Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

J​​essica Bennett (00:00):

Hey everyone, just to note that this is part two of our Hot for Teacher Dawson’s Creek episode. If you haven’t listened to part one yet, I recommend starting there. Otherwise, enjoy the show.


So, when I texted our high school friend group text chain and was like, “By the way, do you remember how in Dawson’s Creek, Pacey actually sleeps with his teacher?”

Rosie Bancroft (00:20):

Yeah. My first reaction when you texted that was, “Really?”

Jessica Bennett (00:26):

So, this is my high school friend Rosie Bancroft. As a reminder, Rosie is a mental health counselor in a public middle school in Seattle. But 25 years ago, Rosie was hosting Dawson’s Creek watch parties in her parents’ basement.

Rosie Bancroft (00:38):

And then I thought, “Oh, I guess I have some vague recollection of that,” but it was not impactful or something. It did not register, or we thought it was cool, or maybe that’s why I liked Pacey? Ew.

Jessica Bennett (00:52):

And this reaction she’s having perfectly encapsulates the emotional rollercoaster of being an adult now and realizing that your teenage self was totally obsessed with and maybe even kind of turned on by, in a gross way, a 15-year-old boy’s illicit relationship with his 36-year-old English teacher. A relationship that, in this case, mirrored the scandals going on in our own high school in Seattle, and in national headlines about Mary Kay Letourneau, which also happened to be in our hometown.


I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (01:26):

And I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (01:27):

And this is In Retrospect, where each week, we delve into a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Susie Banikarim (01:33):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Jessica Bennett (01:35):

Today, we’re talking about Pacey’s relationship with this much older teacher on Dawson’s Creek, but we’re also talking about sex in the ’90s and how we understood it. This is part two of Hot for Teacher.


So, we’re talking about Dawson’s Creek and specifically the relationship between Pacey, one of the main characters, and his teacher, Tamara. And one of the interesting things that we’ve grappled with a bit, you and I, Susie, is how we talk about it.

Susie Banikarim (02:05):


Jessica Bennett (02:06):

Throughout our discussion, we’re sort of like, “Are we calling it an affair? Are we calling it a statutory rape?”

Susie Banikarim (02:10):

Is it an assault?

Jessica Bennett (02:11):

What is this? Is it an inappropriate relationship? And that’s interesting because, in the show itself, they don’t refer to it as inappropriate necessarily. They know that it is taboo, but Pacey himself describes it as falling in love. The official description of the episode on Hulu where it now streams, you can watch Dawson’s Creek, calls it an affair.

Susie Banikarim (02:34):

Yeah. And something that’s occurred to me is that the thing that we’re kind of grappling with is related to the fact that the show presents it in such a way that it makes it hard to see it as anything other than extremely consensual, right? Pacey is kind of the aggressor. Even the way that the townsfolk find out about the affair or assault or however we should be talking about it, is because Pacey and Dawson are having a conversation about it in the school bathroom, where Pacey is telling Dawson about how he’s had a conversation with his teacher that morning about wanting to have a more open relationship. And he says something hilarious like, “Once I get my learner’s permit, this woman is going to cave completely.”

Jessica Bennett (03:27):

Then it’s on.

Susie Banikarim (03:27):

Yeah, then it’s on. So, two things about that really struck me. One is that it’s a reminder that he can’t even drive. He doesn’t have his learner’s permit. That is really a child. And then, on top of that, that it’s again presented as he’s trying to get her to cave, he’s trying to persuade her. He is the aggressor and she is the one who is trying to protect them from peering eyes.

Jessica Bennett (03:56):

Right, right. And peering eyes, which are literally in the bathroom because there is another kid who’s smoking weed in the stall.

Susie Banikarim (04:03):

Yeah, yes.

Jessica Bennett (04:03):

Sort of crouched on top of the toilet so they can’t see his feet.

Susie Banikarim (04:07):


Jessica Bennett (04:07):

Who overhears the whole thing.

Susie Banikarim (04:08):

And that’s how they’re ultimately discovered, right? And again, it’s not presented as her suddenly realizing what she’s done and being mortified. She’s very angry at him because she’s like, “This relationship only required for you to be silent about it.” Right? “There was only one boundary, and that boundary was silence about this or not telling anyone.” And she literally says in that conversation, “The boundary wasn’t about sex.”

