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Asian Bodywork Therapy

By Pamela Ellen Ferguson, Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), AOBTA® and GSD-CI, LMT (TX)

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There Really is No Room for Sexism

Recently, Matteo* (a transgender male) approached me during a break in an advanced shiatsu class in Berlin where he was one of two men in a group of 20 women. "Pamela. Don't forget to remind the translator to include male endings." And that's when it hit me and I realized that I was unintentially excluding two members of this class. Something was definitely get lost in the translation. Whoops!

I had to laugh at myself. For years, my politcally correct colleagues and I have trained our students to avoid all sexist terminology and to be mindful of using both male and female endings where appropriate in foreign languages. We all bristled at the use of "he" and "him" to imply both sexes during our training a few decades ago. I also insisted on equality when my textbooks were translated into German. Thus, "patient" was translated as both patient and the female patientin. My workshop translators were so well versed in this approach that sometimes they would forget the male ending when the class was predominantly female.

Rampant Sexism Works Both Ways

During my own dojo training in ABT at the end of the l970s, it wasn't unusual for a teacher to work down, say, the stomach meridian, directly on the breast. I encountered this on both sides of the Atlantic until those of us who pioneered a new approach during the l980s made a point of telling our students that, for any form of acupressure, the breast was as much of a taboo area as the crotch.

I teach my students and graduates off-the body "ski-jump" qi work, tracking the meridian line over (not on) the breast area, as an equally effective way of moving stagnant qi. This has since become a vital lesson in the breast health and post mastectomy techniques I developed after my own mastectomy.

I reacted in a similarly outspoken way when one of our other instructors made a comment about a gay woman being "kidney deficient" because she didn't sleep with men. That comment caused such a howling chorus of protest, the teacher actually had the grace to look embarrassed. That same teacher (who shall be nameless) also claimed he could tell when a man was newly divorced because "his socks stink – no wife around to do his laundry."

Men's Health/Women's Health

Far into my teaching career at schools of shiatsu and acupuncture on both sides of the Atlantic, I was struck by the hefty focus on women's health/diseases/problems that went beyond OB/GYN. "Why this obsession with women's health?" I asked, during a memorable faculty meeting at one of the schools. "Why give so little attention to men's health"?

The reaction was, "Huh?" I persisted, reminding everyone that the incidence of prostate cancer in men was proportionately much higher than the incidence of breast cancer in women – though received far less publicity or funding let alone mass marches or pink balloon demonstrations. All aimed at women I added, though some 3% of breast cancer cases are male, (and often diagnosed late because some men assume swelling around the pecs is the result of vigorous weight lifting).

But, I continued, "go to a conference about prostate cancer and BPH and related challenges, and most of the participants are women – the wives, girlfriends, daughters or nieces of men with prostate problems. Oh, maybe a few guys hang around at the back of the hall hoping no one will recognize them!" I also raised the issue of the alarming increase of testicular cancer in younger and younger men.

I added that most of my male students came to me with their problems because they admitted they were too embarrassed to consult male professors (American, European or Asian).

Like a broken record, I quoted all of the above during that memorable faculty meeting and suggested we needed to pay as much curricular attention to men's health as we did to women's health. The response? I can honestly say my male colleagues squirmed in their chairs. "Okay," I said. "If you guys won't tackle the topic – I will."

So I pioneered men's health workshops, initially in Germany and Switzerland (see my article "Men's Health: From Male Cycles to Andropause," Acupuncture Today, July 2004). My wonderful colleague of many years - Klaus Metzner, director of the European Shiatsu Institute's branch in Munich - was a lone supportive male voice.

Klaus was so enthusiastic he chose to be the translator of one of my men's health workshops a few years ago. He wanted to have an insight into all the topics we discussed so he could teach similar classes to his next crop of students.

I rest my case.

*name changed to protect privacy

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