Why I can’t stop thinking about ‘a teacher’ on BBC

By Tegan Francis

Forget your Brigertons and your Queen’s Gambits – there’s a new series in town, available on BBC iplayer that will have you hooked from the start.

Maybe it’s because in ‘normal’ life there are constant distractions.  Before the pandemic, I was not left to think about the impending doom of the human race on the daily, so I feel the way we’re consuming shows has shifted recently. We’re left to sit with the storylines and fictional characters in our heads, without the chance of being distracted by something more exciting in our real lives. It’s been a while since any show stuck in my head so much that I couldn’t sleep. This is what happened with ‘a teacher’. I binged the whole ten-part series in a matter of days which may also be a reason why I feel so passionate about the plot.

**Trigger Warning**  – This piece discusses physical, psychological and sexual abuse, reader discretion is advised.

This show, directed and written by women (can I get a woot woot!), turned the typical narrative of abuse and coercion on its head. And it is for this reason why I feel so passionately that, for the sake of feminism, we should be watching, reviewing and discussing shows such as this. All too often the account of abuse is steered toward powerful men manipulating impressionable women, but we’re doing a disservice to our population if we think that this is not something that also happens to impressionable males.

Pop culture has traditionally treated the kind of relationship between a young male student and an attractive female teacher as sexy and illustrious – every guy’s fantasy. We’ve seen this in plots on shows such as Riverdale, however, the acceptance of these notions is setting us decades back in terms of progress in society.

The repercussions for males who speak out against female abusers seem to be different when compared to women who speak out against men. As a result of the #MeToo movement, we’ve heralded women who speak out in the name of justice, and rightly so. But, when it’s females abusing males, is it different?

Some say that this is down to how society views males and females. Males are often deemed inherently aggressive, psychologically strong, and always interested in sex. Females are often perceived to be psychologically and physically weak, and helpless. So when a story breaks, which they so often do, that a female teacher has seduced a male student, people find it hard to comprehend this as it questions the narrative that already exists in their head.

Why is it so difficult for people to comprehend this as abuse?

This is because social and cultural norms mean that women are often viewed as nurturers and carers, “the fairer sex” and therefore not capable of sexual aggression. Therefore, abuse by a woman is seen as being less harmful than abuse by a man – and viewed as the result of mental instability or coercion by a male partner. Ultimately, this not only minimises the offending behaviour, but it also unfairly downplays the consequences for victims.

Legally, any teacher engaging in any form of sexual relationship with a child under their care is abuse. It is a form of sexual violence recognised in law since the introduction the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act in 2000. This makes it quite clear that any sexual behaviour between an adult and a young person aged over the age of consent – which in the UK is 16 – but under the age of 18, is a criminal offence, and punishable by up to five years in prison.

Instead, the corrosive lad-culture that persists in our society dictates that their masculinity is confirmed and solidified by this behaviour aka, the abuse. That they *must* have enjoyed it, so what’s the big deal?

Black and white classroom with old fashioned desks.

The show dives deeper into this issue, highlighting how the ‘scandal’ affected Eric’s life at university and future. The jokes and comments made by peers which seemed to applauded him for his experience did quite the opposite for his mental health. We see him fall in to a metaphorical (and actual) pit of despair, causing him to drop out of education and give up on his dream of becoming a doctor.

Having researched more into this area, we see that this storyline is not uncommon. Just last year there were numerous news articles detailing female teachers who played out similar storylines to Claire in a teacher, however these seem all the more harrowing because these aren’t fictional tales.

Who’s in the limelight?

What stuck with me is how easy it is for the abuser to make it about themselves and never about the abused. This was the message the audience was left with in the series’ final scene. Claire talks about how hard her life has been as a result of the ordeal. That she is only one google search away from ruin with anyone she meets. In a definitive and triumphant comeback, Eric reminds her that he lives and breathes this ruin; that it was her who lead him to the car that night; she told him to sit in the back, she was the one driving in their weekend getaway. He was a child, and she – as a functioning adult – did not behave like one.

I think the plot resonated with me on a personal level because, at 17, you think you known everything. You’re a fully grown-ass adult who can’t be controlled by curfews or bedtime schedules anymore. Eric’s comment in the mirror after his first ‘hook up’ with Claire was “I’m the fucking man!” and I could name hundreds of 17y/os that also think / have thought this at that age. Trust me. You’re not. You still have YEARS, and I mean YEARS of growing-up to do. Brain cells and pathways to form, successes to celebrate and mistakes to make. We should be able to rely on adults to exercise lawful and sound judgment and this was Claire’s downfall.

Ultimately, it’s been a great reminder that although I’m obsessed with listening and boosting women’s voices, feminism is about inclusivity and equality. Remembering to acknowledge that there are more stories and variants to abuse survivors than you can comprehend and the more we watch and discuss the ones that don’t fit the mould, the more we can encourage people who have been abused to summon the confidence and speak out against it. We’re here to listen.

If you feel you need to talk to someone about any of the information that was discussed in this piece, here are some helpful websites and telephone numbers – 

Victim Support |tel -0808 168 9111
The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) | tel- 0808 801 0331
Samaritans | tel -116 123

Listen to Tegan’s episode of Dissertation Diaries Monsters or Men: Rape Myths in the Tabloid Media. Or read more by Tegan here.

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