More than a personal essay, this blog’s entry serves as a confession.
I recently viewed a play that eventually disturbed me. Let me start with the play…Set in Paris, this story retrospectively narrates and dramatizes the sexual orientation of a 15-year old boy who becomes his teacher’s lover and her neighbor’s conversation partner for a weekend.
For the first few days after my viewing, I opined this production to be well-written and well-acted. I thought about how the neighbor comically enters the plot just when the sexual awakening could have become unseemly. I especially appreciated the nostalgic (but not overly sentimental) retrospective of the boy as an adult.
My initial satisfied impression faded when I began to wonder how differently I would esteem this as a female coming-of-age story and if that difference reflects my immorality. Let me explain such harsh self-criticism.
A few days after my viewing, I began to wonder…what if this had been the story of a female’s sexual awakening? (Think Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening.”) Would I have applauded a male teacher’s sexual conquest with one of his female freshmen? Would I have laughed at a much older male teacher’s attempts to imitate the Kama Sutra position of “inverted congress” with his Lolita-like apprentice? Would I have been entertained with the neighbor’s promiscuity and resultant crab infestation? In short, if this had been an older male teacher seducing one of his adolescent female high school students and sexually bantering with his male neighbor, would I have gone along so eagerly for the ride?
I know the answer to that and believe that you do, also. A clear double standard. And as double standards go, a shameful one.
Belatedly, I’m speculating about how the play’s plot and content could have somehow restored my ethics…and my pride.
To be fair, introducing the prospect of being straddled with an STD helps scold the audience for pleasantly viewing the seduction. It begins to caution against promiscuity and deception. Unfortunately, having crabs becomes more comical and uncomfortable than cautionary, swapping a few laughs for a good lesson.
And there are other failed opportunities. First, there ought to be consequences to seducing your students,
which the play blatantly fails to demonstrate. When discovered—by the boy’s parents who inform the school’s authorities—the teacher is not punished. In fact, she continues teaching and maintains her affair with a married colleague. Second, although there are consequences for the boy, whose parents remove him from the school, the play portrays the father to be more like an irate authoritarian rather than a responsible parent. Most importantly, the boy’s adult male retrospective recalls his adolescent carnal rite of passage with fondness. The last scene solidifies his periodic nostalgic musings that have interspersed the play. No characterization, plot detail, or narrative perspective scolds the middle-age teacher or warns the audience to reconsider the narrator’s perspective.
But we don’t attend plays simply to align with the dramatist’s views. Obviously, we are compelled to discern and critique such a double standard of male romps and female victimizations.
Now, I realize that whether the play portrays them as “femme fatales” or society labels them as “Cougars,” no one would be laughing if the genders were reversed, that is, when a Professor Humbert Humbert arrives on stage to begin his seductions. More importantly, we don’t need to reverse the genders in order to reprove a sexual orientation operated by coercion and deception. I should not have been laughing when this woman staged her mental, emotional, and physical mauling of an innocent young man. None of us should be laughing when sexual orientation–no matter the genders–substitutes for sexual awakening. Let me explain…
A sexual orientation tale merely instructs us in sexual positions, parlance, and tactics. One person is in charge. The other is in awe. It’s a game of deception, conquest, and abandonment. We may be titillated by these stories, but we are not improved by them. For what can we learn about ourselves by witnessing an innocent, powerless person irrationally and confusedly capitulate to someone else’s cravings? Rather, we need to discern and appreciate that sexual awakening narratives–unlike sexual orientation tales–teach us to reevaluate ourselves and our relationships as adults. As such, they serve as preludes to lifelong self-actualization. These are stories between two people who hold no power over the other, who act harmoniously with each the other, and who respect themselves. Consequently, sexual awakening stories eschew intimidation and coercion, instructing us how to come of age into an adult world of responsible relationships. Sexual awakening stories, and none less moral, deserve our applause.