Tag Archives: sex crimes

Should We Re-Think Our Expectations Of Teenagers?

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When I was a teenager and in a particularly bad mood, which happened more often than I care to admit, there was this one thing my parents often told me that really pissed me off.  It came out in many forms, but this was the underlying sentiment.

“If you EXPECT it to be a bad experience, then it’s GOING to be bad experience.”

I can’t recount how many times I heard something like this. I just remember it pissing me off even more every time I heard it. They usually said it to me whenever we were going out to do something that didn’t involve me sulking in my mood. Being the great parents they were, they didn’t let that happen. They got me off my ass and out of that mindset.

They probably didn’t know at the time, but that bit of good parenting reflects a real phenomenon within our collective psyche. It’s called expectancy theory and it’s kind of what it sounds like.

It’s based on the principle that if someone has certain expectations about something, it’ll affect how they approach it. If they have a positive, hopeful attitude, then they’ll be more likely to evoke positive, hopeful outcomes. If they’re negative about it, as I often was, then it’s not going to turn out well and confirmation bias will help make it worse.

With that in mind, I’d like to apply this to an experience that’s pretty much universal for everyone. Specifically, I want to focus on our expectations as and towards teenagers. Now, I know I’ve given teenagers a lot of crap on this blog, often highlighting how they tend to do dumb things and have misguided attitudes. In my defense, my own confirmation bias has somewhat affected that.

I did not have a good teenage experience. I had a terrible attitude for much of my teenage years and, despite having great parents and amazing social support, I found ways to make myself miserable. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus less on my own experience and more on the concept as a whole.

Take a moment, whether you’re a teenager or not, to ask a few important questions about the sentiment you have towards teenagers. Don’t just think about how you feel about it, personally. Think about how we collectively approach the teenage experience.

Are teenagers more deviant because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be deviant?

Are teenagers more immature because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be immature?

Are teenagers disrespectful because of their basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be disrespectful?

Are teenagers more prone to risky behavior because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to do risky things?

See the pattern? There seems to be this underlying assumption about teenagers that rarely gets scrutinized. It’s this idea that all the biological changes that teenagers go through with puberty somehow transforms them from these sweet, innocent children into these reckless, irresponsible, proto-adults who aren’t capable of managing themselves.

It’s fairly likely that all those biological transformations that teenagers go through has some affect on their mentality. However, even the most up-to-date research on the issue concedes that our understanding of the mechanisms behind the process are extremely limited. What that means in a scientific context is we should not assume that our assumptions at the moment are wholly valid.

It may very well be the case that our expectations about teenagers have a significant impact on how we treat them. In turn, how we treat them ends up affecting how they act in response. Then, when they react, we use confirmation bias to justify our expectations. It comes off as one elaborate self-fulfilling prophecy to which we all contribute.

When you think about it, the signs are there. If you’re a teenager, just look at how the world treats you. If you’re an adult, think about how you were treated as a teenager and how you treat teenagers now.

We impose strict curfews about what they can do with their private time. We don’t trust them to consent to sexual activity until a certain age. We regularly send them to educational institutions where their lives and schedules are strictly controlled, not unlike that of prisoners. Whenever there’s a crime or an act of deviance, we tend to expect teenagers to be involved.

From my own experience, I can attest to this. When I was in high school, I noticed a distinct change in the way adults and teachers dealt with us, compared to middle and elementary school. Suddenly, everything we did was subject to greater scrutiny. It was as though everyone thought that we, a bunch of hormonal teenagers, were just one impulse away from becoming violent deviants.

I’m not going to lie. I found that kind of insulting. Teachers, adults, and even police officers would talk down to us whenever they discussed things like sex, crime, and even our personal lives. It wasn’t just that we were expected to screw up. It was almost as though we were supposed to screw up.

It never really crossed my mind that being a teenager could mean anything else. The idea that these attitudes were somehow flawed never entered my mind. I don’t think many people, including other teenagers, give it much thought now. That may very well be a problem that only makes itself worse the longer we have these expectations.

Part of what inspired me to write about this topic is an article from TheVerge that pitched the crazy, yet oddly logical idea that we should consider those under the age of 24 to still be teenagers. I admit I thought it was a joke at first, albeit not of The Onion variety. However, the author does make some interesting points.

Compared to earlier generations, youth today are staying in school longer, marrying and having kids later, and buying a house later, writes Susan Sawyer, the chair of adolescent health at the University of Melbourne, in an op-ed published today in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. The transition period from childhood to adulthood lasts far beyond age 19, when it is popularly thought to end. As a result, she writes, we should change our policies and services to better serve this population.

In a sense, the author of the article is doubling down on the expectations. Now, it’s not just people who don’t have a two in front of their age to which we should ascribe these assumptions. We need to apply that to people even older because somehow, they’re still not meeting the other expectations we have of functioning adults.

