July 14, 2010

Girls, Boys, and Gender Preference

Often, it seems, clients will "prefer" a female therapist over a male therapist, and this is true whether the client is female or male. Doesn't seem very fair to the male therapists, but before we address that subject, let's look at some possible reasons for such preference:

1. Culture/Society: It's no secret that some of America's first settlers were Puritans, and that complicated view of sexuality mixed with religon mixed with any kind of nudity stills impacts clients in ways they probably don't even realize whether they actively partipate in any kind of dogma. Therefore, it may seem more proper or safer for a female client to see a female therapist. To that slice of the culture, add the part where men don't really touch other men often unless they are (a) very drunk or (b) very involved in winning sports events or (c) haven't seen each other in 20 years and have been thinking each other dead. In parts of North Africa, straight male friends kiss on the lips when they meet. In India, men walk around with their arms around each other's neck in a kind of half-embrace. In some countries, it's even okay for male friends to hold hands. But in America, my father didn't wear the color pink until the early 1990's, and even then it wasn't a PINK pink. Now, while things have changed somewhat, and lots of manly American men wear certain pastels these days, I think you see where I'm going here: to some male clients, seeing a male therapist may seem emasculating.

2. Trauma: I'm thinking mostly of female clients here, but male clients may have had traumatic experiences as well that may make them feel too vulnerable with a male therapist. And I'm not just talking about rape, although that and any kind of sexual abuse from childhood to the present can have an impact on gender preference. Most of us, especially women, have been subjected to countless advertising campaigns aimed at convincing us that we are just too ugly and weird for words: wrong shape, wrong size, too much hip, too little breast, etc. And when you feel that your body is anywhere from imperfect to just plain gross, you may be less likely to want a man--the gender that is often touted as the one who decides your worthiness for relationships, etc.--to massage you. I once heard of a blind male therapist who when asked how he thought he could sell himself to female clientele, simply remarked, "I can't see them."

This are two major reasons, and there are others, I'm sure. Now is all this fair to the average male therapist? No, not at all. So what can be done about it?

1. Give an Extra-Compelling Massage: It may not be fair that a male therapist has to work harder to "prove" himself to female clients, but I've often seen it work this way. I know several excellent male therapists who never have booking problems because their work is fantastic, promotes change, and hence their largely-female client base refers the hell out of them. One of my personal favorite therapists is over six feet tall, built like a bull, wears a utili-kilt, has long hair braided down his back, wears a full beard, and looks like he could win the blue ribbon at the local Highland Games. He's also professional, treatment-specific, listens to my needs, and always promotes healthy change in my body with the type of great strength that I appreciate in deep tissue work. If he were giving fluff-and-buff massages, there would be no difference in booking with him and someone named Candi who dots her i's with hearts.

2. Pour Out Good Intentions: I think both male and female therapists should do this, but it may be more important to for a male therapist to show a wavering female client that this is a workable working relationship by radiating a professional, caring, helpful aura.

3. Train the Front Desk to Promote Male Therapists: Self-emloyed male therapists are responsible for promoting themselves, but in a clinic or studio environment, male therapists may be no where near the appointment book when calls come in. Front desk staff need to know why clients may prefer females over males and be prepared to combat any concerns, mythologies, etc. in subtle ways. For example, "Are you sure you don't want the 2 pm? Jim is the kindest man, and I love the way he always helps loosen up my bad right hip." Of course this assumes that the front desk cares about both client and therapist welfare and gets regular massage (if not all of these things are true, they'll need to be tended to as well).

Again, I sometimes feel that male therapists have to work a little harder to get appointments, and that's a shame. On the other hand, it isn't "racist" to ask for a female over a male, as I heard one male therapist say (personally, I was confused as the question has nothing to do with race, only with gender). It's simply a function of preference, and as I've tried to point out, preference may not always be well-founded or logical. So it's up to us, the therapists, and our support staff, to show clients that healing work is actually gender-blind.


Anonymous said...

There's a difference between the client having a preference and a spa, resort, or clinic asking up front if they have a preference. As that is definitely gender discrimination by the employer, and by asking up front, it presents gender as a problem.

Nearly every place does this gender discriminatory act and is not being called on it.

The answer is simple: "We have a 2pm opening with Jim, he is really great and I love the way he always helps loosen up my bad right hip."

This dialogue makes it clear what gender the therapist is, and praises the therapist as well. IF the client has an issue, this will be their opportunity to communicate as such.

Lynna Dunn said...

True; and this sounds like a great way for the front desk to handle it.

Corey said...

No matter the reason for the female preference, it is still passing judgement on the male therapist. Either, the client is judging the fact that they believe I will judge them or they are judging that I will be inappropriate with them. If therapist A can massage you and therapist B can't you are being judgemental. No, that isn't "racist".
More power to Anonymous!