Episode 151: Female Sexual Health

Female Sexual Health

In this episode of Thanks for Sharing, Jackie and Rachel continue their series on healthy sexuality.  This episode focuses on the barriers females face and the role of patriarchal culture in creating and reinforcing the barriers to healthy sexuality for women. 

TRANSCRIPT: Female Sexual Health

Jackie Pack: Hi everyone, welcome to Thanks for Sharing. I’m your host, Jackie Pack. So today we are doing episode 4 in our healthy sexuality series. Right, episode 4?


Rachel Allen: Yeah.

Jackie Pack: Episode 4. We have one more left. Our next episode will kind of wrap everything up and talk about traits of healthy sexuality vs. unhealthy sexuality. So today we’re going to be focused on female sexuality. We’ve hit on this in other episodes, but we’re going to dedicate this episode more specifically to females and sexuality.

Rachel Allen: So I think part of sexuality is you have to talk about the duality of it, so we have talked about this before in previous episodes, but I don’t think we’ve gone as in-depth as we want to go today. So when we were talking about male sexuality last time, we spent a lot of time talking about toxic messages and how to train boys and even men to be healthy sexually and recognize that it’s not just their needs on the table. Today I think we’re spending a lot of time talking about how women can even recognize that they have needs, but the other side of that is when we recognize that we have needs, how to keep them in balance and not let them get over-important or chaotic or whatever that is because we do treat female sex addicts here, which we wanted to talk about today, and it’s interesting to me that in our culture, we act like female sex addicts are a completely different thing and rare and not a big deal. That’s not really what we see here, and honestly a lot of the trauma is very similar for female sex addicts and female anorexics. We will see the same kinds of trauma pushing these women to extremes, so we want to talk about that today as well and how to move into healthy sexuality and take up your sexual space as a female without it getting too big or too small or being a trauma response.

Jackie Pack: I have a client that I work with, a female who was a sex addict, but then in recovery, I think her recovery just was really anorexic, and we’ve kind of had to suss that out in our therapy and work on that and look at that, and she talks about maybe the shame or the stigma she felt as a female sex addict, and more of the praise or the respect that she got when she was female sexually anorexic, and how her recovery really, she was so worried about this lust or this out-of-control sexual behavior that she really gave up her sexuality, but was praised for doing that.

Rachel Allen: Yeah, I mean I don’t know that this is abnormal for addiction in general, like we will see this with food addiction, like people who are obsessively eating will flip and become obsessive about what they’re eating and exercise and really go to the anorexic extreme, which we kind of praise for that because people get in shape and they look good, they look healthy, but there’s a lot of deprivation there, and so we do see that kind of in extremes on a lot of process addictions. But specifically with sexuality, I think it can be really, really damaging for females to go anorexic because societal norms kind of praise the virtuous, virginal, abstaining female, and it’s really easy to let that atrophy.

Jackie Pack: Yeah, and I think that’s one of the things we’ve had to work on, particularly with this client that I was talking about is where is the balance? Because the problematic sexual behavior or the addictive sexual behavior wasn’t healthy and wasn’t necessarily expressive of who she is as a sexual being, but neither was the anorexic, and so we’ve looked at both extremes in the sexual behavior, but we haven’t really looked at where the health lies or where the balance is.

Rachel Allen: So let’s talk about some of that balance. One of the things that I always find extremely fascinating is that women just don’t talk about sex in general. I think that one of the great places that women could go to get support and figure out sexuality is within their female friend group, and that’s usually just not done because it’s so kind of off-putting, or how do you bring that up or how do you even ask those questions? And so girls from a very young age are kind of taught that to protect yourself, there’s a lot around don’t get pregnant. That was one of the things that I heard growing up, like getting pregnant will ruin your life, which again, I don’t know that we should be putting… bringing a life into this world shouldn’t necessarily ruin people’s lives, but statistically speaking, girls who get pregnant younger do have a harder time being successful, finding child care, going to college.

Jackie Pack: They’re more likely to live in poverty.

Rachel Allen: Yes, and are more likely to end up in abusive relationships or the children are more likely to be abused. So there’s a lot of pieces of that that, though true, I don’t know that that should be the focus of female sexuality.

Jackie Pack: Or our systemic issue, like they may be true, but we’re not looking at it in terms of how do we change the structure of the society that creates that?

Rachel Allen: Right, I mean I often think of Les Mis. I think Les Mis is a beautiful example of this, a tragic, but beautiful example of this. Fontine was a very simple girl who fell in love. She thought they were going to be together forever. He leaves her with a kid, and she spends the rest of her life trying to take care of this child that she doesn’t really, like society doesn’t even let her take care of, and the assumptions of that, like she falls in love with this one guy, he leaves her kind of destitute without anything,

Jackie Pack: Which he can do and go on and have a normal life,

Rachel Allen: And then then she’s left with this child, and then it spirals into she must be wanton or she must sleep around a lot, or just the assumptions that were made about Fontine because of this child and that she was single was kind of, well it still happens today. We still have that belief system in place, whether or not we want to recognize it or not. So girls very young are taught keep it secret, keep it safe, and I think with girls, it’s also a little bit different. A lot of our sexual organs, especially primary sex organs, are internal, so when little boys are in diapers, like I have friends who have male children who are toddlers and they know they have a penis and

Jackie Pack: They’re exploring it

Rachel Allen: They’re exploring. They’ve figured that all out by the time they’re 4. They’re kind of figured that out. Girls aren’t that way. You have to do a lot more training for girls, for them to even realize that’s not just one piece of organ down there, and so there’s a lot of that that we usually don’t do, and if we do do it, it’s very simplified, so girls have a lot of problems even conceptualizing what’s going on for their sex organs.

