When I was a teenager, I tried to get into the babysitting racket. It seemed like a good deal: getting paid to make sure someone’s kid didn’t destroy the house or kill themselves, while eating their food and watching TV. In fact, I booked one babysitting gig and even though it went relatively well, they never invited me back. They, like many others, had a bias against male sitters.
Parenting forums on the internet, newspapers like The Washington Post, and even literary magazines like The Atlantic all tackle this question. The traditional idea of babysitting began shortly after the baby boom at the end of World War II. People were moving to the suburbs and this left ample clientele for the teenage entrepreneur. It is unclear when it was decided that young women made “the best” babysitters, but once it was that concept has stayed in place to this day.
A friend of mine who is a single mother with little family spent months looking for a babysitter she could trust, simply to get a little away-time for herself. When a 17 year-old boy applied for the position, she interviewed him but rejected him as soon as the door was shut. When I asked why, she said, “It’s silly.” She has two daughters and she said she didn’t want them “in the habit of trusting strange men.” She did not believe that the boy himself would have done anything, but then added, “But you never know.”
Of course, it doesn’t help that the majority of child molesters and sexual assaulters are overwhelmingly male. In fact many of the hetero-normative stereotypes for males (especially teenagers) involve the notion of sexual recklessness. They may not abuse the kids, but might ignore them in order to snag some alone-time with a current crush. Whenever preconceived notions about sex and children mix, it often spells disaster.
All of this is nonsense, however. Teenage boys have just as much potential to be responsible caregivers as their female counterparts. Responsible adult males who are professionals—a “manny”—are aware of the bias and are typically willing to endure the highest levels of scrutiny from a potential client, also like their female counterparts.
Parents who have a bias against male sitters simply because they are males are not sexists (at least not more so than anyone else) but are simply cautious. Still, if a qualified male sitter comes to you, don’t dismiss him out of hand. Exercise due diligence and he may become a very positive and important person to your children.