‘Put Your Hands Up, and Step Away From the … Child?’

“Essentially, if a student gave me a hug, I was supposed to act like I was getting arrested. If that’s not a disgusting assumption of male guilt, I’m not sure what is.”


As a young, male teacher in the New York City Public School system, I was taught (by the New York City Board Of Education itself), if a student should ever initiate a hug with me, the most appropriate response would be for me to put my hands up in the air (as opposed to embracing the student). Essentially, if a student gave me a hug, I was supposed to act like I was getting arrested. Of course, I never followed such absurd rules. I accepted, and gave out, hugs at every turn. But, still, if that’s not a disgusting assumption of male guilt, I’m not sure what is.

Never mind that I had gone through the same training rigors as my female colleagues. When it came down to instructing us on appropriate interaction with students, there was a clear divide based on gender—the women were advised as professional teachers, and the men were advised as professional touchers.

Teachers have boatloads of responsibility. For eight hours a day (10 months a year), they’re expected to educate and look out for the well being of thirty or so young lives. In some cases, these children spend more time with their teacher than they do with their own parents or family. Teaching is a profession often undervalued (in pay-scale and esteem) in the United States, but few professions are bestowed such trust in helping to raise our future leaders.

So, there I was … Second Grade Teacher. Classroom 124. Mr. Kaplan at the helm, 30-35 kids yearly, looking to me to entertain, educate, and to keep them safe, Monday through Friday. There was no video camera recording our classroom events. Few other teachers visited for very long. I rarely saw my supervisor, even more rarely saw our principal. Whoever peeped their head into our classroom, we were often too busy laughing and learning, and occasionally arguing, to notice.

On the other hand, whenever my class was at gym or lunch, and I had the freedom to roam the halls solo, other teachers, supervisors, custodians, etc., would make sure to let me know they were watching me. They also wanted me to make sure I was watching myself … around the children.

They all instructed me to never be alone, one on one, with a student. They all warned me against being too affectionate with the students. If I were too nice to the girls, I would be looked at as a possible pedophile and sexual predator. If I were too friendly to the boys, I would run the risk of being viewed as a sexual deviant. To avoid all complications, I was taught to show no affection at all (other than words of encouragement, and the occasional smile or hi-five). These warnings continued even after I was a seasoned teacher, with tenure.

I shared these warnings with my male colleagues, and we soon discovered that all us guys had been similarly cautioned. We were entrusted to take care of our students’ daily emotional and educational needs, but were hardly trusted to keep our hands to ourselves. As male teachers, we were essentially presumed guilty until proven innocent.

And while us dudes were walking on eggshells, female teachers were freely hugging students, left and right. Some even spent time with their students outside of school. As a sort of reward for being good in class, or for positive academic achievement, these teachers would hang out with selected students for weekend excursions to Coney Island or Central Park or wherever. These teachers weren’t viewed as rebels, and I never once thought they were up to no good. I just remember being jealous that they had the luxury of spending more time with their favorite students (sorry, it’s true, teachers do have favorites) if they wished. If I (or any male teacher) tried such a field trip, we would be putting our job in immediate jeopardy.


Ultimately, I never followed anyone’s warnings. I freely gave out and accepted hugs. Could anything be more simple than a kid reaching out for a little affection?! And I gave extra attention, even one on one, to students that needed more emotional support. Sometimes it was a hug, sometimes it was just to listen or talk. Whatever it was, I never turned a student away. Even today, years later, I still keep in touch (via Facebook) with some of my former students. To the people involved, it is a mutually beneficial relationship, and there’s nothing weird about it. But to some outsiders it is relationship asking for trouble.

What’s (legitimately) more troublesome to me however, is how and why our society perpetuates the idea that an appropriate male should be cold and stiff (not that kind of stiff) around young, impressionable, and fragile children. To be a man who is too warm, affectionate, or loving, is un-male, strange, and suspicious. Fortunately for me, I had a family who always encouraged me to think for myself and be proud of who I am. They also taught me to kiss and hug unflinchingly. That’s right—I kiss my mother and my father, and I’m proud of it. And by the way, my father is the most manly, awesome, strong male I can think of (neck and neck with Muhammad Ali).

