September 11, 2018

Being a Female Therapist in the #MeToo Era.

Each and every day I sit with pain.

Pain that is caused by patriarchy and perpetuated by toxic masculinity. Pain that brings women to find refuge in my office.

I am a trauma therapist whose past career in advocacy leads women who have experienced sexual violence and abuse to find solace in my space. I come to this field of work with an extensive lived experience. I am a survivor of childhood sexual exploitation and have experienced both sexual violence and abuse as an adult woman.

As a result of these experiences, I have so many reasons to fear men. Reject men. Hate men. For years I did just this, but in the era of the #MeToo movement, my heart can no longer hold hatred.

Because even though I hear stories every day that could validate these beliefs from the intimate dialogues I am privileged to experience—stories that demonstrate that masculinity is dangerous, toxic, harmful—and despite the dismantlement of men in the media to a conventional narrative of animalistic and dangerous, I cannot feel anything but compassion for men.

I have compassion for men because I am privileged each day to intimately witness the effects of toxic masculinity. I need compassion to be able to hold the stories of sexual violence and abuse shared with me. I need compassion for men so that I can support the women who find shelter in speaking with me. Due to these honest and humbling conversations, I am forced to look around and ask myself: how did we get here?

How did we get to a place of such oppression and violence between genders—where women are automatically victims and men perpetrators? I ask myself are we moving forward to equality through disequilibrium? Is what I am doing enough? Will anything ever be enough for the violence to end and for all of us to be free to experience both our feminine and masculine parts equally?

How do we all move forward when there is such pain dividing? Circulating. Being re-enacted. Stereotypes. Misconceptions.

My life experiences and professional training do not lead me to many black and white statements. If anything, becoming and holding the space of a therapist has only made me see more complexity within simplicity and be more comfortable with the unknowing shades of grey.

However, there is one statement that is black and white from my lens, and that is: when we hurt another, we hurt ourselves too.

I have never met a man who hurt a woman who wasn’t hurting first. But how each gender hurts is different, unique, and socially constructed. Women internalize. Men externalize. But the pain is the same. Men know the same gut-wrenching travesty of being traumatized, they know heartbreak, they know sorrow, and they know how to stuff sh*t down.

Men feel—I promise you this. The level of disembodiment a female survivor of sexual violence or abuse is left with after an assault, rape, or battery is the same level of disembodiment her perpetrator lived with before he ever placed a hand on her.

Our capitalist society has constructed gender expression for internalization to match one gender and externalization to match another. And while this does not excuse hurt or harm, it does provide a window into the experience of someone else’s world.

I am so privileged because each day I get glimpses into the experiences of both men, women, and those identifying as non-binary. I get to see humans as humans. I get to see men as humans—a rare sighting.

Because I tend to the scars of toxic masculinity and also get to see men in their full vulnerability, I am so passionate about having incredible men in my life, about holding space for men. I crave it. I need it.

I make sure I see at least one male friend a day because I need to physically feel the healthy masculine. I need to know it exists. I need to challenge everything that the world tells me about men—now more than ever. Because I could easily get washed up in the sea of groupthink that is screaming that men are unsafe.

I need to be close to the masculine because hearing stories of how women have been victimized by men could darken me; reading about #MeToo stories could make me bitter. Hearing how sexual assaults are dismissed could make me sick. Photographing another survivor of abuse could make my heart black. Having another client disclose a rape could rip me open and leave me in tears. But after years of practice, these stories instead draw me closer to men.

They draw me closer to compassion. To being different around men. Offering a different experience. One where I do not assume the worst: predator, pickup artist, stoic being, feelingless zombie. One where I don’t see them as my saviour, saint, or protector.

They draw me closer to wanting connections that aren’t colored by past experiences. Connections without projected pain. Connections without my pain.

Having a space where I can put my pain down allows me to facilitate connection where (I hope) the men in my life can just be. In the same way, I have learned to just be with them. Isn’t that what we are all looking for—safe, supportive, honest, honourable, and compassionate connection where we are met as fully human?


author: Ailey Jolie

Image: Author's own

Editor: Nicole Cameron

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Ailey Jolie Oct 11, 2018 8:47pm

Dear Karon, Thank you for sharing so openly and with such vulnerability. My heart aches to know of your experience in therapy. Sadly it is so common because... at least from my perspective... we can only lead someone or offer a client what we ourselves have healed, integrated, or experienced. I want to offer the correct experience and say, "it was not your fault - a victim is never to blame". It sounds from your writing that you have a strong awareness and a deep sense of self compassion for your journey. Two essential ingredients. If you are ever interested in resources please reach out; I would be honoured to connect you with books, speeches or information that may be of helped. Sending warmth and light to you. Thank you for your courage.

