I have been an ardent fan of Pretty Little Liars for years- after all, the thrills of a murder mystery combined with sappy romances makes for a show any high schooler could fall in love with. It's a show about teenagers that is clearly tailored for and profits off of teenage viewers. To really tug on the heartstrings of these starry eyed viewers, the show features a sexual relationship between the sixteen year old protagonist and her English teacher. This relationship is an aspect of the show that the viewers, who are mostly teenage girls, enthusiastically engage with and dub as "romantic." Pinterest boards, tumblr pages, and tee shirts are just a few of the ways fans express their deluded romanticization of this unhealthy relationship. Pretty Little Liars even sells merchandise glorifying the controversial couple.
Though this relationship is obviously a staged one in a show, it is still a relevant example of the sexism that encompasses gender constructs. A woman has always been viewed as most societally acceptable when she is the epitome of innocence- when her sexuality is locked away in her temple of "self-respect" in order to maintain her purity. What she does, what she wears, how she looks, and who she associates with are all factors that society uses to determine how pristine that temple is. A man, on the other hand, gains respect from his peers for his ability to display dominance. His ability to take charge is what we as a society expect. The way these constructs come into play in the media is disgustingly harmful to teenagers.
If the English teacher in Pretty Little Liars was a woman and the student a teenage boy, their sexual relationship would not be viewed as "romantic." No one would dare to make Pinterest boards planning out their wedding or wear a tee shirt with their corny relationship name because the woman is not sticking to her gender role. This woman is risking her job and taking charge by taking advantage of a teenage boy, and we are told THIS is not romantic. Because a woman needs to be submissive, lock her sexuality away, and not put it on the line. Gender constructs tell us that this woman is a s***. Though this woman should justifiably take legal and moral blame for the inappropriate relationship, we as a society encourage young boys to enter these kinds of relationships when opportunity strikes. Everytime we high five a boy for his "sexual conquests" we are telling him that his job is to score a woman. The harder the challenge, the more praise he will receive. Being with an older woman who is your teacher is definitely a "challenge" that we convince a boy to take on because we reward him with praise each time he "gets some."
Female teachers who statutorily rape teenage boys generally face less jail time than male teachers who statutorily rape teenage girls. Clearly the courtroom, like the rest of our society, does not see a young boy as a temple of innocence. Clearly the courtroom does not see any real crime because how could a woman ever destroy a man's purity? Clearly the courtroom sees no harm done because the boy must have enjoyed the relationship and exercised his god given masculinity. Clearly the courtroom sees the woman's biggest crime is being a "s***" but she is not a "real rapist." Punishing a female teacher less than a male teacher is telling a young boy that he can't be a victim. It is telling a woman that she is invincible of being found a rapist, and she never needs consent from any male. It is telling a young girl that a male teacher's punishment for taking advantage of her is so severe because he took away her youthful worth which is defined by her pure sexuality.
When I saw a photo of the Pretty Little Liars' actors posing with shirts of the teenage girl and her teacher, captioned "The Ultimate Relationship," I let out an I-hate-misogynistic-capitalism scoff. We are perpetuating rape culture by telling young girls that it is sexy to be taken advantage of and to let a man display his true dominance. We are telling eachother that it is okay to sexualize high school girls (evident in the "sexy school girl" trope.) No matter what way it is spun, all student-teacher relationships are unhealthy. It has been psychologically proven that there is an increased sense of power in a teacher in these inds of relationships which is one of the reasons these "romances" are dangerous.
To the meninists who say "women have it better than men- they are never convicted of rape!"-- think about the system that men created to masculate themselves through dominance in relationships. That is the same system that treats women as incompetent and submissive. If we want to end the glorification of rape, we need to rid our society of these gender stereotypes.