Jessica Bennett (04:38):

The dialogue in these scenes is just…

Susie Banikarim (04:41):

It’s wild.

Jessica Bennett (04:41):

Chef’s kiss.

Susie Banikarim (04:42):

Yeah, chef’s kiss. Exactly. So, I think we’re struggling with something real, which is that this was presented in such a way that it was almost impossible to see it as a negative or as a thing that was happening to him. It felt like he had a lot of agency.

Jessica Bennett (05:01):

And the other thing is, there’s sort of a tenderness. We are getting invested as viewers in this “relationship”.

Susie Banikarim (05:08):


Jessica Bennett (05:09):

We see Pacey get comfortable at her house. There’s a scene where he’s reading a magazine on her bed while she grades papers.

Susie Banikarim (05:16):


Jessica Bennett (05:16):

They have this banter. It is more than just a “triste”, and I think I said this before, but he describes it as falling in love with her.

Susie Banikarim (05:26):


Jessica Bennett (05:27):

And so, it’s interesting too because, outside of the show, the press is covering this. The New York Times calls the plot, “A sexual affair.”

Susie Banikarim (05:36):


Jessica Bennett (05:36):

And they get into the salacious and impropriety of it, but they still call it that. The president of the WB network actually says, in an interview with the Times in that story, that the plot ultimately sent a positive message.

Susie Banikarim (05:49):

I’m sorry, what?

Jessica Bennett (05:50):

Because Ms. Jacobs would go on to lose her job and Pacey would be sort of ostracized at school. Interestingly, the voices who are kind of objecting to this are the ones that we might not expect.

Susie Banikarim (06:03):


Jessica Bennett (06:03):

Such as the New York Post.

Susie Banikarim (06:04):


Jessica Bennett (06:05):

Who calls the plot line, “An immoral exploitation of youthful curiosity about sex.”

Susie Banikarim (06:10):

Well, did it feel like an immoral exploitation of the youthful curiosity about sex when you were watching with your friends?

Jessica Bennett (06:18):

I mean, I don’t think so. And honestly, the taboo was part of what the appeal was.

Susie Banikarim (06:23):


Jessica Bennett (06:23):

So look, all of this is happening kind of in parallel in some ways to the Mary Kay Letourneau case, including how we talked about it. So, as you’ll remember, Mary Kay Letourneau, this is a case happening in 1996, just a couple of years before Dawson’s premiered. It’s happening outside of Seattle where I was, as a teenager.

Clip (06:42):

The relationship that began when the boy was just 12 years old resulted in two pregnancies, and for Letourneau, a seven year sentence for child rape.

Jessica Bennett (06:51):

So that case would spark this whole media frenzy. But it was basically portrayed, if you dig back into articles at the time, about two people so in love that they just couldn’t keep their hands off each other. They couldn’t stay away from each other. They happened to meet at the wrong place and the wrong time.

Susie Banikarim (07:11):

Yeah. It has so many parallels. She’s also a very pretty young teacher. Even though she’s 34, she looks quite youthful. And she very much pushed this idea that he was the aggressor, which is ridiculous in retrospect, that this 12 year old child was pursuing her. But when I talk about that case, when I talk about that case with you or with friends, I don’t really struggle with saying that it just is so blatantly wrong. Right? It’s so clear to me that a 34-year-old woman shouldn’t be having sex with a 12-year-old boy. And I don’t call it an affair or a sexual encounter.


I’m like, “Oh yeah, when Mary Kay Letourneau obviously assaulted her 12-year-old student.” And so, it’s interesting that the reason we struggle with this is because we’ve watched the relationship play out in a way that really supports that idea.

Jessica Bennett (08:03):

And unfold.

Susie Banikarim (08:05):

And that is the idea that Mary Kay was really pushing in the press, and that the press kind of accepted her version of events because there was this bias that a 12-year-old boy would love to have sex with Mary Kay Letourneau because she was hot, and that is all the 12-year-old boys care about. But when you spend any time with a 12-year-old boy, that is a baby. 12 year old kids are still watching cartoons on Sunday morning.


