A couple of things building on familiar HetPat themes elsewhere this week.
On Comment is Free I mused a little on my initial reactions to Angry White Men, the new book by Michael Kimmel, which has pretty strong links to some of what I’ve been discussing in the Malestrom series. I plan to post a bit more of a full review here sometime shortly. In the meantime here’s an extract from my Guardian piece.
However if those attitudes are at least partially stoked by very real and profound economic and social changes that have left some men feeling disempowered, marginalised, maligned and neglected, is it enough to simply demand that they suck it up and deal with it? I’m not sure.
Our newly egalitarian culture has belatedly accepted (in theory if not always practice) that men do not have a monopoly on power and authority, whether financial, political or physical. The man is no longer the master of his household, but an equal partner in a domestic project.
The gender script for women has been largely torn up – a young girl has unprecedented freedom to grow into a doctor or a nurse, a soldier or a solicitor and/or a wife and mother while men, to a large extent, are stuck with a script for a role that barely exists. To be a real man, our culture still insists, is to be the protector and provider within a society that no longer guarantees to deliver that opportunity, and where male protector-providers are not entirely necessary. It is not much of a stretch to assume that this causes immense stress and psychological conflict, which is sometimes directed inward in despair and depression, sometimes outward in anger and violence.
Over at the Independent, I have expanded a little on my recent piece about Chris Brown and his child sex revelations. I was mostly prompted by the hideous tabloid cliche “sex romp” when referring to inappropriate and abusive relationships between female adults and male juveniles, but (not surprisingly) the Indie subs picked up on the sleb angle, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
The slavering, salacious tone is not unique to this story, of course. An unscientific but revealing search on Google News archives produces hundreds of returns for the phrase “Sex romp teacher” and of the first dozen different stories, eleven referred to a female teacher with a male pupil, only once were the genders reversed. As a broad rule of thumb for tabloid terminology, a male teacher has “seedy, sordid sex” with a girl, but “abuses” a boy. A female teacher has “an illicit lesbian affair” with a girl, and “sex romps” with a boy. It goes without saying that the extent of verbal salivation in stories featuring a female offender directly correlates with her youth and conventional prettiness.
It would be tempting to dismiss this as just another manifestation of our exploitative, sexist, tabloid culture, but it speaks to a deeper and more worrying tendency for our culture to trivialise the sexual exploitation of boys by women. Relationships between teachers and young adults happen within the hazy boundaries of consent and coercion. They may not always be experienced as exploitative or traumatising for the juvenile, but they are rightly forbidden by both teachers’ ethics and the law – such relationships are always an abuse of position, an abuse of trust and have enormous potential to be psychologically harmful. That is true irrespective of the genders involved. And yet with a female perpetrator and male victim, they are described with the playful, jokey word “romp” – a journalistic cliché normally reserved for gossipy intrusions into the lives of adulterous footballers and strippers.
I’d be intrigued by your responses to either or both of the above, or feel free to use this as your weekend open thread, to chip in on whatever else has caught your attention lately.