Cougars, Silver Foxes, and the new AAUW Sexual Harassment Study

Two new posts at Good Men Project this week:

Sexual Harassment on Campus: It’s a Guy Thing looks at the powerful new AAUW report on sexualized harassment in schools (co-authored by my friend Holly Kearl.) Excerpt:

What drives sexual harassment isn’t testosterone. Boys are not born to harass. What enables and encourages so many of them to harass girls and other boys are the “rules of manhood” that prize cruelty, swagger, and aggression. Boys who are shamed out of crying and who are shamed out of forming close friendships with girls are “set up” to become bullies and harassers. They use words (and worse) to enforce a strict Guy Code among other boys. (The study found, not surprisingly, that male-on-male harassment tends to employ homophobic language.) And they harass girls to win attention and praise from other boys—and to feel the thrill of power over vulnerable young women.

And a reworking of an old post on an old theme: Why Cougars are Better than Silver Foxes. Excerpt:

I’m not saying that every older woman/younger man relationship is inherently progressive while every older man/younger woman coupling is oppressive and reactionary. A great many young women do exercise great agency in relationships with older men. But there’s no escaping that given who has power in our culture, the reality is that the potential for abuse and exploitation is likely to be much higher in an age-disparate relationship where it is the man who is the elder of the lovers. We must note, too, that we live in a world where men are seen as growing both more “visible” and more powerful as they age, while women, past a certain age, are either desexualized or mocked. “Cougar” was not coined as a compliment; “silver fox” was.

Young men in consensual relationships with older women (or older men) aren’t having sex in a culture in which they are told, over and over again, that their beauty is their number one asset. We raise men to believe that good looks are a happy and welcome bonus, not an essential component of success. While underage boys can be victims of rape by women (a point I made here), their slightly older male counterparts are culturally better equipped to enter into consensual sexual relationships with older women (or men) than are their female peers. This isn’t because boys mature faster. This is because boys aren’t raised to believe that their sexual value has a rapidly approaching sell-by date. Whatever sexual power he may have in his youth, a young man knows he’s likely to have far more of a different—and more enduring—kind of clout when he gets older. Girls, raised as they are in a culture that values youthful female beauty above all else, have no such reassurance.
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