Both women and men have issues that are specific to their genders. While it’s unclear how much of who we are as men and women is related to biology and how much is related to culture, there is no doubt that men and women do have different cultures, with different norms, expectations, taboos, and means for keeping “rule-breakers” in line. Learning to live an authentic life often means exploring and challenging gendered cultural norms. Because our self-identity as male or female is typically our strongest identity factor, exploring and challenging these norms can be particularly unsettling. However, in our socialization as male or female, we often sacrifice qualities that are our birthrights. For example, a woman might squash her anger or competitiveness, and a man might squash his vulnerability. I work with clients to help the reclaim all the qualities that are available to them.
Working with gender issues also means I work with people who are confused and/or conflicted about their gender identity or those whose gender identity does not match their biological identity.
Because women are still second-class citizens, issues that women face are typically around power, equality, and worth. We also tend to have more issues surrounding weight as, for women, society strongly attaches a woman’s physical appearance to her worth as a human being. For straight women, power dynamics may more intensely arise in partnership, as straight women are in relationship with men, who hold more of the societal power. Also, because our biology allows us to connect more deeply with our emotions and in our relationships, we often have a different need around emotional expression and regulation and relationship satisfaction.
While men do have biologically based differences in how they tend to experience the world, much of men’s differences are also culturally mediated. Men’s issues tend to be around getting comfortable with both feeling and expressing vulnerability. Bill Burr, a comedian addresses this in his comedy piece (adult content) that speaks to the training that men receive when their natural impulse for tenderness arises. Watching the full program is actually quite tender underneath as his routine is all about his struggles to be a good partner and unlearn the damaging training on how to be a man.
Men & Women
Note then when I speak to men’s and women’s issues, I often use phrasing like “tend to” and “usually.” I do this intentionally because though we may have patterns according to our particular genders, not each of us experience them. For example, men can have difficulty owning their power and women can have issues being vulnerable. The issues noted per gender above are just a small example – what is really relevant is that every issue we deal with, we deal with in a cultural norm based upon gendered expectations. For example, how do those around us perceive a stay-at-home mother vs. a stay-at-home father? Every experience we have needs to take into consideration the cultural context in which it occurs – part of that cultural context is our gender culture.