Years ago, when I was a newly appointed Education Director, I overheard our receptionist asking a caller if he would prefer a male or female therapist. After the call, I inquired why on earth we were asking that question of our clinic clients?!? She told me that, in the past, we have had clients become upset to find out that they were assigned a male therapist. So, to avoid confrontation at the clinic check-in desk, we were asking people ahead of time. And, what was the effect of that question? We had male therapists standing around without clients. Well, since the student clinic is an educational clinic, I took the opportunity to make it educational for the clients as well. We stopped asking that question. We educated our clients about the benefits of massage therapy. We supported our male students as well as our female students to receive appropriate practice time. We were okay with the fact that some clients were not happy and chose to go elsewhere for their treatments.
But this utopian fantasy of mine to have everything be equal was not helping my new male therapists get jobs back then, and it’s still difficult for new therapists today. Because, even though it is illegal for clinics to discriminate on the basis of sex in the hiring process, it’s happening folks. I still hear clinics say they aren’t looking for male therapists. I still hear clients ask for female therapists.
Touch: Sex vs. Intimacy
I believe it’s important for every massage therapy program out there to educate future therapists about the difference between sex and intimacy. People growing up in the United States DO NOT learn this. Our culture traditionally doesn’t recognize the importance of healthy touch. For a really great discussion on touch, read Deane Juhan’s piece on Touching Upon Touch. There is also a whole chapter on this subject in The Ethics of Touch by Ben Benjamin and Cherie Sohnen-Moe.
But it’s not all up to the schools. There are over 300,000 of us licensed massage therapists in the U.S. (wow!), and we can do a lot to educate our clients about healthy touch, whether we are male or female. The more we can help the public understand that massage is about the therapy not the sex or gender of the therapist, the farther we can remove ourselves from detrimental sex industry associations and the closer we get to wellness care.
Back to the Male Therapist
In the meantime, are there resources out there for the male therapist, specifically? We all need help building our practice, whether we are an employee or an independent practitioner, but there are additional obstacles that the male therapist faces:
- Sexual Stereotyping
- Gender Bias of Safe, Nurturing Touch
- Employment Expectations
- Trauma Survivor Issues
What’s happening out there? I’m sure many of you reading this are male therapists, and since I’m not one, I’m curious how these factors are affecting your practice (if at all)? How are you overcoming any or all of these obstacles… and can these obstacles become opportunities to reach your target markets?
I know there are resources out there that support the success of male therapists, like the website Male Massage Therapist. If you know of any additional resources, please share them with our readers in the comments section below…
Great article Deanna, and being in the Bodywork field the last 36 years, I have been blessed to meet, learn from and work with wonderful therapists, men and women. It is powerful for people to experience working with male and female therapists and discover what it brings up in themselves, and learn from this, so they can move forward in their lives.
People need to understand that we are therapists, we are educated and committed to offering services that greatly contribute to our health and wellbeing.
As women, we have experienced inequality on many levels in many areas, we want that to change. As a woman, I support male and female therapists working today., its time to bring gender equality to the field of Massage Therapy, it is 2015!
Thanks for your comments, Antonia. I agree!
Thank you for your thoughtful article, I’ve been a massage therapist for 18 years and my gender still has an effect on my annual bottom line. I estimate my annual earnings are between $5-8,000 lower every year due to gender preference.
I appreciate how a female client might feel unsafe with a male therapist, I find that over time women sometimes will migrate to my schedule after seeing me in the office. I am also aware the female therapists sometimes experience sexual harassment that male therapists do not contend with.
I hope your article encourages conversations about the issues facing massage therapists.
Justin, thank you so much for commenting here. I also hope for more conversation about all the various issues facing practitioners today.
*Challenge: As an employee in a 5-Star, 5-Diamond resort, I was always ‘fighting’ with management about their phone scripts – “would you like a Male or Female therapist?”
*Solution? Names like Chris and Pat are subject to misinterpretation as to the actual gender of Chris when the name is said on the phone during that appointment dialogue, but Saying The Name of the therapist the customer is being booked with often sends a flag up for the customer to *make a gender request, if there is indeed a customer preference.
*Solution? Another way I would secure my genderless intent was to hang out with the call center staff, educate them when possible – ask them questions about massage. It also gives the operators language to repeat on the phone when a massage therapist says how awesome the Sports massage is that the customer is about to book.
**Challenge: Bolstering your reputation at the place of employment (on online in reviews, for independents) is a great way to take down walls for customers on the fence [and often get that undue gender-prompting from an employee] about your being a ‘woman-therapist’ or ‘man giving me a massage’ by enabling the call center operator or front desk agent to recommend you.
**Solution? One of the ways everyone got to know me as an LMT was that I offered a reward program to management that I was willing to participate in: massage for staff – no cost: I was getting my hands on everyone in the spa, which created reputation.
**Solution? Also: low-cost employee massages: again, many took advantage…and I was increasing my viability as a male massage therapist, not only in the spa but in other areas of the hotel property – believe me: employees, no matter where they work in the company, will make referrals to you if they like and TRUST you.
Bottom line: it’s not okay for a therapist or employer to discriminate – by asking or assigning – ethically or legally [for employers]. BUT when there is a sense from the customer/client that only the therapist/employee can detect of “no freakin’ way”, then it is time to fulfill the client’s preference.
One last way I would suggest overcoming gender discrimination is – accept it. I know that sounds like the behavior of a doormat, but in as many years as I have been practicing (over 8,000 sessions), I’ve had as many potential clients refuse my pairing with them – about 1 in 1,000 occasions where the client is not yet ready (or may never be ready) to work with a male therapist is Not Worth Getting Upset About. Perception is everything, and, in a professional environment, I choose to not take a gender preference personally: there are PLENTY of clients out there that are willing to get massage from me 🙂
David, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and SOLUTIONS! I believe your points here will be immediately helpful to male (and female) therapists out there looking for successful approaches. Thank you!
“Not Worth Getting Upset About. Perception is everything, and, in a professional environment, I choose to not take a gender preference personally: there are PLENTY of clients out there that are willing to get massage from me :)” – everything you wrote was excellent, David
It’s amazing that as soon as I started telling myself that same exact thing a few years ago, more clients were willing and eager to book with me. I teach all my students this, and expand it to more than just gender preference.