It’s no secret that men, particularly fathers, are being marginalized in the lives of children. One of the main culprits in that crime against society is, of course, the family court system that finds ever more inventive ways of separating children from their fathers. But there are others. One is the dramatic increase in non-marital child bearing that’s occurred in the past 40 years. Back in the 1960s, children born to unmarried women numbered about 6-8% of the total. Now it’s about 42%. Those mothers are usually able to include the fathers in family life or exclude them as they desire. Should a dad have the money and the chutzpah to go to court to assert his rights, he’ll find she can easily thwart him in any number of ways, the quickest and most effective of which is a claim of physical or sexual abuse. He can deny it till he’s blue in the face, but it likely won’t get him any more than a day a week with his child and even that may be strictly supervised.
All this we know well. But there’s yet another way in which men, whether fathers or not, can be shoved out of children’s lives – early childcare and teaching. Few seriously doubt the need of children for men in their lives, but, as has been often noted, a child can go from birth all the way through secondary school and never get to know a man. Their mother of course is a woman, her friends may be mostly women, the child’s daycare is staffed exclusively by women, elementary school teachers are almost exclusively women. It’s not until middle school that male teachers come into the picture at all and then only rarely, with high school being only slightly better. By then, the child may come to see adult men as alien beings whose ways of acting and speaking are strange and inscrutable.
Why the almost complete absence of men in pre- and primary schools? For one thing, as a Canadian study a couple of years ago showed, some 13% of men who do brave the slings and arrows of teaching elementary school had experienced false allegations of physical or sexual abuse of the children in their classes. That would be enough to scare off the most determined of men, but those false claims turn out to not be the only reason for male absence in the teaching profession, although it’s a big one. This article, by June O’Sullivan of the London Early Years Foundation explains (Telegraph, 11/22/12). Simply put, it’s not just false allegations of abuse, it’s also the societal belief that men who wish to work with children must be pedophiles, that keeps men away.
Men are being put off entering the profession for fear of being labelled as abusers or paedophiles, according to new research by the London Early Years Foundation.
We found that 60 per cent of nursery workers felt the main reason for the low numbers of men in the sector was because, socially, men were not encouraged to join the profession, and 51 per cent thought that it was because of society’s attitude to men in childcare.
Currently, men are almost invisible in the field of early childhood, making up just two per cent of those working in day care and childminding in England.
Why should men work with children?Doubtless, cultural stereotypes play a part in discouraging men’s involvement in early childcare jobs. There are next to none doing that work and so next to no children see men in that role and therefore few of them consider it as a career choice. But men run risks women don’t when seeking or performing those jobs, and that too tends to channel men away from caring for children as an occupation. The simple fact is that, despite women committing far more child abuse and neglect than do men, it’s men, not women, at whom people look askance when they’re around children. Remember O’Sullivan’s words about male childcare workers needing “to feel protected when or if they face unpleasant comments or allegations…”
There are huge benefits from having men in nurseries. These include providing male role models for both boys and girls, eradicating gender stereotypes and helping fathers engage with their children.
At the London Early Years Foundation, we have been supporting the notion of men in childcare for years. At one point, we had a team of four men and one woman running one of our nurseries. We have actively encouraged the recruitment of men in childcare and men make up eight per cent of our workforce.
We have learned how to prove to parents that men want to work in childcare because they are interested in child development and education, like children and enjoy the team spirit of working in a nursery.
We have had to deal with the anxieties of fathers about men looking after their daughters – especially parents from more macho cultures. We have overcome all those barriers and learned a great deal from our male staff about the support they need from colleagues, but also from management to feel protected when or if they face unpleasant comments or allegations, or issues such as isolation or feeling like a trophy staff member.
The research (what there is of it) tends to favour having men in the nurseries. Our own research found that 75 per cent of nursery staff believe it is important for men to be seen as nurturing and sensitive role models, and 66 per cent felt they could change society’s attitudes towards men working with children.
The negative perceptions that mothers and fathers are suspicious of men caring for children are also wrong. Previous Ipsos/Mori research has found that the British public is broadly in favour of men working within the childcare profession, with 77 per cent in favour and just 12 per cent against.
There was a time, not so very long ago, that men weren’t portrayed in popular culture as dangerous to children or ineffectual at dealing with them. Depictions of fathers and male teachers tended to show them as strong, caring and even wise at times, but no more. Along with no-fault divorce, non-marital childbearing, single motherhood and other unhealthy trends, over a generation of Americans have now been steeped in the lore of the dangerous, incompetent and/or uncaring father. That’s led to the too-easy belief that allegations of abuse leveled against fathers must be true and, as night follows day, the easy issuance of restraining orders and the like.
Until we come to our senses and see men for who they are, i.e. usually caring, loving protectors of children, our society and particularly our children will continue to pay the steepest of prices.
Thanks to the Early Years Foundation for doing its part to right this terrible wrong.