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January 28, 2005

Comments

Trish Wilson

For young women who are eighteen or nineteen, that is often the first time they are away from home and truly on their own. They are living in college housing rather than with their parents. It's a vulnerable time for them. I think they may be especially prone to misinterpret sexual advances from professors much older than they are. Yes, we live in a very sexualized culture, and the older male predators play on that.

I've seen college professors lose their jobs for violating the moral turpitude clause because they had affairs with students. Some of those professors were married men. Young women need male mentors that truly see them as adult and equal. They don't need to deal with advances from sexual predators pretending to see them that way.

NancyP

Boundaries need to be watertight in the typical student-teacher relationship (18-22 year old student, much older teacher). I am less dogmatic in the instance of school returnee of about 40 years and a night-school teacher of about the same age, as long as their relationship took place after the final grades were submitted.

I wonder how many of the cradle-robbing profs realize that a significant percentage of students view them as pathetic or disgusting or the butt of jokes.

Amanda

The problem with that show is not that they had a good message to older men (keep your hands off the younger women), but sadly it seems like they are reinforcing the stereotype of feminist-as-a-slut. It's the weird underbelly to the stereotype of the prudish feminist. Since "sluts" and feminists are both disobedient, "bad" women, it's naturally the two get conflated.

You'd be surprised how many men will hear that a woman's a feminist and immediately choose to interpret that as a woman who is emotionally broken and acts out sexually, and that's all it means. There's not a real-life reason to believe that this is the case, so the best I can figure is it really is just the conflation of two stereotypes of women who rebel.

Hugo Schwyzer

I'm sorry to hear that.

On the one hand, the feminist movement badly wanted to give women the right to say "yes", even "hell, yes!" And some, misunderstanding that, forget that perhaps an even more precious monosyllable is "no" -- and feminists don't trade away the right to that word.

Amanda

I totally agree. But since some men can only view women as objects and their relations to them as "having access" or "not having access", some people choose to follow the old rule that if you're not a virgin, you're a whore.

Pseudo-Adrienne

Hugo, as a nineteen year-old college woman, I can tell you that I have actually run into girls who *want* to have affairs with older male professors. NOT that's an excuse for the male professor engage in an affair with his female student even if she's willing--no, no, I am in NO way saying that. Why any young woman would want to put herself in such a vulnerable position is beyond me. And no man in a position of power over a female student who just happens to have a crush on him should assume that it's okay to have an affair with her, simply because she's willing to have one.

And those kinds of girls are very, very few in number and even insignificant in their number.

Still, I find it disturbing to see situations on television that glorifies an older male in a position of power taking advantage of his younger pupil. Worst of all, situations that shows popular female celebs who portray having an affair with an older more powerful male to be "cool" and a form of "grrrl power", when it certainly isn't.

Sure, I've had "crushes" on some of male instructors in the past, but NO WAY in hell would I think that it would be empowering to have an affair with them. Neither would I pursue, nor indulge them should anyone of the pursue me. And they're just dumb 'crushes' that I'm sure a lot of girls get. But I seriously doubt there are a lot of predatory "dirty-ole-man" kind of male professors on my campus. But then again, I'm only a freshmen.

And as for "feminist=slut"; yes, I've heard that aimed at sexually confident feminist women. And I've also encountered "nonsexual/celibate feminist=dyke who hates cock". Once again yes, I've had that directed at some feminist women and even *me* because I'm not active. According to some narrow minded people, a sexually confident feminist is a whore. And a celibate/nonsexually active feminist is a lesbian who hates penis.

Gotta love that middle ground that's ever so easy to reach, thanks to these kinds of "rules" set for feminist women when it comes to sexual activity.

Hugo Schwyzer

Bingo, Pseudo-Adrienne. And that dichotomy is one of the things we need to break. We still aren't giving young women and girls a sense that their bodies are really, truly theirs.

Jeff

A few comments:

1. What would you propose we do? Tell women that they should feel used and ashamed and harmed if they have sex with older men?

2. Why are the intentions of older people seen as inherently predatory, while the intentions of younger people seen as more benign? I'm sure there are younger men who have predatory intentions and try to convince women that they're being empowered and adult by having sex.

3. I also find it interesting that whenever this subject (sexual relationships among people of different ages) is brought up, the examples people throw out are ones where the age difference get overshadowed by a specialized dynamic that puts the older participant in a position of direct power (teacher/student, boss/employee, etc.) In part, I suppose this is because we as a society endorse "age roles" - an 18 year old is supposed to be interested in light entertainment, studies, and casual relationships, while an older person is supposed to be looking to work, settle down, and raise children, and so academic or employment situations are the only place they're likely to interact.

4. On a similar note, these relationships are always depicted as purely sexual in nature - the idea being that the older partner would choose someone of the younger partner's age only because of (a) sexual desirability or (b) ease of manipulation. I find this incredibly dehumanizing; people are not so easily reduced to numbers.

