And What About Masochistic Children? (Guest Post by Antonio Haynes)

Today's guest post is by Antonio Haynes, currently a Visiting Fellow at Cornell Law School. 

And What About Masochistic Children?

By Antonio Haynes

In my guest column today on Verdict, I discuss the recent controversy in Texas surrounding a male vice principal’s corporally punishing two female students.  In the column, I argue that the perceived “creepiness” of a male administrator paddling female students stems from a widely held, but often unstated assumption that eroticized violence is deeply problematic.  I conclude that when they implicitly raised the possibility of sadistic school administrators, the girls and their mothers tapped into an insidious fear of sexual deviance that completely distracted the conversation from the real issue at hand—the tremendous levels of actual violence that corporal punishment necessarily entails. 

To highlight the way in which the unstated assumption about eroticized violence operates, I offered a “bizarre” hypothetical school-board policy that would require that school officials of a different sexual orientation spank students.  “In other words,” I said, “it would be permissible for a lesbian to paddle heterosexual male students, for a homosexual male to paddle heterosexual female students, for a heterosexual woman to paddle gay male students, and for a heterosexual male to paddle lesbian students.”  

Careful readers immediately notice that the examples I give do not remove the possibility of eroticized violence.  For instance, it would still be “creepy,” to allow a heterosexual male to spank a lesbian student, because the lesbian student is a female, the sex to which the heterosexual administrator is attracted.  The only way my hypothetical policy could actually remove the possibility of sadistic school officials deriving sexual pleasure from paddling students would be for the policy to require consideration of the sex and sexual orientation of the school official.  Stated differently, the reformed hypothetical policy would necessarily require that derelict girls be beaten by either gay male or straight female administrators.  Similarly, miscreant boys would have to be paddled by lesbians or straight men.   

I intentionally framed the hypothetical in this way.  In my view, the hypothetical policy subtly acknowledged the manner in which the identities of gay, lesbian, and bisexual school officials are not adequately accounted for in debates about the interactions between school officials and students of different sexes.  If it is it is true that opposite sex spankings cause a fear of eroticized violence, then failing to account for differences in sexual orientation only exacerbates the possibility.  Further, both the original and reformed hypothetical policies completely elide the identities of gender nonconforming or transsexual administrators. 

But another, more overlooked, reason that both the original and modified hypothetical policies fail to adequately remove the possible “creepiness,” of spanking is that both policies fail to contend with the fact that the corporal punishment might arouse the students.  Recall that here, the students were older teenagers and that at least one of them chose paddling over in-school suspension.  Despite societal unease with adolescent sexuality, we know that many older teenagers regularly engage in sexual activity.  We also know that, despite the strongly held opprobrium that attaches to eroticized violence, many individuals freely admit to practicing sadomasochism.  Taken together, these statistics suggest that a not insignificant fraction of perfectly “normal” older teenagers are sexually activity and practicing sadomasochism.  The possibility of a sadistic school administrator deriving sexual gratification from beating students is just as likely as the possibility of masochistic students who seek sexual pleasure in being beaten. 

To be clear, I am not suggesting that either homosexuality or interest in sadomasochism represent sexual deviance.  Neither sexual orientation nor deviance ought to “be thought of as a kind of natural given which power tries to hold in check, or as an obscure domain which knowledge tries gradually to uncover.”  But the failure to openly acknowledge the myriad reasons for our possible discomfort with corporal punishment highlights the impoverished nature of our discussions about teens, sex, and sexual orientation.  This failure is itself a distraction because it hinders correction of our sexually dysfunctional society while simultaneously entrenching real violence.  This is not a course we should take.