The recent, seeming pandemic of female teachers sleeping with male students has led some shrinks to suggest that maybe teen-lust isn't as sick as we always thought: it's the norm.
While we can lay some of the blame at the door of increased awareness, a more salacious media, and a culture that encourages victims to come forward - and, it must be said, sue - this alone does not explain the dramatic upswings in female teacher-student "relationships". In one week last year, Tampa saw three such cases:
'I loved today,' 28-year-old math teacher Stephanie Ragusa had texted her alleged 14-year-old lover at Davidsen Middle School. 'The sex was amazing.' Those arrests stole the spotlight from married English teacher Jennifer Mally, 26, who that same week pleaded guilty in Arizona for her affair with a 16-year-old, often conducted in the back of her Nissan Xterra. Two months earlier, Rebecca Bogard, a 27-year-old science teacher in Mississippi, allegedly seduced a 15-year-old in her Jaguar with plates that read grrrrr, and later texted the boy, "I love you, yeah it was the best, which night was the best 4 you, I'm sensitive but not sore, you were good." Scandalous as those cases were, they were followed by more arrests - notably that of Julie Pritchett, 34, a teacher in Alabama accused of seducing eight members of the high school baseball team.
The new Rolling Stone profiles one such case, between an attractive young gym teacher who began a relationship (ie, statutory rape) with a 15-year-old football star named Jason Eickmeyer. The article is highly sympathetic to the young man, whose home life was in shambles and who opened his heart to the pretty teacher, Traci Tapp, reading her his poetry and confessing his insecurities. When the affair blew up - she left him for a football coach - the teen was devastated and fell into a self-destructive spiral of self-mutilation and rage; going public with his accusations only earned him outcast status at school. Now 21, he is deeply in debt, with no prospects, and still living in his hometown. His one pleasure, he says, is coaching 9-year-olds in football; his girlfriend is 34. Ms. Tapp, despite allegations of numerous relationships with students, pleaded to a single count of "offensive touching," was fined $225 dollars and works as a real estate agent.
Although the article is sympathetic to the young man, the comments on Rolling Stone's website are revealing: Boo hoo, you lived out every boy's fantasy with a hot teacher, they say. Get over it. This is fairly typical of the way in which we view such cases: the boys - save the very young - are not thought to be terribly affected by such a situation; at best, it's a coup. Indeed, if anyone condemns these women, it is more likely other women than men. Says Eickmeyer, "'You are a guy, and it's not supposed to bother you.' But it really did mess me up.'" The women, moreover, are regarded often as sexy Mrs. Robinsons - sick, sure, but not predators as such. And their penalties reflect this - a stark contrast to men who abuse girls of the same age.
Of course, it's not equivalent: the nature of the physical act is not the same, the consequences are different, and the truth is, a teen boy is often likely to regard such an experience as a lark. (Says one friend of the boy's, "We couldn't believe it...we were still virgins, and he was hitting it with teachers! It was pretty fucking sweet." A teen girl's reaction would probably be more complicated, to say the least.) The truth is, it's not as stark a power dynamic or so clear a case of exploitation. Besides, although more appalling, male teachers with young girls is somehow more expected: a part of us feels that the attraction to a Lolita is normal, expected - and as such, the inability to withstand this natural temptation is both more shameful and less strange. Women might jokingly drool over an underage star now, and it has none of the sleaziness of a guy doing the same thing, because it's understood we'd never do it. Except, of course, as Rolling Stone's article shows, women do:
Though the general belief about women who proposition students holds that there's something wrong with them - a mental disorder, a history of abuse - experts are beginning to question that assumption. 'Usually it's someone who is quite normal but has poor boundaries and has not had success with adult relationships,' says Stephen Braveman, a sex therapist noted for his work with male victims of sexual abuse. 'Throw in a little bit of immaturity, and we have the perfect storm for sexual abuse of this kind,' Braveman says. 'They're lonely. They're looking for love, and they're finding it in the wrong place.'
In other words, there but for the grace of God go the rest of us. Of course, age should not be the deciding factor: anyone in a pedagogical relationship should, legal barriers aside, not be sleeping with a student (something the Washington State courts don't agree with, apparently.) But looking at Jossip's "Gallery of Rape-y Teachers," (no trivializing there!) a pattern seems to develop: the women profiled are either pretty and young, or older, plainer. In both cases, it doesn't seem hard to speculate about the attraction of high school: either a chance to re-live glory days to which adult life never measured up; or, alternatively, going back to a scene of embarrassment and unhappiness and, this time, taking control and getting a chance with a popular boy. An oversimplification, sure, but worth thinking about; as a rule, these women seem less like general sexual predators with uncontrollable appetites than those who've developed "feelings" for specific boys. Better? No, but arguably less dangerous. And why now? Well, certainly youth culture has never been as glorified or exalted; hot 21-year-olds playing high-school students all over prime time has a lot of us lusting after "16-year-olds." We all know kids today are sexually active to a degree they've never been before, and Facebook and texting blur the boundaries of authority more and more. Has adult female attraction for young boys always been around, and is only now becoming public? Certainly the bulk of teen boys are not at the peak of their beauty, which may have something to do with it; has the prevalence of Retin-A, the importance of grooming and weight-lifting, distasteful as the question may be, had anything to do with the strange up-swing? When we feel that involuntary shudder of revulsion at reading one of these stories, how much of it is bafflement, and how much unwilling recognition of something we have felt, but stopped and banished? I have heard both from women - but only in private.
Sex, Lies And Phys Ed [Rolling Stone]