Now I'm sure I come across as a "dirty old man" trying to justify his own predatory behavior. But I don't defend people who are actually predatory in their approach; I just think that predation is not a function of age but of mindset, and I have serious problems with the paternalism of calling another's autonomy "false."

Harry

Well said Jeff!

Hugo. Shame on you for implying that older men (or women for that matter) are necessarily having unwholesome intentions when they become closely involved with those who are much younger (or older) than themselves.

I was quite surprised at your 'ageist' comments.

Don't you think that older people have deep strong pure feelings that are unrelated to sex?

Well. Of course you don't think that.

I think that you need to work on this.

It is out of character.

Here is my attitude toward the issue ...

http://www.angryharry.com/esHeadTeacherMarriesPupil.htm

*** (slightly adult)

In my view, you have a very distorted view of men; seemingly coloured mostly by women who wallow in abuse.

I **do** recognise the descriptions that you make of some men. And I agree with you that some of their behaviours are just appalling.

And it's not just violence, criminality and loutishness, but plain bad manners too.

I loathe such things.

But feminism is not going to solve such problems. On the contrary, it is making them much worse.

Furthermore, there are loads of decent men out here. And feminism - in practice - is damaging their lives horribly - and often permanently.

The evidence for this is absolutely overwhelming.

And more and more people are becoming aware of this.

BTW. Did you know that Stand Your Ground got mentioned in the New York Times yesterday?

As I said elsewhere, the men's movement is a-comin'!

Best wishes

Harry

Jeff

Harry - don't think for a second that I agree with your antifeminist "movement." Frankly, I think your link mischaracterizes relationships among people of different ages just as much as the original post did.

Harry

Hi Jeff

Well, I don't think that I was actually trying to characterise anything. On the contrary, the link merely referred to a piece which suggested that relationships between those of diparate ages was not necessarily unwholesome.

And it seemed to me like you were saying the same thing.

But I could be wrong.

And I did, in fact, regret posting the link above almost as soon as I had done so. I had forgotten that my sense of humour is somewhat unpalatable to many people.

Apologies.

And, yes, I knew from your other postings that you were anti the anti-feminist movement.

That doesn't mean that I can't agree with you on various issues, does it?

NYMOM

"A little later, I contrasted this with what I’ve seen you say: that young women need to encounter safe adult men who do not see them as sex objects."

Do you think it's the same with young men?

I confess I don't see the harm in young men having sexual relations with older women...

Probably I'm old fashion...

...but I don't think young men envision the relationship as being other then what it is, whereas young women with older men do...and I guess that's the major difference and why young women are more likely to get emotionally damaged by the whole thing...

NYMOM

"...Stand Your Ground got mentioned in the New York Times yesterday?"

So what...I bet Osama bin Ladin did too...

JIC (Justin Case)

Hugo,
Thank you kindly for your thoughtful response. And you are correct that the series is based on the movie (though better, and the hero cuter, IMO).

However, I'm surprised at some of the assumptions made in comments. In particular, I don't think either of us meant to imply that the young woman in the show was intended to represent a feminist. She was just a young girl trying to be an adult, much as I was when I was that age. And to be explicit, I actually am female. (No offense was taken.)

I agree with Pseudo-Adrienne that glorification of sexual older teacher-younger student relationships is distasteful. For the record, I'd like to emphasize that it was the BAD GUY who was responding to the woman sexually, and he had a history of seducing young women who were newly immortal, making them dependent on him, and then killing them when they tried to become independent. In the general case, no, not all older men are predatory - but this particular one was.

"Is it possible that some young women long for sexual validation and attention from older men? Of course."
Me, for example.

"Is it possible that some of these young women feel infantilized by the rigid boundaries that any wise and decent male authority figure will have in place? It's possible, I suppose, but I hardly consider it a major problem."
It may not be prevalent, but for young women in that situation, like I was, it is a major problem. Sexuality is the "Rite of Passage" in their minds. And if every individual has value, we cannot write those women off. We can't make them the standard for all women's issues, but we can't ignore them when we encounter them, either. At that age, my perception of someone ignoring the issue just reaffirmed the infantilization.

"The frustration of being treated like a child when you'd like to be seen as an adult will pass a hell of a lot quicker than the memories of being treated like an adult when you were, in some sense, still just a conflicted and uncertain adolescent!"
True. Unfortunately, adolescents in this situation are less likely to have a personal relationship with the concept of "This, too, shall pass." In all honesty (and maybe I was a bit slow), I was 26 before I realized the rest of my life didn't have to be just like the present. This is why I wondered if only time teaches this lesson, or if there's some way to assist.

"In one sense, these young people are my equal: they are precious human beings, children of God, as valuable and worthy and as possessed of human dignity as any other person, regardless of age. They deserve to be heard, to be listened to, to have their feelings and their desires and hopes and fears acknowledged."
I think repeating that - loud, long, and often - is the best bet for teaching young women like the one in the show that sexuality is not the golden gateway to adulthood. As my mother points out from her experience, men of any age (not just older ones) who listen to a woman's thoughts and respect her mind will contribute to her feeling of maturity.