Perhaps, if our society was slightly less rigid about their ideas of what it means to be a man, and slightly less suspicious of our ability to cause destruction, we would find that there are plenty of dudes (teachers, lawyers, custodians, football players, artists, etc.) out there like me—men who are as capable of as much love, warmth, and nurturing as any woman out there. And the only thing we men are inherently guilty of is having a penis. Sorry, but since I was born with it, I think I’ll hang onto it. If that’s alright with you, of course.

—Photo RDECOM/Flickr

About Eli Kaplan

Eli Kaplan is a modern renaissance man, honing his skills as an indie-rock musician, writer, mentor, and the “He” in She Said He Said, (a sex and dating advice blog). Eli also happens to be a food lover, a fitness fanatic, and a sports enthusiast (Go Detroit!).


  1. I didn’t exactly have friends in grade school. One teacher noticed this and tried to make up for it I by giving me things and teaching me to tie flies for fly fishing. I don’t give a damn about fishing these days, but believe me, I did when it was a sign that someone accepted me. I struggled with the fact all the rest of the students in my grade hated that teacher (the grade below loved him). But yeah, when making a list of people that kept me from going all into out of control depression, (as opposed to the in-control depression I lived in) he’s one of the only teachers I can add to that list and only one of a very short list of people. And yes he gave me a hug once or twice.

    But, now that I’m a feminist, I’d suggest that we need to start teaching people how to tell the difference between a pedophile and a good person. Feminism has taught me a lot about the difference and how to understand what a good man is. I see it in egypt when a woman goes out to protest for her rights and her husband is beside her, I see it in mala’s father, I see it in single fathers that support their daughters and sons in their goals.

  2. For every good guy out there who means no harm to a child there are those that do. 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 body will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. 93% will know and trust their perpetrator . Those are the statistics. Sorry! But the greater % are male. We can take no chances with our kids. All schools should be teaching kids body safety from as young as 3. Prevention is key and knowledge is power. As a society we actually need to do more in prevention education not less.

  3. I’d act like i was getting arrested if one of my students hugged me but i teach college classes and I’m also not touchy-feely either. I’ve wanted to hug my male professors but I’m always afraid it would make them feel awkward. It’s really irritating that people automatically assume “predator” when they see a man with a child but i can assure you that i don’t. My dad probably got looks when my three sisters and i were with him in public when we were little. It’s sad really.

  4. Sadly, the criminalization of men is taking away what little girls need most in order to see men as people and not just servants – male role models.  The expectation is so high for men that it’s difficult for them to find someone they value who sees the same value in them. 

  5. CajunMick says:

    Hello Mr. Kaplan:
    I taught school in a major metropolitan area for 3 years. I quit teaching b/c became really tired of having to work in an environment where I had to walk on egg shells for ther reasons you listed in your article. The double standard for female teachers was particularly aggravating. I did not blame my female co-workers, just the paradigm we were working under.
    I loved teaching! It made me very, very sad to quit, but the idea of an entire career with that cloud over my head was not tolerable.
    To this day, I have cautioned men who are considering a career in education, esp. primary education, to think about what they are getting themselves into.
    I would love to go back into teaching, but I don’t think anything is going to change in 15+ years I have left in the working world.
    Y’all be well.

  6. I’m glad you were there to emotionally support those children. What kind of world are we living in when we can’t let a teacher show a student that they care, and that they’re not alone?

    It’s completely sexist to allow female teachers to interact physically with students, but to ban male teachers from doing so. There have been plenty of cases of female teachers having inappropriate relationships with students.

    At the same time, protecting our children is incredibly important. At this point, I think I’d rather have a video camera in every classroom so we can let teachers give out much-needed hugs without risking losing their job if someone decides to twist that simple, supportive action into something else. Let there be video evidence of great teachers giving support to students if someone wants to see it.

    I’m really glad you wrote this, because I had no idea that in this day and age we have school policies that are so flagrantly sexist.

  7. Just recently here in my local area we had an incident where a 16 year old girl had flipped her car and was pinned underneath,it had landed upon her pelvis and she was bleeding out.

    Two MEN came and LIFTED the car off of her.
    Those 2 men where good men.

    Same two men in same yard playing with child=presumed pedophiles.

    Pretty soon you gals are going to have to decided which way you want it to be, because more and more men are done playing both roles.

    Why should we risk ripping out back muscles to save a child we are not allowed to interact with in a normal fashion?

    Your choice,accept the consequences.

