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It’s no secret that holistic nutrition is a heavily female dominated field. Practitioners are disproportionately female and so are the clients they see. My graduating class was nearly 95% female and I was the only male graduate. As a male nutrition therapist, I’m something of an anomaly.
Over the last few years I’ve been approached several times by passionate women who want to know how to get more men interested in holistic nutrition. I’ve done my best to offer what I hope were helpful suggestions.
In some ways this gender gap seems normal and predictable. Women tend to gravitate towards nurturing, people-oriented roles, whereas men tend toward roles that require strong analytical abilities but may be more impersonal. Perhaps there is nothing here to be “fixed”.
In addition, the vast majority of my colleagues have been wonderfully supportive and welcoming to me and other men who have ventured in to the field. I feel grateful for the warm welcome I have received from the community.
In contrast to this acceptance, a recent experience I had leads me to wonder if there may be a second factor in the gender gap. Several nutrition therapists on an online forum were respectfully discussing and debating whether it was appropriate for grocery stores to market cookies to children. After several of us shared a few thoughts, one woman attacked me directly, accusing me of “mansplaining”.
“Mansplain” is a word used to shame a man into silence by suggesting that he is sexist and condescending to women. It is an ad hominem, which is used in debate to invalidate an argument by attacking the character or motive of a person rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.
I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but it seems like this woman was deliberately trying to exclude me from the conversation because of my gender. Given that men are such a small minority in this field, dismissing men’s opinions would only widen an already large gender gap, wouldn’t it?
In that moment, I was dumbfounded. I reread my comments to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently said something inappropriate. A few friends volunteered to me privately that the woman’s attack seemed unprovoked but no one publicly defended me.
I began to feel very unwelcome in the conversation and I decided not to participate any further. In hindsight, I wonder how differently things might have gone if my peers had challenged this woman’s sexist attack publicly and not just privately. Public support would have meant a lot to me and also created some movement towards narrowing the gender gap.
I wonder if other men have had similar experiences. Might this kind of hostility towards men discourage some of them from participating in the holistic health revolution? How might the way nutrition therapists interact with men impact their willingness to participate?
I think one important way we can all increase men’s participation is to speak up against unfair behavior. Let bullies know that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated. And perhaps even more important, let the people they bully know that their presence is valued.
After all, men are not just a minority of practitioners but also a minority of clients seeking help from nutrition therapists. To include more men in the field of holistic nutrition, let’s all do our part to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and heard.
What do you think? What can we do to increase male participation in the holistic health revolution? Let’s have a conversation about it!
NTI stands for Optimal Health Through Nutrition Education.
We teach the teachers and they are making a difference!
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