by Amanda Hess - Washington City Paper

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.