Jan.s: Jutta and I became friends via a small weekly meditation group... gravitated towards each other although our backgrounds appeared at first vastly different. Then slowly it began to dawn on me that we have more in common that I had imagined. Jutta and I share a love of writing; we are errant travellers on a similar path.
For example, I soon discovered that Jutta had fearlessly sailed the high seas on a small yacht, whilst I, at the same time, happily feasted at the Captain's table singing my way around the world, notably on the Oriana to San Francisco. We were two feisty women in the 1960's heading off on a wild adventure or two!
I got to know Jutta well when she asked me for help in editing her first book, an adventure/ memoir of her sailing-the-world adventure (still out there looking for a publisher). When I invited Jutta to contribute to bentenlaughing I suggested that she talk about the second book she is writing.
I love her contribution; it’s great to see the age old man/ woman relationship revisited in a different light… its always good to meet up with her in the silent spaces of meditation and for chats over coffee…
Jutta: I love our coffee chats too, sitting in a lovely Blue Mountains café and yes, occasionally we bitch about the beastliness of the men in our lives…but oh how we love them.
I am a psychotherapist, which instantly sets me apart. The idea that therapists have laser vision that lets them look inside people and know them better than they know themselves is alive and well. This is good in one way, I get no shoptalk at parties, none of the questions that doctors or horse whisperers might get, but bad in other ways. It puts me in a box I don’t inhabit and, worse, it gives therapy a reputation it doesn’t deserve.
Movies and popular media haven’t helped, often depicting therapy as comedy, tongue in cheek, a bit of truth and a lot of laughter. I am not surprised, movies need to wrap everything up in a couple of hours and therapy can be an excruciatingly slow process. One tear rolling down Jack’s face, a man who has never cried would look pretty tame on camera, yet his inner turmoil could be the equivalent of a tidal wave.
So here is my long-winded definition of therapy: I see it as two people walking together. As the therapist I am familiar with the territory; guide but don’t lead, and over time my clients come to see themselves as normal, vulnerable, sometimes angry sometimes loving people. Perfection is for the gods, somewhere over the rainbow… That’s how it is; and of course the world is still an unfair place. Their families still don’t understand them, their antagonists are still irritating, but with me pointing out the terrain, opening cupboards and lifting floorboards and putting a spotlight here or there they became more courageous, able to continue on their path without me.
Most therapists enter the field because they have the desire and the curiosity to figure out what makes them tick; and usually ‘tick’ badly. Some end up Jungians, others prefer a straight cognitive approach; my ‘thing’ is somatic therapy, a discipline that includes working with the body. I have walked the road, reached the point of accepting my goodness/badness/imperfection and lately, surprisingly, I feel qualified enough to write a book on my favourite topic: male/female relationships with a working subtitle along the lines of: this is not a self-help book but it might help.
Writing this book has been brewing for a while, possibly since millions of readers embraced the ridiculous notion that Men are from Mars… etc. A catchy title but it’s hardly helpful to put couples on different planets. Men are from earth and women are from earth and that’s obviously the place to sort out the mess we’re in.
The topic of relationship is huge – a third of Australian marriage end in divorce - but I will be bold and offer a few insights gleaned from my work and my personal journey. I am a big picture person, tend to look for trends and changes, and what seems to stand out most is the huge power shift between men and women. Putting cracks in the glass ceiling and outnumbering men in universities has given women independence and the freedom to make demands. I love it and totally agree that this is women’s right. Unfortunately, as with all things overdue, the force of opposing unbearable situations tends to swing the pendulum too far in the other direction.
I am suggesting that this has happened in couple relationships. Women have a voice now, much more than their mothers or grandmothers ever had. They are no longer afraid to ask of their partners to be helpful, sensitive, romantic, tuned in and emotionally available. Happily this is working for some couples and I see marriages that are truer and more honest than those of previous generations. But I also see a lot of heartache when it isn’t working, where men are unwilling or unable to respond. It has been a man’s world seemingly forever; they have, after all, been undisputed head of households, breadwinners and top dog for centuries and the winds of change are unwelcome.
Its not that long ago since women were confined to drawing rooms (and kitchens) talking to each other, sharing feelings, hopes, dreams and heartaches while the men strode across the fields or sat in ‘men only’ pubs and clubs. Women have had centuries of practice becoming comfortable in the world of feelings. Men haven’t and the imbalance is evident today. My informal horseback survey suggests that around 85% of psychotherapists are women, and that 85% of their clients are also women.
We might argue that its time for the men to wake up to the twenty-first century and pull up their socks but that doesn’t seem to be happening. Instead they’ve banded together in outward-bound adventures, drumming workshops and in their favourite drinking holes to shore up their injured manliness. At best, as far as I can make out, such gatherings are an honest attempt to connect to their feelings; at worst, they are a mutual adulation club. The fact that men are supporting each other through changing times is fantastic but also runs the danger of polarising things further still.
I do not wish to stop the winds of change (keep cracking the ceiling sisters) but believe that education and dialogue can help change situations. Women and men tell me it’s not a whole lot of fun to be single (that’s not mentioning the children of divorcees) and it may be time to ask what might bridge the gap. And my feeling is that it may once again be up to women.
I want to tell of an insight I gained from an Aboriginal lecturer I heard speak at my university. She explained that the injustices levelled at Aboriginals by Western dominance have demoralised the men more than the women, have almost completely destroyed their pride and self-hood. This calm and wonderful woman didn’t say look at the silly buggers and aren’t we women doing well but calmly explained how the women in her community held the fort and helped the men get back on their feet. I think of her when I see the faces of women elders and hear them speak out on television.
The example is a fleeting analogy, an exaggeration to make a point. To show that it's not about men or women, but about building working relationships and communities in a world that has exploded around us. The men I see in therapy are neither destroyed nor demoralised, some have rough trots as single dads with few real rights, many are confused (what the hell does she want from me) and others are downright stubborn (why give up a comfortable position). But I have also noticed something that many women steadfastly deny: that men have feelings, painful feelings, deep feelings and big hearts, that they do want to be close to their women; many simply don’t know how to, don’t speak the language.
Privately (obviously not in my work) I’ve ended relationships with the ‘stubborn’ variety of male, righteous arrogant men who refuse to ‘get it’. Life is short and sometimes enough is enough. Examining the male psyche, one admittedly male author suggests that women might need a little more patience. Could be another excuse, yet I half agree with him. I see many women fed up with playing the designated female role again and again, mediating, reconciling, bringing together. Personally I quite enjoy being female along with my capacity for feelings and empathy. I like talking about matters of the heart, having ‘deep and meaningful’ conversations and I’ve met few men who have refused a little coaching in that department.
Okay, sometimes the road is rocky and I do get fed up, but then I remind myself that soft peaches are not necessarily superior to hard green apples; men and women we are different, full stop, and isn’t that good. Another remedy is to ring my ‘peachy’ friend Janice… hi … time for a coffee?
In Defence of the Male Species: & photos: Jutta J Townes (copyright 2010)