It’s really hard to think about them as adults. But it’s easier when you’re watching Dawson’s Creek because Pacey is a 20 something year old actor, so he doesn’t look like a child. He doesn’t physically present as a child. But if you look at pictures of Vili, who is the child that Mary Kay Letourneau essentially assaulted, he looks really young. And so, it does put it into perspective, I think.

Jessica Bennett (08:59):

And the thing is, the media is really buying into this. They’re helping to wrap this narrative up and also to perpetuate.

Susie Banikarim (09:07):


Jessica Bennett (09:07):

So, MSNBC brings in a psychologist for a segment about it. The segment is titled Predator or Lover? And in this segment, they note that, “All of us are touched by the adolescent love between Mary Kay and Vili.” Are we, though?

Susie Banikarim (09:22):

Are all of us touched by that? Because I don’t see it as an adolescent love. She’s 34, she has a child the same age as Vili.

Jessica Bennett (09:30):

Right. But that’s so interesting because we are the journalists now. We would be the ones covering this case were it to happen now, and we would come at this very differently than the journalists did back then. All these articles were sort of quoting both sides of the debate, that both sides is-

Susie Banikarim (09:44):


Jessica Bennett (09:45):

… that I feel like the New York Times is constantly being criticized for, and I get a million hate tweets about it all the time. But they’re very much doing that with this story. And so, in one article in the Chicago Tribune, they bring a Beverly Hills woman on who had run a dating club for older women and younger men.

Susie Banikarim (10:03):

But presumably men who were over the age of 18.

Jessica Bennett (10:06):

Yes, presumably.

Susie Banikarim (10:08):


Jessica Bennett (10:08):

But she says, she is quoted in print in the Chicago Tribune in 1998 saying, “You don’t break up a loving couple. The male here is much more a man than someone older because he is committed to her.”

Susie Banikarim (10:20):

Wait, so commitment makes you a man because I’m pretty sure two 10-year-olds in a relationship can feel committed, but that doesn’t make them adults.

Jessica Bennett (10:28):


Susie Banikarim (10:28):

That’s such a weird way to define manhood.

Jessica Bennett (10:32):

But then, what happens next is, Mary Kay Letourneau gets out of prison in 2004. She is registered as a level 2 sex offender. Vili, the boy now man, then petitions the court to reverse a no contact order so they can see each other. They get married the following year, and Entertainment Tonight negotiates exclusive access to stream or broadcast from their wedding.

Susie Banikarim (10:56):

Wait, like a celebrity wedding? They treat it like a celebrity wedding?

Jessica Bennett (11:00):


Susie Banikarim (11:01):

That’s wild. And then, they really lead into the narrative throughout their married life, right?

Jessica Bennett (11:07):

So Mary Kay and Vili, even before they’re married, they do things like co-author a book. This book was only published in France, which I guess can tell you something about France, but it’s called Only One Crime: Love. They then later, once she’s out of jail, host this special night at a bar in Seattle called Hot for Teacher Night, where he’s the DJ and she’s the special guest. They’re kind of turning this into a gimmick.

Susie Banikarim (11:35):

I mean, the thing that’s also interesting about the book, and maybe even the Hot For Teacher Night, is that he’s still really quite young, right? Because it started when he was 12. So, how much is he really co-authoring this book or making these decisions in their life? You have to imagine that their relationship is so odd because she was quite literally his teacher, and then she had two children, right, when he was 13?

Jessica Bennett (12:01):

Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing that almost makes me uncomfortable talking about this is that they do have two grown daughters now who are in their 20s.

Susie Banikarim (12:09):

I mean, she has since passed away from cancer, and her and Vili had gotten a divorce before that. But there is this absolutely wild interview that our researcher, Sharon found that I could not stop watching, that this channel in Australia did, Australia’s 7NEWS, at a time where Vili is now in his mid-30s, the age she was when they had this. I mean, it’s the thing, I don’t even know what to call it. I guess this relationship, right? And you see very clearly in these clips of them being interviewed, that he is deeply uncomfortable with what’s happened to him. There’s this really weird scene between them where the interviewer is actually being challenging and saying to her, “Wasn’t this inappropriate?”

Clip (12:53):

You were a teacher, Mary. You can’t say, “I was immature.”