    • Marcus Williams says:

      I agree the “presumed pedophiles’ is a bad thing (sort of the point of the article), but it doesn’t make sense to me to blame “the gals”. Whether or not men in fact pose a greater risk to children than women, I think both men and women are accustomed to regarding men as more likely to pose a danger.

      Just yesterday, I met a guy who I’d heard does a small side business out of his garage, sharpening skates. As he sharpened my skates and we were chatting, his young daughter (maybe 5 or so) came out, and I smiled at her and watched her and her dad interact. I didn’t get even the slightest hint from him that he considered me a threat or weirdo, but I still felt compelled to whip out my phone to show a picture of my two little daughters, as if to say, “See, I’m a dad of little girls, too, not some creep smiling at your daughter.” This automatic suspicion thing sucks, but it’s not just a woman thing. If we’re going to improve it, it will take more than just women making a different choice.

      • Thanks for the good reply marcus but I disagree that men now have to take the lead in canceling out anti-male bias.

        This was started by the rad-fems at the Presidential council level and funded by the millions of dollars at the Federal level.
        (At the behest of feminists)

        They women have the 8 Councils for Women and Their children (not mens children)
        these women have the most power to reverse the change they have affected,but obviously it is counter to their movement.

        (Scorched earth policy)

        • Marcus Williams says:

          I didn’t say men have to take the lead in cancelling out anti-male bias. I said they share it, in ways like being automatically more suspicious of men around their kids than of women, or reflexively going out of their way to show they’re “safe” when there’s no real need for it.

          I think we’re in agreement that viewing men as presumed pedophiles is a bad thing. Where I disagree is that this is some either/or choice women – and only women – have to make because we’ll stop lifting cars off them unless they’re more trusting of us around their kids. Do you have any ideas for getting both women and men to trust us more around kids that don’t involve letting women die trapped under heavy objects?

          • No sir,I am at a loss to answer your question.

            Boycotting participation in such a system is not only the easiest and safest thing to do,it is the only (lack of) action that does not need defending upon the inevitable attack.

            I truly am sorry to not have a more positive answer for you my friend,I can tell you have a lot of heart and soul into what you do,it always will be easier to tear down than construct,this is the universal dilemma.

            The old saying is:
            “1000 attaboy’s is canceled out by one aw-shit.”

            I wish for you a career with no false accusations,my best childhood memories
            where of those few male teachers that provided a masculine role model.
            Specifically one 6th grade teacher,an Italian who liked to be called
            “The big Ragoo.”

            It is very sad these role models have been for the most part disenfranchised,much to the detriment of both sexes.

            The older male in the school is now most likely to be the janitor or cop.

            Somehow this fem-hysteria must be stopped.

            • Marcus Williams says:

              I agree it’s sad that many men are discouraged from teaching and being those positive role models, but I’m not completely hopeless, because there are still teachers like Eli (the article author) and in my own circle of friends, I have two guy friends who have been teaching for almost 15 years – one of them teaching 1st grade most of that time, and the other has taught everything from elementary through high school. I’d love to see more like them, but I think it can only happen if men like them continue showing up to give the positive example. I don’t think any of them chose their careers to defy radical feminist expectations, but their choice and example does more to challenge such expecations – I hope – than boycotting education altogether.

              • Might not part the push to see men as predators of children, have come from an urge to protect teaching as a majority female space? It has been seen as a safe feminist dominated profession for decades. The fear of men intruding into “women’s spaces” and coming to dominate them is even noted within feminism, with men being relegated to an ally role instead of full participant status being accorded to all.

  8. Great article. Thank you for expression the frustrating double-standard put upon us men.

  9. I’m glad to hear that you shrugged off the toxic and shaming advice and did what was right AND best for your students, Eli. Well done.

  10. Oh man, I spent seven summers working as a camp counselor, and we got these talks too. Fortunately it was all pretty basic and not-insulting. No one-on-one with campers, they don’t go into your tent, you don’t go into theirs- stuff like that. Also, they tended to frame it as mostly a protection for us- so nobody could accuse us of anything- rather than a “we need to protect the campers from you.” kind of thing. That tended to help.

    • Groups like Stop It Now have well developed awareness and bystander intervention approaches to child sexual abuse. Did your talks ever get into more effective actions and details like talking to adults if you had just a little “funny feeling” about their relationship with a child? How to do that? Support for that? In a most likely completely non-accusatory, and non-threatening manner? Someone you could talk to about your own concerns about your boundaries with a child without it being seen as an admission you’re a pedophile or something? And signs kids show short and long term from abuse? And age appropriate child sexuality and ways kids may “act out” and abuse other kids?

