I have not touched on the subject of the often hostile turn our culture has taken towards men, especially when it comes to their relationships with children. It is not that I don’t agree that that is a concern, in fact quite the opposite. I have in deeply personal ways been effected by this cultural distrust. I have had employment denied specifically because I was male and the position involved being around children, I have had to run a business involving children under the constant worry of accusations or potential client discomfort. Thus this short post at Instapundit hit home. Here is the quote from Slate:
My younger, 13-year-old sister is having a slumber party for her birthday, and invited three or so of her 13- to 14-year-old girlfriends to our house. Shortly after, “Sara’s” mother suggested that my sister’s party should be held at “Tammy’s” house. Why? Because Tammy has a single mother. Sara’s mother is concerned that my father will be in his house during the festivities. There is no reason to be concerned about my father doing anything inappropriate to any of the girls (all the parents have met each other), but she is just uncomfortable about the idea of her daughter sleeping in the same house with another nonfamily man. She has also convinced the other parents that a change of venue would be a good idea. Although Tammy’s mother is willing to host the event, my family is offended that the situation has come to this. Since when is it a crime to have a happy two-parent household?
Been there, done that. Dr. Helen has had numerous posts on the topic, with this post being particularly relevant and her request worth considering:
The psychological damage to children of not having men around to interact with because of these scare tactics is never mentioned but something that should be considered by the Virginia Department of Health when they develop such ads. Surely, they can come up with something creative that would help make people aware of sexual predators but would not demonize men in general, most of whom are innocent.
Yes we are. I suffer from a particularly damaging affliction. I love children. I also am a very “physical” person. I am affectionate. I hug, pick them up, kiss, the whole bit. Not to be immodest, but kids like me. Teenagers, middle schoolers, toddlers. They like me. I have been able to get by in life while refusing to have to refrain from being myself, for doing things that a woman is admired for, but from a man are looked at with suspicion. Those traits are part of what I believe made me effective in my former career. I was a male figure who was able to be confidently male, and yet had the courage and position to be empathetic and even affectionate. Still, I had to be careful. While I have a few incidents I could relate, and may yet at some future date, and the issue is not unrelated to my eventual decision to change my career, others have covered that ground fairly well.
What I do think is that some aspects of how we have gotten to this point are somewhat unacknowledged, or rarely remarked upon for they are not born of hostility to men or some other easily identified grievance, but from attempts, often misguided, to accomplish other goals. One is the way modern schooling divorces children from the wider world around them, a world of adults and most specifically men, in favor of a milieu dominated by hundreds of children their own age (and is one reason I chose to home school my own children, to expand their social experience.) It goes beyond schooling however into the entire way in which we make space for children in our society in general. Like many aspects of studying modern life one of the first to really note this was Jane Jacobs in her seminal work from 1961, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
This work, one which every social reformer and policy maker should come to grips with, but few do except to use to justify what they want to do anyway, examines the particulars of city life and how the planning and social theories of the time were foundering upon the actual way that cities and their residents behave. One neglected observation appears on pages 83 and 84 of this great book:
Play on lively, diversified sidewalks differs from virtually all other daily incidental play offered American children today: It is play not conducted in a matriarchy.
Most city architectural designers and planners are men. Curiously, they design and plan to exclude men as part of normal daytime life wherever people live. In planning residential life, they aim at filling the presumed daily needs of impossibly vacuous housewives and preschool tots. They plan, in short, strictly for matriarchal societies.
The Ideal of a matriarchy inevitably accompanies all planning in which residences are isolated from other parts of life. It accompanies all planning for children in which their incidental play is set apart in its own preserves. Whatever adult society does accompany the daily life of children affected by such planning has to be a matriarchy…All housing projects are.
…Men are not an abstraction. They are either around, in person, or they are not…men who are part of normal daily life, as opposed to men who put in an occasional playground appearance while they substitute for women or imitate the occupations of women.
The opportunity…of playing and growing up in a daily world composed of both men and women is possible and usual for children who play on lively, diversified city sidewalks. I cannot understand why this arrangement should be discouraged by planning and by zoning.
It is a shame that in all the discussion of this great work so little of it has been focused on this observation. Jacob’s was arguing against the tendency of reformers and planners to emphasize public spaces and parks, or in modern parlance, “green spaces” as opposed to the actual streets and homes in which children grew up. These public spaces, un-patrolled by people with any personal stake or ownership in the space were typically the most dangerous places in a city. Often denigrated, “the streets” were actually safer. Those streets were owned or supervised by the men who owned the establishments along them. By removing them, and their businesses, in favor of projects filled with parks and other commonly owned spaces amongst the residences, neighborhoods suffered from higher crime and removal of men from the lives of children.
Of course Jacobs’ work deals with cities, not suburbs or smaller towns. And Jacob’s missed emphasizing, as she should have, that it was the sense of ownership of the particular areas of the street which made such an arrangement work, not the mere presence of businesses. The breakdown in the sense that proprietors could say who and who could not occupy the spaces on those sidewalks rendered Jacobs’ observations less relevant. The point about our divorce from men as a regular part of children’s lives is important though. Field trips and mentoring cannot replace it. She describes in detail the shuffling off of children, in ways that are as applicable to suburbs today as they were then, to controlled activities. Scripted play, arts and crafts, athletics, libraries and assorted other activities developed top down to deal with youth that not only destroy much unscripted play, but are dominated by women and the values of women. Things which are more likely to appeal to boys, or involve being around men, are severely restricted. The kind of unscripted play, in the kind of places, which boys are likely to engage in are given the least room. Thus the popularity of The Dangerous Book for Boys. We all recognize this. What we don’t acknowledge is the loss from having the world of children so divorced from the world in which most men live, the world of work and business, in the first place.
I have no grand recommendation to make to fix this, such as reinstating apprenticeship or other traditional forms of workforce training, nor do I wish to encourage such social engineering. Many of the benefits of present arrangements should not be dismissed without thought. Yet the cordoning off of children has a cost, and as her point I put in bold above implicitly warned of, we have made men an abstraction, and it shouldn’t surprise us that it is a scary one.
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