Sexing the Teacher: School Sex Scandals and Queer Pedagogies.


232 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7748-1374-7
DDC 371.7'8





Reviewed by Robin Chamberlain

Robin Chamberlain is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University.


In Sexing the Teacher: School Sex Scandals and Queer Pedagogies, Sheila Cavanagh, associate professor of sociology at York University, discusses how the public and the education profession have responded to female-teacher sex scandals in Canada, the United States, and Britain. The cases she analyses are those of Mary Kay Letourneau, Annie Markson, Amy Gehring, Heather Ingram, and Jean Robertson.


Cavanagh argues that the uproar over these scandals is not so much about child welfare as it is about policing female sexuality. Although male teachers are more likely than females to become sexually involved with their students, the media attention given to female teachers who do so is much greater. Cavanagh notes this, and tells us in her introduction that she was inspired to study female-teacher sex scandals by Michel Foucault and Gayle Rubin’s arguments that excessive discussion of sexuality tends to have a regulatory and normalizing function. Cavanagh does not deny the need to protect children from legitimate harm, but, rather, argues that ostensible concern over child welfare is often used in the service of concealing and promoting socially conservative agendas.


In the cases she analyses, the students (four boys and one girl) were either the initiators of, or enthusiastic participants in, the sexual relationships. In most instances, the students were more upset by the media coverage, parental and administrative intervention, and being labelled as “victims,” despite their protests to the contrary. Cavanagh’s theoretical approach combines feminist film theory with queer, postcolonial, and psychoanalytic criticism. She also uses cultural narratives like Lolita and myths like that of the femme fatale to contextualize the representation of the female teacher involved in a sex scandal. Cavanagh argues that the female teachers in these situations are queered, and these scandals are therefore seen, like pedophilia and same-sex desire, as threats to heteronormative, reproductive sexuality. This book is a courageous and illuminating examination of a highly controversial subject.


Cavanagh, Sheila L., “Sexing the Teacher: School Sex Scandals and Queer Pedagogies.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,