      A big complaint I have is we don’t get beyond what is sometimes just teaching fear and prejudice. There are clear signs of abuse that people miss and don’t like to investigate, question and think about. But which also aren’t “evidence of a crime” type signs.

      “so nobody could accuse us of anything” stands out for me. It sounds to me like they are presumptively assumed false, like false accusations are something that happens. Was there any more context for that? A child? Parent?

      When was that anyway?

  11. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    I’m still going to hug people. I teach, but my students are college age. It doesn’t happen very often.

    • The fact that you had to mention (not that kind of stiff) says enough for me. I wouldn’t want you hugging my children.

  12. Great piece.

    Part of this is, I think, to do with what his been called The Risk Society (Ulrik Beck and others). We have become focused on risk and risk-response, and so risk is a sure attention-getter, often leading to near hysteria. This is damaging for our ability to respond rationally to situations, and as you post so surely points out, Eli, damaging for human relations.

    Like Terror, and Drugs, Pedophilia has become a great risk-hysteria trigger.

    • This is a GREAT point. Schools have so much crisis management planning to do. You have to be prepared for school shooters/lockdowns, dirty bombs, etc., and now the bullying legislation (which I do support, but with concerns) puts a huge strain on schools. Teachers and admins serve in loco parentis all day, and are expected to be prepared for–and deal perfectly with–any emergency. It’s a wonder the core mission of schools–education of students–ever gets done. I don’t even want to think about how many 100’s of hours I’ve spent in schools working on crisis management plans that cover dozens and dozens of risk scenarios. Pedophilia of teachers (real or falsely accused) is a big one, and so now no one is supposed to hug a child. Sad.

  13. At the school where I used to be a paraeducator, we were all (men and women both) instructed that, should a child initiate a hug, we were to turn side-on, not front-to-front, and we were allowed to include a pat between the shoulders with it, but that was it. I was working with a lot of foster kids in rough situations, who were in desperate need of whatever affection and affirmation they could get from the adults in their lives. I understand that kids (and especially these kids) are vulnerable, but there’s taking a thing too damn far.

  14. I got honors in AP Chemistry in HS…typical Asian geek-oid hyper-focused on getting into the college of my choice….after grades were in, I didn’t know what to think when I ran into my chemistry teacher on the street just a block from school….I was rushing to the subway station to go to my afternoon geeky hospital internship job but I chatted with my teacher for a few minutes ….he asked me to sit with him at the corner coffeehouse…I tried to tell him that I was in a terrible rush but he said it would only take a little bit of time…then he asked me go out with him some time….a bald-headed paunchy Borscht Belt-like comedian of a chemistry teacher thought it was appropriate to ask a 17 yo HS student out!!! I was so naive at that time (I couldn’t see that one coming….I should have reported him to the principal at the time!!!! He would have been fired!)…..I just said “no”, got up and left….I was so shocked and disgusted with myself (I blamed myself , not him, all these 3 decades)….after that, I did my best to avoid him but he kept trying to come up to me and shake my hand…my classmates could see him trying to approach me and me trying to slink away without being too disrespectful….he was my teacher and I still felt I owed him that regard….crazy me! I finally told some teachers (former and present) and the current principal of my old HS of what happened over 30 years ago…and they were all appalled! When I look back, he made a lot of inappropriate and sexist comments to the female students…and yet he taught for many, many years there….and it was an elite, super-competitive high school….you would think that it would be an oasis for intellectual thought where teenage girls could be respected for what they think and not what they looked like…

    • Since he never touched you, I’d really like to know what your point is? Was he hitting on all the girls in your class or just you? And the grades were in so at that point , school was over for the year, right?

      Seriously, 17, nearly 18 (when some states have 16 as Age of Consent) and you would compare this to a teacher touching children inappropriately in an elementary school?

      Then you bring in sexist comments and a whole bunch of other stuff that has next to nothing to do with the topic of this post.

      • Clarence, that feels disrespectful. It was obviously very disturbing to Leia and nobody has to defend how they feel. It made sense to me for sure. There’s an obvious huge power difference in the relationship that makes it completely wrong to initiate a date. I had a male teacher pursue me in high school as well with a lot of sexual “vibe” and touching and it had damaging effects on me. (Also 30 years ago when no body said anything about what looks like obvious trouble today. Things were very, very different). I think it fits in fine.

