Monday, August 24, 2009

Where does the 'males-as-predators' stereotyping come from? Too often . . . from men

This is a piece that appeared in the Washington Post last week. My comment follows:

Little Girls, College Guys -- and Nervous Parents

By Brian Reid

When we moved, a year ago, there were certain trappings of D.C., that we wanted to maintain. I kept my cellphone number. We held onto our house. And we wanted to work like heck to ensure that our eldest child didn't lose the Spanish skills she'd built up during two years in a dual-language classroom. We dutifully lined up a fabulous tutor and -- a year later -- her Spanish is stronger than ever.

Unfortunately, the unavoidable reality of college towns is that everyone leaves, eventually. Our old tutor had hardly packed her belongings after graduation when we started looking for a replacement. We had a rough set of criteria: the tutor had to be an exceptional speaker, had to be good with kids and had to have the kind of schedule where a year-long commitment wasn't going to end the moment the schoolwork picked up.

It turns out there was also another -- unspoken -- requirement: the tutor ought to be a woman. This was something my wife and I both felt in our gut, even though I knew it made me a huge hypocrite.

I have written over a thousand blog posts on fatherhood, mostly making the point that there is no reason why guys can't do the childrearing thing as well as women. And I know that unfair stereotypes are a reason why so few men end up in primary education. But it's one thing to defend my days as an at-home dad and another to put an elementary-school girl alone with a college guy for hours a week. Yes, I know the risk is low, but why accept the risk at all?

Still, out of a sense of open-mindedness, we did interview a male tutor earlier this month. He was a lovely kid, well-spoken and polite, bearing a letter of reference from a parent who trusted him to teach her children -- including her elementary-aged girl -- to swim. While we haven't talked to everyone on our list of candidates, there is no question that he'd make an excellent tutor. It is entirely possible that we'll hire him, even though the idea still makes me uncomfortable.

I'm curious if any of you have had similar experiences. Is it fear-mongering of the worst sort to prevent this sort of one-on-one interaction, or is it a you-can-never-be-too-careful kind of thing?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at


To Mr. Reid:

As founder of the leading website in the US that gives voice to persons falsely accused of sexual assault, I am disappointed by your Washington Post piece because it promotes the worst kind of unfair stereotyping and soul-annihilating prejudice -- the kind that is somehow acceptable in otherwise enlightened circles.

Your piece, sadly, strikes me as just another modern-day Chicken Little fable that foments anti-male hysteria in a society already overly wary of males. We expect, and require, much more from persons in your position.

I'd like to hear how you and your wife will explain to your daughter that you won't hire a male tutor. Perhaps it will go go something like this: "Well, dear, you see, men can't all be trusted around children, and people like you need to be protected from them." Do you not care at all what message you are sending to your own child? Or do you delude ourself into thinking that perhaps she won't pick up on things like this?

Fearful of child abuse? Keep the kiddies away from Mom -- you know, statistics and all that. Thinking of hiring a black person to work in your home? Better think again because she or he is a member of a class convicted of crimes at a disproportionately higher rate than white persons. Mexicans? Muslims? Young people as opposed to the elderly? Where does it end? Or is your prejudice confined to dreaded, predatory, sex-crazed males?

What ever happened to judging each person on his or her own merits instead of whether they were born with external plumbing?

Men and women of good will need to stand up and challenge these awful stereotypes, not parade their primal prejudices on the pages of the Washington Post.

Pierce Harlan
The False Rape Society