Gender Roles and Massage

I debated whether I should even discuss the topic of massage therapist gender on this blog, but I think we have enough questions and comments that it seems to at least warrant brief acknowledgement.  As a therapist of over 9 years and a massage educator, I work with massage therapists who are men and women.  Of course, a majority of licensed massage therapist ARE women, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t an ideal profession for men as well.

Many industry leaders, authors, and pioneers are men. 50% of the 2015 Massage Therapy Hall of Fame Inductees are men.  Men with a natural caring nature, or those who come from sports, engineering, science, or medical backgrounds are often drawn to massage as a profession or a career change.  I know two male doctors in Des Moines who also have a massage therapy license!  There are even men in the area who have created a niche as prenatal therapists because of their great respect for the pregnancy process.

That being said, discrimination goes both ways.  While the vast majority of clients who have gender requests ask for a female therapist, we do have clients without a good understanding of massage techniques or body mechanics who don’t believe women can provide enough pressure (definitely false!) or who see men as more “scientific” or “medical” which drives our science-minded female therapists crazy!

It is  quite rare we have someone request a therapist of a specific gender due to past history or religion (for example, I have taken courses with an Orthodox Jewish married couple who could only work with same-gendered classmates, clients, and instructors per their religious beliefs).

Mostly, I think people have body image issues or subscribe to outdated assumptions about gender and career roles, or aren’t 100% clear about the therapeutic nature of massage.  We’re constantly told by society how we should act or look as men or women and it is hard to tune that out.  I understand that no matter how many times your massage therapist works to assure you that he or she is not judging (or even noticing your “imperfections”) because your therapist is focused more on how well you and your muscles are relaxing, it is hard to believe if you aren’t a massage therapist.  At one point or another, all of our massage therapists were massage clients with no understanding of massage therapy at all!

It also surprises people to learn that when a guest discriminates against a male colleagues for non-medical or non-religious reasons, that male therapist’s female colleagues feel sad, as though they were chosen not for their skill as therapists, but only because of their gender.  A strongly stated gender preference (that is not attributed to religion or past history) also raises a therapists’ concern that perhaps a guest doesn’t fully understand that massage is strictly therapeutic and perhaps the guest is confused about the nature of their treatment.

All of this being said, we do respect our guest’s choices and certainly don’t require an explanation if you state a gender preference in your massage therapist, but I wanted to at least give you this post as “food for thought” because so often a client calls in desperate pain and we CAN help…but the therapist open is not the preferred gender so the client decides to wait a couple more days in pain until the therapist of their preferred gender is available.  Or perhaps a client’s health issue could be better solved by a therapists with specialized training in that area, but the client would rather see a therapist who is less skilled with that particular condition (and therefore not get the desired result) solely on the basis of gender.

A client just sent this nice message to me the other day and I thought I’d pass it along:

“Never really thought much about a male LMT, but Justin is AMAZING! Really, I haven’t had a bad massage at your spa but Justin made a lot of aches and pains melt away and did a number of great stretches that really worked my hip. I’m so glad I made it in! Already made my recovery appointment as well! Thank you & big thanks to Justin as well.”

We have male clients that see male and female therapists and female clients that see male and female therapists.  Most of our clients do not have a preference and trust that all of our therapists are highly skilled, ethical, and well-educated people who love their careers and are looking forward to helping you feel your best!

Justin and Mallory wowed the "Women who Wine" group with chair massages in 2014
Justin and Mallory wowed the “Women who Wine” group with chair massages in 2014