Jeff Zaslow’s Wall Street Journal column continues a discussion about how society is teaching kids to fear men.

As the father of an eight year-old boy, this topic hits close to the mark, doubly so once I read Zaslow’s piece, which is based on feedback he received from readers regarding his first column on this topic. Snip:

Frank McEnulty, a builder in Long Beach, Calif., was once a Boy Scout scoutmaster. “Today, I wouldn’t do that job for anything,” he says. “All it takes is for one kid to get ticked off at you for something and tell his parents you were acting weird on the campout.”

It’s true that men are far more likely than women to be sexual predators. But our society, while declining to profile by race or nationality when it comes to crime and terrorism, has become nonchalant about profiling men. Child advocates are advising parents never to hire male babysitters. Airlines are placing unaccompanied minors with female passengers.

Child-welfare groups say these precautions minimize risks. But men’s rights activists argue that our societal focus on “bad guys” has led to an overconfidence in women. (Children who die of physical abuse are more often victims of female perpetrators, usually mothers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)

Coincidentally, I am now, also, the adult leader of my son’s Cub Scout Den. Before I can fully assume those duties, I must first take the BSA’s online course in child protection and in addition, I must allow the church which sponsors the Pack to conduct a background check on me to ensure that I am not a predator/scofflaw/deadbeat. If I do not give them permission to investigate me, I will not be allowed to perform any functions with the Den. Period.

In some ways, I can appreciate the scrutiny. Screening for creeps is probably long overdue and, given the potential for legal liability, regrettably necessary.

Still, it leaves me cold, and wondering whether all this scrutiny — however well intentioned — doesn’t reinforce the perception that all men are suspect. My son and I have a good relationship (he still calls me DaDa… at least when none of his friends are present). And he still holds my hand, whether we’re crossing the street, or simply because he feels like it.

It’s a small, but very touching gesture. One day, he’ll stop doing it and that will be a sad day, indeed.

But now I wonder…do others who see me holding his hand think I’m some sort of trench-coated creep who ought to be reported? Does it help that our own Attorney General has made a virtual crusade out of tracking down online predators — a crusade that’s repeatedly reinforced by a stream of breathless press releases?

No, it doesn’t. While there can be no doubt whatsoever that depravity exists and that predators, creeps and weirdos can and have inflicted great pain on so many innocent lives, they are are distinct, deserved minority. Society has the right and the responsibility to punish them.

But in doing so, it does not have the right to make suspects of us all.

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6 responses to “Fear of Men”

  1. Mr. Leahy:

    Excellent post. I have 5 sons (no daughters). I have long felt that the climate of political correctness allows for the bashing of men but forbids the bashing of women. Popular culture reinforces this. Years ago, it was Dan Quayle vs. Murphy Brown. That was newsworthy. Now, the drunken stupidity of characters like Homer Simpson is standard fare on television. Even the kids fit the stereotype – Bart is a dumb troublemaker, Lisa is a smart child with a heart of gold.

    I know the Simpsons may seem minor but repeated messages on shows aimed at children and young adults have an effect.

    I wonder if there is any study of mainstream media’s negative portrayal of key male characters vs. key female characters? I’d bet that Hollywood makes men the drunks, dolts and moral miscreants 10 times more often than women.

    Maybe that the price that men pay for having enjoyed so many advantages over the years. However, I don’t see that my sons have an advantage because they are boys and wonder how much longer the stereotypes should continue.

  2. E M Risse Avatar

    Mr. Leahy:

    Very good post on an important issue.

    Just wait until you are 30 years older, then you will be a dirty only man and EVERYONE has you on their watch list.


  3. I’m glad to see your comments about Mr. McDonnell’s odd focus on online predators. He’s putting an enormous amount of resources into a tiny, tiny problem. The trouble is that one cannot go around saying that it’s a “tiny, tiny problem,” because it leaves one open to people saying “well, I think that if any single child is being molested, that’s a big problem.” The whole thing smacks of fear-mongering and, as you point out, only serves to reinforce the negative stereotype of men’s relationships with children.

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar

    The fear-of-men problem shapes our culture in profound ways.

    In this blog, we’ve discussed how reluctant mothers are to allow pre-teen children outside of their houses without parents to watch after them. The effect on little boys is especially pernicious. Cooped up inside, they spend countless hours watching TV and playing video games. They aren’t allowed outside to roam and explore, as generations of little boys have done since the dawn of the human race. Also, the time of boys and girls becomes increasingly structured as they are shuttled from one parentally supervised activity to another. Children become more dependent upon their parents, perhaps contributing to the prolonging of adolescence.

    In a suburban setting, the effect extends to the parents. With their children unable to walk, ride bikes or take a bus to their destination, mothers become “soccer moms” whose main function in life is to chauffeur their children.

  5. E M Risse Avatar

    In many, many profound ways!

    I wish we could all sit down on our patio, share some grilled meat and discuss this issue.

    Unfortunately, I have to keep my head in settlement pattern and mobility issues until TRILO-G is done.

    Jim Bacon has noted a big impact on settlement pattern, there are others. So many problems, so little time.

    Keep the ideas flowing.


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Years ago, when my two daughters were little, they were playing our basement. One of them fell down and got a slight fracture to her arm.
    I was upstairs and came down to see what the crying was about. I took her to the hospital. There, I was separated from my daughter who was grilled by a social worker if I had beaten her. Then I was questionned. Of course, I wasn’t even in the same room when the injury occurred. But they spent valuable time while my daughter suffered in pain trying to build a case against me for something totally imaginary. I am the dad. I wonder if I would have gotten the same treatment had I been the mom.

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