The story of a teacher seducing a student has unfortunately become commonplace in American classrooms. I personally have several educators in my family who have at one point or another had to shake their heads in frustration and disgust that something salacious had happened in their school, causing a local scandal and news crews to gather outside.
Why does it happen? And why is it so easy for us to make knee-jerk assumptions about who instigated what? Gender roles can be a factor to how we view these events as well. We may feel one way if the teacher was male and the student was female, but what about when the roles are reversed?
Alissa Nutting set out to portray this in her novel Tampa, a story about a young married schoolteacher with an insatiable appetite towards younger boys on the verge of adulthood. The main character is highly sexualized and uses her job as an opportunity to procure innocent boys into sordid affairs, all the while acting like a loving wife to her husband, a police officer.
It’s a protagonist that we never admire. She is driven solely by lust. She has no remorse for her actions. As her student starts to fall in love with her, she sees that he is growing older and becoming less appealing. Hiding their relationship becomes more difficult, and things start to get out of hand.
I’m fascinated that the author decided to write a story from this perspective and create a female predator and a male victim. We do sympathize for the boy who has been irrevocably scarred from the affair. While this is fiction, Nutting has stated that she was inspired by a similar story that came right out of Florida, in which the teacher wasn’t convicted because “she was too beautiful to put in jail.” The novel feels overly sexual and graphic at points, but it does help me to question my initial assumptions when I hear these reports in the news. A boy can be a victim, too.