I've been re-watching the show, and something has been bugging me non-stop regarding the relationships between the girls and their parents. In the second episode, we see Melissa's 23-year-old fiance flirt with and ultimately kiss the 16-year-old Spencer. When Melissa sees this and dumps him, Spencer is treated horribly by her family. Despite her protests that it wasn't consensual, her parents take Melissa's side. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth of any viewer who notices this trend. A similar thing happens when it is revealed that Ian, 22, carried on a relationship with Spencer when she was 15. She hides this fact, but the police find out and question her. Her own parents blame her too. I'm personally bothered by the fact that the police didn't question Ian, nor did they arrest him. He may have said that it wasn't sexual, but they would have had no reason to believe him.
Spencer wasn't the only one of the girls to be scrutinized after a relationship with an older man either. When Aria's parents find out about her seeing her former English teacher, they are understandably upset at him. What doesn't make sense is that they start treating her like she is the problem afterward. Her father starts imposing a dress code, and her parents ground her. It makes sense that they would be upset. I mean, he groomed her and pursued a relationship with her even while he was her teacher.
Perhaps it's as a result of her parent's reaction that she turns on Hannah, her friend, after Aria's soon-to-be step-father hits on Hannah and gropes her. She immediately accuses Hannah of making it up and being jealous and cuts her off. Hannah's self-esteem drops after this, and she starts to think that it's her fault for wearing a short skirt.
Furthermore, Aria’s relationship with her former teacher is hailed as a tragic romance, and many consider them soulmates. They keep dating despite the times he’s lied to her. They keep dating after he becomes her teacher again. They keep dating after he cuts her off from her friends. They end up married at the end of the show. Why is this okay? Why doesn’t everyone realize that this relationship is unhealthy? He was her teacher, and he groomed her from the beginning.
We also have the situation of a detective flirting with and kissing a 17-year-old Hannah. As a cop, it is expected that he would know better, and yet he comes very close to breaking the law and it’s just brushed aside. We have the situation of another cop having a relationship with a 15-year-old girl. She even has a pregnancy scare as a result, and yet the show never really talks about how wrong it truly is.
What kind of lesson is this teaching young girls who watch this show? While many of the girl's actions aren't exactly the type to replicate, these behaviors from the adults in the show are indicative of a larger problem in today's society. If we teach girls that it's their fault when an older guy hits on them and/or kisses them, we teach them to blame themselves. We need positive messages to young girls, and this isn't positive.
This show does wonderfully with LGBT+ representation (though it’s trans representation leaves a lot to be desired), but the attitudes towards statutory rape and older men preying on teenage girls are absolutely terrifying. How can a show with such an influence on teenage girls be this lax with portraying these issues as a good thing? The high school I went to fired an English teacher for having an affair with one of her students. Many girls drooled over the attractive substitute teacher. More shows need to keep their young audience in mind when choosing topics to portray. Make a show about young relationships. Make a show about positive and healthy relationships. Make a show about young girls who band together against the older guys who prey upon them. Be an inspiration.