        Perhaps you could talk about yourself and how you see that situation and your experiences and feelings and let others do the same in peace.

        • Allan:
          The topic of this thread isn’t “female sexual abuse survivors and their experiences at the hands of male teachers”, though even if it was, I’d argue her experience wouldn’t fit into that category.

          No, what I saw her post is was possibly dishonest agitprop that was meant to derail this thread from focusing on the feelings of male teachers , most of whom are teaching elementary and secondary school.

          Her experience amounts to nearly being an adult by any standard and feeling skeevy that an older teacher asked her for a date (and took no for an answer) at the end of the year when grades were in. Not only don’t I feel particularly sorry for her, but if I was to bring up a case I knew about personally when a 25 year old female teacher got 2 15 year old boys drunk and had her way with them, I’d be just as guilty of derailing this thread as Leia was, though arguably I’d be talking about a far greater issue.

  15. Eli, bravo. As a former school head, I cannot tell you how hard I tried to find male teachers, how much I valued them, how critical I felt it was for students to be taught by women AND men, and how uphill the battle was. For all of the reasons you state–male teachers being presumed guilty of being potential pedophiles, guilty of inability to nurture young children, guilty of being weird for even wanting to try–I was stymied right and left.

    Teachers, administrators and parents said they wanted more male teachers…but then parents jockied around not wanting the male teacher for their child. Teachers accused me of being biased against male teachers because there were so few in the school! They assumed that meant I discriminated against them when, in fact, they rarely existed in the pool of candidates for any open faculty position! I was doing everything I could to recruit, but the assumption was that I did not want male teachers. And the parents! They would come meet with me to express “concerns” about having a male elementary teacher. Talk about needing to keep my cool!

    When I was successful and hired a male teacher, he often didn’t stay long. The environment was so heavily female, the men were often lonely or had trouble fitting in. It seemed as soon as I hired one male teacher, another would leave, and I could never get the census up.

    One problem I need to acknowledge…and let me be clear, this is UNFAIR to men…is the fact that pedophiles are drawn to jobs that allow them contact with children. Case in point: Jerry Sandusky. But in my school career, I knew of many scandals in the community of schools around me involving male teachers having inappropriate sexual contact with young students, male or female. That did not help the “image” of male teachers. But here’s the thing: MOST, and I mean 99.9% of male teachers, were not pedophiles!! And how awful for them that these scandals made parents afraid of all of them.

    Now, some people will want me to address the Mary Kay Letourneaus out there. They are there! I didn’t happen to have any personal experiences with them, but they are absolutely out there. BOTH men and women can abuse children. But society really locks onto presumed guilt of male teachers way more than females.(I don’t know the incidence statistics and would rather not battle over stats). Women are seen as natural nurturers, while men are looked at askance. Not fair. And of course this is one of the reasons men don’t go into teaching very often (low salary and lack of male companionship being some other common ones).

    Here’s the exception to your article: boys’ schools. Male teachers are highly desired there, more so than female, and highly respected. They have each other’s companionship and are worshiped by the boys and by parents wanting male role models for their sons. But that’s a whole different topic.

    Thanks for writing this, Eli! I would have hired you in a second if you’d applied to my school, and would not have policed your behavior around kids whatsoever!

    • Marcus Williams says:

      One problem I need to acknowledge…and let me be clear, this is UNFAIR to men…is the fact that pedophiles are drawn to jobs that allow them contact with children. Case in point: Jerry Sandusky.

      Lori, I know you’re with us men on this, but that quote still sort of jumped at me. It’s a fact, the way it’s a fact that many pedophiles eat fruit, or watch TV. In other words, it doesn’t help distinguish the pedophiles from the general population, and singling out Sandusky doesn’t make the point more compelling. That’s just confirmation bias, where we look at evidence that supports our theory – guys who seek contact with children are probably pedophiles – and discount or ignore the examples that don’t, like Eli and the millions of other men who interact regularly with children without sexually abusing them. Instead of comparing the Sandusky’s of the world to men who don’t seek contact with children, which tends to make all child-loving men seem dangerous, they should be compared – for the purposes of assessing how bad the risk really is – to the population of men who love and work with children that don’t sexually abuse them. If that risk is minuscule, which I think it is but don’t have data to cite, then we should stop making policies that regard men as likely pedophiles just for working with (or showing affection toward) kids.

