Prudence or Paranoia – When Did Men Become Villains?

March 29, 2014

My dad is a baby magnet. Kids absolutely love him. We’ll be out at a restaurant, and every child in the room will stare at him like he’s been dipped in sugar and covered in Tonka Trucks. Which is perfect, because he’s a born grandpa and there are few things he loves more than making a baby laugh.

Which is why it’s so sad that, over the last ten years or so, parents in restaurants have started giving him the hairy eyeball when he smiles and waves at their kids.

Carmichael Market 3 TNTech Support and I are taking a photography class right now (in part so I don’t have to take 1000 photos just to get 40 good ones to illustrate books like Fox Talk!). Our class did a field trip to a local farmer’s market, as practice for travel photography, and part of our assignment was to capture the people as well as the place. In Canada, it is legal to photograph anyone appearing in a public place, no matter their age, and I was totally proud of myself for capturing this beautiful moment of a mother and child watching a busker play.

And yet, when we all discussed the experience in class, the men in the group said they hadn’t taken a single photograph of a child at the market, because they were afraid of how others would perceive their actions. These guys are fathers, who would never in a million years have an evil though about a child, and they’re afraid to photograph or even talk to a strange kid, for fear their intentions would be misinterpreted.

Even children’s authors aren’t exempt from these worries. Barry Lyga has two telling posts up at his blog this week, on establishing boundaries in relationships with teen fans. The first post is here and there’s a follow up here. They are both worth a read.

I’ve been guilty of this kind of suspicion myself. If I’m walking down a street and the only people in sight are men, I’m on full alert. I’m keeping a firm grip on my purse and my eyes out for escape routes. I’ve lost track of when this behaviour is good sense, and when it’s pure paranoia.

So I guess my question here is, what’s changed? How did we as a society go from assuming that people are basically good to assuming that people – and by people I mean men – are basically evil? Are we more aware of potential threats, or have the threats actually increased?

And guys, have you experienced this kind of suspicion? How do you deal with it?

6 Comments on ‘Prudence or Paranoia – When Did Men Become Villains?’

  1. I’m going to go with the statement that we are more aware of the threats now than before. Survival, self-defense, stranger-danger, and all those other things at stalked about in schools and at home. There are classes to teach people how to deal with these things. We are hearing about all the crimes on the news and even in social media. We bring a lot of attention to it. We hardly ever hear stories of good-will.

    I think the other problem is that we don’t know our neighbors anymore and we are venturing out of our comfort zones and our communities. When we were young I could walk around our little town and if I did something wrong I was sure to get scolded by someone who wasn’t my parent because we were community. My townsfolk were just as much my parent as my real parent was. Likewise, when I was walking down the street, those townsfolk were watching out for my safety. Now, we don’t even know who our neighbor is. We are also going into the city to shop and dine and other things. What used to be a big deal-driving 2 hours for a shopping trip is now part of an ordinary week. When we get that far from home we certainly don’t know the people who we are surrounded by.

    So now I will change my original opinion and state that it is a combination of the two. While we are more aware of the crimes being committed, maybe they are also increasing because the criminals know that they have more opportunity due to the fact that we have no sense of community and/or we are not in our comfort zones.

    As for the criminals being men, sorry guys, I have to generalize here. Generally, men are more aggressive and their crimes tend to be more violent crimes than women’s crimes. Sadly, many of these crimes are against children and women, who again generally, society feels the need to protect. So I think when these crimes happen to women and children it touches a nerve and puts people more on guard.

    Then again, maybe I’m wrong on all accounts.

    And by the way, yep, your dad is a natural born grandpa. So when is he going to get some grand kids?

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    1. I think you raise a good point, Marla, about the size of our communities. In my experience as well, smaller-town-life has felt safer, because you really do know everyone, and you’ve got relationships and trust that are impossible to translate into a larger scale.

      I do wonder, though, whether the actual statistics on crime against women and children have really increased, or if it’s just, as you point out, that these incidents get enhanced media coverage. Television journalism in particular often seems to be as much about entertainment as truth, and there’s no doubt that crime stories have increased drama compared to “human interest” stories – Nancy Grace has made an entire career out of this.

      As for the grandkids, Dad’s got a brand new one – my stepsister in law just had her first!

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  2. I’d like to think that I’m not looked upon as a villian wherever I go, but I guess that’s my view of life. I’m not seeing it through the eyes of women who’ve got reasons, real or otherwise, to worry about who I am. I’m a 6′ tall 220 lb man, so can take care of myself and not worry about things too much. This is an interesting alternative viewpoint.

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    1. Alasdair, your charming smile makes you appear a lot less threatening than your size might otherwise dictate. 🙂 It’s true though, women and children have a distinct physical disadvantage which makes us easier prey – for both men and other women. So a certain amount of awareness is an adaptive survival strategy, but it seems to me like the pendulum may be swinging too far. “Innocent until proven guilty” may be a risky assumption, but “innocent until given a solid reason to worry” would be nice.

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  3. I grew up the oldest of 6 six kids. I not only had to babysit them on numerous occasions–but other people’s kids as well (once their parents saw how good I was with children). These, and similar experiences, have made me incredibly fond of children–their innocence, laughter, humor, and openness to ideas and learning. This, in part, why was I went into children’s publishing as an adult. I edit, design, and market children’s books. Entertaining and empowering kids is, to me, one of the most profound and rewarding careers I could ever imagine. I have a 9 year old son of my own, and nothing makes me happier than to talk with him, sit down for a video game session, or help him with his homework. He’s an extremely well-adjusted, intelligent (gifted program), outgoing (chess club, math club, cub scouts), and athletic (baseball, soccer) child who everyone says is a complete joy to be around.

    I mention all this by way of background, because honestly, I once had to let a young girl take a nasty spill on a bike because I was in position-but afraid–to catch her. All I could think about was lawsuits and sexual predator registration. At the first least, I was sure I’d get a hefty purse in the face. I often like to smile/wave back at the kids in the grocery store who are outgoing and still believe the world is generally a friendly, fun place. I like to reinforce that–maybe someday if enough people believe it, it will come true. 75% of the time, if the parents see me, they tell their kids to stop, gather them up like I’m about to snatch them away to my sexual predator van, and either give me the evil eye or turn their back on me as fast as they can.

    I can’t stand it. And now, unless my automatic reactions kick in before I think about it, I find myself choosing to ignore other people’s children so I don’t make a scene. (And HEAVEN FORBID I accidentally take pictures of any kids while photographing my own child. Especially if any of the other children or female. In fact, in most cases, I have to leave all the child photography up to my wife.

    24-hour news networks have made the world a paranoid, lonely, unhappy place for everyone. Sigh.

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    1. And this is something else that worries me, Michael – you saw a child that needed help and you felt like it wasn’t safe to offer that help. Doesn’t that mean that this aura of suspicion that’s become attached to men is making the world a more dangerous place for kids?

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