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The Presumption Of Perversion
Or FWM, you could call it -- Flying While Male. Once again, men are guilty before being proven guilty of anything at all, simply by virtue of being male. This time, it's on an airline.

British MP Boris Johnson writes of nearly being forced to move to another seat so he wouldn't be seated next to children, on the presumption that any male at all could be a child molester. Oops, but they were his children, so he got to stay.

Echoing Barry Glassner's The Culture of Fear, about how we're afraid of all the statistically wrong things, he asks, how many child molesters can there actually be out there? And what is the cost of turning all men into potential criminals?

Even as I write, I can imagine the lip-pursing of some of my lovely high-minded readers. How would you like it, they will say, if some weird chap was plonked next to your kids? And they are right that I would worry about some strange adult sitting next to my children, chiefly because I wouldn't want the poor fellow to come to any harm.

To all those who worry about the paedophile plague, I would say that they not only have a very imperfect understanding of probability; but also that they fail to understand the terrible damage that is done by this system of presuming guilt in the entire male population just because of the tendencies of a tiny minority.

There are all sorts of reasons why the numbers of male school teachers are down 50 per cent in the period 1981 to 2001, and why the ratio of female to male teachers in primary schools is now seven to one. There are problems of pay, and the catastrophic failure of the state to ensure that they are treated as figures of authority and respect; and what with 'elf 'n' safety and human rights it is very hard to enforce discipline.

But it is also, surely, a huge deterrent to any public-spirited man contemplating a career in education that society apparently regards all adult male contact with young people as being potentially a bit dodgy, a bit rum, a bit you know…

It is a total disaster. It is not just that both boys and girls could do with more male role models in the classroom. Worse still, it often used to be men who taught physics, and maths, and chemistry, and it is the current shortage of such teachers that explains why 80 per cent of pupils studying physics are now taught by someone with a degree in biology; and that in turn helps explain why the numbers doing physics A-level have halved, and why physics departments are closing all over the shop, with all the consequent damage to our science base.

It has tended to be male teachers who take contact sports. Even if they can find a playing-field, these days, the poor male sports teachers have to cope with a terrifying six-inch thick manual explaining how they must on no account shout at their charges, and above all, on pain of prosecution, they must NOT BE LEFT ALONE with the kids. No wonder our children are apparently turning into big fat Augustus Gloops.

It is insane, and the problem is the general collapse of trust. Almost every human relationship that was sensibly regulated by trust is now governed by law, with cripplingly expensive consequences.

I blame the media, I blame the judges, I blame the lobby groups, and in particular I blame the cowardly capitalist airline companies that give in to this sort of loony hysteria. If you happen to be reading this on a British Airways flight, and have quite rightly sustained a burst blood vessel, then I think you are entitled to an immediate upgrade.

UPDATE: Here's a Michael Alvear talking to Michelle Norris on NPR -- with a cost of this "all men are perps" thinking. He saw little boys flagging him down in the middle of the street, asking him to help find their parents. One of the kids, an 8-year-old, grabbed his hand and led him to their house, and then inside, to show him nobody was there:

I froze. I was in a deserted house, holding the hand of a child I didn't know. Oh, my God, I thought. There's just the two of us and no witnesses. What's to stop him or his parents from accusing me of molesting him?

I ran out of the house and banged on the neighborhood doors. Nothing. Nobody was home. In another era, I would have just taken him home and left a note. But those days are gone. All I could think about was being smeared with the label of pedophilia and mortgaging everything I had to fight it in court.

I couldn't stay there but I couldn't bring him home. Calling 911 seemed hasty. The kid said his parents went to the grocery store. I mean, how long does it take to buy milk? I was panicking. I crouched down and said, listen to me, I - I'm going to my house. I want you to stay inside with the doors locked. Don't let anybody in unless it's me or your parents, got it? He nodded.

I left to get some fresh air and figure out what to do. I glanced back and stopped cold. The kid was back on the street flagging cars down. I ran back and grabbed him. I felt like this boy was a ticking time bomb. I had to help him, but I knew the longer we were together, the more I'd be seen as a predator.

Desperate, I called my sister. The police, she said. Call the police and have them meet you and the boy at my house. The police came. The parents had come back - they really were at the grocery store - and the kid was safe.

I, on the other hand was shaken. I had been weighing the pros and cons of helping a child in danger. How could I put my welfare in front of that boy's safety? It was an act as repugnant as it was necessary.

The truth is helping a kid has the potential for ruining your life. My only consolation is that I finally decided I'd rather live with the stigma of an accusation than the same of not helping a little boy in trouble.

Posted by aalkon at November 26, 2006 11:54 AM

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So, apparently, if I ever fly on British Airways, I can expect to be dubiously glowered at by the flight crew, perhaps hearing the occassional "pervert" or "child molester" muttered at me.

This is ridiculous.

Posted by: Patrick at November 26, 2006 2:57 AM

One of the best pediatric nurses my daughter had was male. How many capable men will go into any health care field but doctor? I'm a mom to 3 girls, so I take the molester issue seriously, but I don't assume all men are perverts. If the justice system would actually imprison those who have been found guilty of improper conduct, we wouldn't have to be so paranoid.

Posted by: Ruth at November 26, 2006 5:33 AM

If I were in the man's position, I'd be offended, for the reasons you and the MP indicate.

On the other hand, I'd be grateful -- who the hell wants to sit next to kids, particularly someone else's?

My guess: if he told the flight attendant: "I'm sorry, but I don't enjoy sitting next to children," said attendant would refuse to move him. Or them.

Posted by: TE at November 26, 2006 10:36 AM

Heh you're right.

And, I, too, would be grateful for being moved.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 26, 2006 11:10 AM

I'd say the guy who panicked at the thought of helping the poor little boy worried about his missing parents was kind of a Nervous Nellie. Obviously the thing to do was call the's highly unlikely he'd be suspcted of anything if he did that, as child molesters are not known for bringing the police onto the scene.

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at November 26, 2006 12:09 PM

That's why I love flying on Southwest with their open seating. You know where all children are because they pre-boarded

Posted by: bill at November 26, 2006 1:06 PM

Being feared by default is just part of being a man, though in my case they're probably actually sensing my aura of innate evil. But while there's a lot of impromptu jaywalking whenever I take a stroll to the store at night, nobody ever seems to be the least bit paranoid about jamming their sniffling, kicking spawn up next to me on the train. Guess I just don't give off the pedophile vibe.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at November 26, 2006 2:31 PM

This nonsense has been going on long enough that it's now engrained in the culture.
I recall my daughter giving me a big hug when I was picking her up from school as part of visitation during marriage breakup. The perv prevention squad were on top of things instantly. They knew she was my child ! God forbid normal physical contact should occur. ( Expressing affection is such a danger to the psyche ! )
I hug my granddaughter and grandson both without sexual discrimination. It's hell to be a confused old pervert.

Posted by: opit at November 27, 2006 6:52 AM

I used to have such profound respect for my boss, till he came down on the side of actually supporting this crap. He actually said that it was a good rule to have. And he knows there are a lot of pedophiles, because he used to be in law-enforcement. Well-hell-hell! He KNOWS! He used to be a COP, after all.

Well, it wasn't so long ago that black people were required to sit in "nigger heaven" in the theatres because it was assumed they would naturally molest the white women.

Segregation is alive and well.

Posted by: Patrick at November 28, 2006 2:34 AM

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