March 3, 2005

Older Women

I was going to write: “So, Mary Kay Letourneau finally gets out (and plans to marry her former student) so now it’s time for another teacher to step in and fill the role of archetypal hard-up female teacher preying on minors.”

Police: Teaching Intern, 30, Had Sex With Teen Student (added twist: woman’s toddler was in the back seat at the time).

But we have at least one other contender in a Ms. Stephanie Bissell. Okay, so she’s not a teacher, but her young lover is only 14 and she’s already pregnant. That has got to count for something, no?

Looking around the net at these stories, it appears customary to say something like “Huh, huh, where were these 30-somethings when I was a libidinous teenage boy, huh, huh!”

Ah, the excitement of getting on TV by being famous in your entire county for having been the plaything of an older woman who should have known better. And what youngster wouldn’t want to have his life marked by a decision he made in his teen years (well known for producing some of the most well-thought-out decisions, ruled by reflection and not hormones)?

I read these stories and they beg some sort of comment, but I have no idea what to say.

Let’s try this: Guys, you’ve got to take better care of your wives if some pimply 14-year-old is the new competition and he’s winning.

Nah. That didn’t really hit the spot. Clearly, my news commenting is in a slump.

Posted by James at March 3, 2005 9:05 AM
Create Social Bookmark Links

Well, I think I can comment.

I know women nearly my age who think it's cool to be young. They want to hang out with young guys and talk to them. Why? Oh, who can I blame, let's see....

Well, I'll start with the media. What the hell. I don't even know what a forty-year-old woman is supposed to look like. I'm lost. I think I'm supposed to look perpetually twenty, because every time I turn on the TV or look at a billboard, unless it's an ad for Vi@gr@ or Depends, the women are twenty-somethings. It's a youth culture. I have no idea why, I didn't like them when I was a youth myself. But there it is.

Women need to feel wanted, needed, loved. Women are maternal. Put them together, and I guess a teenage boy could be appealing.

Maybe she never got the guys when she was a teenager, and she can get them now.

Is there a dearth of thirty-something or forty-something men who wouldn't get it on with a teenage girl if they could? How sexist is it to think that only women want the validation of youth?

Switching it around, the same goes for young girls. High school girls always want an older guy. Usually not too much older than college, but a successful guy who showed an interest would be a real turn-on.

I don't know. Take your pick.

Posted by: Maggie at March 3, 2005 11:05 AM

Sorry... one more charming anecdote.

I had a date with a guy once. Maybe we were nineteen, or he might have been twenty or twenty-one. He told me that the last woman he had dated was his father's secretary, in her early thirties. I (ever tactful) said, "There's something wrong with a thirty-year-old woman who wants to date a twenty-year-old guy." And he was deeply, deeply offended. I guess he was "all that." Sadly, I didn't see it, and that was our first and last date.

No offense, gentlemen, but I think before you learn to control it, or get used to it, or get some regularly -- the opportunity of sex short-circuits the brain cells. In general, of course.

So, a fourteen-year-old? What kind of a barrier is a fourteen-year-old going to put between himself and sex?

Posted by: Maggie at March 3, 2005 11:18 AM

Here's a thought. Why, as women, are we falling all over ourselves to explain what society finds perfectly accdptable for a man to do?

Barely an eye blinks when some codger has an arm twinkie, but when an "older woman" has a relationship with a younger man, it's bad.

CAVEAT: No one, man or woman, should be engaged in a sexual relationship with a minor. That's called rape. There are double standard here as well.

When a femal minor and an adult male have sex, it is considered rape.

Oddly, when a male minor has a sexual relationship with an adult woman, it is most often seen not as rape but the action of a growing, sexually curious male, and society usually thinks there's nothing wrong with this scenario.

This is a hideous double standard. Rape is rape, and gender doesn't make a bit of difference. Whether it's forced (aggravated) rape or statutory rape, it's rape. A child under the age of consent has not reached the age where he or she is equipped with reasoning capabilities to make such a decision.

