that specific locale (West Hartford, CT).

Anyway, yes, the power is the key, and, no, despite surface bluster (which should not be believed!), men and women are equivalently concerned with their feelings. That is, the variation within each gender, in my experience, is greater than that between genders -- when you get down to the nitty gritty, and not the locker room (or the female equivalent). Others will disagree, but this is what I've experienced firsthand and with my various sets of friends over the years...

Friday, March 31, 2006 7:03:00 PM  
Blogger Manola Blablablanik said...

Regardless of age, sex is a natural yet very complex aspect of our lives. Crushes, sexual fantasies and so on can be and usually are healthy, but in no way would I ever support a teacher/student dynamic crossing the line. I don't even have kids, but I used to be a teacher. The idea of bedding a student whom you are "teaching" seems way out of control to me -- a violation of trust and purpose -- even if it were consensual. Gosh, don't regular "adults" have enough issues in their own sex lives?

Sexual exploration among teens: inevitable and different story.

Saturday, April 01, 2006 4:37:00 PM  
Anonymous GM said...

I think you guys have hit the nail on the head with the whole power issue. I can actually see some unhealthy obsessions developing later in life related to balance of power in a sexual situation.

I know society likes to tell us that male and female sexual development is different but honestly I don't see it that way at all. We should discover sex with someone who is also discovering sex. The joy of that discovery should be there for both participants.

Just my two cents.

Saturday, April 01, 2006 8:51:00 PM  
Blogger Zeppellina said...

Hi Kyahgirl,

Consensual sex between adult partners is perfectly normal, but when we are talking about school students it is always good to remember that while physically mature, the emotional maturity is often not yet developed.

Teachers and professors are very aware of this. They see it on a daily basis, and the subject is also covered as part of their teacher training.

A teacher has a position of respect, authority, and, to the student, a certain amount of mystery. It is common for students to develop attatchments.
However, the teacher has a position of trust to upkeep, and to abuse this trust is, quite simply, a betrayal.

And, as every teacher is taught in training, the student will quickly outgrow their `crush`, and go off to explore new and real adventures, and get on with the fun part of growing up.

Saturday, April 01, 2006 9:20:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

manola -- good point; a lot of teen-teen sexual experiences are not particularly wonderful. My first girlfriends' weren't (no, I'm not referring to those with me! LOL). But at least the power differentials are relatively less stark.

Another point: without meaning to sound too "yeah, but" in a snide manner, I'm not all that sure that emotional maturity rises with age! Minor point, and really just another wrinkle in the convolutions of sexuality. Maturity is rightly assume above a certain age level, that age level surely debatable...and I might point out, in some cultures, that age level is well past "biological" maturity, for those biodeterminists out there (and I mean for better or worse).

Sunday, April 02, 2006 1:03:00 PM  
Blogger Jacob said...

If the desire is natural and the act(s) are consensual, to what "standard" (double or not) are you referring? If it fulfills the desires of each, is it not then morally good? If not, then what is it?

Any qualms with such behavior demands an objective "standard."

Saturday, June 03, 2006 6:57:00 PM  

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