Woman Behind the Headlines
never had brothers, so I didn’t know much about adolescent
boys when I started teaching high-school English at an all-male
school. But I learned pretty quickly: Adolescent boys think
about sex. All the time.
I was one of the first female teachers in the upper school
in the 175 years of its esteemed existence. So by virtue of
the fact that I was the only 30-year-old female who wore skirts
and dresses and had long hair, English class became something
of an exotic experience for my students.
For the most part they were cute, deferential, sometimes a
little bumbling and I soon came to like most of my students
with their acne and their raging hormones.
But only a few months into the year I discovered that while
I was down in the cafeteria for lunch, students or a student
kept going into my classroom and writing, in Wite-Out inside
my desk, “Women Suck.” I’d come back from lunch and find crudely
drawn images of phalluses and anuses on my blackboard. This
went on and on.
will be boys” was pretty much the administration’s attitude.
So I started locking the classroom door when I went downstairs
for lunch. And I started looking at my students a little differently.
I thought my students liked me. Why would one of them—or more—be
But what was happening to me was mild compared to the note
that the school bookstore manager got.
Lisa was a pretty, young woman who, though she always dressed
professionally and had a real no-nonsense attitude, had a
bottom that could have been featured in a Buns of Steel infomercial.
No matter what she wore—the dullest pair of black polyester
pants, the simplest skirt—it looked great on her. I’m not
even sure she realized it.
But the boys did. The boys talked about Lisa. The bookstore
manager was hot. Bookstore sales were brisk.
And then Lisa got the note. It was a long and detailed rape
threat, with an explicit drawing accompanying it. It was nasty
business. The dean of students got involved. We talked it
over at a staff meeting. But the note was anonymous. There
was nothing to do, it was decided, unless one of the boys
got caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing.
I raised a question about Lisa’s right to work in a safe environment.
I mentioned, once again, what had been happening in my classroom
during the lunch hour.
I worked with good people, and I’m not faulting them. But
the response was pretty much a general collective shrug. The
dean of students vowed to find the author of the letter sent
to Lisa. Suspension would follow. But the bottom line was
pretty much this: These are boys. They’re horny and
Beth Geisel. Maybe now that she has accepted a plea and everybody
involved has had their say, the media circus surrounding her
will die down.
The District Attorney office had its say with its ultra-crass
press invitation to “something they would not want to miss.”
The bloggers have had their say, much of it snide, most of
it sexist, all of it hurtful. (“My god . . . why can’t my
wife be Beth Geisel? My advice to her hubby . . . quit the
bank and keep the hot wife. Jobs are a dime a dozen . . .
but babes like this . . . whew!”)
The outraged morning-radio jocks and their callers have had
their say, self- righteously painting Geisel as a predator
who got a sweet deal because of her good looks and a legal
bias favoring women.
And if the circus does die down—and I hope it does—what will
be left for Beth Geisel?
Her lawyer has done what he could, but it’s not his job to
help her re-create her life.
Beth Geisel, the woman, has gotten lost in the mess of opinions,
judgments and jokes at her expense.
The most merciful thing that has been said about her is that
she has a serious problem with alcohol. That’s been as far
as anyone has gone in public to express any sense of there
being a person behind the pin-up girl.
If, as her lawyer has said, she was victimized by opportunist
adolescent boys, she was certainly doubly victimized by a
thrill-seeking media and a dirt-seeking public.
No one seems to be asking; Who is Beth Geisel? What caused
her to do what she did?
Maybe booze-fueled desire, plus the knowledge that doing your
sexy teacher is every boy’s fantasy were strong motivators.
But I’ll bet my yearly salary that these were not the primary
ones. Because while doing your sexy teacher might be a common
fantasy for adolescent boys, doing ham- handed, inexperienced,
horny adolescent boys—whose post-coital respect and confidentiality
are hardly guaranteed—doesn’t rank high on even the most wide-ranging
lists of women’s fantasies.
I think Beth Geisel had sex with those boys for all the sad
and classic reasons: She wanted to be touched, she wanted
to feel wanted, she wanted—well, I hate to say something so
If that’s true then she went looking for love in all the wrong
places. And while she clearly violated New York state law,
is there no moral law that was violated when her callow lovers
took turns going at her while she was drunk and barely conscious—and
then bragged about it?
Because these boys are victims, are they also exempt from
having to account for their own sleazy behaviors? Last I knew
there was never a circumstance when it was considered ethically
excusable to have tandem sex with a drunk woman.
And so this sad, troubled woman faces a new life and a much
diminished life, abandoned by her community, ridiculed by
the public, punished by the law.
Beth Geisel needs to be cared for, not caricatured. The woman
behind the dark glasses and the provocative headlines has
been neglected enough.