‘A Teacher’: An Important Lesson on Male Victimization

Photo+from+Pixabay+free+use.

Photo from Pixabay free use.

The romanticized stereotype of a popular teenage boy seducing his “hot” teacher will forever be expelled from your mind after watching the Hulu series “A Teacher.” The series accurately depicts the life-changing consequences and harsh reality of a sexual relationship that results from power imbalance and intense grooming. 

A common plot presented in fictional dramas is that grooming relationships are limited to a perverted old man and a young innocent girl. That misconception is notably fought in this series by switching the gender roles of perpetrator and victim. High school senior Eric Walker, portrayed by actor Nick Robinson, is a successful student athlete who is vying for the All-American scholarship, but he must increase his SAT score to qualify. The new teacher in school is “bombshell” Claire Wilson, played by actress Kate Mara, who takes on the task of tutoring Eric. By having both Eric and Ms. Wilson being conventionally attractive people, the series helps break a stereotype that a sexual predator can’t be an attractive and seemingly functioning member of society. While predators and groomers are typically depicted as outcasts, creepy, and male, the teacher Wilson presents as a kind, excited new teacher, who is eager to help out and harmlessly tutor a student for the SAT. 

As the plot progresses, and the relationship becomes wildly inappropriate and is eventually discovered, actor Nick Robinson realistically portrays a teenage boy who becomes too immersed in the relationship and experiences tremendous guilt and confusion before recognizing he’s a victim. In terms of Kate Mara’s portrayal of the teacher, she demonstrates how adult predators rationalize their behavior to themselves and others to justify their behavior.

Another toxic societal belief that “A Teacher” challenges is that men cannot be raped or sexually abused because they are more strong, and should just stand up for themselves against their attacker, or even worse—they should just “enjoy it.” This false belief is incredibly harmful and stems from outdated gender norms that men cannot be victims, thus resulting in men and boys rarely coming forward about their experiences of abuse because they are ashamed and embarrassed. Psychologists say that many men then internalize their trauma and use substances or sex to cope in an unhealthy way. 

As the episodes progress, “A Teacher” shows how these terrible standards and stereotypes for boys like Eric–who are victims of sexual abuse yet are in denial about their situation–ultimately experience a great downfall as their abuse haunts them. This shows how more victims could feel comfortable in receiving help and recovery if it weren’t for society’s ways of teaching men and boys to be “masculine” and strong, or that having emotions and caring for their mental health makes them weak.

For example, while reading an article about the ending of “A Teacher,” I was appalled by the comments on the discussion thread below the article that viewers had left. Nearly all of them said the abuse was the male teen’s fault, and that his motive was to sexually pursue the teacher character. Some comments even asked: If there’s a “hot” and young teacher in high school, what else can you expect? These comments showed a complete inability to understand the important message of the show. They further exemplify how society rejects men as victims of abuse and grooming, making it seem like the situation is their fault and therefore their trauma is not valid. These stereotypes are dangerous. We must do better. 

Because of the strong messages and barriers “A Teacher” works to break down, it is a must-watch for young adults and especially for those who are not fully aware of the lifelong consequences of grooming and abuse. 

Viewers should challenge themselves to see outside gender norms and stereotypes and reevaluate how they perceive victims, male or not. 

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse or assault, for help call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673