It’s difficult to pinpoint when the Aussie bloke went from being part of the scenery at parks, beaches and playgrounds and became a figure of dread and suspicion.
The comforting hug, a hand held at the water’s edge, a tickle fight on the grass - when they involve a child and man - have become acts viewed with hostility by many.
Thirty years ago a guy could innocently state he loved children and not draws hooded looks from strangers, he could certainly snap a picture of his kid at a council swimming pool and not be accused of perfidy.
Somewhere, somehow this all changed and today, when it comes to men and children, we are often viewed as the terrorist living next door, the suspect who sleeps down the hall. In the court of public opinion this "pervert presumption" 'means men are creeps until proven innocent.
Cases of grandfathers and fathers questioned by police because of overzealous bystanders have garnered much publicity in the press. My colleague Tracey Spicer drew heated (and some completely unhinged) criticism for a column she wrote in Sunday Life in April in which she admitted she wouldn't let her unaccompanied child fly next to a man.
I joined the general outrage at the time in a piece for Fairfax Media and was flooded with emails from men who’d experienced shaming or suspicion while interacting with kids in a variety of situations.
They expressed confusion and disappointment they now had to stifle impulses of affection and concern for children while in public out of fear their actions might be misconstrued.
Curious as to when and how this phenomenon took root, I contacted psychologist and author Steve Biddulph, long considered the dean of Australian men’s issues. Biddulph said the current environment of mistrust towards males is simply “a correction”.
“For decades, in fact centuries, people were in denial that such things could happen - priests sodomising little boys, TV stars molesting pre-teen girls, and so on," said Biddulph.
"I've been in dozens of therapy groups where, as it gradually came out, a third or half of the room had been sexually abused. And that’s equally the case among professionals themselves - psychologists and social workers. It was like a plague.
“Only a serious cognitive dissonance could explain the denial that took place - when kids told their parents, who simply said ‘that’s not possible, you are a terrible child for saying so’.
"So when it finally all came out, and we shifted to the vigilance we should have had all along, it became necessary to suspect everyone," said Biddulph.
Simply put, the old rules had not worked. Men across all walks of life, but particularly the clergy, failed an important test and shattered generations of children was the result.
The resulting apprehension and scepticism about men and children is an undoubted inconvenience for guys today, however, we just have to accept it, says Biddulph.
"Now that we have the language, and kids are taught so speak up, and parents are on the lookout, I think it will be a lot harder to be an active paedophile," says Biddulph.
"And that's worth a bit of suspicion and watchfulness, I think. It’s tough, but like security at airports [and the presumption we all could be a terrorist] it is probably worth it."
I belatedly agree.
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