Posted by: Patti M. at March 3, 2005 12:06 PM

In the eyes of the law it certainly is rape. All these women are being charged, as far as I know. Certainly, Letourneau has gone to prison for it.

I didn't set out to make gender an issue here, specifically -- but now that you mention it I don't think it's right to say gender doesn't make a bit of difference.

In the case of Mary Kay Letourneau, there are wedding plans in the works now that the boy is of age. On a percentage basis, I wonder what the statistics say about how many of these cases of rape end up in somehting that looks like a relationship when the years have passed. Do we hear a lot about men who go to prison for statutory rape and then marry the girl once they get out?

I don't hear about it, and I wonder if it's because it generally doesn't happen or if it's just not reported for some reason. I'd be interested to know, because I think there is something different going on here, for whatever reason.

Different doesn't mean it's any better, but it seems to me that there is some difference, whatever that difference is. At the very least, we have to recognize that male sexual development is different from female sexual development. It would seem remarkable to me if reversing the genders in the situation produced an identical situation.

Focusing on the similarities for a moment: both cases are statutory rape. There are reasons that we protect minors from predatory adults, no matter what their gender. Among those reasons are the vulnerability of minors to the manipulation of predatory adults, and the damaging impact that coerced sexual contact has on minors. Teens haven't yet learned how to protect themselves from the vulnerabilities created by their own desires -- their opwn wants and needs. Heck, they have little understanding of those needs.

Come to think of it, many adults suffer the same problem well into middle age and beyond. Certainly you encounter plenty of 18+ year olds who are pretty confused about what will make them happy, and they make plenty of bad decisions because of that.

But by the 18-19, we hope that people have formed some life experience to deal with the result of having been taken advantage of by, say, a manipulative 20-something.

What a slog of a subject. Bleh. No wonder I had no idea what to say about it initially.

Posted by: James at March 3, 2005 1:21 PM

"A child under the age of consent has not reached the age where he or she is equipped with reasoning capabilities to make such a decision."

I wanted to highlight this specifically. DO we really expect that an 18 year old is that much better equipped to say "no" or is it that they're better equipped to deal with the aftermath of bad decisions?

I'm not sure, but I think the latter is more the case. I think plenty of us have run into our share of bad decisions that had at least slightly lesser consequences because we were better psychologically prepared to deal with the consequences at a later age than we would have been at 14. But the wisdom to make better decisions is a little more slow in coming, I would imagine, partly because you learn from your bad decisions.

So are we trying to allow people to build up their maturity in psychological defenses which in turn allows them to learn from their mistakes?

Or do we think they'll gain wisdom without making those mistakes? That's not unreasonable. Sometimes we learn from a friend's mistake.

I can generate a lot of text without knowing anything.

Posted by: James at March 3, 2005 1:26 PM

Part of the argument in yesterday's Supreme Court decision against execution of minors is that new scientific evidence shows the teenage brain is not fully developed when it comes to determining right from wrong.

This is the nut of what I've said.

From NIH--Go here to read the whole thing:

Images of the Maturing Brain

The brain's center of reasoning and problem-solving is among the last to mature, a new study graphically reveals. A decade-long magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study of normal brain development in people from ages four to 21 shows that the "higher-order" brain centers don't fully develop until young adulthood.

Posted by: Patti M. at March 3, 2005 1:46 PM

"higher-order" brain centers don't fully develop until young adulthood.

That's interesting. I wonder where the original ages come from, for legal definitions such as statutory rape, or the age at which a person can work, drive, drink, vote, or die for their country. One could certainly argue that this new scientific information should call into question these other ages; especially driving, drinking, voting, and enrolling in the armed services, which all have potentially dangerous consequences.

My original post wasn't very focused, but I think I can summarize by saying that I agree with Patti, this is statutory rape and there's a reason we have that legal definition, and there's a double standard. I'm no sociologist and therefore I don't have much of a base to build my thoughts on, but I think it's interesting that these women would push the envelope of what's socially acceptable. I think the reasons behind that are interesting. And I think a lot of our culture is crap based on who's spending their disposable income on what, and a sort of social bullying on the part of the advertisers. We are constantly bombarded with "you are inadequate" in order to get us to change -- not for the better, but by spending money on somebody's product. And out of that culture, these women have chosen an odd boundary to stretch.