Jackie Pack: And could be under the impression that they don’t necessarily have a sex drive because they’re not sure what’s really happening and what that is connected to in their physiological body.

Rachel Allen: Right, and so that can look very different for girls, and typically that’s healthy girls who are not being abused. We also know that a lot of females are abused as children and early adolescents, and so that piece even takes on a completely different role and often includes grooming and kind of this like buy-in that perpetrators will get from the person, from the child, and creates a lot of questions about what does this mean for me? What does this mean for me sexually? How do I go about this? What am I looking for? And creates all kinds of micro-traumas within the trauma. So then we get to teenagers, and again I think this is where the idea of like purity culture really shows up, and a lot of people in their adulthood now, I think it’s changing a little bit for teens and like 22-year-olds and under because of the age of the internet and they’re getting more information, but being a conservative culture, that’s still pretty tight.

Jackie Pack: Or it’s pretty like villainized, it’s pretty sex-negative stuff, and so yeah.

Rachel Allen: And so I think that’s one of those things where there’s not a whole lot of information out there for females and the information that is out there is like, if you are sexual at all, you’re one of those girls.

Jackie Pack: Which the other thing, I mean there are more girls now viewing pornography, whether for their own sexual exploration or whether to figure out what males are desiring and how to be desired and how to perform, but I think the other message that girls are getting when they’re going to porn and looking at porn is there’s also kind of an understanding that men or the boys they’re involved with, they may want sex but they don’t necessarily respect the females who are sexual with them, and so it puts them in this situation of being desired, being wanted, maybe being pushed to be sexual, but porn is not respectful towards women, and the women who are in porn, most of them will even acknowledge this is not something that they want their children watching. Most women in porn have their own sexual trauma history. I don’t know of little girls who dream of growing up to be a porn star. They do it, yeah they can make some decent money, although that’s questionable about how much money the actors and actresses actually make in porn, but again we have to look at systemically, what is our culture doing that this is an avenue for people to pay for their college tuition? Maybe it’s like college tuition. I have 3 kids in college. College tuition is ridiculous, and so the fact that people will turn to sexual work in order to pay for something that betters them is a systemic problem that we’re not addressing.

Rachel Allen: Which again comes back to Les Mis. Fontine didn’t become a prostitute because she wanted to be a prostitute. That was very much against who she was, and even I think that even the prostitutes in Les Mis, if you look at the movie with Hugh Jackman, they were all kind of there in similar situations, right? It was a last resort. It was because we can’t do anything else—society won’t give us any other hope.

Jackie Pack: And in that particular movie, they did show, too, other ways of exploiting them, whether it was their teeth, whether it was their hair, and the women who were in prostitution had to give up those things for the women who didn’t have to be in prostitution, to help them be more desirable, to have them look better, these women had to give it up.

Rachel Allen: Right, which is I mean, systemically it’s terrifying, and that kind of stuff still happens very prevalently. That is the porn industry.

Jackie Pack: And women in porn don’t have a… it’s not a life-long thing. I mean, they may make a lot of porn, which makes it seem like they’re in there a long time, but the health risks and the health issues involved in porn, actually a porn star’s career is actually quite short.

Rachel Allen: Yeah, and that in and of itself, even when you look at sexual exploitation in the world, it’s usually young girls, usually females, and most male porn stars even in the industry have a lot more power and make a lot more than the females, which I think is an interesting thing to put out there, but not to focus so much on the porn industry itself because I think that in and of itself we can talk all day about how the porn industry creates unhealthy sexuality, but I think this duality of mindset that we have about women, I often think about how people in my world have talked about the slave trade, the current slave trade, and it’s always about girls in India or girls in China. I always have this kind of dialog running in the back of my head of or Denver or Dallas or Atlanta or…

Jackie Pack: Any major U.S. city.

Rachel Allen: Yeah, Vegas, Los Angeles. Los Angeles was the one I was trying to think about. Those are major cities, major ports of industry, are huge for the sex trade, but we want to act like it’s in those countries over there where those people are so sexually dysfunctional. We also know that most countries that have that kind of sex trade, a lot of the Johns or whatever are actually American men. They’re businessmen, and so that’s a good calibration of we take in most of the porn, we consume most of the porn in the world, and we’re also the perpetrators of smaller countries and the prostitution industry. That being said, we do have this, like oh those are those people over there. We very rarely think about the incest that’s happening in our own homes, the grooming that happens in our high schools, just what’s happening in pop culture and media, I think it’s very interesting that we allow violence, especially sexual violence to get a PG-13 rating, as long as it’s not too bad, right? But movies that portray healthy, loving sexual relationships will always get rated R. It will always get rated R, but violence and sex, it depends on the sex, right? It depends on how violent we’re getting and if there’s blood or not, but look at all of the Avengers movies. I’m a Marvel fan, guys, I will jump in that, but there’s definitely some allusion of sexual exploitation of Black Widow, and we just kind of laugh that off and move on. There’s definitely like Tony Stark has dancers in the first movie. In the 2nd movie, he’s basically asking Pepper Potts if he can hire Black Widow because she’s hot, and there’s a lot of violence in that PG-13 rating. I think that I struggle with that, the amount of just grooming our society does for women, this you have to be desirable, you have to be virtuous but not really. We expect you to be sort of sexual, but don’t let that get out and don’t let that become public knowledge.

