I’m in the process of getting my massage license in Washington state. Since I originally had my license in another state I never took the national test (MBLEx) and went to take it today. It dragged up a lot of memories of massage school. One thing I remembered is that there were only three men in my graduating class, and about 7 times that many women (the opposite ratio of my engineering school). I don’t know where those men are today, I can’t help but think that massage therapy is probably one of the most difficult professions for men to make into a viable career.
Massage therapy is based in touch, and while it’s socially acceptable and appropriate for women to touch whomever (men/women/children) in a care-taking manner, most touch by a man is viewed as sexual or a competition. While the woman-handshake in work settings can become awkward, so too can the man-hug become awkward in almost any situation. Handshake turned half-hug anyone?
Recently men in the Netherlands started photographing themselves holding hands with other men to protest anti-gay violence. (Ok, maybe not so recently given that I originally wrote this blog a month ago then my life became overrun by home renovations. Anyway…) Hand holding is not owned by women, or children, or the LGBT community. It seems to me that this protest has a second unintended consequence…. of hopefully normalizing the image of men holding hands. The more we see it, the less we think of it as something odd, the less we think of it as odd the more willing we are to accept that men can touch whomever for reasons other than sex or dominion.
So… massage therapy. The worry I hear from some women on why they don’t want a male therapist is that they’re already feeling exposed, being in only underwear or nude, on a massage table. Men are threatening by social expectation and size, add the social expectation that men tend to touch for sexual or competitive reasons and you have a situation where many women are unable to relax. And who wants to walk out of a massage saying “WOW my muscles feel awesome even though I wasn’t able to relax!”?
The double whammy for male massage therapists is that some men don’t want to go to one for the same reasons as the women… they’re feeling exposed and assign the same social expectations to male touch. Because of these social expectations some men receiving massage have difficulty distinguishing between arousing and caring touch themselves, which can lead to even more confusion and uncertainty. And so male therapists are left with few male clients, and few female clients… which does not a career make.
Do you agree or disagree with the limitations I see on male touch? And what other careers are tough for men to break into? (I’d love to hear from you in the comments!)