In a recent workshop on Overcoming Oppression, we looked at the phenomenon of Male Oppression. (I know, what’s that?) Well, it opened my eyes and heart to how boys get systematically toughened up and cheated out of the pleasure. In my world, the marvelous, restorative pleasure of massage. 

It answered some puzzling male trends in the bodywork world: 

  1. Men won’t get massage. Ladies often struggle with their men’s refusal to come for a massage, even when suffering severe work stress or physical injury. “I don’t know why he won’t come. He desperately needs it.”
  2. Men request “super deep pressure,” “rip me apart.”  This week at the Warriors a client asked “who wants to hurt me most?” when deciding which therapist to work with. No lie.

Let me jump back to 2002, when I was a freshly minted therapist.  I had the honor of meeting Joani Blank, cofounder of Good Vibrations and long-time massage therapist. She broke my brain schooling us on men’s discomfort in receiving pleasure. Whuh?!? She described men’s freak out if massage “felt good.” It floored me, but I soon encountered it myself. Men have even used the word ’emasculated’ about enjoying a massage. Sometimes I sense men envision me as a mechanic and themselves as a car, with repairs to accomplish in this session.  

What is Men’s Oppression?

“Man up.” “Grow a pair.” “No pain, no gain.” Sound familiar? Our society acculturates men to ignore sensations and sacrifice their bodies to pain, violence, and warfare. Personal worth is justified by constant achievement. Sleep is a waste of time for losers. 

That stops on my massage table.

The Interchange Counseling workshop on Oppression suggested some keys to being an ally to men: 

  • offer patience and gentleness
  • encourage rest
  • remember that ‘toughness’ is often a front

Since participating in the workshop, I’ve noticed my hands transforming into “grandmother hands,” conveying a message of “you sweet darling boy” as I’m working. Sometimes visions arise of the little 5 year old that once was this 40 year old. Adorable! 

I’m reeling back the “fix-it,” mechanical mind-set. (Although you all know how I love precision and getting into those knooks-n-crannies) Resisting the urge to prove session achievements to men — demonstrate increased range of motion, improved performance, etc – is a tricky one for me. Instead now I’m phrasing it to men “Does this shoulder feel easier? Is that hip more comfortable now?”  Encouraging feeling over goal attainment.

PS. I DO give male clients heavy pressure, sometimes walking on them, so they feel satisfied that their request has been heard. (I also walk on ladies and get therapists to walk on me. That delicious, heavy contact will calm your mind down, pronto!) But then I’m slowing way down, taking gobs of time, with nowhere to go, to foster deep relaxation and sheer enjoyment. Giving rise (hopefully) to a profound sense of: “I am loveable, as is.”

You, too, deserve rest.
You, too, deserve pleasure.