Jackie Pack: I mean there is this like the women who are raising the children are not the ones we want in porn, and so I think for a lot of males, and females, but for males, it creates this, wait a minute, what do I do with my desire because the women I want to be sexual with or the women who arouse me sexually are not the women I want to come home to dinner to and to sit around the dinner table with my children with, right? Like I can’t have that. And so I also think it creates this issue for females. Years ago, when 50 Shades came out, I will say it’s the only Audible book… I listen to most of my books on Audible. It was the only Audible book I’ve ever returned, like I just couldn’t stand it. I thought the characters were so boring and uncomplex. There was not much to the characters, and I was reading it because I thought, okay, a lot of my clients are reading it, a lot of my clients are talking about it. I’ll read the book, and I just couldn’t do it. I was just like, ugh, please. But I was also talking to my hairdresser one day, and she’s like the amount of Christian women who are loving this book, she’s like, I don’t get it. And I was like, I get it, but it’s still disturbing to me that this is what we’re offering as opposed to vanilla sex. We’re offering this BDSM type of stuff.

Rachel Allen: And it’s not, I didn’t get through the book either, to be fair. I didn’t get through Twilight, which it was a fan fiction of Twilight, so like it didn’t do well for me on either front, but I think from what I can gather and what I’ve picked up because I have tried to read pieces to kind of make sense of it because I have a lot of clients that loved it too. It’s not even real BDSM. There’s not consent.

Jackie Pack: No, there’s not. There’s not.

Rachel Allen: There’s not a consensual agreement. It’s very abusive.

Jackie Pack: And a lot of BDSM, I mean I have some clients who have participated in that, and they’re not… I can’t even remember her name. What was her name? Anyway it doesn’t matter. But they’re more complex people than she was, and so I think that is missing from her. Once again, he had to show her her sexuality. She didn’t know that prior to that, and I don’t find with the BDSM clients I work with, that’s not true. They have embraced their sexuality. They’re not asking somebody else to show them or teach them who they are as a female in terms of their sexuality. Anastasia, was that her name?

Rachel Allen: I don’t know. You got further than I did.

Jackie Pack: Anyway, I think it’s this like there’s something… When I was talking with my hairdresser, I said there is something that it’s tapping into this latent, undeveloped, for many women I think unknown prior to reading that book, definitely though undeveloped that it’s tapping into and can be somewhat dangerous because again, it doesn’t really even portray the consent part of that. So you know, to me, sometimes I will ask clients who have said this, “What is it about you kind of being helpless and not knowing, but he’s very informed, he very much knows what his sex drive is and what his desire is and what it is not, like what is that about?” Because to me, that’s that undeveloped part. And these are good women who were loving this book. These are your moms, these are your soccer moms, these are your church-going mothers who were reading this book in secret.

Rachel Allen: For me, I think that 50 Shades of Grey, that whole genre, because I would even say that Twilight tapped into this too because you had… I was amazed at the amount of adult women that loved that book series, and again, I’m the resident nerd, I’m a reader by breath. If I’m awake and have time, I want to be reading, so I think for me, it was just, it was hard for me to get into those books, but I will say they also came out at the same time that some other books came out, and I started making correlations with those books and why they became so big. You had The Hunger Games, which had a female protagonist. Harry Potter came out a little bit before, but the women in Harry Potter are extremely strong, complex characters. You had the Maze Runner, which also had strong females. There were a bunch of them that all came out at once that were very, very strong female protagonists, and on some level, they were kind of coming into their own sexually. There was some of that young romance and trying to figure it out, and I would say that Bella in Twilight was the weaker of all those. You definitely had a lot of those that felt more like they were trying to figure their sexuality out, where I feel like Bella just kind of fell into this weird vampire love story.

Jackie Pack: Well, and without the love story, there wasn’t much to her. I started the Twilight series because I had those ages of kids where they supposedly were marketed to those kids, I think was a little too young. I think my kids were too young, but most of their friends were reading those books, so I was like, okay, I need read these books. We had conversations about like it’s kind of weird to have a male watch you sleep. That’s kind of weird. Also this man is like hundreds of years old and you’re not, you know so we had those conversations, but my older two girls, neither of them made it through the second book. And that’s when I think Edward had left Bella, and like most of book two, Bella’s just a prust and she doesn’t know who she is without Edward, and that’s like when my kids were like, I can’t do this book. There’s just, it’s too annoying, is what they said. I considered it a personal parent win that my girls were like, ugh I can’t take this. It’s so annoying. But without her being caught between these two, Edward and Jacob the werewolf.

