Student-Teacher Affairs: Predatory, Not Erotic
By Mana Ravenel
TW/CW: mentions of rape and sexual assault
Image via BuzzFeed
Teachers play a critical role in society. They are one of the first adults outside of a child’s family that both child and family come to trust. They give children drive and purpose, giving them the necessary tools to help them become vital, successful citizens of the world. Teachers can also serve as a support system in a child’s life. In a way, they become our “parents away from home,” watching over us for 6 hours every weekday for 180 days.
The bond a child has with a teacher is meant to be something special and productive. It likens to a mentor-mentee relationship and can even become one that feels very intimate and personal. However, there is a line that teachers should know not to cross. A teacher and student relationship should never turn into one of a romantic nature. Morally, it is an obvious display of impropriety. Teachers have superiority and authority over students, and a great power imbalance would exist in the relationship. Moreover, it is almost impossible for grooming to not exist in these relationships. Most, if not all, of these relationships are a result of grooming and manipulation towards the student. It is difficult for it to not exist considering the power imbalance and significant control the teacher possesses over the child in an educational context.
Teachers who have inappropriate and sexual relations with their students can face legal percussions. In the state of Texas, a sexual relationship between a student and a teacher is strictly prohibited. According to Texas Penal Code 21.12, an inappropriate relationship between an educator and student in a public or private secondary and primary school is a criminal offense. It is illegal for an educator or staff of these institutions to engage in sexual conversations, behavior, and intercourse if the student is officially enrolled in school. Additionally, the law prohibits any form of deviant intercourse with a student by employees of a public or private school. These inappropriate relationships between teachers and students may result in arrest as well as the termination of the teacher’s license. If the student is under the age of 18, the adult will more than likely be charged with statutory rape of a minor and face consequences such as having to register as a sex offender.
With the seriousness of student-teacher relationships, it is difficult to imagine it being the center of entertainment media, especially those targeted towards children. People most often disagree with harmful ideas and narratives being pushed onto children through movies, television dramas, books, etc. Despite this, a popular trope in modern media is the “erotic, forbidden, teacher-student love story.”
A few months ago, I came across Netflix’s series, Dare Me. After watching the trailer, I began to watch it. One episode became two which became four which became six, and long story short, I found myself staring at the screen after ten episodes. After I had time to digest what I had just spent almost ten hours of my life watching, I felt incredibly disturbed.
The series follows a cheerleading squad and their coach in a small town. This is a common plotline we see in teen entertainment- the whole “small town, big lies” ordeal. In Dare Me, a highly inappropriate relationship between the coach- Colette- and one of the cheerleaders -Addy- plays a critical role in the show’s storyline. It was beyond unsettling to see the heavy prominent sexual tension between Coach Colette and Addy in the show. Although the two never act on these tensions, and it serves more as the two’s desire for control and something exciting in life- it is, for lack of a better word, weird.
Image via Polygon
The CW’s teen drama Riverdale explores this trope in its first episode. We see Archie, a sixteen year old boy, having a history of sexual and “romantic” relations with his teacher, Miss Grundy. Although Miss Grundy is essentially run out of town, she never faces any consequences for her actions. It seems as though the characters- and perhaps even the writers of the show- let it slip from their minds that Archie is a victim. Although there are many theories about the location of Riverdale, from Iowa to California and even Vermont, it is widely accepted that it is in New York. This would mean that Miss Grundy could have been charged with third-degree rape and faced up to four years in prison. New York law states that it is “third-degree rape for anyone age 21 or older to have sexual intercourse with someone under age 17.” The nature of the “relationship” Miss Grundy had with Archie was beyond creepy- it was predatory and illegal.
The obsession the media has with the student-teacher trope outline is immensely problematic. It glamorizes, romanticizes, and sexualises predatory relationships. There is nothing inherently attractive or sexy about a grown adult pursuing a child who has yet to even complete the developmental stage of their life. In doing so, this trope normalizes sexual assault and statutory rape. People tend to turn a blind eye to the seriousness of statutory rape. They carry a mindset of “my body, my choice,” which in many conversations and debates is a phrase I can get behind and support. In cases like these however, they fail to realize that they are a victim of manipulation, grooming, and sexual assault. The student-teacher trope being eroticized and romanticized undermines the severity of these issues as well as that of the abuse of power that occurs in these relations. The students in these relationships are not part of a forbidden romance that one day will prevail over all obstacles and hardships, they are part of a dynamic in which they are being manipulated, abused mentally and sexually, and exploited.
Forms of entertainment media such as movies and television series are meant to be entertaining. This entertainment can sometimes happen through the exploration of heavy, disturbing topics. It can be argued that because the student-teacher affairs we see in the media are completely fictional, it is unreasonable to ask that this trope be entirely forbidden. I do not think it is reasonable to ask that this trope never be used. What I do think is reasonable is to ask that it stop being so romanticized. It is inappropriate, cruel, vile and even invalidating to slap “forbidden-romance” onto a sexual assault story. There is only one way to appropriately go about this trope and that is by emphasizing the predatory, disturbing, illegal, nature of it. It is crucial that creators who romanticize and glamorize this trope- and their work- experience an overwhelming amount of scrutiny and criticism so as to influence them and the media to finally stop normalizing such vile and dangerous narratives.
Written by writer Mana Ravenel