Crossing the line


Sometimes I write posts because I posted a photograph and I wanted to discuss something about the image.  Other times, I write because something has been stewing for a while and finally comes out.  This is one of those posts.


There’s a subtle form of discrimination going on against male photographers.  Picture this situation:

You’ve taken your child to the toddler park and they’ve happily roared into the mass of children running around madly and having fun.  Parents mill around keeping a watchful eye on both their kids and other children interacting with them.  Strollers litter the playground, and every bench is occupied by a weary mom or dad.  With one exception.

There’s an older guy sitting on the bench in front of you.  He has a camera bag slung on his back, and he’s dressed for comfort in tennis shoes, a t shirt, and somewhat sloppy jeans.  He looks fairly ordinary and nonthreatening, and he doesn’t interact with anyone around him.  The only threatening thing about him is the fairly large camera he’s holding.  Every so often he lifts the camera and takes a few pictures, and in a little while, he moves over to the fence around the playground and stands there changing out a lens.  After a while, he drifts over to another bench, still taking pictures.  The next time you look in his direction he’s gone.

What do you automatically think?

Do you assume he’s a doting grandfather or uncle, or a predator?


This happened at one of our playground visits recently, and I have to admit, I kept a very watchful eye on the guy.  I never saw him  interact with anyone, either adult or child, and he didn’t seem to focus on any particular child the way you would if you were taking pictures of your child playing.  As far as I know, no one confronted him, although I saw several dads also keeping an eye on him.  It was a slightly creepy experience and a scary reminder that even at the playground, your child might not be safe.

I do try not to assume, because I had a classmate in college who had a very bad experience in a similar situation.  He was a serious, slightly older student who put a lot of time into his work and really tried to go beyond the assignments our instructor gave us.  He wasn’t a father, but he had a 9-10 year old niece that he absolutely adored.  Not surprisingly, she was his subject for quite a few projects – I suspect a lot of his images made it into her mom’s family album because he was a great photographer.

One assignment on portraits was perfect for the little girl, and he decided to take his niece to the playground.  She loved the park, and he had taken her there before and thought it would be a perfect place to get some action portraits of her.   While they were there, someone, an unknown mom, called the police.  The police questioned him and his niece and generally made the visit an unpleasant one with a few nasty assumptions.

He came into the next class and told us what happened, visibly upset over the discrimination he experienced.  At the time, I had a nagging thought that I didn’t express, but after experiencing something similar as a mom I finally clarified that thought: whomever called the police wasn’t meddling.  He should have been delighted that someone cared enough about a little girl they had never met to make sure she was safe.  What if she had been with someone else?  Wouldn’t he have wanted someone to call the police?

At the time, he was incensed that the only reason the police came was because he was male.  If he had been a female photographer no one would have thought anything about it.

There’s a reason for that.  How many female pedophiles have you heard of? I know they’re out there, but the vast majority of pedophiles in the news are male.  Add that to the visual nature of men and you have a nasty discrimination against male photographers.

And while I might ruffle some feathers here, I would much rather someone call the police if they’re worried about the safety of my child than worry about discrimination against some random guy.  Sorry guys.  Gender barriers suck, don’t they?




4 thoughts on “Crossing the line

  1. Just came across this recently, so forgive the late reply. I have to say that this is pretty offensive. The person in question is not ‘some random guy’. He is a person with a life like you. Now he has been questioned by the police in connection with a complaint about a pedophile or stalker. The people at that playground will not remember him as that great uncle who was spending some time with his niece and capturing some memories for his sister. He is that guy who was lurking around the playground. Most likely he will be harassed again if he goes to the same place. It’s not enough to say ‘gender barriers suck’ and watch innocent people adversely effected by some ‘random mom’s’ irrational fear. That is when the criminals win.

    I genuinely like your work and your blog, but this post needed a little more compassionate thought.

    • While I appreciate your comment, I think perhaps I didn’t explain the situation well enough. My former classmate talked to the police and they left – no harassment, nothing filed or charges pressed. So no real harm done to either him or his niece, just annoying. Someone cared enough about his niece to make the connection of little girl + guy with camera + not close family = let’s make sure everything is ok. And as a mom of two now, I still feel that I would rather someone call the police than risk my child’s safety. I’m sorry if that’s not compassionate 😦

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