It is indisputable that Singaporeans LOVE children. My girls are subject to a near-constant stream of attention and praise (and occasionally getting their photos taken by total strangers). But it isn’t just from women, it’s from men as well.
In the US (and the UK, from what I hear tell), single men are treated as suspect….bluntly, a man on his own taking interest in a child is seen a potential (even likely) pedophile. Don’t believe me? Example #1–A girl lost in the woods hears men (part of the rescue team) calling her name and stays silent, but when she hears women calling her name, responds. Example #2-British Airway’s policy that NO man traveling alone can sit next to a child he does not know. Examples #3 & 4 (in the same blog post) a 9 year old’s friend is only allowed to play at her house if the mom is home, and a dad taking photos at a state park is approached by park officers because some women had complained-concerned that a man was taking pictures of children. All the examples are linked off the Free Range Kids Blog (and are just the tip of the iceberg).
I can say that growing up, when learning stranger danger, I was always told to look for a woman if I got lost, and she would help me. As I got older, I can attest that girls are almost programmed to be fearful and distrustful of men as potential rapists. Walking alone at night? See another woman, feel safe. See one man, be a little concerned. See a bunch of men? Get a bit more worried. And in the US, there are even uglier racial additions to this “all men are potential rapists” trope, particularly aimed at African American men.
In practice, what does this look like? Here’s a very recent article about a grandfather who was kicked out of a Barnes and Noble because he dared shop alone in the kids section last month. Meanwhile, not only do I feel totally free to shop in the Barnes and Noble kids section whether I have the girls with me or not, but I am constantly talking to kids I see there (as a former teacher and avid reader, I can’t help but constantly recommend books to kids), and their moms are either totally fine with it because I’m a woman or when I see them I introduce myself as a teacher, and that gets me an even bigger pass.
In the US, I smile at moms and coo at babies without a problem. Ravi would never do it, unless he was with me or, better yet the girls (or best, me AND the girls).
Which brings me to Singapore. Single men of all ages say hi to the girls directly, coo over Rhiannon, and chat up Elanor without any fear. The only time it’s really surprised me though, is when teenage boys smile or coo at Rhi–and not because they’re male–because they’re teenaged boys (and I’ve never really seen teenaged boys drop their cool enough to coo over babies). It’s taken me almost two years to actually realize this cultural disconnect. Men here aren’t seen as potential predators–they’re “Uncle.”
To be fair, when I asked my friend Eric to be my mother’s helper, it did raise eyebrows amongst the other moms at pre-school. But this wasn’t because he was seen as a potential predator–rather that it seems that it is a fairly new expectation for dads to be involved with childcare in Singapore (I’m getting this from the other moms and from magazine articles I’ve read–in practice it may vary wildly and I mean no disrespect). Most families, should they need childcare, hire a female FDW (I don’t know that there are male FDW’s). So having a male sitter was a bit of a departure from the norm.
The reality is that stranger abduction is incredibly rare (the majority of abductions/sexual assaults etc are done by people known by the child). While rape is a scary specter, and something that needs to be discussed, assuming that every man is a potential rapist is just plain unhealthy.
I worry about the effects this has. It is ironic that we are expecting men to be more involved fathers today in the US while the cultural message is that every man who isn’t our child’s dad is a potential predator. How do we build healthy relationships (both friend and romantic) with people of the opposite sex if we’re taught to fear/avoid them?
Overall, I think that Singapore doesn’t participate in this toxic attitude taken in parts of the West and for that I’m grateful. I like the girls using the term “uncle” both in that is a handy term that connotes respect, and it is also a term that doesn’t teach fear. They are learning to have healthy interactions with men. If lost, they would approach any adult, which will get them found faster. Yes, I am going to teach them about common sense and to learn how to assess a situation, but I am not going to participate in the culture of fear embraced by the West. Their lives will be richer for it.