Male Doula Charged With Sexual Assault
A Rehovot man who has been working as a doula, or birth coach, for the past nine years was arrested this morning on charges of rape and sodomy of dozens of women.
According to police Lieutenant Commander Yigal Ben Shalom, who is coordinating the investigation, the man would ask women to undress, explaining that this was part of their treatment, and then he would rape them. One pregnant woman speaking on the Army Radio (Galatz) about her experience with him said, “I did not want to believe that this would happen. And there it was, exactly what you were afraid of, what you didn’t want to believe, is exactly what happened. I’m still in shock.”
Accusations against the doula initially emerged in birth and pregnancy forums on the Hebrew-language web portal Tapuz. Ben Shalom urges all women who may have been victimized to come forward.
The 43-year-old man, a lawyer by profession, received much publicity in the past as the only male doula in Israel, working out of Tel Hashomer hospital (His identity is easily revealed in Hebrew Google searches). He claims to use a variety of alternative therapies to help women during birth, and has said that his specialty is in helping unmarried women who like to have a male presence in birth.
Following the arrest, forum discussions have revolved around the validity of seeking out male doulas to begin with. Many people argued that this is a profession that men should not be in at all, although an argument from at least one single mother quoted in the press is that, “I wanted to have a man at the birth.”
Aside from the horror of the alleged sexual assault, this story raises important questions about the role of men in traditionally women’s worlds, and about how prepared women are to enable men to be complete partners in birth and perhaps even parenting.
I had a (female) doula and a female midwife for my last births, although I had a male doctor for my first birth who was, actually, horrible, and a different male doctor for my second who was better, but not as good as the midwives. I have often thought that if I had to do it again, I would probably seek out female professional help over male professional help to begin with. Despite these gut feelings, I hesitate to make such an unequivocal statement like that because the implication that men cannot be truly empathetic and helpful in birth is not helpful to women or to men, and ultimately keeps us trapped in unbending gender roles. Yes, women in general can probably do this job of birth support better than men. But not necessarily. Women are not naturally warm and cuddly any more than men are naturally boors. It is so important for us to reject these stereotypes, despite how much they are propagated in society. They are as mean to men as they are oppressive to women.
So despite this horrific story, I would urge restraint in our reactions. Let’s not rule out the possibility that men can do the doula work just because the first man to try it turned out to be a creep. Men can be and often are extremely empathetic, caring, sensitive and loving. We should continue to aspire to that model and not allow our fears to keep us from advancing our gender relationships.