Here’s to You, Mrs. Robinson… For Perpetuating a Patriarchal Myth

There’s a Desperate Housewives storyline where bored, neglected housewife Gabrielle Solis has an affair with her much younger gardener. From memory, there’s a couple of references to John being only seventeen; last time I checked, the age of consent in the US was eighteen, which makes what Gabrielle is doing a little felony called statutory rape. I believe the legal definition of paedophilia is where the victim is underage and the perpetrator is twelve years or more older, so Gabrielle may be guilty of that, too.

But is it ever portrayed as a crime? No. Are we ever shown John traumatised by the affair? Apart from his reckless determination to win Gabrielle from her husband, no. If the situation were reversed – a married man in his late twenties/early thirties in a sexual relationship with a teenage girl – would he get such accepting treatment?

Absolutely not. Unless you count Amy Fisher, but that’s for another post.

We live in a society where it’s far more acceptable for older women to be in sexual relationships with teenage boys than the other way around. When older men do it, they’re sexual predators and paedophiles, their teenage victims given all the support they could ask for. But when older women do it, it’s OK, because their “˜victims’ are lucky to be getting laid, and getting laid by such experienced, worldly women. Thanks to American Pie, just about every young man in the Western World wants to lose their virginity to some hot older woman on a pool table. I shudder to think how many teenage boys have been chastised for admitting to feeling violated after such a relationship.

I think part of the reason is that if a guy can get it up, then how can it be unpleasurable? Admittedly, I have trouble with this one myself. I guess it’s on the same level as a woman orgasming during rape – in both cases, that the victim someone derived pleasure from the experience should not detract from the fact that it was rape (even statutory/paedophilia). But it often does. In fact, it almost always does.

As those of who who’ve read my previous posts know, I’m a big believer in the idea that by repressing one element of society, you repress all of society, just people who benefit most obviously from the repression – in this case, white, straight men – suffer their repression in more covert – and often more destructive – ways. By portraying sex as a man’s entitlement, the media – as wielded by the patriarchy – has informed men they have no reason to feel violated by sex (with a woman) – and by no reason they mean no right.

Would we dream of telling a teenage girl that she has no right to feel violated because she enjoyed sex with a man old enough to be her father? Hell no. Then we do we, for all intends and purposes, tell our young men that?


  1. Nialla says

    From memory, there’s a couple of references to John being only seventeen; last time I checked, the age of consent in the US was eighteen, which makes what Gabrielle is doing a little felony called statutory rape.

    Actually, no, age of consent is determined by the states, so it varies from one state to the next. In Texas, it’s 17, but with there still being a prohibition against any educator having contact with a student in primary or secondary school.

    In some states, there’s a sort of “sliding scale” of punishment, so with a 16 or 17 year old, they might just get a “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” charge, depending on the circumstances. In other states, as long as the pair are within four years of age, then it’s legal no matter what the age.

  2. Mecha says

    In the interest of being vaguely helpful and contribuiting to Nialla’s clarification, has table detailing this (and often contianing excerpts from the text of the laws in question) for all three types of sexual relations, and it does break the US down by state.

    I’m not sure what to say about the post’s content, sorry. The idea that guys never turn down sex, especially horny teenagers (every teenage sex movie says so!) is pretty entrenched. Maybe that’s one of the best ways to set up this false societal male-female conflict from the get-go. As long as teenage males have to be sex crazed sub-18 year olds who want to have sex with older women, they’ll fit right into the 18-25 group when they grow up.

    In a weird way, it almost seems to set up a ‘women must be protected’ mindset, as well as a ‘women can’t choose to screw up’ mindset for teenagers. Some sort of strange over-protective chivalry. I really don’t know. In ways, the entire mindset seems to jive with the rest of society, and in ways it doesn’t.


  3. Nialla says

    There is a bit of “women must be protected” at work, but I think it boils down to “we don’t want teenage girls getting knocked up by older men who won’t take responsibility, so they end up on government aid.”