Personally, I think that’s taking things in the wrong direction. If we’re going to start expecting more deviance and immaturity from more people, then that’s what we’re going to see and not just from confirmation bias. Just as I did as a kid, my negative expectations led to negative manifestations. Now, they may follow young people beyond high school.

It’s not magical thinking to say that attitude matters when it comes to dealing with people. Human psychology is extremely complex and varies wildly from individual to individual, but humans are still a very social species. As such, treating others with respect and maturity will provide them with incentives to do the same.

I don’t deny that certain assumptions are difficult to escape, especially when some of them are incorporated into actual policies. Even if we woke up tomorrow and started treating everyone over the age of 13 as a responsible adult, it probably wouldn’t resolve the many issues we still have with youth in society. However, as I came to learn as an adult, having a good attitude goes a long way towards achieving a good outcome.

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Aziz Ansari: A Case Study Of He Said/She Said And Impossible Justice

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Ordinarily, I prefer to wait until an ongoing scandal involving a celebrity dies down before I comment on it. In my experience, it takes time for the full story to emerge. Most of the time, a more complete story tends to render any premature comments moot. John Carpenter recently provided a notable example of why such prudence is important.

That said, there are times when patience is also moot because the narrative follows an all too familiar pattern. It becomes so predictable that you can practically set your watch to it. Over the past several months, especially since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, we’ve seen that pattern play out in all sorts of disheartening ways. That’s why I’m opting not to wait on offering comments on Aziz Ansari.

By now, everybody with an internet connection, a social media feed, and a predilection for celebrity meltdowns knows the story. Aziz Ansari is the latest case of the Weinstein Effect. His name has officially been added to the growing list of male celebrities being accused of sexual misconduct.

The story first broke on Babe.net where a 23-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer calling herself Grace, which isn’t her real name, told a very distressing story about a night she had with Ansari. That story reads like a bad date, but still echoes with some of the same themes that Harvey Weinstein has helped make infamous. Naturally, this story is already striking a chord with the ongoing anti-harassment movement.

The way Grace tells it, she got into a situation that she lost control over and Ansari took advantage of that situation. I don’t want to get too caught up in the details. They’re just too unsexy, even for an aspiring erotica/romance writer.

Before I even attempt to comment, it’s worth pointing out that Grace said herself that she confronted Ansari about this privately. On the surface, it seemed like a terrible example of miscommunication and mixed messages. According to the article, this was the exchange.

Grace: I just want to take this moment to make you aware of [your] behavior and how uneasy it made me.

Ansari: Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.

If this had occurred several years ago, that probably would’ve been the end of it. The incident would’ve been a nasty experience for Grace and an uncomfortable memory for Ansari, but it probably wouldn’t have made the news, outside a few disreputable tabloids. Since powerful men harassing women has become a far greater issue, though, this is now national news.

It’s already generating the kind of divisive arguments that have been cropping up since the Weinstein scandal. Supporters of the anti-harassment movement are siding with Grace, accepting her story as another example of powerful men exploiting women. Opponents, including a few celebrities, are saying this movement is going too far and devolving into a man-hating witch-hunt.

Neither side is going to convince the other they’re wrong. Both sides have plenty of rhetoric to make their point. When I look at this story, though, I see far greater forces at work. I also see a devolving situation that is doing more to divide people in lieu of addressing real issues surrounding men, women, consent, and harassment.

When you read over Grace’s story and then read the statement Aziz Ansari issued in response, there’s one inescapable fact. It’s impossible to vindicate or disprove either version of the story. It is very much a classic he said/she said ordeal. She said he assaulted her. He said everything they did was consensual. There’s no way to be certain.

Sure, there’s a distinct possibility that one of them is lying. Everyone, celebrity and non-celebrity alike, is prone to lying. There have been documented incidents of women falsely accusing men. There have been men who have lied and gotten away with sexual misconduct. However, without knowing more details about the incident, it’s not possible to truly know.

Me being a guy who places a lot of faith in people, I suspect that both Grace and Ansari believe they’re telling the truth. I believe that if you hooked them up to a perfect lie detector, it would verify that both of them believe their respective stories with all their hearts.

This sounds like an impossible position until you remember that our memories are not very reliable, especially when it comes to unpleasant memories. Beyond simply not remembering the details of a terrible situation, our brains are wired to avoid the kind of mental discomfort that comes with enduring or committing a sexual assault at all costs, even if that means mis-remembering the truth.

It’s because of this that the he said/she said nature of stories like this is difficult to process. It creates a scenario that’s different from most other crimes and injustices. There’s no dead body. There’s no lost or damaged property. There’s nothing tangible to highlight the crime or misdeed. There are only two conflicting stories. As a result, it leads to a situation of impossible justice.