Anne

"I am less dogmatic in the instance of school returnee of about 40 years and a night-school teacher of about the same age"

I would be equally as cautious about those types of relationships. Speaking from personal experience (and Hugo... he's one of your former PCC History dept colleagues...), last year I had an instructor for a night class who was 43 (ten years my senior)who made unwanted advances towards me during his office hours.

In addition, he was continually baiting the women in his class with stories of being single, living alone, wanting to be married, and regretful that he was getting too old to have kids. He also made several homophobic comments to the class which was ironic in light of the fact that he turned out to be gay.

Another professor of mine, a very pro-feminist lady in her early 40s, urged me to file charges against him.

I declined on the basis that I figured he was just a confused, pathetic soul...

Hugo Schwyzer

Jeff is right that "predatory" behavior is not limited to any age group, or, perhaps, to one sex. My concern here was the older man-younger woman dynamic, particularly around issues of mentoring and teaching.

Justin Case, I'll amend the statement that feeling infantilized is "not a major problem." What I ought to have said is that those of us in positions of power need to work to make sure that young women (or, NYMOM, young men for whom we care) can feel valued as young adults without having to put their sexuality on the table.

Harry, I am all for close relationships between adults and the young whom they mentor. But really healthy closeness between someone in a position of power and someone learning from him/her ought not be sexualized.

Great responses, all.

Hugo Schwyzer

Oh, and one other point I ought to have made.

The Phillips article is crucial. So many young women do get indignant when you make the case I've made here. But so many "older" -- and wiser women (over 30) get it far more clearly. I think the damage these significant age-gap/power imbalance relationships do to young women really doesn't show up for years. An 18 year-old dating a 30 year-old may say she's blissful, but Phillips found plenty of women in their 30s and 40s who felt that in hindsight, things were not as rosy as they had imagined.

And, folks, I'm not condemning all relationships with a significant age gap. Just those with women on the cusp of adulthood in relationships with men who are mentors and teachers. Ain't got no problem with a 30 year-old dating a 50 year-old.

Jeff

Well, there's also the fact that we privilege hindsight over current experiences (and consequently devalue past short-term happiness), and we tend to decide that most relationships of any kind weren't as rosy if they've ended; there's a bit of selection bias going on there. (I.e., you need to compare the reactions of women older 30 to having dated older men to the reactions of women older 30 to having dated men of their own age or younger.)

I still think it's problematic to reframe the problems with mentor/student relationships as dealing with age rather than the power dynamic that's going on there.

zuzu

I don't know how they set up the series, but in the Highlander movie, There Can Be Only One. So the immortals eventually kill each other off -- or, well, the Kurgan killed everyone but Christopher Lambert.

thisgirl

I'm with Jeff, but this is a very difficult subject for me, being a student and having close relationships with my teachers, one of whom is the object of a huge crush. So I think I'm staying out of this one!

Hugo Schwyzer

True, Jeff and Thisgirl -- except that age is part of a power dynamic, inevitably. An imbalance in life experience means a likely imbalance in power within the relationship, even if there is no direct supervision involved.

djw

Jeff, I think both the age and the power relationship make an important independent contribution to the inappropriateness. Dating a student who is 19 is obviously, ridiculously, patently inappropriate. Dating a student my age (late 20's) is also entirely unacceptable, but, under the right circumstances, I could imagine a relationship happening (at least several months afte the student-teacher relationship had terminated, of course). I feel pretty iffy about it, but I'm saying I could imagine circumstances under which it could happen. But the young students--no way. Under no circumstances, ever.

FoolishOwl

FYI, Hugo's post on this subject are being discussed here.

Anne

"Dating a student my age (late 20's) is also entirely unacceptable, but, under the right circumstances, I could imagine a relationship happening (at least several months afte the student-teacher relationship had terminated, of course)."

I think it would be entirely unreasonable to expect that two adults (late 20s and beyond) could not have a rewarding relationship, no matter what the age difference, and no matter how they originally met. Like was pointed out however, there should NEVER be any personal relationship while the student-teacher relationship is ongoing.

I had an "old fart" art teacher once who boasted to his classes that his younger wife was once his student.

ALL teachers need to see their students strictly in an academic sense. My aforementioned history prof. told me that he has had several "desperate older women" enroll in class only to find him irresistably eligible. He said that those women had asked him to sleep with him... and he just "deferred" them. Sick.

Aegis

Hugo said:
"An 18 year-old dating a 30 year-old may say she's blissful, but Phillips found plenty of women in their 30s and 40s who felt that in hindsight, things were not as rosy as they had imagined."

I'm not sure this proves anything, because there is no control group of women who had relationships with males their own ages. Of course 30-40 year-olds are going to view their youthful relationships as foolish when they look back. Jeff's comments are right on. 18 year-olds are perfectly capable of having dysfunctional relationships without going for older guys.

I think the root issue here is not lecherous older men (although I'm sure that is part of it), but rather females making poor choices in men when they are young. If young girls were socialized to be more self-aware and emotionally mature, then they would make much better choices in

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