      • Marcus, thanks, I’ll need to re-read what I wrote and what you write here and see where the disconnect is because I do totally agree with you and with all men who are rightfully angry about being considered as pedophiles. There may be something about how I wrote that that could have been articulated better. Not sure and have a business call coming in. Will try to come back to this–totally respect any concern you may have, and certainly do not want to appear insensitive to men in any way on this issue.

        • Marcus Williams says:

          Feel free to revisit it, but please don’t feel the need for my sake. Like I said, I know you’re sticking up for men on this. It was clear from the entirety of your comment. The part I quoted jumped at me not because I doubted your position, but because I think it’s the kind of “fact” that slips into many people’s thinking – even mine – that doesn’t stand up to critical thinking. I’m not even denying it as a fact, just saying that “pedophiles seek out contact with kids” isn’t a useful fact unless it can somehow be distinguished from non-pedophiles who seek out contact with kids. Otherwise, it’s like saying pedophiles watch TV. True, but useless.

  16. Sadly, the Jerry Sandusky’s of the world have made it difficult for male nurturing to be accepted and it is awful because it is something that so many children are desperately in need of even in cases when there is a father in the home.

    • m el an i a, there have always been molesters inn schools. v female as well. what’s creating the problem for men is the belief that the solution involves treating all men with suspicion. the lack of a more sophisticated solution, more prevention and treatment for potential offenders. women molest boys as many reports in the media show but is there general suspicion of female teachers?

      • Agreed. Even with all the stories breaking about female teachers raping students there’s not push to advise children to be suspicious of female teachers or women in general. And I think a big part of that is knowing the fact that only a small portion of women do that. But for some reason the same fact that only a small portion of men do that not only doesn’t stop people from being suspicious of male teachers and men in general but its actually used to encourage that suspicion.

        How many articles have been done here alone that say something to the effect “what can be done to restore the image of men when a few bad ones do stuff like this?”. You don’t see many articles like this on women and I have a hard time believing that the only reason that’s the case is because of which gender is more likely to do such things.

  17. I think that it is the lack of affection from men that makes children so vulnerable to pedophiles. How can a child develop a sensor to detect good man touch from bad man touch, if a good man has never touched them?

    We are monkeys. Ever seen chimpanzees at the zoo? They lean on each other, lie around together, hold each other all the time. We need a lot of physical contact.

    So, thank you for being a warm-hearted and affectionate man. If we ever meet in person, I’ll be sure to give you a big hug. 🙂 🙂

  18. I don’t think anyone has addressed the decline in male elementary school teachers have they? My understanding is that the percentage is low and falling. Would this is partly why?

    • Pay scale affects this also. Elementary school teachers – at least in the state where I live – make slightly above minimum wage.

  19. I’m an attorney and I’ve had the joy of giving anti-harassment training. my advice to everyone (male and female) is never touch anyone in the workplace other than shaking hands, never talk about anything that is remotely sexual and never comment on anyone’s appearance. Even “you look nice in that outfit” is risky. This advice seems stupid but it is simply for your own protection. I can understand why male teachers would be cautioned to avoid hugging children. You never know when some lunatic parent will misconstrue it.

    As an aside, “traditional” male vs female harassment complaints are rare these days in my experience. We are seeing a lot more same sex harassment claims involving things like men calling another guy gay (whether he is or not) and women being catty to other women (gossiping about her sex life, comments about revealing clothes). We’ve also had more men complaining about inappropriate remarks by women. I want to sing the sexual harassment panda song from South Park at a training one if rhese dats. ” Don’t say that, don’t touch that” …. pretty good advice, actually.

  20. As male teachers, we were essentially presumed guilty until proven innocent.

    And while us dudes were walking on eggshells, female teachers were freely hugging students, left and right. Some even spent time with their students outside of school.
    And this is going on at a time when male and female teachers are doing terrible things to kids.

    But on top of that this attitude exists while at the same time people are complaining that men need to “step up”. How the devil are you going to tell someone to step up while you have your boot on top of their head, keeping them from doing just that?

