As a society we talk a lot about racism and other forms of discrimination. But when it comes to men and the way they are being stereotyped and discriminated against, no one seems to have much to say.
I was taught from early age to be fearful of men and talk only to women if I needed help. In spite of good intentions of ‘keeping me safe’, that strategy made it only worse by limiting the pool of people I could ask for help when required. In fact, the safest I ever felt as a child was among boys and men.
For that reason, I get very upset when I come across examples of men being treated as potential predators. Child advocates advise parents to never hire a male babysitter. Airlines are placing unaccompanied minors with female passengers rather than male passengers.
In 2007 Virginia’s Department of Health mounted an ad campaign for its sex-abuse hotline. Billboards featured photos of a man holding a child’s hand. The caption: “It doesn’t feel right when I see them together,” which implies that my dad or uncle could be seen as sexual abusers if they were holding my hand in public when I was a child. How sick is that? What if I gave my dad a hug or a kiss in public, as I naturally did a lot as a child? Or sat on my dad’s lap? What’s wrong with that? Why should children be denied their father’s affection because of someone else’s sick mind?
Not surprisingly fathers’ rights activists and educators argue that an inflated predator panic is damaging men’s relationships with children. Some men are opting not to get involved with children at all, which partly explains why many youth groups are struggling to find male leaders, and why there are so few males involved in early childhood education or teaching in primary schools.
One of my male friends recently came across a lost child in tears in a mall. His first instinct was to help, but he feared people might consider him a predator. So he asked his daughter to comfort the lost child instead. “Being male,” he explained, “I am guilty until proven innocent.”
And that’s not the worst. In England in 2006, BBC News reported the story of a bricklayer who spotted a toddler at the side of the road. As he later testified at a hearing, he didn’t stop to help for fear he’d be accused of trying to abduct her. You know: A man driving around with a little girl in his car? She ended up at a pond and drowned.
People assume that all men “have the potential for violence and sexual aggressiveness,” says Peter Stearns, a George Mason University professor who studies fear and anxiety. Kids end up viewing every male “as a potential evildoer,” he says, and as a byproduct, “there’s an overconfidence in female virtues,” in spite of disturbing statistics on physical abuse inflicted on children by female perpetrators.
Most men understand the need to be cautious, so they’re willing to take a step back from children, or to change seats on a plane. One abused child is one too many. Still, it’s important to maintain perspective. “The number of men who will hurt a child is tiny compared to the population,” says Benjamin Radford, who researches statistics on predators and is managing editor of the science magazine Skeptical Inquirer. “Virtually all of the time, if a child is lost or in trouble, he will be safe going to the nearest male stranger.”
Society protecting children by treating all men as potential predators is not safe. Just sick.
- Are We Teaching Our Kids To Be Fearful of Men?
- Avoiding Kids: How Men Cope With Being Cast as Predators
- Seeing All Men as Predators
- When all men are seen as predators
- Treating All Men As Potential Predators Doesn’t Make Our Kids Safer
- Eek! A Male!