Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dr. Phil Doesn't Want 'Confused' Boys to Play with 'Girls' Toys by Alex Blaze

I don't particularly like Dr. Phil's brand of pop psychology, which is more focused on being normal than it is on being happy. No matter how many times he asks "How's that working for you?" it's fairly clear that he hardly cares if the people who ask him for help are actually happy and is more concerned with telling people to be normal based on a very American bourgeois narrative of How Life Works.

dr_phil.jpgSo no matter how many shows he does about gay teen suicide, he's going to be one of the forces promoting internalized homophobia among young people. Consider this segment from a recent show where a mom asked what to do about her son playing with girls' toys:

Robby's 5-year-old son loves to play with Barbies and prefers wearing girl's clothes. She asks Dr. Phil how to deal with this behavior, which she doesn't think is normal.[...]

Dr. Phil tells Robby that she has a job to do: "Direct your son in an unconfusing way. Don't buy him Barbie dolls or girl's clothes. You don't want to do things that seem to support the confusion at this stage of the game ... Take the girl things away, and buy him boy toys."

Most importantly, he tells Robby, "Support him in what he's doing, but not in the girl things."

It's not hard to imagine Pat Robertson saying the same thing.

Dr. Phil's style works for what he does. No one wants to actually watch a real psychologist talk to a patient for hours, discussing how to best reach the patients' goals and with no concrete advice, no finger-wagging, and no scolding. He has to have a formula to fall back on, an understanding of what people should be doing that doesn't require him to actually know much about other people's lives, and it makes for better TV.

And, surprise surprise, in the lowest common denominator world of television entertainment, the easiest narrative of normality is straight, white, Christian, and middle-class.

So while he assures the mother that her child is just going through a phase, he makes sure to tell her that it's her "job" to shame her son into acting more macho. Send him a "direct message" that he's a boy, just in case he forgot (since people have a way of just forgetting their gender like that), and a direct message that being himself is unacceptable.

The goal is not to make this boy happy. What the boy wants does not concern Dr. Phil; he neither asks about it nor does he respect what he's told the boy wants, advising the mother to steam-roll over her son's personality and force him to replace his desires with other desires.

The goal is to make the boy normal, because everyone's goal in life is to make the Dr. Phils of the world more comfortable.


Anonymous said...

Eh, the guy's an ass and always has been. Poor kid, and poor people who buy into his crap.

Peace <3

Aek said...

I never liked Dr. Phil. He gives off that "I'm a quack on TV" feel.

Lightning Baltimore said...


Joshua said...

Dr. Phil isn't actually any kind of registered psychologist or psychiatrist. He gives off a massive quack feel because he is one. I mean, at least Maury, Jeremy Kyle and Tyra don't pretend to be mental health professionals.

Also, as someone who played with barbie dolls as a child, I can assure you, it's not playing with them that's damaging, it's the merciless teasing given for doing so that's damaging.

The so called 'Dr.' Phil's advice isn't entirely illegitimate in this case however. The world isn't a sunshine little happy place, and the child could potentially undergo far more harm from people's reaction to them playing with barbie dolls and dressing in girls clothing than they would from not being allowed to do so.

It's not about gender expression, it's about remembering that children are children, and want to do stuff that isn't necessarily very good for them. Stopping them doing those things is part of a parents job. If the behaviour could cause possible physical and mental damage, why should the child not be dissuaded from it?