  21. If you can never be alone with a child, how can that child talk to you in confidence? From newborn on, people need the comfort, encouragement, warmth etc of touching and being touched appropriately. Aside from the damage those strictures are doing to teachers/pastors/mentors and others, how about the children who are being taught (by action certainly, if not by word) that there is something wrong with being hugged unless you share the same DNA (and even then??) Are we raising a generation that as adults will be able neither to give nor receive that affection. BTW, as a Lutheran pastor who wears his clergy collar, I can tell you how it feels to be eyed by strangers as a possible priest-pedophile. That’s why we have to have a huge insurance policy with a defense fund. Sad that we have come to this and that perverts have normed the system to be so suspicious.

  22. Like the “war on drugs”, I think this shows how dealing with child sexual abuse as a legal problem isn’t working.

    There’s a whole different approach through prevention and treatment that would work so much better and cost less.

  23. I am a new teacher. Though I am a female, I can somewhat share your pain. In college we were cautioned by some profs to refrain from hugging our students, to NEVER be alone with a student, (most especially as an intern), and to watch how affectionate we were. This deeply saddened and angered me, as a teacher as well as a parent. If my child went to hug their teacher and they did not return the hug…well, that would just make me very sad and irritated. Our kids – this whole nation of children we are raising, need to know they are loved and valued. How are we going to teach them that while we keep them at arms length? I’ve had kids who come from pretty rough home lives, kids who are certainly lacking in the love department. I’ve hugged them back every time, and I cannot imagine doing anything otherwise. What really makes me furious are the bad apple teachers out there (pun intended), who have made it so the rest of us have to pay for their transgressions. (I’m talking to you Mary Kay – and so many others).

    • Gosh, I remember not even that long ago when I was in first grade (okay, so this was like 14 years ago, but that’s really not that long ago), my teacher would freely hug and kiss her students. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school did I realize this had all changed when our teacher told us that when her students hug her, she has to hold out her arms. I was shocked! This culture has become so impersonal and cold.

  24. . As male teachers, we were essentially presumed guilty until proven innocent.

    And while us dudes were walking on eggshells, female teachers were freely hugging students, left and right. Some even spent time with their students outside of school.

    Eli, a beautiful piece. Well written and I enjoyed your turns of phrase

  25. Marcus Williams says:

    I worked in the past as a camp counselor at a summer day camp, and later at an “outdoor ed” school where like the other instructors, I was the lone adult managing a cabin of my assigned kids, which included plenty of time alone with them and sleeping in the cabin with the at night. I most definitely can relate to being cautioned about how to physically act and not act with kids, so as to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. I understood it, but it was depressing as hell. I didn’t avoid contact altogether, but at the camp where little kids would run up and jump in my lap, for example, I was always careful to either put them down or arrange them on my legs a clear distance from my crotch. This wasn’t because I was afraid of getting aroused, but because I was afraid anyone could even think I might be if they saw a child in my lap.

    I think I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my greatest joys having my own daughters, still toddler age, is that I can be as freely affectionate with them as I want. I don’t hesitate to smother them with hugs, kisses, and tickles, or worry that someone might think I’m being inappropriate. On a recent night, for example, both my girls had only their diapers on (before getting pajamas on for the night), and for about five minutes I rolled them around the floor kissing and tickling their bellies and necks and cracking them up. It was the kind of daddy moment I live for and will someday miss, but in the back of my mind, there was still a glimmer of awareness that if I did this with someone else’s kids, or even if some people saw me doing it with mine, it could be viewed as suspicious and “too affectionate”.

    • What a beautiful image Marcus! Oddly, I think this kind of “good touch” experience for kids, helps them recognize, distinguish, learn to feel empowered to avoid, the (face it, unavoidable) “bad touch” experiences they will encounter in life (the huge range from benign and normal, to abusive stuff).

  26. Julie Gillis says:

    Which, in a weird way, only fetish-izes (I can’t spell that word) the kid thing. Make kids inappropriate to touch and….well, I think it makes the system weird.

    Run your background checks, presume innocence, teach kids to speak up and out, let people show actual pleasure and affection for each other.

  27. I am a 24-year-old straight male. That is just for the record. I am a teacher for students with Aspergers and Autism. This article speaks to me because it makes me realize how good I have it. The parents of my current studends (ages 7-12) are very understanding. I work with a child with autism and leukemia and his chemo causes him so much pain. Deep pressure is especially comforting to him. I squeeze him and hug him and press my hands hard into his arms and back.