Or have they? Maybe the boundary was always stretched, it's just the same crappy TV that brings you Jerry Springer is being driven by the marketing bullies to produce stories like this or they won't get the big-money ads.

Eh, it's probably that. Add the internet, and here's a rant I haven't gone on yet -- people's fetishes and sicknesses are validated through internet "support" groups. Hate your parents, have sex with large stuffed animals, puke up your meals -- there's someone on the internet to fuel your fire. And maybe it's out of that culture that people are comfortable coming out straight and tall, wearing their dirty linen.

Posted by: Maggie at March 3, 2005 2:57 PM

You know, I just had a thought. Rather than elect one person to be president, perhaps we should elect a round-table panel.

I nominate the regular posters to this blog.

Posted by: Patti M. at March 3, 2005 3:02 PM

Unfortunately, since I don't do the "god-talk," I will never hold elective office.

Mutual admiration societies are not outside of the realm of possibility, however.

Posted by: James at March 3, 2005 3:09 PM

Isn't that what we've got going here?

Posted by: Patti M. at March 3, 2005 3:37 PM

Perhaps we could form an autonomous collective. ;-)

Posted by: briwei at March 3, 2005 4:35 PM

A thought on the original subject, btw. This is not meant to excuse things, but I think this comes partially from the stereotypical aggressive nature applied to teenage boys. Perhaps some of these boys were more openly flirtatious with their teachers. The teachers should still have known better, but if they have self esteem issues of their own, stirred up by the aforementioned media, it all makes sense. Sick, twisted sense, but sense nonetheless.

Posted by: briwei at March 3, 2005 4:38 PM

I've been reading the book Odd Girl Out, similar to Queen Bees and Wannabees, the book on which the movie Mean Girls was based. (Both non-fiction.) It's a very tedious read, because the author isn't very focused, her language is irritatingly flowery, and it is replete with shocking example after shocking example of "relational aggression," or the kind of alternative bullying that some girls have perfected. (And not to be sexist - guys do it too.) I'm reading it because I'm putting together some activities to do with our Junior Girl Scouts, because some of them can be a little mean. We're trying to break up the cliques and get every girl to follow "the law," and "be a sister to every Girl Scout."

So I have this topic on the brain. And it has reminded me of times that I've been bullied, and times that I've bullied. I took it a lot more than I dished it out, but sadly, I did a little bit of dishing, too. Anyway, I remember there were a few years where I was a complete outcast at the private school I attended 1st-9th grade, and how reticent the teachers were to even acknowledge that there was a problem. Or maybe they saw it all as my fault, for trying to be different. (I had no choice, it was to be different by choice or try to be the same and still be different. I couldn't be rich.) Or maybe they considered it "part of growing up." But you've got to figure that teachers were probably not the most popular kids in their classes. I know that in high school, I remember teachers who got off on being "cool teachers." I may think they're pathetic holes, but I also think they're human, and subject to the charisma of popular kids just like kids are. Plus, they have to maintain control, and that's a lot easier when the popular crowd is on your side. I'm sure it's just heady to be in with the popular crowd, even if you are twenty years older and they're laughing at you behind your back.

My first year teaching, I got accused of being that kind of teacher. I had two male students who were older than me (return to college, maybe five years older), and they teased me mercilessly. They took up a lot of class time, and I guess I wasn't mature enough to shut them up so I could get on with my lesson. (Not that I ever didn't get through the lesson.) Someone mentioned it on their eval, something about the teacher spending too much time in class talking to "certain people." And the sad thing is, I would've given anything for them to leave me alone. I wish someone had said something to them.

Posted by: Maggie at March 3, 2005 6:11 PM

Copyright © 1999-2007 James P. Burke. All Rights Reserved