Feminist Therapy for Men: Challenging Assumptions and Moving Forward

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Ume University Library]On: 03 October 2014, At: 21:54Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Women & TherapyPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wwat20

    Feminist Therapy for Men: ChallengingAssumptions and Moving ForwardJack S. Kahn aa Curry College , Milton, MassachusettsPublished online: 11 Jan 2011.

    To cite this article: Jack S. Kahn (2010) Feminist Therapy for Men: Challenging Assumptions andMoving Forward, Women & Therapy, 34:1-2, 59-76, DOI: 10.1080/02703149.2011.532458

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  • Feminist Therapy for Men: ChallengingAssumptions and Moving Forward

    JACK S. KAHNCurry College, Milton, Massachusetts

    Feminist therapy has a unique history in counseling andpsychotherapy. This unique history has had an impact on the devel-opment of the modality which includes combining methods andideologies from diverse therapeutic frameworks while still maintain-ing a core set of principles. While intended originally for women,feminist therapy is argued here also to be a useful resource formen. The traditional masculinist perspective, assumed to be appro-priate for men, is argued to not address diverse experiences menbring to therapy, but rather to support dominant prescriptive desiresof a patriarchal culture. Utilizing tenets from various feministtheories, this article will argue how men can benefit from feministtherapy when practitioners reject essentializing men, recognizediversity in mens gender identity, help male clients understandthe effects of normative masculine conformity and assist them inunderstanding their varying engagements with male privilege.

    KEYWORDS feminist therapy, gender identity, men, privilege

    Feminist theory has been a very influential paradigm on the practice ofcounseling and psychotherapy (Ballou, 2005; Dworkin, 1984; Enns, 2004;Finfgeld, 2001). Used in multiple disciplines all over the world, feministtherapy has had a wide impact on the overall understanding of gender andhuman behavior and the applied practice of psychology (Enns, 2004;Kahn, 2009). It has provided diverse methodologies to assist clients (a) overallempowerment, (b) problem solving, (c) behavior change and (d) their

    The author wishes to thank Lynsey Goddard, who helped with the literature review andbrainstorming for this project.

    Address correspondence to Jack S. Kahn, Curry College, Department of Psychology,Kennedy Building, South Campus, 1071 Blue Hill Avenue, Milton, MA 02186. E-mail: jkahn@curry.edu

    Women & Therapy, 34:5976, 2011Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1064-6175 print=1096-4649 onlineDOI: 10.1080/02703149.2011.532458

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  • awareness of self (Ballou, 2005; Enns, 2004). However, when discussing feministtherapy, it is not always clear what practitioners mean by feminist therapy.

    Definitions for feminist therapy can be vague and seemingly discon-nected from one another (Corey, 2005; Thomas, 1977). Rather than repre-senting a meta-theory with one particular framework, feminist therapy isan eclectic collage of diverse therapeutic theories and methods that sharecommon themes (Corey, 2009; Evans, Kincade, Marbley, & Seem, 2005).These common themes allow for diverse approaches while connecting thesemethodologies through some shared tenets.

    One common theme feminist therapies share is a presumption thatgender is a primary construct that guides identity and impacts negotiatingrelationships with others (Ballou, 2005; Good, Gilbert, & Scher, 1990;Yokoyama, 2007). Gender is also seen as something that is flexible, ratherthan determined by biology (Dworkin, 1984). Feminist therapies have tendedto focus on deconstructing the impact of gender and empowering women tolive to their potential, and to address them as equals in a safe therapeuticrelationship (Dworkin, 1984; Enns, 1987; Finfgeld, 2001; Negy & McKinney,2006; Rader & Gilbert, 2005; Thomas, 1977).

    An additional theme in the practice of feminist therapy is validating themany contextual issues that affect women. The investigation into these issuesbegan in the general consciousness-raising of the civil rights, social changeand womens movements of the late 60s and early 70s (Contratto & Rossier,2005; Evans et al., 2005; Hill, 2005). Some of the major themes beinggrappled with within the helping professions were not just borne of theoreti-cal interest, but rather came from direct experiences in womens lives. Issuessuch as racism, rape, discrimination, heterosexism, transphobia, inequality,and violence were being considered as significant issues impacting the psy-chology of women and therefore demanding new approaches to assistwomen in changing themselves and their worlds (Contratto & Rossier,2005; Hill, 2005).

    In recognizing the impact of gender and the context of womens lives,feminist therapists were largely responsible for recognizing and exploringthe psychology of women (Contratto & Rossier, 2005). This revolutionary ideasuggested that the inner worlds of women were often not known, misunder-stood, or outright neglected by mental health practitioners. In advancing thisacknowledgement and incorporating the famous Oedipal myth, Kaschak(1992) focuses on the plight of Antigone as a metaphor for the negotiationof womens psychology. Terming womens struggle as the Antigone com-plex, she explains how women in patriarchal cultures necessarily deny anddistort their own experiences and needs in order to be meet criteria forwomanhood as defined by the masculinist epistemology (Kaschak, 1992).

    A daughter in a patriarchal society, however, cannot live outside theworld of her fathers. She cannot resolve the Antigone complex as long

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  • as the world of adulthood is a mans world, as long as she is extensionof her father or some other man, as long as she is constantly subject todefinition by even strange men in public. (Kashak, 1992, p. 77)

    While men can theoretically become independent from the constraintsof their constructed boyhoods through addressing the Oedipal complex byrejecting their mother and femininity and eventually engaging in the adultworld, women by definition cannot, since under patriarchy they are alwaysin a dependent position. Prior to the emergence of feminist therapy, womenstruggling with the Antigone complex were often treated with traditionaltherapeutic modalities (and unfortunately still are) that did not recognize thiscomplex nor protest its existence. These traditional methodologies wereviewed by feminist therapists as not just ineffective, but potentially damagingto women, in blaming women for predicaments in which oppressive systemsattempt to place and define them (Contratto & Rossier, 2005; Hill 2005;Thomas, 1977).

