Trend Piece Tuesday: Men Are Scary

Since trend pieces — particularly of the New York Times variety — tend so be so laughably presumptive and over-generalizing, I think we ought to dedicate Tuesdays to making fun of, ripping apart, or hell, even expressing enjoyment for them. If you see one that you’d like to see highlighted, feel free to send ’em our way at ethecofematgmaildotcom. Today’s Trend Piece Tuesday will be dedicated to yet another manifestation of the belief that all men should be viewed as a potential danger to children.

Nicole Sprinkle, a guest poster on the New York Times parenthood blog, used an entire article to relay a story about how she discriminated against a young man for being a male. In Seeing All Men as Predators, Sprinkle explains that she was searching for a part-time babysitter or nanny for her small child, a 3-year-old girl. There were few candidates available for part-time work, but she had found the perfect candidate:

…[T]here was also this 23-year-old young man who responded to my ad on our neighborhood’s Listserv. He was well spoken and exuded a quiet friendliness over the phone. He was studying to become a paramedic (great to have around in case of emergencies), lived his whole life in the neighborhood, had a mother who owned a local daycare, and worked as a summer camp counselor at the very preschool my daughter was now attending – and got rave reviews from his supervisor there.

She’s afraid, though. Because he’s a male. And males abuse and rape children.

Wait, what?

Sprinkle makes it clear that she knows better, that she knows deep down inside that it’s rather ridiculous to assume this of all men, but that her emotional reaction, rather than her intellectual one, was the driving force behind her ultimate decision not to hire this young man, who was, as she said, the best candidate for the job.

I also told him that I felt really awful about having to feel this way, and that it was such a shame that society forced us to discriminate against kind, competent men as caregivers for our kids. Yes, I know that statistically a man is far more likely to molest a child than a woman but, really, what is the likelihood of it happening to your child when the potential caregiver comes replete with recommendations that you trust and a personality and career path you admire? I told him I needed to think about it for a day or two.

He very kindly told me he understood and would wait for and respect my decision. Two days later I called him to tell him I was so sorry but I was going with the local mom. Again, he pleasantly told me he completely understood but to feel free to call him if it didn’t work out. I hung up the phone feeling sheepish.

(emphasis mine)

The young man was incredibly understanding of her hesitation to hire him due to his gender. This is very kind of him, considering that he was actively being discriminated against by a potential employer. And I know guys just like that, who are kind and understanding about our society’s widespread belief that children are dangerous when left with men. My husband and I live in a townhouse complex with a bunch of families with small children. A couple months ago, we were watching our niece (who we live with, along with my sister and mom) at the playground in the courtyard, playing with other children between 3 – 5 years old, and a 4-year-old girl asked Jesse to help her reach a horizontal bar-thing that she was too short to reach herself. In order to help her, he’d have to lift her up. He told her that he wasn’t sure if that would be okay with her parents. She went and asked, got the OK, and helped her. Of course, if it were me, I’d have just lifted her up, and no one would have been suspicious of anything. But as we’d just moved in, he wasn’t sure if the little girl’s parents might freak about a “strange man” touching their daughter.

On the one hand, I understand the concern. A stranger of any gender in close proximity to a child without visible caregivers can look suspect, and since men are primarily the gender who gets the (public) bad rap for being child abusers and molesters, it’s easy to see why many women (and even many men) might be more afraid of seeing their child with an unknown male than female. On the other hand, when my husband and I have kids, I don’t want him to get suspicious looks, or have people questioning his right to be alone with our children simply because of his gender.

Which brings me to my next point. Sparkle’s confident and un-cited statistic that she whipped out of nowhere about men being “far more likely” to molest a child than a woman isn’t even accurate. For one thing, recent studies have shown that women are more often the perpetrators of violence against children than men are, and the majority of the cases of child abuse (80%) are perpetrated by parents of the children. While Sprinkle admits that she acted in an unfair manner and felt “sheepish” after turning the young man down for the job and that, as a result, her daughter may have “missed out on a chance to have a great caregiver and our family a friend,” she maintains that she acted in a way that made her feel more comfortable.

