When children get lost in a mall, they're supposed to find a "low-risk adult" to help them. Guidelines issued by police departments and child-safety groups often encourage them to look for "a pregnant woman," "a mother pushing a stroller" or "a grandmother."
The implied message: Men, even dads pushing strollers, are "high-risk."
Are we teaching children that men are out to hurt them? The answer, on many fronts, is yes. Child advocate John Walsh adviseparents to never hire a male babysitter. Airlines are placing unaccompanied minors with female passengers rather than male passengers. Soccer leagues are telling male coaches not to touch players.
Child-welfare groups say these are necessary precautions, given that most predators are male. But fathers' rights activists and educators now argue that an inflated predator panic is damaging men's relationships with kids. Some men are opting not to get involved with children at all, which partly explains why many youth groups can't find male leaders, and why just 9% of elementary-school teachers are male, down from 18% in 1981.
People assume that all men "have the potential for violence and sexual aggressiveness," says Peter Stearns, a George Mason University professor who studies fear and anxiety. Kids end up viewing every male stranger "as a potential evildoer," he says, and as a byproduct, "there's an overconfidence in female virtues." Read More.