Rachel Allen: It’s the vampire and the werewolf.

Jackie Pack: So without her being this desire for both of them and kind of feeling torn between the two of them, she really didn’t have much of her character developed.

Rachel Allen: Right, and okay, so Twilight was not my thing. I have read a lot of that young adult literature. Divergent was the other one and Beautiful Creatures. So there’s a lot of that that I have read and I think it’s important… for me it’s important to know what the up-and-coming readers are reading. Again, I’m a reader, so that’s what I do. One of the things that always came out in these books is the idea that even when they were strong females, they had to have a love story. I think the only one of that whole, like of everything that I just said that didn’t kind of require that for all of their female characters was Harry Potter, but Hermione did have a love story, and so there’s some of that that, like that’s a natural growth process that we fall in love, we couple, we figure out our sexuality hopefully, and I think that’s very powerful, but I also think it speaks a lot to the books at the time that we’re coming out with Twilight, and even like moving kind of past that, the archetypes that were used as the male leads. Vampires and werewolves are predatory, and in every other book series that I have read that have those kind of characters, they’re not the ones you want to fall in love with. They’re extremely predatory. Even in Anne Rice’s book series where there is a lot of like vampires not wanting to be vampires and trying to find their humanity and all that, vampires weren’t really… they were still very much not human and had kind of cut all of that humanity out of them. I wonder what that speaks, like just in reflection, maybe not even to what we know about what we’re teaching females, but what is innate in our culture that that was even attractive?

Jackie Pack: Well I think it also, going back to just our conversation about porn and the porn industry, this power dynamic, and I think when we start talking about in this literature for young adults into adulthood, but it was geared toward young adult literature, this idea of them falling in love with predatory males and power, and then when we combine that with the “me too” movement, most of these men who got caught up in the “me too” movement had power and were predatory with the power that they had. What is this saying to women about men with power?

Rachel Allen: Right, and I think that those are constructs that show up a lot for females, and I do think it feels to me kind of like a rubber band, where women historically have tried to push out of this very kept female, and we will get so far and then we snap back, and kind of watching it over my lifetime, like I grew up… well, I mean we listened to a lot of girl bands and indie bands and things like that when I was growing up. My mom was huge into music, so like Heart was a big thing. I loved Heart growing up. I loved even the Judds, the country music Judds and No Doubt and Garbage, which was Stephanie Manson,. I kind of grew up with these very strong females singing about women power and stepping outside of that and not needing men, and then there was kind of this snap back, like you had basically two decades of that, and you had your Madonnas and things like that too, but then in the late 90s, we get Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, which were very, very sexualized teenagers, and they were again, speaking about more predatory stuff, and I remember when both of them made kind of that leap into owning their own sexuality vs. having it put on them and the albums that that happened. People were protesting them and burning their stuff because they had gotten raunchier, and I was like, well I thought that’s where we were at the beginning, but okay. But when they started owning that piece of their story and kind of saying, okay if this is what you want from me, I will own it and take it, there was huge backlash. What are we teaching our girls? I was wondering where was that the decade before when they were teaching, they were grooming in some capacity this is what boys want, this is what boys need?

Jackie Pack: This is how boys will respect female artists.

Rachel Allen: I mean, Christina Aguilera’s very first debut song is I’m a Genie in a Bottle. It’s all about you making wishes on her body. There’s something very, again, predatory about that. And then as I’ve in adulthood watched, we don’t have a whole lot of strong female songs anymore, and even some of those artists that I grew up with, like you look at Gwen Stefani who came out as this ska rocker, she was very much like this is who I am and this is who I’m going to be, has really shifted for me in terms of what that looks like and what she’s allowed to present herself as in the media, and I do kind of wonder what that says about where we need to go with female sexuality because there’s not a whole lot of balance in that, and if we’re picking that apart… and we’re talking about big social constructs, but if we’re picking that apart in individual women who feel like they have to be the mom, they have to be all of these things and they have to get nipped and tucked and zipped and pulled so that they’re desirable, but they don’t really know what they want or they need. There’s just a lot to that.

Jackie Pack: I remember my oldest was very much into One Direction, and they had a nice little song that came out about “you don’t know you’re beautiful, and that’s what makes you beautiful.” When she was in the car, I would typically… well, a lot of times I’ll listen to my kids’ music. When they go through their rap phase, I have a hard time with that, but they’ll also listen to my music, so I have some influence there, but I’ll listen to their music, and one of the days we were driving in the car and that song came on, and after it played… I mean I’ll sing along with it. It’s a cute little tune. I was singing with it, she was singing with it. After it ended, I said, “One of the things that bothers me about that song is it kind of plays into this whole idea that what makes women beautiful is they don’t know they’re beautiful and men have to tell them they’re beautiful” So it’s this whole like, as a female, you don’t define your desirability. Others are defining that desirability for you, and that’s what makes you so desirable, you cute little thing, you just didn’t know it. I mean, my kids have said to me before I’ve ruined many a good song or movie for them, and I’m like, well yeah. I’ve had one of my kids told me, “Mom, I just don’t really listen to the words. I just like the beat or I like the melody or I like whatever.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but your brain is listening to words. Your brain is picking up words because that’s how the brain works, and it’s trying to figure out what that is saying, so that message is coming in, maybe not on a conscious level, but it’s coming in and it’s having an influence over you, and so I’m going to have that influence too, and I’m going to do it consciously and we’re gonna have a discussion about what that means for you as a female and what that means for you as a girl and what message is this cute little tune giving you about your own desirability or who you are as a person and how you get to define that or not.”

