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A deconstructive conversation about gender

Video Type: In Practice

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  • Summary

James is caught in a dilemma that can be understood in terms of certain gender prescriptions he is subject to. His girlfriend wants him to “stand up” more for her, and the only way he can understand this phrase is in terms of fighting or violence, which don't fit with his values. David helps James to deconstruct the ideas that are constraining his choices by going with him on a tour of his upbringing, shedding light on male discourses about being “tough” and a “real man." What does James say that shows his harsh self-critique comes from cultural ideas about “how men should be”? How does David help James to see these are ideas, not Truth? What does David ask that helps James figure out where these beliefs came from? How does David help James not only identify but also question the ideas behind the claim and evaluate their impact? How does David avoid this being turned into a blame-the-parents game? What aspects of this practice might you have done similarly/differently? It has been said the “we are the fish; discourses are the water." In other words, many if not most of the entrenched beliefs we hold and live by are not necessarily visible to us—they are background to our day to day lives. This becomes evident when we travel to other cultures and confront own beliefs and values as they bump into those of the local traditions. Because of this, it can be challenging to help people step back from beliefs that are problematic in their lives, to see them as cultural constructions rather than fundamental truths. That is what David is doing here. His slow-moving attention to the minutiae of James' experience is deliberate—he doesn't want to get ahead of James and would prefer that James comes to new understandings by reflecting with David's support. The most useful discovery that emerges may be that James' mother has been highly influential with his father, and clearly without adopting a pugilistic manner. This provides James with an alternate model for a way of “standing up” that does not involve violence, opening space for him to begin to consider alternatives in his own life.

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