Can you believe this?
Is sex with teens different if adult is a woman?
October 31, 2002
To: Mary Schmich
From: Eric Zorn
Were you troubled recently by the news that a 41-year-old female
Glenbard East High School library aide was arrested and charged with having
sexual contact with three male students, two of them 16 and one 17?
The woman's mug shot was all over TV and officials said her "abuse" of
the students was an "outrage." She's facing up to 14 years in prison,
in part because as a library aide she was in "a position of trust,
authority or supervision" over the students, whom DuPage County State's
Atty. Joe Birkett tremblingly referred to as children.
I was troubled. First, with all due respect to high school library
aides, I doubt they have sexually coercive authority over even the most
delinquent borrowers. Second, these "children" are actually young men whom
Birkett and most prosecutors would charge as adults in other
And third, because they are young men, I doubt very much that this
"abuse" will be anything worse for them than a mixed memory--kinda sleazy
on the one hand, kinda cool on the other.
We're obliged to frown at such news. Yet when it broke I was inclined
to agree with WLS-AM's Jay Marvin, the Round Mound of Propound, who
admitted on the air that he dreamed in high school of tawdry encounters
with fetching members of the faculty and speculated that even men publicly
condemning the conduct of the library aide were secretly envious of the
I don't know about envy, but it does strike me as a drastic
overreaction to charge the woman with felonies and publicly humiliate her husband
and their six kids. Fire her, yes. Fooling around with students isn't
cool. But suspend the students too. They also knew better. And kept it
Yet if the sexes were reversed--a 41-year-old male library aide romping
with female students--my frowns would be genuine. That situation
intuitively seems worse to me for a variety of biological, social, cultural
reasons that I touched on Tuesday in my gender-based analysis of
"Jackass: The Movie."
It's different for boys, Mary, because boys are different. Pretending
otherwise is silly. Agreed?
To: Eric Zorn
From: Mary Schmich
Did you ever see "Summer of '42?" It was my favorite movie in my teens,
the tale of a 15-year-old boy who falls in love and bed with the wife
of a World War II soldier. It's told with tenderness by the boy, now a
man. It never crosses his mind, or the audience's, that the woman is a
I bring it up not to defend adult-teenage sex, but to show that in a
certain light such legally offensive relationships can seem moving and
Even without that rosy recollection, my gut answer to your question
about whether teen-adult affairs are different when the adult is a woman
Men who have sexual relations with teenage girls are predators. Women
who have sexual relations with teenage boys are likelier to be doing
just that--having relations, not pouncing.
But if I let my gut response rule, my brain won't respect me in the
morning. Sex, my brain says, is never as simple as gender.
It's hard to make universally fair rules on sexual behavior. Men aren't
the same as women. Guts aren't the same as brains. And no two people
are alike. So bad conduct that might constitute abuse in one case may be
equal opportunity misbehavior in another.
We news consumers can't know the full moral or emotional dimensions of
the library aide's story. In some cultures, 17-year-olds are apt to be
married with children. And being involved with a 41-year-old isn't
necessarily more harmful to a 17-year-old than being involved with another
But it often is. And we have a law here. The aide broke it--not with
just one boy, but three. She should be punished. The question is, not so
I recently saw a news show in which a judge asked a female teacher on
trial for sex with a male student, "What were you thinking?"
Her tearful, approximate reply: "I was thinking like a 15-year-old."
The library aide's probably guilty of the same.
On TV, the judge gave the teacher probation, a punishment my gut says
suits the library case. To which my brain tuts: If these women were men,
you'd think another creep was just let back on the loose.
Copyright (c) 2002, Chicago Tribune
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