First of all, sexism is a result of cultural behaviours of both men AND women. This is a reflection of my opinions and experience with a health professional and as a health professional myself, thought it was important to share.
Whilst gender roles have evolved and progressed over past generations, it still plays a role in my day to day life. I was trying to explain this to a male psychologist recently. To many men, particularly of the older age groups, they first and foremost see me as a woman. As opposed to the multi-faceting human being I am.
To his credit the psychologist was explaining how he didn’t understand my experience because in his mind he saw everyone as just a human (non-gendered). To further re-iterate my point, I explained some of the comments said to me throughout my career. These include; being referred to by male patients as ‘their girlfriend’ or asked if I have a partner even though I have introduced myself as a health professional. More personal remarks include, “You have a great face, great figure but as soon as you open your mouth I know you’re never getting married” or “Your very pretty but you use too many big words”. (Yes more than one male patient has said these things to me and the male stereotypes screaming through these remarks also sadden me).
The psychologist first said, “It sounds like these men are just trying to give you a compliment, why does it feel threatening?” I explained how tone and context make these remarks feel intrusive. Whilst mobilising the hip joint, “Let’s move this to another bed”, whilst rotating a patient’s torso, “This is the closest a pretty girl has got to me in a long time” or the man who started removing all his clothes before I had even finished asking why he had come to physio.
The psychologist, whilst shocked by my experiences then countered, “Perhaps it’s the industry because you work in a physical way with men. They are likely uncomfortable so say the most obvious thing to ‘clear the air’ and really do just think it’s just a compliment.” I’m sure they do but I never asked for their opinion or observation I’m just trying to do my job. By making a comment I feel unsafe and not respected in my workplace which makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable.
The thing is men have been told their opinion matters, what they have to say is always valued no matter if no one asked. They have the physical size advantage and society has re-enforced they are in a position of power no matter the relationship context. To the feelings of lack of safety. The psychologist countered, “I could understand feeling unsafe if you were in a dark alley outnumbered by a group of men but in your workplace you are in control and ‘safe’”. This shows even an educated, compassionate man lacks insight into many of the stories of the ‘me too’ movement.
Most people who have experienced sexual assault know the perpetrator, often having been groomed in the process to feel like this person was ‘safe’ and worthy of trust. This psychologist valued my insights and particularly how he would apply it to raising his daughter.
This is part of the problem. It shouldn’t just educate us on how to raise our daughters that’s kind of missing the point. It’s about how to raise our sons to understand context, conscious consent, respecting boundaries and a healthy appreciation for women as multi-faceted human beings. AND raising our daughters to speak their truth and firmly lay down boundaries. It’s not enough to tell them “It’s not your responsibility how someone reacts to your body” we have to demonstrate how to protect their safety.
I accept the role I have played in not firmly expressing, my physical appearance and personal life is off limits in the context of a professional relationship. Instead simply pleading with them, I’m just trying to do my job.”
I haven’t had the pleasure of becoming a parent and already imagine it is the toughest job. However, we as a greater culture and community, man, woman or non-binary have a duty to ensure each individual is treated with respect and kindness. I don’t have all of the answers by a long shot but in my work in hypnotherapy awareness is a great place to start.
So please share with me your experience man, woman, non-binary with your ideas on how to demonstrate boundaries because I for one would love to continue the conversation.
Take this moment to care for yourself. All of us need a little help sometimes! Together we will get through this.
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