Example of the patriarchy at work?

Part of my roll as a so called ‘mental health specialist’ (wank)  is to attend a monthly get together with other professionals to discuss combined and collaborative responses to various pressing issues.  The meetings are informal but always educational, and are something that I look forward to (especially for the catering).



One thing that you quickly notice working as a Clinical Counsellor, is that 90% of your colleagues are women. There are a few blokes scattered around the region, however, at this particular network meeting I’m the sole male.


The meetings follow a certain ‘round the table’ format, with each person sharing a case study or dilemma with the other participants providing peer support, advice, feedback etc…. The process is very fluid, and there isn’t one key speaker that drives the process. 


I’ve noticed on several occasions that women are far better at this process than men.  Women are generally better active listeners and are able to draw out and clarify information using a variety of communication techniques, which in my opinion makes for a more information, inclusive and educational experience.  The way that it looks to a fly on the wall is basically a large group discussion.  Then it was my turn.


 “well, I’d like to talk about my success at using narrative therapies with trauma clients……..”  Mmmm, something seemed a little different to me.  I continued.


“What I’ve found is that a person’s script definition changes…..” Yeah, it’s definitely different in here, I thought.


“And that their personal narrative forms a …….” Bloody hell, that’s what’s different, there’s no talking, just me wanking on..


What I noticed was that there were a dozen set of eyes staring intently at me; not in a hostile way, but in an expectant way, like I was about to say something incredibly profound – I wasn’t .


I felt really exposed – where was my fluid communication experience?  I wanted people to join in just like they had for the other participants!


As far as experience goes, I’m one of the more junior members of the forum, and I can honestly say that most of the people at that table dwarf me in terms of knowledge and application.  They are people that I really look up to, so I was disappointed that my talk was more of a presentation than a conversation.  After my bit, we continued around the table, and the fluidity returned.  What was going on?


Well I gave it some thought on the way home, and started to come up with some ideas –


1)      They thought that I was a half-wit making a fool out of myself, and they were simply too embarrassed for me to say anything.

2)      They all thought I was a wanker, and were ignoring me.

3)      I had a large string of snot hanging out of my left nostril.


Though all three are a distinct possibility, I thought them unlikely.  The looks on their faces wasn’t contempt, just polite attentiveness, and I know (hope) they don’t think I’m an arsehole, because I get on really well with them, and many of them come to watch my band play.


It was then I had another idea that I think most likely.  Although this group are a highly intelligent and educated group of women, I think that there is a possibility that the patriarchy has conditioned them to ‘shut up and listen’ when a man is speaking.  I wondering if I’m way off base here, or am I on to something?  Why haven’t I noticed this before?  I guess I’m conditioned too.


If I am right, what can I do to change it without coming across like a patronising jerk?

Published in: on December 17, 2008 at 1:06 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Oooh, good to see you back writing again!

    And I love the fluidity of this post, including the random font change. Now that’s fluid!

    As for your question at the bottom, it’s hard to say, because I wouldn’t think all women — regardless of age or background — would shut up and listen politely out of conditioning.

    Perhaps they were simply aware that you’re one of the “juniors”, as you mention, and were trying to give you the time and space to have your say. I wonder this, because whenever I’ve been in meetings, I’ve noticed that staff who have been there a while tend to be more conversational, whereas with the newer staff, they are politely listened to. Whether it’s to figure them out (being new-ish) or to give them the time to speak up in a room full of people who already know each other easily, I don’t know.

    A question just occurred to me: were you talking yourself during the easy conversation? If not, maybe when it was your turn they noted that you’d been quiet up to that point and when it was your turn to talk, they wanted to hear what the “quiet bloke” had to say.

    Dunno. Beats me. Could be so many possibilities.

  2. Thanks Bron! You’re my most loyal commentator!

    As for your points; I think you may be onto something with the statement about my junior status. They could very well be being polite and not want to intimidate me. Mmmm.

    I’m quite vocal during all the other round table discussions, so I don’t think it’s a case of me being quiet, so they are in return.

  3. Thought of something else when I went to bed last night. It could also be because you were the only male at this round-table discussion, so when it came to your turn to talk, perhaps the women subconsciously didn’t want you to feel uncomfortable or unable to speak freely to a room full of women!

    I thought of social occasions where I’ve gone out with a bunch of girlfriends — and one guy (that one of the girls always drags along). Thinking about it, I now notice how we always shut up and listened politely as he spoke, perhaps as a concession to the gender imbalance, without even realising it.

  4. Sorry, I totally missed your last post – but let me say firstly that I’m delighted to be in your thoughts during bed time 🙂

    The more I think about it, the more i’m convinced the points you’ve made are spot on. Probably a combination of being junior and being the only male just made the group not want the make me uncomfortable.

  5. I do all my best thinking at bed time!

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