For much of my professional career as a practicing clinical psychologist, I have articulated a sincere and explicit sentiment with virtually every adult female client and, usually by the end of the first session, that within the context of our professional relationship, “I am not a man but a doctor!”
My reason has been to continually remind myself of what I will never know, as a man, about being female in the world!
I am often fond of saying that “men live in the world of men but women live in the world of women and they must also live in the world of men!”
There is a chilling line in the movie, The Color Purple in which, to heavily paraphrase, Sofia alleges “womenfolk can never be safe in the world of men.”
Consequently, women must always be on-guard and ever-vigilant against men who may threaten, harm or kill them!
I do not subscribe to the generalized “male-bashing” in the media which seemed to be so prevalent during the last decade or so.
Just as there many fine and wonderful women, and, contrary to the male-bashers, “a good man” is NOT an oxymoron!
If you look hard enough, you soon discover that there are good people everywhere... and, always, some who aren’t.
But the fact of the matter is that women not only have to cooperate and compete with other women for available men, they also need to know how to navigate their way in the world of men in order to survive and to thrive...
... Because women are women, they are not men and can never be men and are not supposed to be men!
Early in my career, I was interviewed on the radio by well-known Chicagoland talk-show personality. The topic was about whether or not men and women were really all that different from one another apart from their biology.
The Zeitgeist of those times seemed to favor men who fawningly aligned themselves with assertive women and agreed that there were no compelling differences between a man or a woman except for anatomy and physiology.
I suspect the point was to influence the male idea of what it meant to be a female in our society from “wife and mother” or “the little lady” or “nurse, teacher or secretary” to “she can do anything I can do (and maybe better)!”
The interviewer asked if I thought apart from human sexuality, men and women were different and I answered with an assiduously sophomoric “No.”
Fortunately, I have had many good women in my life who mentored me well and I never even realized it at the time (with apologies to Gilgamesh).
Men and women are NOT the same and are NOT supposed to be the same!
We ARE supposed to learn from one another, respect each other, and collaborate above-board and always in earnest.
I think that men and women, BECAUSE of their biology, necessarily have very different challenges in life to meet.
The moment a female is capable of reproduction, her psychology, sociology, and self-concept are permanently altered.
In that moment, she becomes a possible bearer of the promise and potential for new life and new hope in the world.
Although she may still be a child, herself, knowing she can incubate new life orients her to a new respect for all life!
“Sugar and spice and all things nice” gives way to a female needing to test every relationship for safety no matter how big and strong and capable she may be, even, when favorably compared and contrasted to any man.
I recall speaking with an experienced female police officer who taught martial arts as a black belt with a special focus upon instructing children about “Stranger Danger.” When she learned I was doctor of psychology and a fellow black belt, she shared an anecdote about how she had been “recently mugged and I froze just like a girl!” at which point I, respectfully, reminded her she was a “girl” and she thanked me for my understanding and then she began to softly cry.
Clearly she was not a “girl’ but an accomplished law enforcement professional and a skilled martial artist who, as a woman, had both worked with men and also had successfully competed against men frequently prevailing more often than not, yet, while any person—male or female—might freeze during a robbery, she experienced herself, a la Sofia from The Color Purple, as a “womenfolk (who) can never be safe in the world of men,” at least until she re-empowered herself by giving voice to her experience and, thereby, authenticating her lived truth.
Another time, I recall meeting my wife for a late lunch during late autumn, at a restaurant we had not visited previously, while there was still daylight. By the time we finished our meal, the sky had darkened and as she approached the vehicle, I couldn’t help but notice she performed a cursory inspection under the car and into the back and front seats before entering.
Having never observed this strange behavior before in my wife, I inquired what prompted these specific vehicular approach behaviors at which point she replied in a moderately serious tone “if you were a woman, you would know!”
Of course, I couldn’t have possibly have known because, quite frankly, the thought of someone hiding under my car, or in it, to cause me harm has never been even a remote concern in my consciousness because of the fact that I am not a woman, rather, I am a man!
Throughout the course of my career, there would usually be an occasional female client who would attempt to sexualize the therapeutic relationship in an effort to test its authentic boundaries and to ensure it was a truly safe vehicle within which, and through which, healthy communications could responsibly occur. By me “passing the test,” the siren call of these tantalizing Circes, almost always, one-by-one, their deepest, darkest truths would be revealed, as they would “bear witness” to some aspect of their pain and suffering and then, they could begin to heal.
However, if “I am not a man but a doctor!” and the client is not there for me but, rather, my purpose is to be there for her, in the professionally, legally and morally right way that any reasonable recipient of services would want of their mental health or mentoring service provider to be there for them, then it really gets very simple, very quickly so long as...
... “I’m not a man but a doctor!”
Author Note: Dr. Larry B. Gelman is a Clinical Psychologist and a Personal Mentor
© 2016 Northern Illinois Counseling Associates, P.C. (NICA), Personal Mentoring Services (PMS)
Dr. Larry B. Gelman, Dr. Glenn B. Gelman, All Rights Reserved.