Seeing female as the "normal" gender.

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joshuatenpenny
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Seeing female as the "normal" gender.

Post by joshuatenpenny » Tue Sep 02, 2008 2:38 pm

One of the interesting things I've noticed about primarily female bodywork environments is that there is this subtle sense of female being "normal" and men being described in terms of gender. In many situations in the "outside world" you find the reverse. Information relevant to men is often presented without reference to gender, and then information relevant to women is prefaced with "and for women..." (Please do not interpret any of this as complaining. I actually find it fascinating and enlightening to see how the subtle forms of sexism look from the other side.)

In my massage classes, we had three men in the class and twelve women. There was a default assumption that normal human beings have breasts and minimal body hair, and bodies that have substantial body hair and do not have breasts are special circumstances. No one came out and said it like that, but the idea was definitely there. So of course you need a breast drape to work on the abdomen. Of course DT work on the chest will generally stop just above the nipple line. Of course a tiny amount of lubricant will be sufficient for this DT maneuver. If an issue regarding the applicability to men comes up, it is a special case which causes you to modify your normal technique.

My shiatsu program is the same way. Even though more than half of the students in my class are men, the teachers are all women and are accustomed to primarily or exclusively female students. So of course you won't start working the pericardium meridian at the beginning, because it is 1" lateral to the nipple, and that would be too invasive. Of course menstrual cramps are listed without reference to gender, but erectile dysfunction is prefaced with "in men". Of course you can can cross the client's leg over their body and push it down like this. (I can't describe this maneuver clearly, but it can be a real testicle crusher depending on how things are situated.)

I think that experiencing this sort of thing has the potential to open up a lot of men's minds about how this works in most of the rest of society. If I was facing serious job discrimination I might feel differently about this, but since it is mostly small things I just find it a fascinating change of perspective on normative gender roles. In college I read a few books that played with this perspective ("Egalia's Daughters" is one) but seeing it in real life is interesting.

-- Joshua

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Post by riversinger » Tue Sep 02, 2008 7:50 pm

I have to say as a female, it's interesting to read of your experience & how it has affected your awareness. I have to agree that you are absolutely correct as to the large role which women fill in the bodywork field. It has always seemed, to me at least, that this is in many ways a renewal of what used to be accepted as normal, when women were traditionally in the role of being the healers or wise women.

Since those times, women's roles in the healing arts were largely taken over by men, in the arena of modern medicine & science. The field of alternative medicine, health & wellness has expanded our opportunities, while it has also attracted men who have the ability to go beyond the usual cut & dried approach to caring for others.

Men in this field need to have the discernment to know how to touch another person, in a way which is coming from a place of compassion, gentleness & integrity. All the while honoring the sacred nature of this work, and bringing with it, the knowledge that the individual must heal themselves, & that we as practitioners are there to help facilitate the process.
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Post by Highlander » Wed Sep 03, 2008 8:03 am

An interesting topic. It reminds me of an incident during my student clinic days. One day during a review session to prepare us for working with the public, our clinic supervisor mentioned that often we can fall into the habit of thinking of our male clients as "simply small chested women." This brought out a good laugh from our group. I stopped smiling when I figured out what he was really trying to tell us. I realized that on the occasional man I massaged, I would keep the drape well up over the chest and only work the upper pecs, just as I do a woman. Was this an attempt to keep the man warm or just a subconscious habit that I had formed from working on so many women. :undecided:

This was an eye opener for me. :shock: I realized that even work that we love (massage) can become routine. We often do what works for us because it has worked before. It was also a big reminder to me to attempt to see every client as an individual. A very important lesson I took from clinic out into practice with me. :)

I still do not see many male clients, but when I do I now will take a minute or so just before the massage to remind myself that this person is different, a male with possibly very different needs than a woman client.

As for being a man in a (predominantly) woman's field; I don't mind. I love the work. You have to work a little harder to get clients and there sometimes is a little discrimination (I could tell you stories! ;) ) but nothing I can't handle and nothing that women haven't dealt with in male dominated professions for decades.

Wouldn't mind having a few more clients but otherwise I'm satisfied. :D

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Post by cstbrian » Wed Sep 03, 2008 11:53 am

Highlander wrote:I realized that on the occasional man I massaged, I would keep the drape well up over the chest and only work the upper pecs, just as I do a woman.
This reminded me that in school, we were required to drape a male's chest in the same way we would drape a female to do abdominal work. Yup! The same way! Nipples were to never be exposed.

It wasn't until I got out of school and was working with my mentor that she showed me how she works on a full male torso, draped from the waist down.

Anyone else have this?
Brian

"Life isn't about finding yourself ... life is about creating yourself." George Bernard Shaw
"When we try to control that which is out of our control, we become an incredibly anxiety prone society." Dr. John Upledger

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Breathe
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Post by Breathe » Wed Sep 03, 2008 5:00 pm

cstbrian wrote: This reminded me that in school, we were required to drape a male's chest in the same way we would drape a female to do abdominal work. Yup! The same way! Nipples were to never be exposed.

It wasn't until I got out of school and was working with my mentor that she showed me how she works on a full male torso, draped from the waist down.