    One of the driving forces motivating the creation of feminist therapy wasa need to address the unique and diverse psychology of women. This beganwith a questioning of the assumptions of traditional methodologies. Thisquestioning was based on a premise that psychology and other socialsciences had (a) examined theories about the nature of abnormality,(b) made claims about diagnostic categories and the results of psychologicaltesting, and (c) argued for acceptable methods of counseling through amasculinist lens that was either not acknowledged as a lens or argued to beneutral (Contratto & Rossier, 2005; Jensen, 2004; Kaschak, 1992; Lupenitz,1988; Prilleltensky, 1994; Thomas, 1977). This masculinist lens evaluateshuman behavior through the norms, expectations, values and desires ofthe masculinist paradigm (Kaschak, 1992; Lupenitz, 1988; Prilleltensky,1994; Thomas, 1977).

    Through the diverse voices of feminist practitioners, researchersand scholars, this masculinist perspective has been evaluated, critiquedand transformed, resulting in a new paradigm for feminist therapies andfeminist-influenced therapies (Contratto & Rossier, 2005; Kaschak, 1992;Thomas, 1977). These various perspectives reflect many strands of thewomens movement including: liberal, cultural, women of color, lesbian,transnational, radical, postmodern, and queer feminist contributions(Enns, 2004).

    In addition, the general premise of therapy was reconsidered as a resultof these concerns. Therapy has often been regarded as a way to cope withones own problems or the environmental aspects of ones life that makelife difficult (Kaschak, 1992; Luepnitz, 1988). The over-reliance on the medi-cal model and medication as a therapeutic method is an example of thediscipline-sanctioned enacting of that philosophy (Contratto & Rossier,2005; Kaschak, 2001). Feminist therapy turned the role of the therapist on

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  • its head by suggesting that in addition to individual change that therapistsand clients must be engaged in political activism to end social and emotionaloppression (Hill & Anderson, 2005; Thomas, 1977). In other words, socialchange must become part of the work of the feminist psychologist and theirclients (Ballou, 2005; Negy & McKinney, 2006; Thomas, 1977; Yokoyama,2007).

    As a function of these concerns (and others), feminist therapy wascreated by and understandably primarily intended for women (Evanset al., 2005). While others have been impacted by the ideas and practice offeminist therapy, historically it was originally a collection of perspectivesand methodologies intended to improve the lives of women (Dworkin,1984; Evans et al., 2005; Finfgeld, 2001; Ganley, 1989; Walrond-Skinner,1987). While the original intention was to assist in the psychosocial emanci-pation of women, scholars have grappled with whether feminist therapy canbe relevant with other genders (Brown, 1988; Dworkin, 1984; Ganley, 1989;Good et al., 1990; Negy & McKinney, 2006). Specifically, this article willaddress whether feminist therapy can be beneficial with men.

    In order to see the specific application of feminist therapy for men,this article will highlight strategies and concerns as offered by variousperspectives in feminist theory and therapy (Enns, 2004). The utilization offeminist methodologies that embrace a socially constructed view of diversemasculinities will be argued to have more potential of reaching and workingwith men than traditional essentialist masculinist perspectives. Masculinistepistemologies will be argued to not only be problematic for women but alsofor all genders that seek to construct and value their own diverse genderedexperiences.

    FROM SEX TO GENDER: FROM MEN TO MASCULINITIES

    One of the major revolutionary ideas to come from feminists was to empha-size gender as it is differentiated from sex. Gender has been a major constructfor feminist psychologists to explore (Ballou, 2005; Good et al., 1990; Kahn,2009; Yokoyama, 2007). It has been viewed as an important identity-variablethat is not predetermined by ones sex (Ballou, 2005; Dworkin, 1984,Kallivayalil, 2007). This has been an extremely important perspective forliberal feminism in emphasizing changing social structures to allow womenequal institutional access, since women exhibit a wide range of humancharacteristics and are not determined to follow specific roles as a functionof their sex (Enns, 2004).

    Following this critique with influence by radical and post-modern fem-inists, gender has often been described as socially constructed (Brown, 1994;Finfgeld, 2001; Jensen, 2004; Kahn, 2009; Kallivayalil, 2007). Understandinghow gender is expressed differently (a) at different periods of history,

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  • (b) by different cultures, and (c) in different situations, has turned the focusto understanding ways in which gender is negotiated (Brown, 1994; Finfgeld,2001; Kahn, 2009; Kallivayalil, 2007). This negotiation occurs as individualsstruggle to find their own gender uniqueness in the face of dominant dis-courses about gender in their culture (Connell, 1995). Power becomes animportant moderating construct to consider, as the way in which those withpower construct gendered possibilities affects and often hinders this negoti-ation process (Connell, 1995; Evans et al., 2005; Kallivayalil, 2007; Kaschak,1992). Gender is viewed as not essentially determined by ones sex, butrather as complexly negotiated through both conforming to and resistingdominant paradigms (Addis & Mahalik, 2003; Addis & Cohane, 2005;Connell, 1995; Kimmel, 1998). This negotiation is ongoing, as change occursculturally and individually as the meanings of gender shift in situations,places, and over time (Addis & Mahalik, 2003; Connell, 1995; Kimmel, 1998).

    Men also negotiate with gender although they are not always viewed inthis light. For example, in an article arguing in good spirit for androgynousviews of mental health and that men can be profeminist therapists but notfeminist therapists, Ganley (1989, p. 7) suggests Since he does not havethe phenomenological experience of being female, he uses his experienceas a male and particularly as a male whose understanding of himself, ofall men, and of women has been transformed...