So I have sent an email in to the Editor of News.com.au (maybe this blog should be called Skeptic’s Guide to News.com.au), about the representation of a female PE teacher who had sexual relations with a male student:
Can you please look at revising the attached image for the following story on PE teacher/Student relationship. I feel that the picture normalises the issue and makes out that due to her ‘attractiveness’ that the relationship was OK. If we flipped the roles and it was a male doing the exploiting, I am quite sure that this news would not have been reported in this manner. This is a sexual exploitation matter, regardless of whether the teacher is attractive, a person with a degree of trust and a disproportionate amount of social power engaged in a sexual relationship with a person with less power.
Seriously, what were the journalists, editors and layout people thinking when they chose this photo (a stock shot of a buxom lass with a clipboard)? My main issue is that it sexualises the issue and makes out that there is some kind of normal in an attractive teacher exploiting a young person. This has zero to do with her attractiveness and far more to do with the fact that, under the law, she can be seen as a sexual predator. As mentioned in my email, the teacher, in this arrangement has a disproportionate amount of power over the student and that this means that by the power of social psychology, she is able to get him to act in certain ways, due to the expectations and rules that, whilst unspoken, are very much set by the cultures that we live in.
I did ponder whether this happened with a male teacher, what would happen, would his physical appearance even be brought into the news article, would it matter if he was ‘sexy’ or that the teenage girls pined over him? Or would it only matter that he had engaged in sexual activities with and individual with whom he could exert exceptional social control over? I also wonder what the public reaction would be should a stock photo of a male showing his chest with a clipboard was used in the same manner as it was in this piece.
Again the issue is not the reality of the situation, the reality is that the teacher in question is currently facing Court and that this will be decided in the correct judicial process (hopefully). The issue here is that the media have chosen to use the physical appearance of a female in order to make the article a novelty piece, or even worse, to excuse the actions of the teacher because she is just too darn pretty to resist.