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January 12, 2005

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» The Dilemma of the Feminist Male from The Heterodox Liberal
Here's the bottom-line. I agree with Hugo that our culture encodes a uni-dimensional sexuality on women's bodies. I agree that this is bad, and that we ought to do something about it. However, I am not willing to impose celibacy on myself or others t... [Read More]

Comments

Stephanie

As a very young woman in a wonderful, years-long relationship with a monumental age gap (it spans a generation; yes, it has always been "legal"), and having undergone a million personal attacks from outside observers, my gut instinct is to defend the older man/younger woman phenomenon as "not really mattering." I realize, however, from many other younger women's experience, that it does matter more often than not.

Yes, it matters in terms of one's general position in life -- a girl my age is very often straight out of high school and invariably living at home, babysitting every other weekend and only knowing life within her family. Yes, it matters in terms of "unspoken" agreements of dependence -- all too often, the older man's financial stability is used as a crutch, means of support, or a way of 'spoiling' the younger. But most of all, it matters in terms of the older man's level of accountability! (That semester sure drove it in -- I'm using real HugoWords™ here!) A much older man could easily lust after a younger woman and pursue only her. What's essential is that he pursue a close relationship with her family and friends as well. (Yes, this means meet-the-parents!) He needs full participation in her entire life -- as a companion and best friend, not father -- and vice versa.

If either person is unwilling to meld their extended life into the relationship, that's not just indicative of unwillingness to commit -- it could indicate a total lack of relatability. (Your textbook middle-aged stock broker might not be entirely excited about hanging out with a bunch of giddy 19-year-old girls at the mall!)

Why must older men who are with younger women fail to see them "as full human beings rather than objects of desire"? For any relationship to be effective, surely both factors must play a part. What's essential is an investment into each other's lives, not just to each other.

Lisa

Such an interesting post Hugo. I was surrounded my whole childhood by tons of 'safe' men, at church, in my small town and neighborhood. I never really thought about it however, or how that experience formed me.

I do remember clearly the first time a very much older man, a teacher, who I considered safe out of long habit, made a pass at me and how betrayed I felt by it. It came so out of left-field for me, shocked me, hurt me.

I never really considered that for so many young women this sexualization is the rule rather than the exception.

Thanks Hugo, once again your blog blows my mind.

erica

okay, two directions to go for me"
1. Recently a good friend of mine had a good friend of hers indicted for an inappropriate relationship with a minor. What I found so alarming was the stance that both my friend and my own mother took, which ran like this : "but you don't know what 16 year-olds do these days." Both of these women saw enough responsibility on the adolescent's part to preserve the man from civil punishment- though he was 24 at the time and a church-aquaintance. I see total culpability on the part of the adult in every situation. However, I think that part of our failure as adults lies in the wide-spread acceptance of the blatant sexualization of minors: B. Spears and those sad little Olsen twins come to mind readily. It seems both hypocritical and dangerous to expect a public that lusts after adolescents to refrain from the pursuit of one in real life. even if only in their mental lives.
on an opposite note:
One of the dearest friendships I have is with a former professor, not much older than I am actually, who neither saw me as daughter or sex object. Your post helped me understand why I am driven to live up to the person i first saw I could be in his class. If I didn't have this amazing respect and gratitude for him, I wouldn't understand your post so well. you are right on. . .

Jonathan Dresner

A slight modification: "In my work, it is absolutely critical that I never, ever, respond to the sexuality of the young women with whom I interact. This has" everything "to do with preserving my job," because my job is precious to me and because the job of educating minds and souls can only be complicated by attention to bodies. I don't ever want my students to think that I take their ideas less or more seriously depending on how they dress: they'll get plenty of that in the world (note: how they write is a different matter).

thisgirl

I've heard, over and over again, how shocking and upsetting it is the first time a young girl realizes that an older man is sexually attracted to her.

I've heard a lot about this too, but for me it was more the fact that some older men are sexually attracted to you and display it in inappropriate manners in inappropriate settings that disturbed me. At 15 or 16, when I started receiving sexual signals of a sort from older men, I didn't have a problem with it provided it occured out of the circle of trust I had with family friends and teaching staff, and provided it was non-threatening.

For example, an older man looking at me in public in "that" way didn't affect me, but I wasn't comfortable with catcalls or whistles from groups of men (I'm still not). I think it's important to acknowledge that being seen as desirable in some situations, as part of being a "whole" person, and being comfortable with that, is part of finding your identity as a young woman.