    Today I thought, “What if someone who didn’t realize what was going on saw this?”. It might seem a little odd. It was then I realized how lucky I am, that I am allowed to give this child the physical interaction he needs. It’s almost calming to ME to see him relax. It is a shame that there are so many vindictive people in this world that would hurt a child, this in turn makes us all have to refrain from showing our normal human emotions sometimes.

    Well I am just ranting now. Thank you!!!

  28. I agree with Julie too Josie. It is definitely partly based on a fear of litigation. Unfortunately, in my experience, (while both female and male teachers were warned about their interactions) our male teachers were definitely watched much more closely and “advised” more thoroughly. I just remember feeling like I was constantly under surveillance. And this was a feeling shared by many of my male colleagues.

    • Eli – it’s the Institutionalized Mythology of male = danger!

      Litigation Risk is seen quite differently to other risks – and when supervisors and managers are passing on what I call the Papal Bull, they also have to be seen very clearly to do it to protect their own positions and jobs. Risk aversion and negative male stereotyping go hand in hand. It’s worse and more endemic than racial profiling.

      People also suffer under the burden of Child Safety Strategists, who break the dynamics down into pieces they can handle and quantify – oh and also get funding for. They create a program for Stranger Danger that targets only kids – and they have teachers deliver it – yet training for professionals to recognize abuse/abused are not considered, and when they are they tend to be poor quality – and also schools get risk averse in case there is a wrongful accusation against an innocent party.

      Until child safety and welfare is a joined up process that engages all concerned as cogs in a bigger mechanism – they system will be broken and remain so.

      It also makes it easier to just see men as the danger – it looks good on paper when convincing others. Sexism and Gender Abuse is a terrible thing – and as men we are supposed to just accept it!

      Sorry – But I Don’t – Glad to make your acquaintance!

  29. Joanna Schroeder says:

    Love this, Eli! Male role models are necessary and vital — making male teachers feel that they are first assumed to be guilty only discourages great male teachers from entering the profession.

    I agree with Julie that some of it is fear of litigation, but most of it is ignorance. I know you changed lives and taught children who may not have already known it, that they are valuable and have a great future ahead of them.

    (xo – your partner)

  30. It’s a total shame. At a daycare where my kids went, the female teachers were also told not to let kids sit in their laps.
    Sometimes I think that’s less about gender than just plain bureaucratic fear of litigation. It’s part of a sick system far more complex than I could describe here, but I’m so sorry you had to go through that Eli. I’ve been so happy for the male teachers my sons have had (few) and I think love, mentorship and affection should be granted freely no matter what gender the teacher is.

  31. DavidByron says:

    And women from their position of privilege have no clue about any of this.
    (Although somehow that doesn’t stop them acting to enforce the rules)

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      Denying male oppression isn’t a female thing, just look at Julie G’s comment below and compare it to Hugo Schwyzer’s piece on the same subject.

      • Julie Gillis says:

        I’d like to think I focus on instances of human oppression Peter, while being aware that it is systems of oppression that can hurt individuals. It can be complex, but I think it’s more about systemic power dynamics that can pop up, pustule like, in cultural “zits” like sexism, classism, racism, age-ism and so forth.

        I’d warrant most of us individuals rarely feel privilege even though as a class or race of sex we might institutionally have it. That’s the flippin’ twist of it. I may never feel like I have power, but I may actually have more than I realize, like the air I breathe. Same to you, or the the much higher paid younger African American male academic who might hire me as an assistant. It’s all a maelstrom.

        All in all it makes things hard to break down without people getting nasty. I see no point in getting mean online, though occasionally my Scots temper will flare. Sadly, online is where everyone seems to want to get mean, bitter and so forth. Doesn’t really help anything.

        I’m a woman. I have male children and female friends and trans relationships and am happily wrapt in a blanket of colors and sexual identities and abilities and I wish more peace could come out of that rather than less. That’s why I write here.

        I suspect that’s why Hugo writes here too. I don’t always agree with all the articles, but I’m damn glad we have the opportunity to post.

      • DavidByron says:

        I don’t disagree with your criticism.
        But I don’t think even sympathetic women know how this stuff feels.


  1. […] want to say that I admire them for so much more: Eli for being an amazing teacher and mentor, for being an independent thinker who cannot be bullied into anything. I respect Bob for being […]

  2. […] Comments in response to Eli Kaplan’s post “Put Your Hands Up, and Step Away From the … Child?” […]

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