Anyone else have this?
Yes, we were taught the same thing. However, for men, I generally drape to the ribcage anyways, instead of exposing the whole torso. Why? Because many men on my table will suck their bellies in then entire time they are supine, unless I drape to the ribcage. If their bellies are covered, then they relax more easily.

ymmv
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EgoMagickian
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Post by EgoMagickian » Thu Sep 04, 2008 1:22 am

That's so interesting, breathe. I have not seen the same behavior in my clients... but I'm fascinated by the self-consciousness you describe.

There are different opinions on draping mens' chests. I know female therapists who consider it an important part of their boundary & tone setting to drape the chest while working on the stomach. And of course, others don't.

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cstbrian
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Post by cstbrian » Thu Sep 04, 2008 4:57 am

Breathe wrote:Yes, we were taught the same thing. However, for men, I generally drape to the ribcage anyways, instead of exposing the whole torso. Why? Because many men on my table will suck their bellies in then entire time they are supine, unless I drape to the ribcage. If their bellies are covered, then they relax more easily.
Oops ... let me clarify. I don't drape to the waist and then keep it like that. I drape to the waist for abdominal and rib cage work. Then I re-drape the abdomen to work the chest, shoulders, and neck. (I hadn't thought about the relaxation aspect of that before. I've always re-draped to keep the core warm.)

But in school, we never even had the option to try working the entire chest and rib cage on a male. I can't imagine any program falling apart for teaching how to work an undraped male torso.

Why do you think schools do this?
Brian

"Life isn't about finding yourself ... life is about creating yourself." George Bernard Shaw
"When we try to control that which is out of our control, we become an incredibly anxiety prone society." Dr. John Upledger

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AngEngland
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Post by AngEngland » Thu Sep 04, 2008 5:18 am

Breathe wrote:
cstbrian wrote: This reminded me that in school, we were required to drape a male's chest in the same way we would drape a female to do abdominal work. Yup! The same way! Nipples were to never be exposed.

It wasn't until I got out of school and was working with my mentor that she showed me how she works on a full male torso, draped from the waist down.

Anyone else have this?
Yes, we were taught the same thing. However, for men, I generally drape to the ribcage anyways, instead of exposing the whole torso. Why? Because many men on my table will suck their bellies in then entire time they are supine, unless I drape to the ribcage. If their bellies are covered, then they relax more easily.

ymmv
Ha ha ha! YEP!

When I understood less about reading a client's body language while doing deep work I found my male clients would never say the pressure was too much. I'd check in, "Are you doing ok?" *groan of agony* "Yep - this is great" *snort*

Yeah ok - so I'm come a long way in 8 years. hehehehe

Angela <><

joshuatenpenny
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Post by joshuatenpenny » Thu Sep 04, 2008 8:16 pm

AngEngland wrote: When I understood less about reading a client's body language while doing deep work I found my male clients would never say the pressure was too much. I'd check in, "Are you doing ok?" *groan of agony* "Yep - this is great" *snort*
*laugh* The trick is to ask - "Would you like me to use more pressure than that?" Then they can say "No *groan* that's fine." or "Uh... sure... a little more..." Any less than enthusiastic response and I back off a little.

Because every once in a while I'll mistake the good-pain groaning for the bad-pain groaning (especially when they are face down). Those guys respond with an unmistakably enthusiastic, "Oh yeah! Dig right in there!"

-- Joshua

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Post by shivashiva » Thu Sep 04, 2008 9:18 pm

cstbrian wrote:
But in school, we never even had the option to try working the entire chest and rib cage on a male. I can't imagine any program falling apart for teaching how to work an undraped male torso.

Why do you think schools do this?
In both my original massage school training, and later my Ayurvedic massage training there was more of a European attitude about draping. Females were asked "would you like a drape for your breasts?" and because as a class we were focused on techniques, almost unanimously women replied "no."

I was taught in western work to do pretty much the same thing to males and females. If females wanted a drape, we'd just use small towel (or large for larger women) for the breasts and go right up as close as we could without massaging "breast tissue." Or a woman could wear a bra, which can easily be worked around.

In ayurvedic massage it was much more liberal, massaging pretty much the entire breast except the nipple. We wouldn't focus on the breast, but we'd treat the breast, except the nipple, just like any other tissue. For instance, petrissage on the breast was not taught, but effluerage strokes that went from the belly, up the sternum and the axilla/shoulder area at the same time, and back again, were common. No effort was made to avoid breast tissue. These strokes were taught exactly the same for male and female clients.

I understand this is not the most common way of learning, but it does happen in this country. In general, the Western view of breasts is quite sexualized. I found in the trainings where we treated the breasts like any other part of the body, people become comfortable working with them very quickly.

I guess I've hijacked a little. Even in the ayurvedic trainings where we did full torso work for both males and females, we were still supposed to ask all our clients if it was okay if we undraped their chest, or did they want a drape. Even though it seemed kind of ridiculous to be asking our male clients this. My guess was that this was done to be "equal" or fair, even if it didn't quite fit common sense. This is the only reason I can think of that schools would refrain from teaching undraped male torso massage.

I also drape a male client's torso for warmth. I make no effort to make sure the drape is pulled past their nipples, but frequently that is the case just from habit.

Now that I think about it, in school when we were taught swedish, the teacher just massaged right over her demo male client's nipples, which I did think was too much.
Shiva
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