Amanda

Hugo, I know you don't mean to imply this, but when you said that some girls hide their sexuality and others use it to get approval from older men, you made it sound like there's not any other options. I neither hide my sexuality nor do I flaunt it. If some perverted older man wants to say nasty things to me, I ignore him.

Hugo Schwyzer

Absolutely, Amanda. I should have made it clearer that the "some" (in both instances) did not mean that there aren't other approaches and responses to nascent sexuality.

Jonathan, I am with you completely. I wanted to stress that my position was not based primarily on a fear of losing my job, but rather on a desire to be a positive agent in the lives of the young.

Erica, you wrote:

"It seems both hypocritical and dangerous to expect a public that lusts after adolescents to refrain from the pursuit of one in real life. even if only in their mental lives."

As much as I would like NOT to agree with you, I think you're on the mark with that.

Stephanie, I honor your experiences and have no intention of demeaning them. But the exceptions do not invalidate general rules, and I continue to believe such relationships to be problematic -- which is not the same thing as saying that they are devoid of joy, mutual respect, and commitment.

zuzu

I missed a lot of this kind of attention in high school and the first few years of college because of my weight, but the first time I was aware of an older man looking at me in a different way was when I was 11 or 12 (with breasts that I didn't pay much attention to except to hide them). One of my teachers showed up at my house early one weekend morning to bring a book to my older brother, who'd been a student of his. I was wearing a nightgown that was a bit shredded and more revealing than I realized, because Mr. Johnson looked very embarrassed. I wasn't sure exactly why until my older sister clued me in, and then *I* was embarrassed.

In my 20s, when I dated a lot of men in their 30s and 40s, I found the experience somewhat exasperating because they didn't always give me credit for being mature or smart or whatever. The most blatant was my boyfriend from my third year of law school. He was 13 years older than I was, newly divorced, but a first-year. He just couldn't give me credit for knowing more than he did -- he'd ask me something about one of the first-year concepts, and instead of admitting that he didn't understand, he'd smile at me and say, "You're so cute." I eventually got rid of him.

petra

It's worth noting that the phenomenon goes both ways: the real-life Scarlett Johansson, for instance, has commented that "men don't get really good until they're over thirty" and owned up to having public sex with actor Benicio Del Toro when she was 19 and he 37. No real insight here, just acknowledging the range of attitudes given her portrayed character.

Hugo Schwyzer

I'll be curious to hear how Scarlett feels about that when she's 37.

Dave

Hugo, this was a great post. It's late, I'm tired, and I have no insight to contribute, but...good job.

mythago

Why must older men who are with younger women fail to see them "as full human beings rather than objects of desire"?

Because for an awful lot of older men, the whole point of dating very young (not merely 'younger') women is that they are objects of desire, and not much more.

Stephanie, I'm not going to comment on your relationship because obviously I don't know you at all. But I will say that the "What's the big deal about older guys?" issue looks very different from the older side of the equation.

Ambrose

Hugo - I can't thank you enough for touching on the roles and responsibilities of older professors and their younger female students. My friend is still devastated by an experience with one of your former PCC colleagues (to my understanding he left the college a couple years ago). Last year (in another nearby College) this man - then 43- saw fit to flirt and become personal with my friend the entire semester... even exchanging gifts with her... only to declare once the semester was over that he was just trying to keep her enrolled in his class (because he was losing so many students, and she was a positive contribution to class lectures).

It can never be stressed enough that teachers should NEVER get personally involved with their students. Sadly my friend had to watch numerous other much younger girls in her class fall victim to this man's unprofessional flirtations.

And to make the whole matter even worse... the man turned out to be gay.

Miranda

As far as I'm concerned, Hugo, you've succeeded wildly. You rock.

Maus

Hello Hugo, I am MAUS, one of those terrible misogynists from Man Power. I was going to ignore you and let you be. Since you have seen fit to malign me, that will change. My primary goal in the Men's Activism movement is to eliminate the culture of misandry that has infected our education system. I attended Canada's foremost feminist university. Based on that experience,not anyone's silver tongued eloquence or political rhetoric, having actualy seen what would occur if feminism had unchallanged power,I will state that I would rather be shot by feminists than ruled by them.

My comment on this article will be in my blunt vitriolic style:---

"Some of my best friends are older men, I just wouldn't like to see my sister going out with one"

Do you now see your own bigotry?