Additionally, she tries to give herself an out by saying that it’s a shame she has to feel this way, and that society forces us to discriminate against men like him. Here’s the problem: she is a member of society. She feels bad about the way that the society that she is a part of discriminates against men in this situation. What is she waiting for? All the other mothers to stop treating them this way first? Ending this kind of discrimination is her responsibility, too. How many other parents in her circle of friends and elsewhere will read this article or hear her story and feel a renewed dedication to discriminating based on gender? How many more children will grow up afraid of males alone with children because this message is drilled into them growing up? And how will women ever stop being expected to be homemakers and full-time parents if we as a society refuse to allow men the same opportunity?

I want to give Sparkle credit for being frank about her prejudices. It’s difficult to admit a bias against and generalized group of people, and she risked a great deal of pushback and criticism, which she has thankfully received in the comments on the post, and elsewhere in the gender-thinkers section of the blogosphere.

But, credit for candidly admitting her prejudice against men and admission of guilty feelings about said prejudice aside, this is seriously problematic. We as a society, and we as feminists and people committed to equality between men and women cannot continue to turn a blind eye toward discrimination against men in the domestic sphere. As Archivist of the False Rape Society blog wrote in response to my comment on his post,

Women have made a lot of progress breaking down barriers that once confined them to the domestic sphere. Women will never be able to truly “have it all” unless men are freed up to move from the work world to the domestic sphere. Right now, there is a terrible social stigma for men to adopt a significant role as nurturer. (A woman who tells her fiance that she wants to take time off from work when they have children is called a normal woman; a man who tells his fiance he wants to take time off from work when they have children is called “an ex-fiance.”) This sort of thinking is scarcely consonant with the notion that women can do what was formerly considered men’s work, and men can do what was formerly considered women’s work.

While the priority of any parent is surely on doing everything in their power to keep their children safe, the idea that men are inherently more likely to molest and abuse children is false, and, just as I’m not about to go around telling people it’s totally okay for me to be afraid of black men who walk past me or get into elevators with me (or men in general who talk to me, period) and expect sympathy and understanding, it shouldn’t be okay for her to feel justified in making decisions based on an unsupported and demonstrably irrational fear of the entire male sex. We can’t expect to gain equality to men in all areas of life, but save domesticity for ourselves. This isn’t fair, it isn’t right, and it’s damaging to everyone involved.

It does seem, though, that her piece, sympathetic as it was, has gotten a lot of attention and sparked necessary discussions. For this, perhaps it was a good piece for the Times to post.

h/t Jim.

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40 Responses to Trend Piece Tuesday: Men Are Scary

  1. Danny says:

    Yes, I know that statistically a man is far more likely to molest a child than a woman but…
    I suppose no one told her that the most likely people to commit fatal child abuse are moms. So maybe that means people should be suspicious when she is around her own kids?

    …just as I’m not about to go around telling people it’s totally okay for me to be afraid of black men who walk past me or get into elevators with me…
    Ah the classic example. Yeah apparently if I get mad because a woman crosses the street away from me because I’m black its okay and I can carry on calling her on her racist assumptions but if I get mad because said women crosses the street away from me because I’m male then low and behold I’m oppressing that woman by forcing her to be around my maleness despite how uncomfortable my maleness makes her (and “making it all about teh menz”). Somehow the idea that said woman crossed the street to get away from me because I’m a black man never comes up.

    On the other hand, when my husband and I have kids, I don’t want him to get suspicious looks, or have people questioning his right to be alone with our children simply because of his gender.
    And while I certainly would not wish any ill will towards your future children but if something bad happens to them get ready for your husband to be the first suspect no matter what. And also get ready for them to tear through every nearby male relative, friend, and acquaintance in the area before they even entertain the thought that it might be a woman.

    Thanks for bringing this stuff up. I’ve mentioned it plenty of times over at my place but I feel I get the feeling no one is listening.

    • elementary_watson says:

      A little bit off-topic as it isn’t about “men are scary around children”, but recently I saw this at a German feminist blog. Note the picture on the upper left corner: It’s recommended to be suspicious when a man walks some distance behind a woman, because … well, you never know, do you? (The person thinks “Coincidental the same way home … or is it?”)

      Were it a black man following a white woman, this suspicion would rightly be called racism; as it is a pretty generic man, it’s the sensible thing to be suspicious, even according to some feminists. (I’m not posting any comment over there, as I suspect they would interpret my words as meaning I think black men are more of a threat to women than white men or something, and I don’t feel like getting insulted right now).

    • Danny says:

      I wouldn’t waste my time over there either EW. If they put up content like that then chances are they already have the usually lines of bullshit lined up for dissenting voices. More than ready to call you a victim blamer, woman hater, “making it all about teh menz”, and of course misogynist.