Even if everything Grace described happened exactly as she said it did, there’s no way to prove it in a courtroom or even a civil case. Even if Ansari is one-hundred percent innocent and is the victim of an elaborate extortion plot, there’s no way to prove that either, absent a confession or new information.

In both instances, there’s an injustice being committed. Since humans are wired with an innate sense of justice that shows even when we’re infants, that situation is untenable in our collective minds. People hear a terrible story like Grace’s and that inner justice system goes into overdrive.

Since we don’t have the time, energy, or even the capabilities to gather all the facts, we’re left relying on a certain degree of prejudice. This is where the impossible justice of he said/she said gets real ugly and this scandal with Ansari demonstrates it. When people start relying on prejudices, it tends to bring out the worst in humanity.

For those who believe our culture is full of entitled, misogynistic men who see women only as objects to be owned, then their prejudices will be reinforced by this story. For those who believe the movement against sexual misconduct is going too far and all men are being demonized, this story does the same.

That’s greatest tragedy of an impossible justice. It gives certain people the anecdotal evidence they need to further their agenda. It also gives those who stand against that agenda even more incentive to fight back. In the end, it only serves to heighten hostilities and intensify the rhetoric.

At a time when men and women are increasingly divided, especially in matters pertaining to sex and intimacy, this sort of story really drives us in all the wrong directions. It frames all men as sleazy pigs who jump at any opportunity to harass a woman. It frames all women as victims who must fight back against everyone and everything attacking them, real or imagined.

For me, personally, this story makes me sick to my stomach because it’s one of those stories that’s perfect for pushing an agenda, but not for pursuing justice. If what happened to Grace is true, then I’m in favor of having Ansari face justice for his misdeeds. I say that as someone who has been a fan of his comedy and his work on “Parks and Recreation.”

As it stands, though, there’s not enough evidence beyond the he said/she said dynamic to convict anyone of a crime. Absent that kind of justice, people are filling in the blanks with whatever gender-driven prejudices they want to strengthen.

In my personal opinion, which may put me at odds with both sides, I believe that there’s a third version of this story between Grace and Ansari that is closer to the truth. In that version, Ansari isn’t a total gentleman and Grace isn’t a hapless victim either. It’s just an experience that becomes awkward and unpleasant for them, the memories of which later get conflated and influenced by outside sources.

In the end, it’s still impossible to know for sure. Short of high-definition video, unambiguous audio, and an ability to read the exact thoughts of both Grace and Ansari during those moments when they were together, we can’t know how consensual or hostile the situation was between them. It messes with our desire for justice, especially when it comes to how men treat women.

In seeking that justice, though, it’s important to remember that there are instances where the truth isn’t just elusive. It’s physically impossible to ascertain. In those instances, trying to fill that uncertainty with agendas will only lead to more injustice in the long run for everyone.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society

Perception Vs. Reality: ANOTHER Unfair Fight

Did you hear the news? Rates of crime, violence, and deviance are skyrocketing thanks to that horribly evil corrupting influence known as pornography! Wait…I may have been mistaken. I think that influence is violent video games now. Hold on, I think it might have been internet harassment.

Or was it violent movies?

Or was it comic books?

Or was it heavy metal music?

Or was it MTV?

Or was it the Simpson/Family Guy/Bevis and Butthead?

Or was it Dungeons and Dragons?

I’m sorry. I just can’t keep up with all these terribly corrupting influence. It seems like there’s a new one every other year. In every case, this latest influence will be the one that turns our culture into an orgy of meth-addicted chimps armed with machine guns.

I’ll turn the sarcasm off now. Hopefully, I don’t need to point out the breadth of the absurdity I just described. If anyone bought into any of these so-called scourges, then we’d all be living in a Martin Scorsese crime drama by now. Since Joe Pesci hasn’t come to break my legs with a baseball bat, I’m going to take a moment to give the terrified masses a reassuring hug and explain that the world isn’t that terrifying.

Sadly, hugs only go so far. Reassuring the terrified masses requires that I fight a losing battle. That battle is between the forces of perception and reality. Unfortunately, it might as well be a battle between a sick kitten and hungry grizzly bear armed with chainsaw.

This is going to sound cynical, but it’s kind of a byproduct for someone seeking a career in crafting elaborate fiction. Perception kicks reality’s ass every, single, goddamn time. Why shouldn’t it though? Reality is cold, callous, and boring. Reality is the reason we don’t win the lottery every week. Reality is the reason we don’t get our dream job, live in our dream house, or marry our dream girl/guy.

