An open letter to Dr. Phil on the sexes

On daytime TV talk shows, only the sex that expresses its feelings more is allowed to express its feelings more.

“The process of raising money and climbing leadership’s ladders that gets a man on the front pages requires a man to repress his fears, not express his fears. So a man’s external story is visible; his internal story invisible.”Dr. Warren Farrell, Chapter 8 of Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say

Dear Dr. Phil,

About 30 years ago, the fact that women didn’t earn as much money as men was for the first time made widely known. How did daytime TV talk shows respond to the news of this gender earnings gap? By inviting women on to express how they felt about men earning more, and by helping women learn what they themselves could do to begin closing the sexes’ wage gap.

At about that same time, it was also made known that men don’t express as many feelings as women do. How did daytime TV talk shows respond upon being made aware of this “expressed-feelings gap”? They invited women on to express their feelings about men not expressing their feelings!

Daytime talk shows are nothing, it seems, if not an endless forum that implores the more expressive sex to express its feelings more — while ignoring the less expressive sex — about everything, including, frequently, about being a victim of men, of men in general and of the men in their lives in particular. The shows include “The View,” “Larry Elder,” the now-defunct “Jane Pauley Show,” “Oprah,” “Starting Over,” “Montel Williams,” “Ricki Lake,” “Maury,” PBS’s “To the Contrary,” and your show, “Dr. Phil.”

Men sometimes do appear on these shows to express their feelings, probably more often on your show than on the others. But almost always the feelings they express pertain to the issues brought forth by wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. In other words, when men appear on the talk shows, they seem to represent barely more than props for the women. In support of this, on your set the woman always sits closest to you. Is seating her between you and her male relative intended to make her literally the center of attention, the focus? Is it to prevent her from appearing to be “an outsider” and secondary? If so, why is it OK to do that to the husbands, fathers, and sons who appear with women?

Since males supposedly are the “silent sex” in need of learning to express itself, you’d think there would be TV talk shows that put them at ease enough to discuss their personal experiences as men and boys. But to my knowledge, there are none. Instead, only the sex that expresses its feelings more is allowed to express its feelings more.

How might some men feel about that? Ask women how they would feel if the multiplying daytime TV talk shows were devoted to letting only men talk about earning money and to helping them find ways to earn even more, even though society already “allows” men to earn more than women!

One might argue that there are no talk shows for men because there is no demand for them, and that men wouldn’t watch them, anyway. We can’t be sure of this, however, until a network tests out a men’s talk show that provides a forum for their legitimate issues. A first issue for a men’s talk show could be picked from this list:

· True or false: It’s said men don’t want a talk show for men’s issues, because both men and women believe men have no problems, and if they did, men wouldn’t be interested in hearing about them.
· Why do mostly or only women watch and attend daytime TV talk shows, forcing the shows to cater mostly or only to women’s interests?
· Or, turned around: Why do the shows cater mostly to women’s interests, causing mostly women to watch and attend?
· Why is it mostly women who take time out to watch and attend shows that often let them complain that they are the busier sex that has two jobs (a paid job and housework) while men have only one — even though, as you well say, no one does anything without a pay-off?

Whether men would watch men’s talk shows or not, wouldn’t a lot of women be interested in hearing what the “inexpressive sex” has to say?

Daytime TV talk shows provide women therapeutic release by allowing them to feel heard and understood. To me, that’s probably the most effective therapy one can get. It’s truly a balm for the soul.

To provide even more balm for women’s souls, the talk shows at times conduct one-way role-plays wherein men “become” women so that men “get it,” get what it’s like to be female. The idea has been a theme not only in talk shows but also in movies and sitcoms. But have you ever seen women “become” men with the intent of understanding what it’s like to be male? I haven’t, either. It’s as if women have nothing to learn from men. It’s as if men have nothing worth discussing on a talk show unless a woman raises a men’s issue that affects her — this even though men have a much higher rate of drinking, doing drugs, engaging in dangerous behavior, and committing suicide. [Update January 22, 2006: See the new book Self-Made Man. The author Norah Vincent writes of her experience of going under cover as a man. Says she, “As a guy, you get about a three-note emotional range. Women get octaves, chromatic scales of tears and joys and anxieties.”]

(Incidentally, political talk shows, attended mostly by men, don’t help men or women in the way daytime talk shows help women; the Oprah-type talk shows are about the personal — for women they are similar to women’s-studies classes offered at virtually all colleges — and the political talk shows are about … politics.)

Despite females having far more opportunities to express themselves than the “inexpressive sex” has, I still run across statements such as this one at a web site for young girls: “It is rare that girls are provided a forum for expressing their thoughts and feelings.” (Such makes one want to hammer one’s head against the wall in disbelief!) Is this supposed to make us believe boys are often provided such a forum? (See “Re-Righting Reality: Young Women On Their Search for Self”.)

When a daytime TV talk show allows women and girls, but not men and boys, to express their feelings about their own issues, it may reinforce the notion that in the personal sphere females’ feelings and thoughts matter more. Or that males’ feelings don’t matter at all. It says to men, even to troubled or disturbed young boys, “You, male, must tough it out on your own.”

How well do feminists, many of whom compalin that men don’t listen to women, listen to a man when he does express the feelings he’s told to express? Sometimes not so well, as MSNBC “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski demonstrates here.

So I ask: In the overall state of gender relations, are daytime TV talk shows  where on any given day a wealthy, privileged, female movie star has have about a 1000 percent better chance of complaining that she can’t find the right nail polish, than a divorced, distraught, unemployed father has of discussing his ex-wife’s refusal to let him see his childrenhelping the sexes, or hurting them?

Maybe the answer lies in the answer to these questions: What is the long-term affect on young boys who watch daytime talk shows and hear, directly or indirectly, that in the personal sphere men are secondary, have few feelings, and are blamed for most or all of women’s problems? What are we conditioning boys to become besides inexpressive, hardened, and resentful?

Those who worry about their sons, and especially those who fret over male violence, ought to be asking talk shows to do something about their bias against letting men and boys express their feelings.

(UPDATE: “Dr. Oz,” a daytime health show that launched in January 2010 and pitches to women, apparently wants the healthier, longer-living sex to have even better health and longer lives.)

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2 Responses to An open letter to Dr. Phil on the sexes

  1. Fannie says:

    Men don’t need women’s permission to open up. All people have anxiety and fears about how they will be perceived by sharing what’s inside them. Like women, men need to do personal growth work themselves, and be a part of teaching the boys they raise.

    Most women who are conscientious mothers are teaching their boys to be in touch with their humanity, and they encourage their male children to have positive relationships with their fathers. But the quality of those relationships cannot be dictated by women in their roles as mothers to boys when they are children, or as partners to adult men.

    I think the following quote from Ane Axford, CEO of Sensitive and Thriving, is quite relevant: “By stating where you are, what you feel, what you want, you are not making anyone else ‘wrong’. You are simply making your self known. It is simply not possible for 2 people to stand in the same space at the same time, only to come together from different spaces to reach out and connect.”

  2. Kitt says:

    Men are brave enough to do other ugly things, then they can speak up and stop acting like they are scared to speak. They aren’t that afraid. it’s a sham.

    Men speak up,when they want to and pretend to not be able to when they think it makes them look a certain way. No excuse for men to open their mouths, it kind of like how certain marriage and relationship internet sites, tell women to stop nagging and complaining.

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