Mary Kay Letourneau (12:55):

It doesn’t matter. But you don’t know him.

Clip (12:57):

No, but I don’t need to know him in this discussion. He’s the child.

Susie Banikarim (13:01):

And she is saying to Vili over and over again, “Well, who was the boss?”

Mary Kay Letourneau (13:05):

Who was the boss?

Vili (13:06):


Mary Kay Letourneau (13:09):

Who was the boss back then?

Vili (13:10):

There was me pursuing you.

Mary Kay Letourneau (13:10):

Who was the boss back then?

Vili (13:10):

This is ridiculous.

Mary Kay Letourneau (13:10):

No, who was?

Clip (13:12):

This is ridiculous.

Mary Kay Letourneau (13:13):

Who was? Just say it.

Susie Banikarim (13:15):

She just keeps saying it over and over again. “But who was the boss?” And he literally says on camera…

Vili (13:20):

This is getting weird.

Susie Banikarim (13:22):

It just seems impossible that you wouldn’t have trauma, right? You’re a 12-year-old boy, you have two children at 13. Having two children at 13 even in and of itself is, I think, kind of a traumatic experience. And that then, the mother of his children is in prison and is acknowledged as a sex offender by the legal system, and that she continues to pursue the relationship while she’s in prison. So much so that when she gets out, again, we weren’t there, but I assume she really pushed the idea of them getting married.


So, it’s hard to imagine that their dynamic was not super weird every step of the way. And he’s actually pretty clear that now, being the age she was, that he would never do what she did, which I think is also interesting. It’s like, he is now able to see what their age difference was because he is a 30 something year old man who has daughters. So, you have to also assume that over the course of time, this thing has become clearer and clearer to him in a way that you can’t absorb when you’re 12. You think you’re an adult at 12. I remember being 12 and thinking, “Why do people treat me like a child? I’m an adult.” But 12 year olds are kids.


My niece and nephew were kids well past 12, to be honest. In good ways. I am happy for them that they got to be children. And it feels like he really didn’t get that.

Jessica Bennett (15:03):

So, both of these relationships, actually I shouldn’t even use that word. Let’s call them stories.

Susie Banikarim (15:09):


Jessica Bennett (15:09):

Mary Kay Letourneau and in Dawson’s Creek, the plot line of Ms. Jacobs and Pacey really get at this trope that is now familiar. This idea of the older woman seductress.

Susie Banikarim (15:23):


Jessica Bennett (15:24):

And it’s not as if Dawson’s is the first to do this. They mention in the show, The Graduate, this is the video that Ms. Jacobs is renting from Pacey in that very first scene. Do you remember that Hot for Teacher song?

Susie Banikarim (15:38):


Jessica Bennett (15:38):

By Van Halen, 1984?

Susie Banikarim (15:40):

Yes, I do remember that. I mean, also, The Graduate was a very popular film. And also, the song from the film, Mrs. Robinson, which was a Simon & Garfunkel song, became really popular and it was about the older woman seductress. It was sort of glamorizing her.

Jessica Bennett (15:54):

So Dawson’s comes in ’98, and then comes American Pie in 1999 starring Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler’s mom who has sex with Stifler’s friend on the pool table on prom night, and basically cements into the zeitgeist, the term, MILF.

Clip: (16:13):

Single malt?

Jeanine Stifler (16:13):

Aged 18 years. The way I like it.

Susie Banikarim (16:19):

And I guess, for anyone who might not know what a MILF is, it’s an acronym for mother I’d like to fuck.

Jessica Bennett (16:26):

At some point, I will go down the rabbit hole of looking up the linguistic trends here because I bet there is a spike in usage of that term in books-

Susie Banikarim (16:34):

100%. It became very commonly used.

Jessica Bennett (16:37):

… searches. And weird fact that I know, it becomes one of the most popular searched porn terms.

Susie Banikarim (16:45):

Oh my God. That is a weird fact, but also fascinating.

Jessica Bennett (16:45):

It’s a whole sub category.

Susie Banikarim (16:46):

Right. I mean, it makes sense because, again, that relationship or whatever you call it, in American Pie, is presented in a way that you can really imagine the boys glamorize and hope for, that they start looking at their friend’s moms-

Jessica Bennett (17:01):

Oh my gosh, yeah.

