18 January, 2013

Men and Children

There's something not nice in society at the moment. Something I really, really dislike. It's the immediate suspicion placed on any man, in any public space, without a woman, but with a child. Obviously he must be a paedophile.

In the past week I have read two different articles - one Australian and one American - about this phenomenon, with two very different reactions.

The first was posted on the Australian website Mama Mia and was titled She Thought I was Abducting My Own Child. Basically the author, Mike McLeish was with his daughter when the following happened.

I walk outside and go and squat beside my daughter who is still gawking at the yoga women, her nose squished against the glass. I tell her we have to go now. She asks if we can go to the park. I tell her that we’ll have to wait until it stops raining. She’s happy with that. So I proffer my hand, she takes it and we wander happily back to the car. We are just arriving at the car when I hear a female voice behind us, “Sweetie. Sweetie?”
I recognise the voice, although the slight quiver in it sounds odd.
I turn around to see a woman I recognise as the yoga instructor approaching us. She looks concerned. She is not looking at me at all. She is bending down and trying to get my daughter’s attention. “Sweetie, where’s your Mum? Where’s Mummy, sweetie?
I adopt my friendliest smile, “Oh, it’s ok. I’m her dad.”
By this stage I am helping my daughter into the car. The yoga instructor ignores me completely. She is wringing her hands and trying to manoeuvre herself between me and the car door. She speaks again to my daughter, this time with more urgency and insistence, her voice starting to crack, “Princess. Where’s mummy? Where’s your mummy, sweetie?”
Eventually he manages to convince her that it's OK, he is her dad and off he goes. And in thinking about it, he is actually OK with what happened.

I can’t presume to know what motivated that yoga instructor to do what she did. Maybe her actions were fuelled by paranoia. Maybe she’s been convinced to believe that a man on his own taking a little girl’s hand has as much chance of being a paedophile as he does of being her father. Maybe it was just blind instinct. I don’t know. I don’t care. I choose to stand and applaud her, because I believe what she chose to do was the right thing; was good.

This man must be ok, there is a woman with him. Source

 At the time I agreed, although I was unsettled. I know how offended my own husband would be. I know how pissed off he gets with the looks he gets if he is alone with our daughter. But surely we are better off being safe than sorry, right?

Then I read another article over on Free Range Kids. The title of this one was a lot more provocative. Thanks For Assuming I’m a Pedophile Just Because I Was Out with My Grandson. In this American situation a gentleman was at a water park with his grandson when this happened.

You may remember seeing me at Kidsview water park Sept. 22. I brought my grandson to play in the water. For some reason you profiled me as a child predator and called the cops. I read in the police report you told them I parked in the “bushes.” There are no bushes in the area of the splash pad. You also accused me, according to the report, of acting “suspiciously” with the children. Lie No. 2. The only person I interacted with in any way was my grandson. That’s it.
The full text of the letter the man wrote can be found here.

Truth be told, I did find this situation a little more disturbing. I mean, they called the police - on a suspicion. I accept that American culture is vastly different from Australian, but still - the police. And four police officers turned up...overkill I feel.

This situation should obviously be viewed with suspicion. Source

But both situations highlight a disturbing trend - men are apparently not to be trusted alone with children. As women we are offended when we are treated differently because of our gender. Men have every right to be offended because they are treated differently of their gender - which is what is happening to these men. If you are going to question a man at the park alone with a child, question a woman alone with a child. We cannot as a society complain about men being disconnected from their children when we make it so hard, so uncomfortable for them to be out in public with their children. Instead of viewing a man at the park with a child suspiciously, do what you would do to a woman at the park - smile, strike up a conversation, make him feel comfortable and welcome. Who knows, you may just make a new friend!

And before you hit comments to tell me it's better to be safe than sorry, consider this passage from Lenore Skenazy's book Free Range Kids

 But there are two more reasons why all this good news may not be at all reassuring to you:

1. It's lovely that abductions are down. But what if that 1 in 1.5 million is YOUR KID?

2. It's lovely that abductions are down. But what if that 1 in 1.5 million is MY KID?

That's how everyone thinks - including me. And I've been thinking that way even more, ever since the world decided to weigh in on whether or not I was irresponsible jerk to let my nine year-old ride the subway alone. Usually after I replied to my detractors by rattling off all my safety stats, the person would probe, "But what if that one was your kid? followed by, "How would you ever forgive yourself?"
Answer: I wouldn't
Of course I wouldn't! But what was so upsetting about these questions was the notion behind them: that I'd deliberately put my son in harm's way - and didn't give a hoot - when actually I was allowing him to do something that was extremely safe. And confidence building and competence building too.
Then one day I got an e-mail...It suggested that from now on, whenever anyone asks, "How could you possibly let your child get around on his own? Wouldn't you feel terrible if something happened?" you respond "How could you possibly let your kids get in the car with you? Wouldn't you feel awful if they were in a crash? 
After all a child is forty times more likely to die as a passenger in a car crash than to be kidnapped and murdered by a stranger.
..."How could you possibly make you kids stay inside after school instead of letting the wander on their own. Wouldn't you fell awful if they were burned to a crisp" After all, there are about 50 children killed by kidnappers each year, but ten times that number are killed by fires at home.
"How could you possibly let you kids visit a relative?" After all, they are eighty or ninety times more likely to be molested by someone they know than..
- pages 183/4