    It was long thought that women were passive in their sexuality. They “did their duty” but didn’t enjoy sex. We know that’s not true, and if we can accept that every teen boy isn’t a hornball, maybe we can also accept that some teen girls are just as sex-crazed as some of their male counterparts.

  4. Glaivester says

    A few thoughts:

    (1) As Nialla pointed out, statutory rape laws vary by state. Moreover, whether or not a particular case of statutory rape actually involves “victimiztion” depends a lot on the circumstances. A particular line at a certain age doesn’t magically make you prepared to consent to sex [nor does a person suddenly gain or lose new insight because they cross a state or national border where the age of consent is different; it’s just that we have to draw a line somewhere. An adult in a relationship with a thirteen-year-old is obviously violative; one with a seventeen-year-old may or may not be depending on the actual circumstances.

    (2) Paedophilia is an attraction to pre-pubescent children. Attraction to people who are underage but who have hit puberty (that is, to dolescents) is ephebophilia.

    Finally, in John’s reaction (which from what scarelett said appears to be a romantic obsession with Gabrielle) necessarily unrealistic? It seems like the reaction that a girl as well as a boy might have. I would also think that ataching one’s self to a powerful older person who had sex with you could be considered part of being traumatized.

    In the SVU episode “Head,” the victim of a female pedophile wound up thinking he was in love with her; it was never suggested that this was a healthy reaction.

  5. scarlett says

    OK, well, in Australia it’s fairly cut and dried. In most states the age of consent is sixteen, and over that it doesn’t matter how old the victim or perpetrator was – you often hear about cases of a 16 y/o boy having sex with his 15 y/o girlfriend and being done for stat rape. (Although sometimes there’s leniancy shown thedre but this is discretionary, not law). Although, I was told at some point (and I could be wrong) that the legal definition of peodphilia is when the victim is underage (under sixteen, in most states) and the perpetrator is twelve years+ over – for for a fifteen-year-old, that would be 27, for a thirteen-year-old, twenty-five etc. Again, this is Aust informatoin I was going out but I thopught it was worth throwing in.
    My point is that we see so many examples of teenage boys in sexual relationships with much older women and they aren’t the least bit traumatised over it. At one point in DH, John’s father explains to Gabrielle that he’s going to leniant on her because he wishes he’d made a mistake like Gabrielle when he was John’s age. If it had been his teenage daughter shacked up with an older man, would be be so understanding? Probably not. Are boys so different from girls that having sex too young, and with someone significantly older and more experienced, is no great trauma to them? I doubt it. But here we are perpetuating that myth by saying boys would give anything to sleep with such worldly, older woman. That John didn’t appear the least bit traumatised is not the point; that he most likely WOULD HAVE shoould be.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    My take on the post depends on what’s being asked. And I don’t watch the show, so I don’t know what the vibe was. What I’m wondering is: what if this was Desperate Househusbands, a show about the new breed of house-hubbies bored and looking for trouble, and one of them was boinking the 17 year old nanny? Would it be written as hot and sexy, or a little disturbing?”

    I suspect it would be treated as a bit disturbing. If what Scarlett describes is being treated as completely romantic and/or sexy, then they’re reinforcing the bone-headed idea that women can’t sexually victimize men.

  7. scarlett says

    It’s interesting you make a point about a nanny, because in one ep, a husband is attracted to their nanny, so she gets fired, and he’s in the doghouse for a little while, even though he didn’t actually do anything. The moral? It’s (apparantly) wrong for men to be attracted to their nannies, but perfectly fine for women to sleep with their underage gardners.

  8. Jokel says

    Admittedly, I have trouble with this one myself. I guess it’s on the same level as a woman orgasming during rape

    Not quite. “Getting it up” is only loosely connected with pleasure and can be as involuntary as a reflex reaction. When all the plumbing is in working order, physical input is often enough to maintain it even if every conscious fibre of the victim’s being is against the act.

  9. SunlessNick says

    The moral? It’s (apparantly) wrong for men to be attracted to their nannies, but perfectly fine for women to sleep with their underage gardners.

    The other moral is that it’s ok to punish a woman for the wrong man being attracted to her. Since she got fired.

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