Susie Banikarim (17:02):

… and being like, “Which one of these women is going to be my sexual awakening?”

Jessica Bennett (17:06):

The other thing I need to mention is the Fountains of Wayne song, Stacey’s Mom.

Susie Banikarim (17:12):

Oh, gosh. I remember Stacey’s Mom.

Jessica Bennett (17:15):

Which comes out in 2003 and has a really crazy music video. I mean, I can still, I know all the words-

Susie Banikarim (17:19):

Same. Yeah, same.

Jessica Bennett (17:20):

… to that song. I’m not going to sing here, but-

Susie Banikarim (17:22):

Yeah, I think for everyone’s sake, neither of us should sing on this podcast.

Jessica Bennett (17:30):

… The song lyrics are literally that Stacey’s mom has got it going on. She’s all I want, and I’ve waited for so long. I’m not the little boy that I used to be. I’m all grown up now, baby can’t you see?

Susie Banikarim (17:42):

So awkward for poor Stacey, this whole thing.

Jessica Bennett (17:45):

So awkward. Another Hot for Teacher pop culture reference I want to make sure to mention from around this time is actually from Saturday Night Live. So, Norm Macdonald does this bit for Weekend Update. This is when Mary Kate Letourneau pleads guilty, and he says that, “She’s been branded a sex offender.”

Norm Macdonald (18:03):

Or as the kids refer to her, “The greatest teacher ever.”

Jessica Bennett (18:07):

And honestly, LOL. It’s a good, funny bit. It comes not long after a South Park episode makes a similar joke.

Clip (18:16):

He’s totally underage. He’s taking advantage of him.

Clip (18:18):

You’re right. We’re sorry. We need to track this student down and give him his Luckiest Boy in America medal right away.

Jessica Bennett (18:24):

But essentially, what all of these things are saying is that to lose your virginity to an adult when you were a child, and a hot teacher in particular, is worthy of a medal.

Susie Banikarim (18:33):

Well, if you’re a boy.

Jessica Bennett (18:34):


Susie Banikarim (18:35):

And actually, this sentiment hasn’t really changed, honestly, as much as we’d hope. I saw a Fox News clip not that long ago about a female teacher in Colorado who’d been arrested for allegedly having sex with her 16-year-old student. And even now, this was the host’s response.

Clip (18:50):

This is what bothers me. Why did she-

Clip (18:53):

The fact that she had sex with a student?

Clip (18:54):

… No, that she went to jail for it.

Clip (18:57):


Clip (18:57):

Come on. 16 year old? I would’ve died for that.

Jessica Bennett (19:00):

So, we’ll pause there. We’re going to talk more about what has or hasn’t changed and how Dawson’s Creek handles the plot line when one of the female characters has sex. After the break.

Susie Banikarim (19:25):

There’s another interesting thing that struck me, which is that at the same time that we’re seeing Pacey lose his virginity to this teacher, there’s this other pretty significant plot line where Dawson has a crush on this girl, Jen, who’s played by Michelle Williams. And at some point, she admits that she is not a virgin, and he rejects her over that. There’s a multiple sort of episode arc about how upset he is and how disappointed in her he is, and that he may not be able to continue to pursue a possible relationship with her because of her virginity. It’s a very gross storyline, to be honest. The level of shock he has around it, and the shame that she has to have around it, how terrible she feels about herself because she’s not a virgin. And that was so strange to me because-

Jessica Bennett (20:21):

It’s happening at the same time-

Susie Banikarim (20:21):

It’s happening at the same time.

Jessica Bennett (20:22):

… that we’re basically high-fiving Pacey.

Susie Banikarim (20:24):


Jessica Bennett (20:24):

And the other thing too is, you can criticize shows like this for showing that double standard, but also, it is still so prevalent.

Susie Banikarim (20:33):


Jessica Bennett (20:34):

That double standard exists. So I almost am like, “Well, at least they’re portraying it accurately.”

Susie Banikarim (20:38):


Jessica Bennett (20:38):

That probably is what happens still today. You high-five the kid who’s sleeping with the teacher and losing his virginity to her, and then you scorn the girl who is found out to not be a virgin.