Rachel Allen: We also know statistically, too, about the time that women start “aging out of Hollywood” is in real life when we start to recognize that we have sexuality, that we recognize that we have power and really come into harmony with who we are. So it’s that 35 to like 55 age range, and then at 55 we start casting them as crones or grandmas, which to me is really a struggle because that age range is where most women in America live. It’s a 20-year earmark where most women live, and they’re not seen in our media, but I think there’s this other piece of that that is incredibly powerful when we talk about women stepping into their own being, not just sexuality but being. I have watched my friends go from not really doing what they want or just kind of struggling to make the family work, and that 35 to 55 age range seems to be when women, their kids are getting older, they can kind of sit down and figure out what do I want out of my life? How do I create a life of meaning for me? And that’s such a powerful thing, I think for women, but I think it’s really scary for the patriarchy in general and what that looks like. I think when it comes to especially sexual trauma, I don’t talk to women that don’t have sexual trauma, and I don’t know if that’s because of the work that I do that I just kind of create a magnet for that, but I don’t talk to women that don’t have sexual trauma. In my work, I don’t talk to women that don’t have sexual trauma. In my life, I don’t talk to women that don’t have sexual trauma to the point that when people say that they don’t, I just don’t believe them. And maybe that’s really bad of me, but it’s so entrenched. Big T trauma or little T trauma. Everything from like catcalls to inappropriate groping to just random things that happen.

Jackie Pack: Or like to going in and getting your tires rotated and being treated like you don’t know what you’re doing. It happens on many subtle, like this is just part of everyday life. I don’t even really pay attention to it, or this is so normal. 

Rachel Allen: So as a therapist when I’m unpacking that, I want to understand the messaging that women get about being female because the messages that we get about being female often play into our sexuality if not always. So when I have someone who’s sexually anorexic or someone who’s sexually addicted or someone who, a female who’s just really kind of struggling, I want to know, how were you told to dress as a child? How were you expected to behave? How did that show up? What were the expectations of you for being female? And we see this in our world historically for a really long time, like when Jane Austen started writing, it was believed that women couldn’t write, that they didn’t have the mental capacity to write

Jackie Pack: Or read,

Rachel Allen: Yeah, or read, and her books have transcended generations. Now I think that if you read Jane Austen from a modern mindset, they’re very dated and very sexist, but when you think about all the things that she had to do to just get those books published and written…

Jackie Pack: And several of her female characters for her time were still like kicking against the culture.

Rachel Allen: Right, they’re really strong, incredibly powerful and very much… like Lizzie, she pushes all of the social norms for women,

Jackie Pack: And her father loves her for it.

Rachel Allen: Yeah, and I think that’s incredibly powerful to see that this is not a new thing. For centuries, women have been saying, “I have some support. If I can just get a little bit of support, I can go far with this.” But I think that we have a tendency to pull women down, and when it comes to sexuality specifically, those messages get really, really, really twisted. One of the things that I always look at when I’m dealing with sexual anorexia or sex addiction in a female is, what is the trauma story? Because I don’t…

Jackie Pack: And the power story. Often the trauma and power story are intertwined.

Rachel Allen: Right, because the people who are the power in female’s lives are usually the ones creating the trauma.

Jackie Pack: Yeah, and for females in sex addiction, often there’s a… it may not be every time they’re acting out, but there’s a I also gain my power through my sexuality. So I’ve been preyed upon, I also go on the prey, and sometimes just that being preyed upon gets reacted out, and so the trauma repeats itself, and then that sets them out to go out and prey upon.

Rachel Allen: Right, yeah, I mean I think… Well, we also experience, I don’t know if this is true across the board, but I experience it women will take sexual addictions offline faster than men. Men will just watch porn and masturbate and whatever because they have a safe enough social structure that they don’t want to really risk that. Now they will and do, but more often than not, my females will take it offline a lot faster, and I think some of that is like porn only gets women so far.

Jackie Pack: Right, it’s not really made for them,

Rachel Allen: Yeah. So I do think that is a piece of it, but we don’t live in a world where it’s safe for women to explore their sexuality either. We talked about rape culture and purity culture in our previous episodes, and what comes out of that is that women are not safe to explore sexually and we can re-traumatize very quickly in a world that is ok with traumatizing women sexually.

Jackie Pack: So some of that… one of our questions… We read some of the questions in our last episode that we got, but there was one question we wanted to save for this episode, and I think there’s a couple of different angles to talk about from this question. It’s a longer question. Do you have it?

Rachel Allen: Yeah.

Jackie Pack: It’s a longer question, but I think it can talk about a couple of different angles.

Rachel Allen: It is a longer question, so I’m going to kind of paraphrase. The question was from a male and he’s saying as a husband and a father of daughters, I often feel like I need to step in or be the authority. How do I differentiate between positive male behavior and negative, and is there a guideline for me to know how to talk about or deal with sexuality or deal with females in my life as a father? That’s the one that you’re referring to.

