Benjamin Wachs: Brave new frontiers in sexual harassment

Benjamin Wachs

Say what you will about kids in this country, but they don't rape their elders.

There is, to my knowledge, no term for "reverse-pedophilia," no concept that we have for the circumstances when kids sexually exploit adults.

But there will be one soon. The very existence of the term "MILF" -- and the fact that it went from being a slang term thrown around high schools and college campuses to a major party sanctioned candidate description in a presidential race -- should have shown us that the writing on the wall is a lewd note written in crayon.

But if MILF was a small taste of what's to come, here's the main course: This past summer, for what may be the first time in history, an adult in a position of authority filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the students in his charge.

This extraordinary development comes from the University California at Davis, where the marching band has developed a tradition of sexualized revelry so intense that eventually band director Tom Slabaugh felt the need to file a complaint with the university against his own students. 

The trouble came when Slabaugh saw students stripping and giving each other lap dances during band practices, and told them to cut it out -- thereby applying a 20th-century sexual morality to a generation where moral authority comes from the number of friends you have on Facebook.

The students ignored him – as the young always ignore yesterday – and when he persisted, he became a target of their sexualized rage. After months of harassment, he eventually had to turn to the university -- and then a lawyer -- for help.

The media has reported the story but missed the point: They thought it was a scandal about how rowdy marching bands can get. It's not. It's about how the hyper-sexualized culture of a hyper-media-saturated generation just entering college and the workforce is clashing with the comparatively prudish expectations of the people who are supposed to be in charge.

A younger generation's boundaries have always been more permissive than its elders' – but now we're reached a point where youth is empowered like never before, has no sense that familiarity breeds contempt and is running into a culture still dominated by people who don't want to see you naked. 

Whatever end the UC Davis Band Debacle marches off, too, it will only be the first trumpet call in a long and brutal struggle: Will the introduction of the Millennial Generation to the adult world crush youth's extra-permissive spirit, or will its anything goes attitude at last overcome the dignity of age? 

We'll find out soon enough (the conflict after all, will be coming to a workplace near you), but my guess is that we're going to end up with the worst of both worlds. What would that look like? Well, when Facebook allowed people of all ages into the pool, it gave us a glimpse of the world to come.

It looks just like high school.

It's a truism at this point that Facebook, the world's largest social networking site, is the social equivalent of “Saved By The Bell.” AOL. Not only does it pull you back into contact with the same people you worked so hard to get away from, but it pulls you right back into the mindset of cliques, gossip, yearbook photos and sexual insecurity so quickly that it's like you never left.

Until just now it never seemed like life would imitate MySpace, because there was a de facto segregation: kids on the Internet, grownups in the office. But of course that couldn't last, and shortly after gramdmas started making Facebook profiles, the first generation ever to be truly raised on porn started showing up for work in button down shirts that say "Party Favor."

As the same generational mix we see in social networking spreads throughout the rest of our lives … putting our co-workers on the same pages as our friends, our clients on the same lists as our lovers … it pulls everything down to a high school mentality, except that this time the teachers are competing for status just like everyone else.

I'm sure some people will see this as progress, but I don't know anyone who had the best sex of their lives in high school -- or the maturity to tell the difference. 

The warning of a culture where adults start having to file sexual harassment claims against kids to feel safe at work is that we may be losing both good sex and good judgment all at once.

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