When I make posts at BC Fathers,I have a signing quote that reads:"I miss the old days when sex was a sin rather than a social injustice"

Hugo, I was once studying to be a minister. One of the crimes that I hold against feminists is that they drove the Chancellor of the Theological Seminary to commit suicide in the wake of a sexual misconduct witch hunt. He was a good and decent man. He was not even one of the people accused.He simply said that it bore the hallmarks of a witch hunt and THAT put him on the same moral ground as those who deny that the Holocaust happened and only his dismissal or resignation would atone for that sin.

I really don't think that you would be able to persuade his widow that feminism is beyond question or reproach nor that the men brave enough to question or reproach it in the face of being reviled as politically incorrigible or exiled to sexual Siberia are particularly evil.

Protestant restorationists have formed a very unholy alliance with feminists. The notion that sex is a sin is now a virtually impossible hard sell....sex as a social injustice is what the belief pimps of the world are now hardselling, and I think the word pimp is apt, someone who lives off the avails of gullible women.

What I want is simple Hugo, I want the truth to prevail, the whole truth. Not the mask of propriety that people wear in church on Sunday that doesn't go with anything they wear when they cabaret on Monday.

Hugo,my father was a mason back when that had clout and power. The fix was in. I could have been a Naval chaplain or a professor of philosophy or religeous studies, except for one thing, I've got a bad dose of integrity. Integrity is sort of like diabetes,folks who have it just can't seem to help themselves. I could have been one fine fat prosperous Pharasee today if the smell of bullshit didn't revolt me so much.

I deem it absolutely despicable that someone who would pretend to be an ordained minister of the lineage of the apostles of Christ would spout such crap. For one thing, Mary was no older than fourteen and Joseph was no younger than fifty.

I can recall a conference on "inclusive language"in the church, an amendment that would leave "our father"in the Lord's Prayer was being debated. A lesbian ordained minister got into a rant:

"So you insist on saying 'our father' Why? Are your certain God has a penis? If so, who has "He" ever used it on? A littel girl of previously chaste character in an act that would constitute statutory rape in any jurisdiction in chrisendom"

No one replied to her. The subject was quickly changed. What say you to this Hugo? I have not attended a Christian church since nor will I ever.

mythago

For one thing, Mary was no older than fourteen and Joseph was no younger than fifty.

Where was this mentioned in Scriptures? I missed this part. The Talmud recommends eighteen as the proper age at which a kohen should marry--I rather doubt that the Jewish culture of the time expected Israelites to wait several decades longer than their priests for marriage.

Xanademel

A lot of times older men who make catcalls at young women or girls don't do it because they want to be nice to the girl, they do it because it's the same kind of power thing as rape, although not of the same calibre. I used to get more of those when I was younger and the men could clearly see that I would only get embarassed and not be able to say anything smart and stinging back.

Now that I am older I can use this dirty older men / innocent younger women thing as fantasy material... I am 32 and just had a heck of a time with a 61-year old man... But I think that I am the dirtier one of us two...


Lynn Gazis-Sax

Where was this mentioned in Scriptures? I missed this part.

It's not in Scriptures, mythago. Rather, there's a longstanding (but not necessarily longstanding enough to go back to Jesus' time) Church tradition that Joseph was much older than Mary, and that Mary was very young.

I rather doubt that the Jewish culture of the time expected Israelites to wait several decades longer than their priests for marriage.

It's not that Joseph is supposed to have waited until fifty to ever get married; it's that he's supposed to have been a widower when he married. This is one explanation of why Scriptures refer to Jesus as having brothers and sisters (one of whom, James, was quite prominent in the early Church as Jesus' brother), while Catholic tradition has Mary remaining forever virgin (the other explanation is that possibly "brother" was used loosely to mean "cousin").

Personally, I assume that Joseph and Mary were of some age that would be considered legal for Jews to marry at the time, and that they had sex, celibate marriage not being, to the best of my knowledge, customary in Judaism. Maybe Joseph really was a widower who was older than Mary, or maybe that tradition arose to explain the brothers and sisters.

atib

“those who appear outwardly fully adult may still be in need of our care and protection.”

“I'm convinced that young girls badly need the presence of loving older men who are not parents or relatives, but who are still fundamentally safe.”