Jackie Pack: Yeah. Okay, so a couple of areas that we can take from that question, I think. I’m not exactly sure what that male was looking for with that question, what answer, but I think there’s a couple of different answers we can give from that question. So first of all, I think the idea that the male is the authority, and I don’t know that this is what he was getting at, but the idea that the male is the authority and has to step in and be that authority is patriarchal in nature. I think saying you’re a voice at the table and it’s an important voice, but no more important than any other voice at the table, and that’s something… I think in my family, it’s not always easy. I’ve said before it would be a much easier way of parenting if easy and efficient is what I’m going for, to just say the parents get to decide because we’re the parents, and I don’t think that’s an effective way to parent. It’s less time-consuming, but I think saying every voice gets to be heard, and that’s kind of crazy sometimes when your kids are 4, but I think if you start to teach a 4-year-old that your voice matters and you get to have a voice and we listen to your voice. We may say to you, “Well I don’t know that we can do this, but how about this?” We’re still listening to that voice, and there have been times, I mean now my kids are mostly adults. My youngest is 16. There’s still times I’m saying like, oh my gosh, we’re just trying to figure out where we want to go for dinner and we have 6 opinions. Can we just decide? Or I might say to them, “Who said you all get a voice?” Well I did, right? And my husband did. And we did that intentionally, and we did that on purpose because we want our daughters to feel like they have a voice and that voice matters. But sometimes it’s not the most time-efficient way of handling things.

Rachel Allen: Well I think the other thing, too, I think this speaks… and I love that. I’m totally stealing that for my own daughter. Parenting skills from Jackie. I’m just glad you had yours before I had mine. But one of the things that I think does show up in that is that we don’t give women a voice about their sexuality. We don’t give women a voice at the table a lot of times for a lot of different things. Religion has historically not given women voices. We’re still really not, like there are a few religions that have shifted into that, but we’re way behind. Politically, we’re just now starting to see women really step out politically and get their voices out there, and so I don’t know that women have had voices at the decision tables historically, so when we’re talking to our children in our homes and you’re saying you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up, but you can’t decide if you’re wearing the blue shoes or the red shoes, maybe we’ll let them start with the little decisions. Maybe we’ll let them know their decisions are valid, and even that there are consequences to that. I think that’s a great tool to teach kids, like okay, you don’t want to wear your jacket, you’re going to be coming back in in 15 minutes because you’re refusing to wear a jacket. That’s up to you. I also think teaching girls not only that their decisions are important or that their voice is important, but even helping to recognize the micro-ways that the world will try to shut them down. So I appreciate the fact that when I’m at a table… because I’ve worked with teenage girls and young adults, and when I’m at the table, they have a lot to say, but it’s always interesting to me when you introduce a man into the room or a boy into the room, like any male figure, it really quiets down. It really tones down, and this is true for adult women, too. I’ve been in adult female situations where the same thing happens, and I think for this particular question, like as a dad, I think one of the most powerful things that I could have experienced as a daughter is for my dad to have listened about the things that matter. My dad would listen to me about hobbies. He would listen to me about schoolwork, but when it came to like my development, I never felt like I could talk to my dad about my relationships because that was kind of like he just thought I shouldn’t date until I was 30, and I was always going to be his little girl, so growing into the maturity of that, I couldn’t have those conversations. And looking back to have a dad to listen to that and kind of say like “Hmm, I’ve never thought about that from that perspective” or like “well, let me give you this perspective” and not like “all boys are thinking about sex, and it’s my job to protect my daughters from sex.” Right, if we had had more… I think if I was able to have that kind of conversation with a male figure in my life, I could have avoided a lot of heartache because I would have been more aware of what was going on in the world and the complexities of that, but I didn’t have a male figure to do that with, and so I think that can be really powerful. Listen. Just listen to what they’re saying. And you may have to cut through all of the like… I get it. Especially with teenage girls, they’re just like nails and hair and what shows are on TV, but even like what you’re saying, One Direction music, right? Take the influences from your kids and take time to talk to them. I don’t know that you have to like make decisions or demand attention or demand that they listen. I have learned that there are 2 ways that we get respect in this world. One is fear and one is love, and fear will always win out because… And fear really isn’t respect. Yeah. It’s fear. But I mean, in the short game, if your kids fear you, you get a lot of obedience, right? But if your kids love and respect you, you get a lot more deep, rich communications that really lead to good, healthy, adult relationships.

Jackie Pack: Because they bring those conversations to you.

Rachel Allen: Right. So I think it’s very counterintuitive to what men have been taught historically, but I do think just sitting and talking to your kids, not even like talking so much as listening. Just listen.

