In the scope of things, it may be a silly battle; but I find myself continually touting the equality of female lust. Modern men will concede that women can enjoy sex as much as they do. But when we take this maxim out of the purely theoretical realm, even the most self-professedly “progressive” men seem to have not really internalized it.
This is especially true when it comes to taboo lusting. From the way we talk about infidelity to the way we talk about teacher sex scandals, dudes are oft assumed to corner the market on imprudent, impassioned desires.
I was reminded of this at a party last weekend. A group of graduate students was doing faculty impersonations, including one of an orientation speaker who lectured new instructors on appropriate behavior. “Do not ask students to meet you for office hours at a bar,” one of them mimicked. Others joined in, and the “advice” got more absurd—”do not rest your penis on your desk while meeting with students,” etc.
It was amusing, even as an interloper to this group. But all of the hyperbolic warnings were directed at male professors ‘What, women professors never get sexually inappropriate?” I asked the assembled.
“You’re right, you’re right,” the four men and one woman agreed. Donning the impression voice, one of the guys went for another stab at it.
“Now ladies, I know some of these 18-year-old boys will be coming into your office with their un-receded hairlines and their pectoral muscles,” he began, as we all snickered. “But just because they look innocent, it doesn’t mean you should believe them when they say they’ll stick around in the morning.”
Come again? Even in conjuring this fictional lady professor/male student scenario, the assumption involved male desire/pursuit and female reaction/passivity (not to mention the tired idea that the ladies always want a relationship from sex, and guys never do).
The subject then shifted slightly, to sexual relationships between high school teachers and students. Most of us said we’d seen it happen in our own high schools.
“You know, I know it’s still wrong when women teachers have relationships with male students,” one of the guys said. “Like, I know guys can be traumatized by that, too, or whatever. But I can’t help but think, man, if a young teacher had come on to me when I was 16…..” He trailed off as people laughed.
And here, again, we had the assumption of men and women (or boys and girls) as fundamentally opposite psychosexual beings. Of course a 16-year-old boy can’t be molested, because 16-year-old boys will have sex with anything they can. Of course a 16-year-old girl must have been forced, coerced or manipulated.
“I would totally have had sex with some my teachers at 16!” I blurted out to my fellow party guests, which is not really true because I went to a Catholic high school at that point and most of my teachers were nuns. But I could theoretically see my younger self getting moony-eyed over teach. I did wind up losing my virginity to the director of our high-school plays.
I don’t mean to imply student-teacher sex is ever a good idea—there are reasons we have norms (and laws) against it. But I do object to our teen girls getting no agency, particularly no sexual agency, in these narratives. As Betsy Karasik opined in a Washington Post editorial last week, “I’ve been a 14-year-old girl, and so have all of my female friends. When it comes to having sex on the brain, teenage boys got nothin’ on us.”
It doesn’t change much with age, guys. You can bet that our theoretical tail-chasing lady professor doesn’t want a 21-year-old in her bed come morning any more than you do. But she does want him in her bed.