“Now, at the risk of the accusation of narcissism, I will share that I do get plenty of female students who flirt with me, a few quite brazenly. (My colleagues tell me it will happen less after I turn 40.) I don't let it go to my head much, because I understand that it's not Hugo they really want. At the risk of sounding paternalistic, what they really want is to be noticed, to be seen, to be validated as good and worthy and interesting individuals. And they believe -- with good reason in most cases -- that using their sexuality is hands down the best (if not the only way) to get that attention that they rightly want.”

I just happened to come across this post while doing a search online and felt the need to say that I appreciated (and could relate to) the things you said Hugo - especially the statements I quoted above. In my opinion, anyone criticizing your post is missing the whole point. It sounds to me like your interest is in protecting those that are more vulnerable and naïve or simply helping others to feel safe. The issue or problem isn’t really about differences in age. The problem is when a person abuses the power they might have over another individual or when a person takes advantage of another person's lack of experience.

I agree that in certain cases, it’s not the man that the younger woman wants. It’s simply the validation. It really bothers me when I hear statements like, “well, I only gave her what she wanted,” or “she was asking for it.” The more experienced would quickly realize what it is that the younger woman really wants or needs. A man with integrity would choose not to take advantage of that woman’s need.

I wish that there were more who understood and believed as you do. I too believe it would make such a difference if we all could feel safe, protected, and understood.

Hugo Schwyzer

Thank you, atib!

MetaMetaX

Hugo,

As for your Scarlett Johansson comment, I'm more surprised that anyone seeks a scientific, hard-and-fast rule when the realm of a woman's feelings forms the centerpiece of what is being looked at. Womens' feelings change dramatically over time. And while I have the utmost respect for that in my personal life, designing any sort of public policy to protect the mutability of womens' feelings is disrespectful to the requisite iron-clad, purposefulness of law.

"Safe, protected, and understood." Okay, I buy the need, and I've seen it myself. But don't you think talking about only this one issue within a vaccuum is woefully inadequate? Well, unless all you're concerned with is making a valid point to boost one's ego, or to make one feel like a moral and upright person by taking a stand on one issue...despite ignoring all the other ones.

While I agree it's morally wrong for a teacher to pursue a student, I can't help but notice the following trends:

1. Parents working longer hours means children grow up in homes that are less stable.

2. High divorce rates (government figure is 50%, but looking around at the world suggests a figure more like 70% to 80%) means that children grow up in less stable homes.

3. Since fathers are much more likely to commute longer distances from home in order to work, children in particular are left lacking in fathers, even when there is no divorce.

4. Child custody laws mean a father is much more likely to be rendered absent from the childrens' lives than are mothers.

5. The ever-rising median age of marriage in this country, coupled with high college costs, means that many of the male teachers between 22 and 30 are likely to be single and in debt heavily enough that they're not looking to get married any time soon.

6. The feminist arguement that marriage is oppressive towards women, and that true liberation means sexual liberation, has trickled down to teenagers. See B. Spears and so on. Teenage attitudes toward sex is opportunistic, hedonistic, and cutthroat - rather than nervous, nurturing, and relationship-centered.

7. The vast majority of teenagers do not learn about sex from their parents (probably because they're never home) but from other teenagers, and much worse, television shows and movies.

8. Whether you like the idea or not, permitting women in to the workplace, and allowing them to meet their own financial needs, has created a culture in which many women between the ages of 20 and 35 have tremendous chips on their shoulder. "I am woman, Hear me roar." "Live life to the fullest (with the footnote of in the most competitive way possible)." It has reached the point where many men expect a woman to be confrontation, aggressive, amd argumentative - rather than mysterious, nurturing, or (God forbid) charming.

9. A side effect of Item 8 is that women do not go in to relationships in modern times for old-fashioned reasons. Especially within younger women, the prevailing motives are *NOT* comfort, security, nurturing, or (hah hah hah) mutual personal growth - but merely to be validated, to feel sexy, or to have sex with an attractive men. This has the effect of having 90% of women chasing 10% of men, with 90% of men being left out of the loop.

So let's mix, shall we? Take a girl who is just beginning to discover her sexuality, who isn't close to either of her parents - and may in fact be longing for a deep connection with any adult. Put her in a social environment where 10% of the kids are considered popular, while the rest are viewed by their peers as lower than dirt. Give her no parental guidance as to the significance and emotional risks of getting sexually involved with anyone, while immersing her in an environment where sexual conquest is the most pricy bargaining chip in the quest for popularity. Surround her with male peers who, let's face it, are very likely to be highly emotionally and intellectually immature, and cannot provide her with any life guidance - being so misguided themselves.

