Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Consent and Power Imbalances

As someone who has worked with teens, I have been through many workshops, and signed many forms where I agree to several things.  It is entirely age appropriate for teenagers to explore and possibly redefine their sexual identity.  There are tons of ways for them to do this that are also appropriate in communal settings.  So, acting as a chaperone or facilitator or responsible adult may mean I witness these teens expressing themselves in ways that indicate that they are in fact sexual beings.  However, as the adult with the veto power, I exist in a place where I constantly have more power.  What they may be doing is entirely appropriate, my job is to maintain the space in which they do this.  
As an adult it is also natural and appropriate for me to engage in behavior befitting my place in this world as a sexual being.  However, when I have my responsible adult hat on, what is appropriate for me to be engaging in in that moment, in that space, is not the same as what is appropriate and allowed  for those teens. I teach sex ed, so I often talk about sex with teens, but we are doing so in a specific, here are the facts way.  I am talking about it the same way I would talk about voting rights, or history.  I am not sharing personal experiences.  We may reach a place where they feel incredibly comfortable sharing very personal information with me, and my job is to trust, and hold that, to continue to create a space where they can work to be their best selves.  
So, all of this is to say, teacher/student stuff has always been a huge hard stop for me.  It's not cute to me.  It's not adorable to me if they met somewhere else, or the student is wise beyond their years.  I'm not saying books cannot contain problematic behavior.  They can.  I'm not saying there isn't space for non-consensual behavior in books.  There is.  But these things are not romance.  We say a lot that there's one rule in romance, the happily ever after.  And relationships founded on power imbalance and lack of consent do not lead to happily ever afters.  Is there a way to do this?  Yes, but the stories that keep coming up are tittering at their pushing the boundaries.  People who think consent is a cute boundary to push are not trying to write a thoughtful way through this.  
If an author wants to write taboos they can.  If a publisher says that they are reviewing a book now that sensitivities have been raised when they are releasing an erotic romance line I have concerns.  It should not have gotten to the point of arcs for someone to say high schooler and teacher is problematic no matter the age of the high schooler. I personally am not even a fan of college student TA hookups, but that's a not for me good for you squick line.  High schooler and teacher is problematic.  The whole point of it is that it's problematic (I am saying this because I read the Edelweiss description which is all the first problem is...so the marketing is about how it's problematic).  If no one in the line of acquiring editors thought that was problematic until the internet pointed it out that points to an even bigger problem.  
So, I am glad it's being reviewed. I hope it is either not published or published with drastic story changes. And no, I don't think that's censorship.  I think there's no way to publish this as romance.  So something would have to give.