Boys at the prestigious Landon school apparently organized a fantasy sex league with points for hooking up with different girls. When boys are acting this way, why are we so focused on girls' attitudes?
Michael Birnbaum and Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post picked up the Landon story after Maureen Dowd wrote about it in the Times yesterday: essentially, students at the Bethesda, Maryland boys' school "drafted" girls onto different teams and then planned to award points to boys based on sexual acts completed with them at a series of parties. The parties never actually occurred, but the team "roster" — according to the Post, "riddled with misspellings, sexual innuendo and offensive language" — is pretty upsetting in itself. It sets out teams called the "Southside Slampigs" and the "Crackwhores" (although the Times can only print "crude street slang for drug-addicted prostitutes"), and describes one girl as "sweet, outgoing, friendly, willing to get down and dirty and [expletive] party. Coming in at 90 pounds, 5'2 and a bra size 34d."
This isn't the first time boys have been accused of giving out points for hooking up with girls — members of the so-called Spur Posse of Lakewood, CA were jailed in 1993 for having competitive sex with girls in 10. But since Landon is also the alma mater of George Huguely V (pictured), who is accused of brutally murdering his ex-girlfriend Yeardley Love at the University of Virginia, it's become the center of a new focus on boys' bad behavior. Which may be a good thing.
Dowd asks, "Some of the parents of girls drafted for the Landon sex teams think that the punishment for those culpable should have been greater, and the notification to parents should have been more thorough. Was the macho culture of silence in play?" And she concludes her column, "Time for a curriculum overhaul. Young men everywhere must be taught, beyond platitudes, that young women are not prey." Contrast this with Caitlin Flanagan's recent Atlantic piece on the plight of teenage girls. She alleges that despite "hookup culture," girls today still want boyfriends, and says,
There might seem something wan, even pitiable, about all these young girls pining for boyfriends instead of hookups. But the wishes of girls, you have to remember, have always been among the most powerful motivators in the lives of young men. They still are.
Flanagan's piece has come under fire from several sides. Matthew Yglesias, for instance, points out that teen girls often have boyfriends — 72% of those recently surveyed by the CDC said they were "going steady" with the first person they slept with. But one tenet of Flanagan's that hasn't been much examined is her idea that girls should shape the behavior of boys.
It's an old idea, and one that can lead to a lot of victim-blaming. A 1993 Times article on the Spur Posse quotes the unapologetic dad of one of the members: "Nothing my boy did was anything that any red-blooded American boy wouldn't do at his age. . . . Those girls around my son are giving it away." The idea that boys are uncontrolled sex machines and it's up to girls to push the 'off' button contributes to rape culture — and it does boys a disservice too. Flanagan's right that girls need better sex ed — but so do boys. This isn't a new idea either — in the same Spur Posse article, one member of the Posse says, "They pass out condoms, teach sex education and pregnancy-this and pregnancy-that. But they don't teach us any rules."
Boys would actually be more empowered, rather than less, if they learned to express their desires to potential partners in a cooperative and respectful way. Right now they're largely expected to simply push for more until the girl puts on the brakes, an expectation that doesn't honor their autonomy much more than their partners'. And while concern over girls' early initiation into a homogeneous and restrictive brand of sexiness is certainly valid, we should also be concerned over boys who are trained to want (at least publicly) this kind of sexiness and nothing else. It will be difficult, but if we can teach boys that sexuality is about themselves and their partners, not their bros or some outside standard of masculinity, then both boys and girls will be better off.
Students At All-Boys Landon School Planned Sex Parties, Sources Say [Washington Post]
Their Dangerous Swagger [NYT]
Caitlin Flanagan's 1970s Nostalgia [NYT]
Sexy Teen Trend Data [Yglesias]