The other day, one of the parenting blogs had a frank and nicely written piece by a woman who came to the exact opposite conclusion I did. She was mulling whether or not to hire a male baby sitter for her child. On the one hand, the young man she interviewed seemed like a dream. He grew up in the neighborhood; his mom ran a day care center; he sounded warm on the phone and had great references. On the other hand…
He was male.
In the end, surprised by her own misgivings, the writer decided to hire a woman instead. And she wonders whether she did the right thing or ended up missing out on a great baby sitter.
When our kids were a little younger, my husband and I hired some male baby sitters for about a year each and didn’t really worry about their gender. In fact, we hoped they’d take the kids outside and have them playing a lot, so we sort of pigeonholed them that way — thinking they’d be sportier than female baby sitters. (We were wrong.) And it’s true that I have sons, whereas the writer of the misgivings piece has a daughter. If she’d had sons instead, she might have been a little less leery.
But what I love about the essay and regret about her decision is how much she realized her decision was based almost solely on the creeping prejudice against men around kids. Yes, statistically, I’m sure, men are likelier to molest kids than women, but the fact is that most men and most women are not out to molest kids at all.
Pervert panic is so front and center in our culture that it sometimes seems to color our perception of almost all male/child interactions. In some day care centers, male employees aren’t allowed to change diapers. The number of guys for whom diaper changing is a turn-on must be tiny indeed, yet it is top of mind.
Then there’s the suspicion of any man snapping a kid’s picture: Is it for porn? And any man near a school: Is he a predator? There are parents who don’t want a male pre-K teacher and others who wonder why an 80-year-old codger is willing to teach woodworking to the local kids. A generation ago, we’d see him as Geppetto-like. Now “worst-first” thinking kicks in: He likes kids, and he wants to be around them. Oh, no!
This prejudice is just as corrosive as any other, and it comes from the same source: fear, reinforced daily by TV shows highlighting the saddest stories, the worst individuals, the least likely/ most sexually titillating events. Add to the mix movies that revel in sadism and books that take us inside so many “twisted” minds that nuts seems like the new normal. All these images rattle around our brains, echoing endlessly, “Our children are at risk!”
I never would say that absolutely all men (or women) are good or that no child ever has been harmed by a baby sitter or even that this woman made the wrong choice. In fact, I’m thrilled that she wrote the piece so that we can talk about the problem: seeing all men as predators.
So here we are, talking, peeling away at prejudice, inching our way back to sanity — and men.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)” and “Who’s the Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can’t Remember Right Now.”