Karon Clayton Oct 4, 2018 2:25pm

I found your article so very insightful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am a survivor of sexual abuse, and later in life, traumatic physical abuse in a marriage. I am not a healthy survivor. I have not had the fortune of working with a therapist with a true grasp on the issues involved, and, therefore, have never reached the stage where I can see men as anything to be trusted. My heart breaks to actually realize this. I raised three boys, and tried to teach them a respect for women. I recognize that I should have had much more healing as I went through those years, but there wasn't time nor energy to focus on that. I am so very thankful that women are seeing the need and taking the opportunities available to take care of themselves and possibly reach a much more positive attitude toward men. I am gratefule there are therapists with a grasp on the issues. I will never forget going to a session and having been told, "Don't you think it was something you did that caused this to happen." I never went back. Thank you for your work.

Ailey Jolie Sep 14, 2018 8:21am

Thank you for your thougthful response and for holding space for those who have perpetrated acts of violence. Such incredible and profound work. Gratitude for you. I enjoyed your contemplation of "toxic masculinity". I also am stumped for another pharasing but desire one. Your reflection was so spot on and something I am going to continue to think about in reference to how I use my language to embody the sentiment you expressed. Seeing my male friends is ritual to ending my day. I know that I cannot show my clients another experience of masculintinity. Therefore I try to embody the healthy masculine in my presence. For me this is only possible after spending time around male energy. A concept inspired by a male clinical supervisor. My partner also keeps me balanced and reminded of the healthy masculine - continually. He is also pretty "groovy" (I loved your word choice)! Many blessing to you and the way you show up in the world.

Ailey Jolie Sep 14, 2018 8:03am

I hold the some prayer. Thank you for your beautiful response and for holding space in your life to muse about causes. A stance that takes a great deal of self awareness... and compassion. Your ex-clients were gifted to have you. Much gratitude for how you move in the world.

Ailey Jolie Sep 14, 2018 7:59am

Thank you for your insightful reply. A thoughtful anaology that I will hold with in my heart. I too deeply hold a vision and long for a day when the words toxic and masculinity are no longer used in union throughout our culture. I do believe that this day is on the horizon.

Susannah Joy Schuilenberg Sep 13, 2018 4:55pm

One of the best articles I've read on this issue. I work with both women and men who perpetrated acts of violence against an intimate partner or against their children. Your real and compassionate explanation of the differences in the way pain is manifested by wounded men and wounded women is so very good. Thanks for being a balanced, empathic, and compassionate voice in the polarized world in which we all live. A further observation - though I have no idea what we might replace it with, "toxic masculinity" is a phrase that has come to "whitewash" (love the analogy, Arun Eden-Lewis) an entire gender. The wounded hurt others. Violence is a human propensity not a gender-based one, and recognizing the different ways in individuals are toxic to themselves and to others is the way forward, not labeling, disenfranchising, generalizing, or vilifying. We who can, hold compassionate, safe space for processing, healing, and the opportunity to take personal responsibility for the framework of the internal landscape that leads to the deliberate and catastrophic wounding of others. (I love that you take that time to meet with a healthy male friend every day. How groovy, and I suspect, how balancing in life filled with the pain of wounded women. Kudos to you, Ailey)

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Ailey Jolie

Ailey Jolie is a Master’s level clinician with specialized training in Weight and Eating Disorders from University of California, Berkeley. She has trained in body-centred psychotherapies for trauma and is working toward obtaining her doctorate in Somatic Psychology. Ailey is the author of My Body, My Story, a memoir that chronicles her journey from sexual exploitation to full embodiment. All book profits support Our Bodies, Our Stories, a non-profit created by Jolie that assists survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse in North America. Ailey is passionate about embodiment, about supporting others living fully and wholly in their body. You can find out more about her by visiting her website or following her on her personal and professional Instagram accounts.