Throw in a male teacher who is in debt, will not get married any time soon (can't afford it). He might have wanted a girlfriend for a long time, but he doesn't like how women act. Plus, they don't much like him anyway, because he doesn't fall in to that 10% category. He displays kindness to everyone, but more importantly - he is the first reliable and male constant in her life. He is patient while her peers are impulsive. He is well-spoken while her peers are loud and routinely mangle the English language. He can provide years of life experience while her peers can only offer generalizations based on prejudice, wide-eyed thinking, and bad television. Due to being older, he is less likely to "think" with his hormones, and more so with his heart. He has dealt with many more people (women included) than have her peers, so he is much more likely to see her as a unique individual, in both woman and non-womanly terms. And lastly, her (dare I say it?) innocence and sweetness compared to the typical aggressiveness and confrontational nature of the modern women in *his* peer group will stand in such stark contrast that he'd be braindead to not notice it...

I'm not saying it's right for anything to happen between them. But consider that throughout most of history, and throughout most of the world today, a 50 year old man dating a 20-something year old woman is not considered a big deal. It's only in a feminized society where women are modernized (translated, exceptionally difficult to deal with and most likely to use her freedom to create her own misery) where this is noteworthy.

And besides wouldn't you sort of *expect* it to happen? I mean, strictly from a design perspective, wouldn't you *expect* male teachers and female students to be sleeping with each other at record rates - solely because the culture is seemingly designed to make it happen?

Ironically, enough the epidemic seems to be the other way around. Female teachers are molesting and having sex with underaged boys - and in typical feminist double-speak, no one seems to care. (Links will be gladly provided for those who ask.)

Hugo

I assure you that this pro-feminist is appalled by all incidents of child abuse, regardless of the gender of the victim and the gender of the accused. But a few highly-publicized cases merely bears witness to the fact that men's abuse of girls is too common to receive publicity.

From a design perspective, it might make sense. But I am leery of arguments from design. You are right about many aspects of contemporary culture and the appeal of these age-gap relationships -- but that doesn't mitigate an older man's responsibility to act in the best interests of a young woman who despite an outer facade of independence and agency may indeed still not know what she really wants.

MetaMetaX

Hugo - "But a few highly-publicized cases merely bears witness to the fact that men's abuse of girls is too common to receive publicity."

That, Sir, is one *hell* of a hypothesis, now where's the proof?

I can see what you're saying - that old joke among journalists, "When a dog bites a man, that's not news, but when a man bites a dog..." But again, where's the damned proof of this?

For my money, my equally unproveable assertion is that people are so brainwashed in to thinking that men abuse girls - that they don't report it when it happens. But again, your statement is just as unproveable as mine.

You continue, "From a design perspective, it might make sense. But I am leery of arguments from design. You are right about many aspects of contemporary culture and the appeal of these age-gap relationships -- but that doesn't mitigate an older man's responsibility to act in the best interests of a young woman who despite an outer facade of independence and agency may indeed still not know what she really wants."

The sole reason I argue from design perspectives is to make people think more deeply about their ideals. Defining responsibility in a culture that doesn't define *anything* definitively is a random exercise. So now that you've randomly defined what responsibility is, what design do you have to enforce that definition on everyone else? Because the classic approach we have now, wherein we assume the girl is helpless and the man is a prick, isn't powerful enough to prevent these things from happening.

Hell, I could even argue that since male high school teachers tend to have more knowledge in their field than the women teachers, that getting rid of males will have the unintended side effect of dumbing down the entire school.

Your serve, Sir...

Hugo Schwyzer

Meta Meta X, if you want sexual assault and abuse statistics, the FBI is a good place to start.  Lots of stuff broken down by sex.  Go here (PDF file) and scroll down to page 8.  The DOJ claims 96% of sexual offenders who offend against children are men.

You're right, bad things happen because our institutions of higher learning are filled with human beings. And human beings are flawed and broken cratures in many ways. But that just means we need to redouble our efforts to create safer space for all, especially students. And when we are talking about schools, safe space, by defnition, is desexualized space.

olguy

Hugo, Google brought me to your blog. I am an accomplished professional, 37 and male. Two days ago I met an 18 year old female. I have been the perfect gentleman, but she drives me wild. She is mature for her age, a renegade of sorts, beautiful, and very well read. Should I let the moment pass or act upon my feelings?

I appreciate your conservative approach, but should that approach apply in all situations? I do not want to exploit her by any means--nor do I want to ignore my feelings.

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