Susie Banikarim (20:50):

But also, just not a virgin because she’s had sex with a person her own age. It’s like-

Jessica Bennett (20:54):


Susie Banikarim (20:54):

… she’s having a normal teenage relationship, something a lot of teenagers do, which is have sex in high school. That is not so uncommon. And yet, she’s portrayed as kind of this slut, and he’s portrayed as having the sexual awakening. It’s a really interesting contrast and very stark.

Jessica Bennett (21:11):

Yes, yes. I’m so glad you raised that, Susie, because there are all these kind of tiny nuggets hidden in episodes like this.

Susie Banikarim (21:18):


Jessica Bennett (21:19):

This is sort of what we wanted to do with this show, but these tiny nuggets that as I was delving into research and going down this rabbit hole, I kept noting like, “Oh, actually, this is telling us something larger about society today.”

Susie Banikarim (21:30):


Jessica Bennett (21:30):

This is showing us how little has changed.

Susie Banikarim (21:32):


Jessica Bennett (21:33):

One is the way that student teacher relationships have long been kind of minimized, but more so when it is the woman as perpetrator.

Susie Banikarim (21:42):


Jessica Bennett (21:42):

In one news segment, looking back on the Mary Kay Letourneau case, they actually refer to her as, “The last person you would suspect of being a molester of children.” And I just read that line and I was like, “Wait, why?” Because she’s a woman?

Susie Banikarim (21:56):

Because she’s an attractive woman.

Jessica Bennett (21:56):

Because she’s a mom?

Susie Banikarim (21:56):

Because she’s got children.

Jessica Bennett (21:57):


Susie Banikarim (21:57):

We just really struggle to see women as having the potential or the agency to be criminals, to do criminal things, to do things that we find ugly because for some reason, that just feels like it’s against the nature of how we’re supposed to perceive women. And we also struggle with seeing boys as victims, as vulnerable.

Jessica Bennett (22:18):

Right. Absolutely. And actually, it’s worth noting that these cases, and I’m talking about cases where the perpetrator is an older woman and the victim is often a boy, get more media coverage than the male equivalent.

Susie Banikarim (22:32):


Jessica Bennett (22:32):

And so, simultaneously, we’re high-fiving, but it’s extra salacious and it’s getting more media coverage. And there was this whole moment in the ’90s and early 2000s when this is all playing out, when it almost seemed like pretty female teachers molesting their underage male students was an epidemic because it was getting so much attention.

Susie Banikarim (22:54):

I also remember that there was a lot of discussion about why this wasn’t a good thing. It seemed like that needed to be explained over and over and over again. I remember, because I was quite young, that these stories were fascinating to me because I couldn’t wrap my head around why a woman would want to risk her whole life to have sex with a child, and that wasn’t ever really explored. It was always just kind of this salacious thing, like, “Here we go again. Here’s another teacher who’s done this thing.”

Jessica Bennett (23:28):


Susie Banikarim (23:29):

But there was not a lot of understanding of why these things happened.

Jessica Bennett (23:33):

And I think, another thing we’ve touched on is that the boys in these instances are often portrayed or perceived as older and more mature-

Susie Banikarim (23:44):


Jessica Bennett (23:44):

… and pursuing the older women. This we know was certainly the case in Dawson’s Creek with Pacey, also because that actor was much older in real life.

Susie Banikarim (23:52):


Jessica Bennett (23:52):

And it’s notable in that clip we heard earlier where Tamara says, “You’re not a boy,” to Pacey.

Susie Banikarim (23:57):

You’re a man.

Jessica Bennett (23:58):

LOL. Actually, he’s very much a boy. And in fact, the age of consent in Massachusetts where this supposedly takes place is 16, and he is aged 15.

Susie Banikarim (24:06):


Jessica Bennett (24:07):

So, he is very much a boy who cannot consent. But I think that this plays into the way that we sometimes take cases of men’s assault less seriously.

Susie Banikarim (24:16):


Jessica Bennett (24:16):

Because we assume that boys always want sex.

Susie Banikarim (24:19):

Yes. Didn’t Monica Hesse write a good piece in the Washington Post about this around when Mary Kay Letourneau died?

