The Sexist

Barring Male Educators: Safety Concern, Fear-Mongering, Or Discrimination?

Yesterday, Washington Post "On Parenting" contributor Brian Reid let loose a little parenting secret: He would never hire a male tutor for his elementary-aged daughter. In "Little Girls, College Guys—and Nervous Parents," Reid writes:

We had a rough set of criteria: the tutor had to be an exceptional speaker, had to be good with kids and had to have the kind of schedule where a year-long commitment wasn't going to end the moment the schoolwork picked up.

It turns out there was also another — unspoken — requirement: the tutor ought to be a woman. This was something my wife and I both felt in our gut, even though I knew it made me a huge hypocrite.

Why no male educators in the Reid household? That's another thing that Reid leaves "unspoken" throughout the piece, but the intent is clear: He's afraid a male tutor would molest his daughter.

Reid lays out the issue:

it's one thing to defend my days as an at-home dad and another to put an elementary-school girl alone with a college guy for hours a week. Yes, I know the risk is low, but why accept the risk at all?

Still, out of a sense of open-mindedness, we did interview a male tutor earlier this month. He was a lovely kid, well-spoken and polite, bearing a letter of reference from a parent who trusted him to teach her children — including her elementary-aged girl — to swim. While we haven't talked to everyone on our list of candidates, there is no question that he'd make an excellent tutor. It is entirely possible that we'll hire him, even though the idea still makes me uncomfortable.

I'm curious if any of you have had similar experiences. Is it fear-mongering of the worst sort to prevent this sort of one-on-one interaction, or is it a you-can-never-be-too-careful kind of thing?

Actually, this is worse than fear-mongering. It's discrimination. As "open-minded" as Reid is, as much as he claims to believe that there's "no reason why guys can't do the childrearing thing as well as women," his own fear of sexual predators effectively discriminates against male educators.  Even when Reid gets a real live man in front of him—a "lovely kid, well-spoken and polite"—he just can't shake the idea that no matter how nice a particular man is, no matter how effective a teacher, no matter how appropriate and respectful and recommended he is, he is unfit to do his job because he is a man.

It's heartbreaking for me to see Reid's extreme discomfort with the fact that another parent allowed her young daughter to enter a swimming pool with a male teacher. It's clear that Reid wants to protect his daughter from a parent's worst nightmare, but his fears don't justify discrimination. Reid's particular flavor of prejudice—that against male educators—is wide-spread, of course, to the point that, as one commenter notes, male teachers often "exercise extreme caution and go out of their way to never be alone with students—male or female—because of the possibility of being accused of inappropriate conduct."

Another commenter, who claims to be a victim of sexual abuse himself, makes the point very clearly:

Lets say you were a piano teacher, Spanish tutor or any other kind of teacher that had you teaching one-on-one with a young girl. You OK with not getting female students because you are male? If you think it is fine for others to discriminate against yourself because of your gender then at least you aren't being a hypocrite. Perhaps that gives you some leeway in discriminating against others?

As the father of a young daughter, I hope Reid understands that employment discrimination obviously cuts both ways. Of course, Reid doesn't have to hire just any man to tutor his daughter—the polite swim coach sounds as good an option as any, however. And if he isn't comfortable leaving his daughter alone with a tutor for a couple hours a week—male or female—then all he has to do is stick around during the lesson. Hey, maybe he could pick up a little Spanish along the way.

  • b

    (1) This is pure discrimination with no statistical rationale provided.
    (2) There are female teachers that molest their female students.
    (3) Brian Reid seems insecure about older male to young female chaste relationships. He might have some curiosity about young girls.......
    (4) Another possibility is that Brian Reid is insecure in his masculinity, and the threat of another penis in his home is too much to bear.

  • Tom

    I'm a man who doesn't have kids, but I think gender might be a legitmate qualifying consideration in this context. Apart from exaggerated worries about molesters, it might be good for a little girl to have a working relationship with an adult woman who isn't a relative; a successful female college student might be a better role model than a male. There seems to be evidence that young girls do better in all-girls schools than in mixed environments; it might work out the same way in one-to-one instruction. And I might have parallel feelings if the child were a boy, for the same reasons. A little boy usually has a lot of women in his life; maybe a successful male college student would be the best role model for him. Your kid doesn't have to be part of a public policy debate.

  • JB

    Brian Reid is likely screwing up his daughter with his anti-male attitude. Bad parenting.

    I wonder if cares about how much he warps her just so he can feel better.

  • Abbey

    I'm an early years teacher (recent grad) and one of my male profs said that unfortunately, a lot of people consider male teachers pedophiles unless proven otherwise. And this is from a man who was a retired teacher and administrator.

  • Brian Reid

    Amanda --

    Thanks for the link (I think). For the record, I never said that I'd never hire a male tutor. I wanted to illustrate the complex feelings that I had about the subject. I figure there are two ways through this: we can talk about it openly, or we can pretend that no one ever thinks this way and never address the issue.

    And -- in the end -- we did end up hiring a male tutor. (
    -- Brian