    • elementary_watson says:

      Unfortunately, that blog was really good for open-minded discussion once; then some more radical feminists came there, told the bloggers they were too tame and compliant towards patriarchy (IIRC in terms which would have been a clear violation of policy had they been criticized for being too harsh against men), and little by little they got new co-bloggers who are “darker and edgier” …. *sigh*

    • Danny says:

      In short they built an echo chamber.

    • April says:

      I wish I could read German.

    • Paul says:

      This is a worry I’ve felt before, if I happen to be going in the same direction as a woman “Shit, we just turned the same corner, she’s going to think I’m stalking her.”

  2. andie says:

    A collary to that one guys’ comment (and I’ve seen this myself) “A woman who stays home and raises the kids is a homemaker, a man who stays home and raises the kids is unemployed”

    Reminds me of a rather brilliant line from the song Thou Shalt Always Kill:

    “Thou shalt not assume that any man over 30 who plays with a child that is not their own is a pedophile. Some people are just nice.”

  3. Cessen says:

    The young man was incredibly understanding of her hesitation to hire him due to his gender. This is very kind of him, considering that he was actively being discriminated against by a potential employer.

    It’s not just kindness. It’s self-interest, too.

    • Jim says:

      Read stuff from the Jim Crow era. This is exactly the response that “good” black people learned to give. It was just pragmatism.

    • Danny says:

      I was thinking that too. The only people surprised by this are those who have their own prejudices and think that men cannot possibly be harmed in such way because our gender.

  4. elementary_watson says:

    Read some of the comments, and one thing really bothers me: Confusing “deep-rooted prejudice” with “instincts”. Stupid, stupid, stupid …

  5. Yes!

    You are an excellent writer.

    One time a male attorney who worked under me voiced an opinion to me that my firm should never hire female attorneys. I found that comment repulsive. I also had a female attorney working under me. It turned out, the woman was doing a better job, and I could always count on her to be thorough and professional That male attorney is no longer with my firm; the woman is.

    I do not tolerate generalizations about women’s abilities or competence. Every individual must be judged on his or her own merits. When I assess someone’s fitness for job, I refuse to be an actuarial. You can’t treat people fairly by judging the group they were born into. Period, end of story. It applies to women, and it applies to men. Perhaps if we’d all learn that lesson, we wouldn’t have nearly the gender, the racial, or the cultural divide we have.

    • April says:

      I agree wholeheartedly.

      I do understand how difficult it is to stop oneself form making these sorts of generalized judgments, especially if you pay attention to mainstream media, and I don’t claim to be perfect in avoiding discrimination such as this, but the understanding that it’s wrong,/i> and why it’s wrong, is the only thing that will help people stop this kind of discrimination.

  6. Clarence says:

    Allow me to be somewhat of a dissenting voice, and not playing “devils advocate”.

    Every set of sexual assault statistics I’ve ever seen, whether feminist researched, government researched, or academically researched points to men as being more likely to perpetrate child sexual assault in general. Yes, there’s male under-reporting (but I find the likely amount of under-reporting of all types of sex and abuse crimes to be wildly exaggerated in my opinion) but I believe that in reality roughly 3 out of every 4 child sexual assaults is committed by a man.
    Now since it’s been awhile since I’ve looked at the sex assault statistics in terms of anything but rapes, I’m going to do what many activist organizations do and pull a number out of my butt: I believe that no more than 10 percent of children and adolescents have been sexually assaulted before age 18 by an adult or teen caregiver.

    So then the question becomes: Given that your child has hypothetically 2 to 3 times as much of a chance to be raped or molested by a random male caregiver as a female one, and given a ten percent chance over all, is this fear rationally justified? And a separate question : is it rationally justifiable in in this case?

    The first question, to me, is a matter of judgment. How do you balance fear of child abuse vs fear of child sexual molestation or rape? It’s true you can’t often see signs of molestation and younger children may not be able to report it whereas physical abuse is much harder to conceal from your eyes. Then assuming you want to totally “play the odds” it becomes a matter of picking poisons and which one you pick will be up to your individual philosophy. Of course you should keep in mind that’s unlikely that your child will be either molested OR abused, so chances are it doesn’t matter.\

    The second question is I believe easier, and the answer is no. Even if men are, as a group , vastly more likely to molest the fact is that individually the young man in this article had so many factors in his favor that I dare say that just running statistics , he probably was a “safer” bet than the woman she did hire. In short , given a personal interview where relevant aspects of the person’s background could be brought out only if a man and a woman seem equally qualified or the woman better qualified AND if for personal reasons you deem it more important to minimize the risk of sexual abuse would it be rational to pick a given woman over a given man.

