Men as Babysitters: What’s So Scary?

Hi Readers! Over at Lisa Belkin’s Motherlode at the NY Times, there’s a really 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 babysitter for her child. On the one hand, the young man she interviewed seemed like a dream: He grew up in the nabe, 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 about men,  the writer decided to hire a woman instead. And she wonders if she did the right thing, or ended up missing out on a great babysitter and possibly a family friend.

When our kids were a little younger, my husband and I hired some male babysitters 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: more sporty than women babysitters. (We were wrong.) And it’s true that I have sons and the writer of the Motherlode piece has a daughter, so I can see where 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 on a creeping prejudice against men around kids. While, yes, statistically I’m sure men ARE more likely to molest kids than women are, the fact is MOST men AND most women are not out to molest kids at all.

The fear of perversion is so front and center in our culture that it sometimes seems to color our perceptions of almost all male/child interactions. In some day care centers, male employees aren’t allowed to change diapers by themselves. The number of guys for whom diaper changing is a turn-on must be tiny indeed and 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 Gepetto-like. Now “Worst-First” thinking kicks in: He likes kids, he wants to be around them…oh my god!

This prejudice is just as corrosive as any other, and it comes from the same source: Fear. Fear reinforced daily by TV shows highlighting the saddest stories, the worst individuals, the least likely/most sexually titillating events. And movies that revel in sadism. And books that take us inside so many “twisted” minds that twisted seems the new normal. And these lessons ping back and forth, echoing endlessly, “Our children are at risk!”

I would never say that absolutely all men (or women) are good, or that no child has ever been harmed by a babysitter, 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.

And so, here we are, talking. And, hopefully, peeling away at the prejudice, inching our way toward some sanity. — Lenore

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