Jessica Bennett (24:26):

Yeah, actually, this was quite recently. She’s a columnist for the Washington Post who writes on gender issues, and she did this column about that case and the repercussions of it. And she has this line where she says, “Female students abused by male teachers have encountered their own measure of victim blame, but not usually accompanied by the same level of tittering, the implication that these horny teenage boys probably wanted it and were lucky to get it.”

Susie Banikarim (24:51):

Yeah, that really summarizes a lot of what we’re saying here.

Jessica Bennett (24:54):

The other thing, and in many ways this is the whole premise of our show, but there are real world consequences to the way we talk about this stuff. Even the little nuances and language that we keep getting at, like, “Is this a relationship? Is it an assault?” These actually have impact in the larger world. And so, while I was searching for studies on this, I found this 2013 analysis by the New Jersey Star-Ledger, where they looked at cases of teacher-student sex in New Jersey specifically. There were 97 of them, and they actually found that the men in those cases average longer jail terms than the women. Why is that? Well-

Susie Banikarim (25:33):

Yeah, because we see that as a real crime.

Jessica Bennett (25:35):

… Exactly, exactly. It’s like, women are victimized in so many ways and things are still unequal, but when we talk about this issue specifically, we are often minimizing the experiences of the boys. It wasn’t even until the year 2000 that all 50 states in the United States made the language of their statutory rape laws gender-neutral, meaning that there was a minimum age for girls to consent, but not for boys.

Susie Banikarim (26:01):

One thing we haven’t really talked about is that if you’re a boy consuming this, if you’re a teenage boy in your friend’s basement in Seattle watching the show with you, and you are going through something that is similar in some way and you have complex and not great feelings about it, you’re being taught that those feelings are completely invalid. You should just be psyched.

Jessica Bennett (26:22):

Right. You should be high-fiving your friends.

Susie Banikarim (26:23):

And this really gets at something, right, which is that we adultify boys when they are children, when they are boys, especially boys of color, to be clear, right? In this country, if you’re a Black boy, you’re a man. Right? But then, when men become older, when they become men who should be accountable-

Jessica Bennett (26:40):


Susie Banikarim (26:40):

… we dismiss their bad behavior as, “Oh, they’re just boys. Oh, boys will be boys,” and locker room talk-

Jessica Bennett (26:46):

Locker room talk.

Susie Banikarim (26:47):

… and all these ways in which we kind of dismiss their agency when it’s convenient for them to dismiss their agency. But when we actually should be giving them grace to make the same mistakes as other children, we refuse to accept that about them.

Jessica Bennett (27:02):

So, that brings us to, has anything changed? Maybe in fact, rewatching this was actually a good thing because it did force us to grapple with some of these complexities in how we perceive it.

Susie Banikarim (27:15):

I don’t feel like I understood the complexity of this show at all when I watched it the first time. Because you’re neutering it over that complexity as you present it, it kind of doesn’t have a real impact, right?

Jessica Bennett (27:27):

Right. And yeah, is it the responsibility of shows to send a real message? I don’t know. Do they have to get at that complexity and grapple with it? It is interesting though because I think shows now that approach this subject do have a little bit more complexity and nuance, and they pay some attention, in many cases, to the aftermath, and also the trauma.

Susie Banikarim (27:51):

Yeah, I mean, I think the thing is, obviously, there’s this idea or this concern now of how we take art from previous eras and deal with it, right? Because art is supposed to reflect the time it’s made in, right? So, I guess we don’t need it to explore that complexity because that was the culture. That is how people saw things in that moment, and part of why we consume art that was made at a certain time is to understand what views and culture and zeitgeist was in that time.

Jessica Bennett (28:23):

Well, and to be fair, actually, that probably is how many people would still perceive this.

Susie Banikarim (28:28):

Yeah. I don’t even know if that’s something that’s changed. I don’t know if you… Did you watch Pretty Little Liars? There was a student-teacher plot. In that case, it was a female student and a male teacher, but that was also presented as kind of a love story, and that wasn’t that long ago.

Jessica Bennett (28:41):

And Riverdale too, right?

Susie Banikarim (28:42):


Jessica Bennett (28:43):

This is the teen series. I think it just ended based on the Archie comics, where Archie has an affair with his teacher. And interestingly-

Susie Banikarim (28:49):

Which was not in the original comics, to be clear.