    • typhonblue says:

      Slowly, but surely, stats are coming forward that put into question the usually held wisdom that men are the majority perpetrators of sexual abuse:

      “Approximately 95% of all youth reporting staff sexual miscon-
      duct said they had been victimized by female staff. In 2008, 42% of staff in state juvenile facilities were female.”

      From “Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2008-09″

      http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/conte…..jfry09.pdf

      This can’t be extrapolated to the general population, of course, but it is provocative and may hint at future truths that will give lie to conventional wisdom.

    • Clarence says:

      Fair enough, Typhon.

      Maybe it will indeed one day change. Or maybe such things vary with setting and /or possibly age. It may be for instance, that actual pedophiles (sexual attraction for prepubescent, not sexually developed at all ) tend to more likely be men, while normal adult to sexually developed teen attraction is equal among the sexes or even that women have more of it.

      I don’t know. These things are complicated and politicized and while I’ve read tons of research on rape prevalence , I’ve read much less overall on sexual abuse in general, esp. sexual abuse of minors (minors to be anyone under 18), but it’s not like this doesn’t come up again and again on TS, FC, and of course other feminist sites. Anyway, I can only go with the information I’ve got and try to fit into the larger frame work. That we underplay women’s sexual desires AND deviances as a society I’ve no doubt: that men and women are equal in measure of both good and bad aspects of sexuality, I don’t think you’ll ever find.

    • April says:

      Well, according to the statistics I linked to, 80% of abuse comes from parents of the abused children (which I think someone else here mentioned, as well), and sexual assault accounts for only 6% of the total abuse occurring in that study. I think it’s a rather small concern.

      One thing, though, is that more women are primary caregivers of children than are men, so the statistics could drastically change if it were closer to 50/50 in terms of how many women and men are primary or joint caregivers.

      Either way, as it turns out, having your child be sexually molested by a male nanny or babysitter that has great references is highly unlikely.

    • Jim says:

      “Well, according to the statistics I linked to, 80% of abuse comes from parents of the abused children …”

      You might wnat to go back and check those stats. I saw some quoted once on physical abuse where they had conflated step-fathers with fathers – one more example of the Disposable Dad – but of course did not lump mere step-mothers in with mothers.

    • Tim says:

      Luckily, i do.

      Those are designs for ‘anti-sexist’ beer coasters, which are supposed to be used in bars and discos. They depict situations in which woman may be in a dangerous situation or being preyed upon and it is supposed to be understood as encouragement for third parties and bystanders to step in if they observed something like that.

      The text flowing around the picture reads the following:

      top:
      to listen – to approach – to ask

      right:
      oneonezero *1 – to intervene – to observe

      bottom:
      to hit*2 – to get help – cry wolf*3

      left:
      to publicise – to get loud

      *1 One one zero or 110 is the emergency phone number in Germany.
      *2 I am not sure I translated ‘zuschlagen’ right, partly because there are several possible translations and partly because I am not sure if this is supposed to be a call for violence.
      *3 Translating ‘feuer rufen’ straight forward would mean ‘call/yell fire’. I am pretty sure they meant ‘to raise alarm’, so cry wolf probably gets close.

      The comics translate into the following:

      top-left:
      Dude: Probably the same way home… Or ?

      top-right:
      Women: LEAVE Me ALONE!!
      Dude A: Wow, what a temperament!
      Dude B: Hey buddy, you stay another 5 minutes.

      bottom-left:
      Dude: I think the tree looks better over here!

      bottom-right:
      Dude: !?

      And these coasters have the following written on the backside:
      Even in places like this one perpetrators are seeking out their victims out and ‘test’ them… before our eyes.

      Those incidents are, among other things, possible, because we treat the contact between men and women as private.

      Gazing, insinuating remarks, gestures, obtrusion, pursuing and many more things can be violations – that preceed a rape.

      Look closely. Be rather sceptic. Have the heart to ask, if a woman is feeling harassed.

      Intervene if neccessary.