Jackie Pack: Well, and it’s one thing I remember when my husband and I were first talking about getting married, my husband had asked me at the time, “Do I need to talk to your dad specifically and get his permission to ask you to marry me?” And I was offended. Listeners of my podcast kind of know the story about my dad. But I was like, “My dad is pretty much absent from my life. No way in hell is he going to give permission for me to decide who I marry. No way.” So my husband didn’t, and we kind of broke with tradition there, and I don’t know what my dad thought about it. I don’t even know if my dad thought about it. But it’s one of the things, none of our children are married. Some of them are of marrying age if you’re young, but my husband and I have talked about this as they’ve dated, as they approach that marriage age, again, this is not his decision. It’s not my decision. Our job is to get to know the people that they’re dating, to get to know the people that they’re hanging out with and to make a connection with these people. It’s not for us to approve of who they’re dating or not to approve of them. This, hopefully what we’ve taught our children about how they’re treated and how they should be treated is enough for them to make those informed decisions, and our job is to trust them, trust that they have a good head on their shoulders, and we have to get to know who they’re dating, and it’s their decision whether or not they’re dating them. It’s their decision whether or not they move that into a marriage. It’s not our choice, which I know breaks age-old patriarchal traditions that maybe a lot of dads love and maybe a lot of dads feel very sentimental about, but what message does that send your daughter that this a contractual deal between her husband and her father?

Rachel Allen: Right, you can break that down in many, many ways. I remember I was dating a guy and I dated him for a long time, like 2+ years, and talking to my dad after we broke up, I had kind of talked about the fact that this boyfriend that I was dating was scared of my dad, and that’s actually why we hadn’t gotten engaged I think. I think there were a lot of things that kind of went into that, but my dad just kind of said, “I would have never given him permission to marry you.” And that hit me like cold water. I just remember thinking like, if you didn’t think that I should marry him, why didn’t we have a conversation about that? My dad never said very much. He would make fun of him and kind of poke fun at him but my dad did that with a lot of people, a lot of guys that I dated anyway. So like I didn’t know that there was anything out of the norm, but apparently my dad was seeing huge red flags, and instead of him talking to me about it, he was just going to veto that. And again, I’m like, well that could have saved me 2 years of heartache. But I did grow in that relationship. I learned a lot in that relationship. I don’t know that I would not have that relationship again, but again we come back to like having those kinds of conversations about the red flags, about the things that we like. I don’t know that up until the man that I actually ended up marrying, I knew positive things about the guys that I dated from my dad, like they were just all evil people who wanted to take his daughter away, and I knew that. Whether he said that or not, that was definitely… actually he never said that. He didn’t say very much about my dating relationships. That was very much internalized. I could feel that.

Jackie Pack: Which I also think… and I think sometimes moms do this more. They get to know who the kids are hanging out with sometimes more than dads do, and I think that puts it back onto dads to do that. I think my husband does this really well. He gets to know… I mean, one thing our daughters can bring friends over. It’s kind of a pain because our weekends aren’t really quiet because we have any number of children in the house. Not children, we have any number of people in the house, and but my husband gets to know them, and he’s not always very good with names. He makes up a lot of names, but he does it in a way that’s kind of joking and they let him call them whatever he calls them and they get to know him. He jokes with them. He knows them. That is the responsibility of the father. I get to know who my kids are hanging out with. We can talk about things. I’ve had a lot of my kids’ friends, male and female, come to my husband with certain things, like hey I need help on this, or how do I do this? Because he is available. I think I make myself available to their friends, too, but I don’t know that a lot of dads take that as their responsibility to get to know and be an adult who is approachable and accessible for these young adults, young teens, whatever.

Rachel Allen: I think if I had to say, if I had to choose a role model to kind of look at to break the patriarchy in terms of male / daughter dynamics or even male husband dynamics, be Mr. Rogers. Ask a lot of questions. Validate.

Jackie Pack: Affirm.

Rachel Allen: Affirm. I think that if we approach the world more like Mr. Rogers did and less like John Cena, we would be in a lot better place, and I’m not saying anything against John Cena. I think he’s probably a decent human being, but I love that. I even, I just recently re-watched an episode of Mr. Rogers, and one of the things that stood out to me was just how validating he was. He had females on his show who were in knowledge positions, education kind of positions, and he was always so courteous to them. He asked questions. He was very validating. He gave them space to be who they were, and I think that’s such a beautiful thing. It does require a lot of work and it… Mr. Rogers I think is very much against what toxic patriarchy is. To me, he represents so much more than… He is a complex male figure who is compassionate and loving and caring. He was also in the military from what I gather. He was a pastor. He had some very… He was very diverse outside of the show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, but even in that, he brings in some complexity to that, and I think that as a male, do that, and validate the women in your life. Listen. Ask questions. I think that’s huge.

Jackie Pack: Which, I mean we said in our last episode, you’re gonna have to get in tune with yourself because otherwise those things are going to make you very uncomfortable and you’re more likely to push those away or make fun of them or dismiss or denigrate those things. So just a couple of other things I think from that question. You know some things like when I’m working with males with daughters and they get to that age of having periods, sure, oftentimes you can tell when that time of the month is approaching. Is it ok for you to say, like when they come to you and they’re upset about something or they’re angry about something and you say, “Are you gonna start your period?” No, that’s not okay. It’s dismissing, it’s denigrating. It’s something that you don’t really understand, and you and I talked about how oftentimes what she is upset about or what’s going on with her, it’s not like it only happens that time of the month, but the intensity in which she experiences it may be higher. So it’s not like it’s a non-issue that you can just dismiss outright. It’s just maybe she finally is emotional enough to say something or to bring it up or to not tolerate it.

