Book review ‘Tampa’

A controversial new American novel about a paedophile teacher who preys on prepubescent boys has divided critics, been shortlisted for an award and banned from some bookstores.Described as a modern day Lolita, the book Tampa by author and professor Alissa Nuttingexposes our double standards towards female perpetrators and  male victims.Nutting told Lifestyle Mirror: “Our culture isn’t accustomed to viewing males (even underage teen ones) as the sexual victims of women, and I find that very problematic.”The novel centres on Celeste Price, a 26-year-old sexual predator and high school teacher who abuses a 14-year-old boy. Nutting was inspired to write the book after a woman she went to school with was exposed as a female paedophile.According to Daily Life in Australia, Nutting began to keep an eye out for the stories of female predators that kept cropping up and started to notice discrepancies in the way they were reported saying:“I was really interested by the disparate reaction when the offender is a woman and when the offender is a male. I wanted to write a book that drew attention to the ways that we seem to give female sexual predators a pass. We live in a society that has a really hard time seeing women as being able to sexually victimise men at all. There’s this widespread view that men always want sex so there’s no way they can be sexually victimised. And also we tend to look upon the offenders with our very adult gaze and judge their behaviour that way when it’s women. I think a lot of times heterosexual adult men will look at the women and think, ‘Well, I’d want to sleep with her – where’s the crime?’ in a way that we don’t when it’s a male offender with a 14-year-old girl.”Despite the controversy around the book, Nutting says that she’s received many messages from male victims who have thanked her for telling their story and spoken of the negative impact the abuse has had on their lives.According to an interview with Jezebel, Nutting says:“I want to draw attention to the ways we view predatory female sexual behavior, and to the limitations of sexual discussion in our culture.”She says  one of the reasons that we don’t view female sex offenders in the same way as male sex offenders is because sex is often  “packaged as something for men to enjoy”.“ There’s a sense of, ‘adult men would want to have sex with this woman, so she’s incapable of committing a sexual crime.’ This perpetuates the harmful patriarchal stereotype that female sexuality can’t be violent—that it’s simply there for male use with no agency of its own, that it doesn’t hold power,” she told Jezebel“Once caught, the main character Celeste is ultimately treated very differently than I think a male offender would be. For readers I think the reversal is somewhat of a challenge, because there are conflicting messages about how to respond to female sexual predators in our society. This is something the book engages: do we condemn her? Idolize her? Become aroused by her? And what cultural messages inform our reaction?”The book has been compared by some with Fifty Shades Of Grey, a comparison Nutting dismisses:“Tampa is sexually explicit, so I understand a dialogue surrounding the two of them. But I think the fact that Tampa is about an illegal predatory relationship, with an abuser and a victim, instead of about two consenting adults, negates any sort of direct parallel.“I’m interested in the ways that these cases are often portrayed in the media. When it’s a female teacher and an underage male student, there’s often a discussion surrounding the case that implies it’s a victimless crime. I’m also interested in the ways that, for women, our culture tends to prioritize beauty and maintaining a youthful appearance above all else.So what have critics made of the book? Well,Publishers Weekly says, “Nutting’s work creates a solid impression of Celeste’s psychopathic nature but, unlike the much richer Lolita, leaves the reader feeling empty”, while Entertainment Weeklysays “the writing is often excellent, hilariously dark, and mean”.

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