The ‘Fells & Dales’ network of accredited counsellors met on 10th Sept. to reflect on the subject of gender and particularly male-ness and masculinity. A catalyst for our discussions was Catherine Jackson’s article entitled ‘Sometimes it’s hard to be a man’ in Therapy Today (July/August 2021, Vol. 32, Issue 6), and Chapter 8 ‘Discovering our emotional needs’ in John Gray’s classic text ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ (Harper Collins 1992).
We shared something of our own upbringings and experiences of being expected to comply with the stereotypical societal roles assigned to men/boys and women/girls, and noted how perceptions have changed within the past generation – how much more accepting people generally are today, of feminine qualities in men and vice versa, and of diversity of sexuality.
We spoke of the difficulties some male clients have in accessing and naming feelings, and of the need for therapists to work with ‘what is’ but maybe to find another language that is meaningful to men, but which still enables them to contact emotion and to feel safe enough to be vulnerable. As quoted in the TT article, ‘emotions… exist so we can connect with what we need.’ It was noted that there can be an ambivalence around men seeking counselling, in that they are often looking for solutions, or tools to ‘fix’ their problem, and yet they might need to believe that they achieved what they came for but without any help from us! We also noted the predominance of male compared with female suicides, and the association with shame, e.g. the belief that “I’m not man enough to survive.”
We spent some time debating the sensitivities associated with pronouns, and the risks of quite unknowingly causing offence in the current ‘non-binary’ world.
For further reading: James O’Brien’s ‘How not to be wrong – The art of changing your mind’ (Penguin, 2020)
In chapter 1 O’Brien describes how he grew up with, and fully believed, ‘‘It never did me any harm” (corporal punishment etc.), until he allowed himself to ask “Or did it?!”