Overzealous policies make all men targets

Posted: Mar 28, 2001 12:00 AM
In our hypervigilant world of zero tolerance, pedophiliac paranoia and incest sensitivity, everyone's a pervert until proven innocent. If you've had the extremely bad judgment to be born a male, you're automatically suspicious. Two recent examples seem to prove the rule: Earlier this month, an executive for a head-hunting firm traveling on British Airways was asked to move when he sat next to two unaccompanied children. The man hadn't talked to the children or thrust candy into their innocent little mugs. He hadn't touched them. He had merely sat down beside them. Apparently British Airways has a policy against such brash - and possibly lewd - behavior. A man sitting next to children, why, you just don't know what he might do. A spokeswoman for the airline said the company created the policy against seating men next to children in response to concerns about sexual assault. On airplanes? Meanwhile, back on Earth, a single dad from Maryland last week was halted by a Target store employee when he tried to accompany his 8-year-old daughter into a woman's dressing room. Jim Schmidt, who has been a single father for seven years, says he always helps his daughter try on clothes when they go shopping. But he can't in Columbia, Md., where this Target store is located. The employee who stopped Schmidt wasn't worried about father-daughter molestation, however. He was concerned about an even more serious problem common to males, though we usually associate this particular affliction with mythical teens in the '50s who go by the name of "Fonz." "You can't go in there," the watchdog told Schmidt, "because men can use mirrors to look up women's dresses." Well done, Holmes, well done. Another mirror incident nipped in the bud! Schmidt, an executive with a mental health consortium, had a spirited discussion with the employee and a store manager, and subsequently has contacted Target's corporate office asking for apologies for both him and his daughter. He also has contacted fathers' rights groups and is considering legal action. "I was humiliated," Schmidt says. "Being a single dad to a daughter is complicated enough without this. I've shopped for clothes with her a hundred times and it's never been a problem before. If they think they have a problem (with mirror stalkers), then they should choose a more passive method of solving the problem." The Target employee, though notable for single-handedly disproving the theory of evolution, wasn't enforcing specific company policy, according to a Target spokesperson. When it comes to who goes into dressing rooms with whom, it's a judgment call. Clearly some people have better judgment than others. On the other hand, the Target store in question (ital) is (end ital) in the same state where public-housing rules forbid opposite-sex siblings sleeping in the same room after one of them reaches puberty. Sexual deviancy, you know. It's everywhere. Target has referred Schmidt to a guest-service leader at the store where he was embarrassed in front of his daughter, while British Airways has apologized to the man who was asked to change seats. Apologies are nice, but idiots - and absurd policies - are dangerous. In our overzealous efforts to protect children from real predators, we've created a world where all men are considered potentially deviant, while children are taught to suspect even their own fathers. For the sake of these same children, shouldn't someone be teaching them to beware of fools?