Jessica Bennett (28:52):

… Okay, okay. Good point. And the executive producer behind that show had actually worked on Dawson’s.

Susie Banikarim (28:58):

Oh, wow.

Jessica Bennett (28:59):

I don’t know if those two things are interconnected, but just interesting point.

Susie Banikarim (29:01):

But it is because these shows all feel like they’re kind of part of the same universe, right? These teen shows that were on the WB, which is now the CW, even ABC Family or Freeform or whatever it’s called now, they all do have very similar tropes and themes, and a very common trope that writers use is this teacher-student storyline, even now, right?

Jessica Bennett (29:22):


Susie Banikarim (29:22):

And I think that’s interesting that there’s still so much fascination with this concept. I think it’s because lots of people have crushes on their teachers, so it feels like a universal experience to sexualize your teachers.

Jessica Bennett (29:34):


Susie Banikarim (29:34):

What shouldn’t be a universal experience is that your teachers are sexualizing you.

Jessica Bennett (29:39):

And remember my friend Rosie?

Susie Banikarim (29:41):

Of course.

Jessica Bennett (29:41):

I wanted to ask her what the teens she works with might think of this relationship today.

Rosie Bancroft (29:47):

So when I think back about Dawson’s and thinking about the kids that I work with, if they were to be watching it today, they would be appalled, in a good way. They would know that it was wrong. They would know that it’s still a problem, even if it’s a female teacher, which I feel like we were in the infancy of discovering. I also think they would be compelled by it being a boy and a woman, and him being tall and cute and allegedly having all of this sexual prowess. I think that it would still seem muddy to them.


The other thing that I feel like is different now in terms of the kids these days is that they have an awareness about sexual abuse, and they are inclined to come in and see us in the counseling center at our school, especially girls will come in and talk about things that have happened to them that make them really uncomfortable. And they will be received in a place that is like, “Yep, this is rough and we need to help you.” And yes, this is a product of a much larger system.

Jessica Bennett (30:58):

Okay. So, where does all this leave us? There is something about consuming these stories as teenagers that really does stay with you.

Susie Banikarim (31:07):


Jessica Bennett (31:07):

And I think my friends and millions of other teens felt like we too were kind of coming of age with these characters on Dawson’s, even though they might’ve been a few years older, and even though in real life, they were actually much, much older.

Susie Banikarim (31:21):

Yeah, right. I mean, I wonder, have the actors on Dawson’s Creek ever reflected on this in any way?

Jessica Bennett (31:26):

Yeah, actually they have. I mean, Joshua Jackson is interesting because he was obviously a little bit older, and he also grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, which is just a few hours north of Seattle, which is where the Mary Kay Letourneau case played out, at the same time he was recording and filming Dawson. So, I think he was very aware of it. And he was actually asked a couple of years ago, in an article, what he thought now looking back on that storyline in Dawson’s. And he was pretty thoughtful about it.


What he said was, “We still treat teenage female sexuality very differently than we teach or treat male teenage sexuality. Do we think that the show should have judged it differently? Maybe, because it’s part and parcel of that double standard. But on the other hand, I think it’s necessary to show storylines that have humans making mistakes.”

Susie Banikarim (32:16):

I guess he’s making a good point about the double standard, but is it true that this is just about humans making mistakes? It’s not really presented as that much of a mistake on the show, at least for him.

Jessica Bennett (32:26):

Yeah, that’s true. I mean, it’s complicated. I guess, in some ways, I sort of appreciate though that they didn’t turn it into a lesson. I don’t know that I would’ve responded to a kind of scoldy afterschool special.

Susie Banikarim (32:39):

Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, that wouldn’t have worked. It’s not like that would’ve been popular. So, part of it is that you have to present messages in a way that’s appealing to the audience.

Jessica Bennett (32:47):

But I don’t know, maybe others have a different interpretation. I mean, the show’s all available online. I hope that those listening might go watch it and tell us what you think. You can email us at [email protected], or you can DM us on Instagram @inretropod. Thanks for tuning in.

Susie Banikarim (33:08):

This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a cultural moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (33:23):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (33:28):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (33:37):

 In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (33:49):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindy Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (34:07):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.