Rachel Allen: Yeah, and I also think… And regardless of what people think, women are required to keep their emotions in check. I can’t just have an emotional day at work. I just can’t do that. I don’t have the ability to do that. And when I do, I have to pull myself together. I have to be pretty present for my clients, so if stuff is going on for me, I’ve gotta figure out how to deal with that so I can be with them. And I think that’s true for a lot of women. Being emotional or being excessively emotional, too emotional I think is usually the word that’s used, I don’t agree that there is a “too emotional”, but being kind of… keeping our emotions in check is required as a female. So we let a lot go. We let a lot slide that we should probably be saying things throughout the month about, but there does… biologically I think there is some of that. It’s just harder to hold all of those things in, and maybe you start listening. And maybe we also start to kind of ask if this is going on, if… It’s one thing to just be cranky when your period is about to start, but if major issues are coming up, maybe we start asking why aren’t we having these conversations the rest of the month? Because it’s probably an issue the rest of the month and that could be a reflection of how the relationship actually is handled. Because if we can let that pressure off the rest of the month and kind of talk about the hard things, it’s not as bad when we get to that. We’re just kind of struggling with the biological hormone dump that is a female body, but if there’s a pressure cooker of emotions and things that we need to deal with and then we have to deal with the biological pieces, that’s a lot harder.

Jackie Pack: Yeah, so I think also if we were to look at how our medical system is structured. It’s not really structured around female health, and so we may not know enough about the female body, and so I think there’s also a lot of these issues that females’ experiences really are not understood and are not wanting to be understood. We just kind of dismiss them outright as being emotional or that time of the month or whatever, and so I think again, before we start dismissing this, we kind of have to look at what the patriarchal structure is set up to do and not do.

Rachel Allen: Well, and just to speak to that, if you don’t believe that that’s a thing, because I’ve had people say it’s not a thing, we literally had hysteria as a medical diagnosis for women you were just a little emotional sometimes.

Jackie Pack: And the other thing is… I mean, even still most male procedures get reimbursed at a higher rate from insurance companies than female procedures, and so if doctors are going to be making money, what are they going to gravitate towards? The ones that are reimbursed at a higher rate. Why are they at a higher rate? I don’t know. It would seem to me that the female body is a little bit more complex and that should be at a higher rate, but it’s not. So I think we have to understand… again, I think this goes back to one of the comments we had in one of our episodes where you were talking about in one of your male groups that you were talking about privilege that there is just a lot of inherited privilege that males enjoy and don’t even know because they may also experience trauma or other hardships that go into their life that it doesn’t feel like privilege to them, but when we start to break things down like this, they may not fully recognize that there is some privilege that they experience that women don’t.

Rachel Allen: Right. I think the other piece to that… and looking at medical and looking in all of that, one of the things that always, always comes up at some point when I’m working with a female is the shame around periods, like when they got their first period how that was treated and what that looked like. Periods are natural. It happens for women who are mature sexual age, sort of. I mean, it happens for women from the time that they’re like 11 to 13 until menopause. That’s a big part of our life. That’s like four decades. Every month women will experience shame around that, and I think that that’s a huge piece of… We don’t, guys don’t experience shame around pooping.

Jackie Pack: And females don’t talk about their periods, they don’t talk about miscarriage, they don’t talk about infertility. So many things that impact females’ lives that men don’t want to hear about, so as a result, women don’t talk to even other women about it. And it’s such a big part of their life that they just shut down and deal with on their own. The other thing I was gonna say with this particular question about how to be that authoritative voice is I don’t think that there’s an authoritative voice. If you have 3 people sitting at the table, you have 3 voices that you need to work towards consensus on. If you have 4 people at the table, there’s not an authority there. So I think using curiosity, trying to understand how to work things. I don’t think people typically like having their emotional issues solved for them. I think they are capable of solving that. They may be venting to you. They may be bouncing things off of you and you can say like, “Wow that sounds really frustrating for you” or “Wow that sounds like that’s really irritating for you.” You don’t need to solve that for them. You can reflect back how they’re feeling if you’re not necessarily a voice at that table and you’re just that sounding board. I think you can reflect back to them what you’re hearing and how… what you’re observing and what you think that they’re experiencing and letting them solve that on their own. Anything else on this before we wrap up?

Rachel Allen: Yeah, I agree with that. I think having a round table discussion about a lot of things can be super helpful, and I get our lives are busy and it is not always easy to sit down and say like, “Hey, let’s talk about this thing.” But I will also say, in our world we can get really distracted with electronics, with busyness, with work, and slowing down and recognizing that these relationships are the most important relationships in your life and just taking the time to do that I think is really, really powerful, and honestly questioning, just asking “How does it feel when I do this? What does it look like to you when I just supersede and make decisions? How does that make you feel? What does that look like?” Get some feedback from that. I think that relationships are incredibly powerful when we can give and receive feedback that may be hard, but I think you can learn a lot from it, too.

Jackie Pack: Yes, absolutely.

Jackie Pack: At the end of this episode, I want to remind you that your story matters. Remember there’s something meaningful in every chapter. Don’t wait to share your story until it’s finished. Until next time, Jackie.