'It's different for boys'


We shouldn't be surprised the next time a judge like Baltimore County's Thomas J. Bollinger makes some Neanderthal comment about "every man's fantasy" of sex with a helpless woman, or the next time a group like the "Spur Posse," the California high school athletes who competed for points by racking up sexual conquests, hits the headlines. How can it be any different when society is still teaching boys that, when it comes to sex, real men don't have feelings?

The case of Laurie Cook, the Northeast High science teacher charged with abusing a 14-year-old male student, was disturbing, not because a jury found her innocent, but because many people thought it wouldn't have been a big deal had she been guilty. Society laments the way former Anne Arundel teacher Ronald Price abused young girls, but it maintains, "It's different for boys." It's not just that adolescent males are expected to have sex; they're assumed to be incapable of attaching any emotional significance to it.

This thinking at once excuses them when they exploit others and deems them unexploitable. When teen-age boys at a suburban California school formed the Spur Posse and competed to see who could sleep with the most girls, supporters rationalized their heartless promiscuity as no more than what you'd expect from "red-blooded American boys." Many people reacted the same way after a horrifying Glen Ridge, N.J., incident in which several popular high school athletes used, among other things, a baseball bat to assault a retarded girl.

Conversely, when a young boy says an older woman has had sex with him, the most common reaction (especially among men) seems to be, "Lucky kid!" There's a general sense that, even if such a sexual experience is morally wrong, it cannot be harmful or abusive as it would be for a girl. Girls have feelings about sex; boys do not.

This is hogwash. Young men are not born with their bodies and emotions inhabiting separate universes, nor are they incapable of bringing responsibility and caring to their sexual experiences. In the Glen Ridge incident, there were boys who walked away because they knew what was happening was wrong. Yet plenty of "red-blooded American boys" are growing quickly into men with callous attitudes toward women, an inability to express emotion and the mistaken notion that sex is sport.

It's not all their fault. They're just living up to expectations.

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