With perception, luck is always on our side. We are always the center of the universe. We are John McClane in the body of a young Bruce Willis, living out our own Die Hard movie where countless European thugs with bad accents are out to get us. It’s more exciting and it makes us feel special. Sure, it’s a deluded fantasy that comes dangerously close to requiring therapy, but it beats the hell out of reality.

I’ve tried to paint a less dire picture of the world on this blog. I’ve pointed out that by most objective measures, things are getting better in the world. Poverty is down. Crime is down. Violence is down. Hell, even the divorce rate is declining according to the CDC. That’s objectively good for everyone except family divorce lawyers that charge by the hour.

We, as a society, should be thankful that we actually have to look for reasons to panic. We’ve had to come up with some pretty ridiculous threats to society. Decades ago, it was comic books. A few decades after that, it was dungeons and dragons. These days, it’s violent/sexist video games.

Of course none of these panics led to the downfall of civilization. At worst, it created a lot of annoying arguments on the internet, but let’s face it. There are so many arguments on the web and people have such short attention spans that their impact is on par with light cough.

At the core of these panics, however, is a common misinterpretation about common sense that turns common people into uncommon asshats. It’s this pervasive notion that the media we consume has a major impact on us. One year, it’s Elvis’ hips that were going to turn us into monsters. The next, it’s a hidden sex mini-game in Grand Theft Auto.

Again, it’s worth pointing out that violence and violent crime has been decreasing for decades. We do pay people to keep track of this shit, you know? It’s kind of an important function of modern society. The data is there. We’re actually getting better at this civilization thingy we’ve been working on for 10,000 years.

So why do we still obsess over the effects on media? Well, there is an element of common sense to it. Tell an ordinary, sane person that consuming violent media makes a person violent and they’ll probably agree to some degree. It makes sense. Most people tend to think other people are vulnerable to that kind of crude influence.

The problem is, they still think they’re John McClane in a Die Hard movie. They think they’re the hero who isn’t prone to corruption. They don’t realize that they are those other people and those people don’t go out randomly killing each other because of the movies they see or the video games they play. The data just doesn’t bear that out.

The problem is the perception. Movies, TV, video games, and Twitter hashtags give the perception that violence and sexism are more prevalent than they really are. They trigger this “danger mode” that’s hardwired into our caveman brain, making us think there’s a hungry tiger hiding behind every bush. It’s not real, but our caveman brain doesn’t care.

Even when the perceptions become too skewed to rationalize, even with a caveman brain, we still look for reasons to dread. We still look for something to get outraged over. In recent years, there has been less of an inclination to link violent/sexual media with violence and more a trend towards linking it to sexism.

This has been playing out in arenas like video games, female-centered movies and TV shows, and feminism, which I’ve talked about before. This latest moral panic isn’t that media is making people violent. It’s the idea that media is making people sexist and reinforcing patriarchal stereotypes. I won’t name names, but anyone who does even basic research on it knows who I’m talking about.

Again though, reality doesn’t jive with this perception. Despite the fact that video games have gotten much better at rendering beautiful women in undersized thongs, rates of sexual violence against women have declined by more than half since 1995.

Just as a point of reference, the best selling game of 1995 was Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Yes, there was more sexual violence in that year compared to 2005, the year Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, complete with its hooker-killing and sex mini-game, came out.

So why do I bring this up? Why do I make a big deal of this issue? Well for one, it does affect me and the industry I’m trying to break into. I deal in the romance/erotica medium. That medium has its own controversies and I’m not just talking about sparkling vampires.

The perceptions about how this media affects people is still there. Back in 2012, the media reported an unusual spike in births, which happened to coincide with the success of “50 Shades of Grey.” It sent a clear message. Reading all this erotica/BDSM fiction was getting people horny and they were making babies. That’s a pretty clear impact, if ever there was one.

Now chances are, this was just the media trying to moisten some panties and get a few extra clicks. Reality probably isn’t that clear-cut. Even if the data did show a spike in births, correlation does not equal causation. Media, especially BDSM fiction, is only every a catalyst, at most, rather than a cause.

This perception surrounding media, especially that surrounding erotica/romance, is bound to affect how I pursue my career in this field. I really do want to make a living writing erotica/romance novels. My goal isn’t just to get couples horny so they can get frisky and make a few babies. However, if that does occur, I will gladly embrace it as a pleasant side-effect.

It all comes back to perception. I don’t doubt my own perceptions are skewed. I’m sure that has shown on more than one occasions with this blog. I never claimed to be objective. I’m not an activist, a reporter, or even an internet meme. I’m just a guy trying to turn his passion for erotica/romance into a career.

My perceptions are only my tools. Reality is still an obstacle, but these are obstacles we must all be willing to navigate. If we don’t, reality has a nasty way of biting us in the ass and not in the way we’ll enjoy.

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