      Be resourceful and determined. of course, intervening can be awkward or stressful.
      But we see no alternative…

    • Tim says:

      Oops,

      replied to the wrong post. Sorry 😉
      If someone could move this for me ?

  7. gwallan says:

    Clarence…
    3 out of every 4 child sexual assaults is committed by a man

    Thus one can say three quarters of victims are abused by male perps whilst a quarter are abused by females. In a sense it’s the view from the victims perspective.

    However, at issue here is the potential perpetrator. Male perpetrators are more likely to have multiple victims. Thus the genders in the set of perpetrators will be closer to parity than that three quarters.

    Deeper into perpetrator demographics we find that nearly a quarter of female perpetrators are in baby sitting roles. Among male perps it’s about seven percent. If females are a third of all perpetrators, as seems quite probable, I’d dare to suggest that one is as likely to see a female babysitting molester as a male.

    • Clarence says:

      gwallen:

      Very good points. Men who molest may do most of their molesting in different roles than women who molest or maybe under different circumstances and thus, yes, it may indeed be the case that in terms of babysitting, men and women are equally safe.

      The majority of adults of both sexes are safe with children. I hate these kind of topics as they do get in the way of people remembering that. Maybe I’ll get into my own personal story about this stuff if it seems relevant.

  8. new orleans,,katrina looter says:

    well ok then ,,just remember professor gates he was innocent…..1 day you may be falsely labled accussed..ect…dont be so generous sir to emotional logic, of certain people,,especially females whom never knew their fathers,,,that now in turn are scared of all men,,,,,,you see most women who are paranoid towards men nevr had a normal,loving, caring relationship with their daddy…ok u see what im sayin.?,,,i can start an emotional argument bout anything …and i would be ..can be wrong….dont fall into emotional thinking,,,,,,,think logically…..emotional thinking starts wars,,,susan smith who killed her 4 babies was an emotional thinker.,,,also men we should think more with our hearts,,and women must learn how ,,when to think with their minds..

  9. typhonblue says:

    Oh poop. Do you guys have to spam *everything*?

    • April says:

      Are you talking about the comment just above yours? I already deleted one spammy comment, but thought the above comment was just, ah, poorly constructed. If you recognize it from other blogs as spam, though, let me know, because I will gladly delete it.

    • typhonblue says:

      No, you got the spammy comment I was talking about.

      The manhood101 guys are spamming everywhere and I do mean everywhere.

    • Jim says:

      Manhood101 nitwits….

    • typhonblue says:

      I actually spoke with one a while back. Posed a question to him about his own philosophy(which pretty much amounted to a standard ‘where can I find X addressed in your manifesto’) and he ‘applied pain to the little woman in order to get her in line’ by insulting me.

      I was like, ‘dude, I’m just asking you a basic organizational question that isn’t addressed by your table of contents, I’m not even challenging your philosophy.’

      And then I left because it seemed pointless.

  10. Jim says:

    I invite everyomne to check out the extensive comment section on that post. People tore the writer up. They picked up on the writer’s apology for bigotry, they rebutted the sexist assumptions, they did a decent job of slapping sexist fellow commenters. Women especially went off on the bigotry, which many of them saw aimed at men they love. It was pretty encouraging to see this high a level of awareness in a mainstream publication readership.

  11. Jim says:

    April, here’s another one for you. Note the frank and respectful discussion going on between TS, the blogger, and the other blogger he links to. This blogger posted this at Feministe, and it became very contentious – Jill finally closed the comnets. Bothe this actual article and comments at the writer’s blog are intersting, the thread at Feministe, and also at TS’s.

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  14. Paul says:

    Doesn’t this sort of put to lie the idea that men are never judged by what other men do? Or to quote The Male Privilege Checklist:

    “If I fail in my job or career, I can feel sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities. ”

    Except replace “job or career” with “child-rearing”

    Because apparently since the “majority” of child abusers are male (debateable, but that’s beside the point for the moment) this justifies treating all men with suspicion.

    This is basically one of the last acceptable prejudices. And it’s not likely to change because people can use “Think of the Children!” as a shield to deflect criticisms.

    This is why I get a little pissed off at all the articles about bad fathers, and how men need to “step up” because at the same time we get articles and statements about how fathers aren’t really needed (or, depending on who’s writing them- wanted)

    It’s irritating because it starts to seem that the only thing men are “needed” for is our money.

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