4. The Battle of the Sexes - Gender Politics
The ancient-to-modern process of separation and alienation was intertwined with a process of gender-polarisation. This was a gradual sundering of the female and male within all people. It led to increasingly exaggerated and solidified gender specialisation. Gender specialisation in itself is not necessarily a problem: women generally tend toward beingness and men tend toward doingness - to make one generalisation. Each has its strengths, weaknesses and contribution to make. The problem lies in the fixing and rigidising of specialised gender roles and the attaching of status to them. Thereby inequities and injustices occur, and the full potential of every human is curtailed. The situation becomes socially institutionalised, embedded in multiple layers of complex beliefs and arrangements. Women can be argued to have paid the highest price throughout recorded history, though it has cost men dear too, since they too are slaves and victims in their way.
In principle, or archetypally, woman aligns closer to the core and heart of life while man ranges around life's peripheral borderlands. He strives to overcome, capture, master or kill threatening unknowns, and to saak and embrace attractive unknowns. Woman has an instinctual involvement in the organic life-process and nurturing and sheltering it, a feeling felt from within. This said, women can turn away from this and make it more unconscious, and men can take on the feminine way as a new frontier, and we're talking about a multi-faceted spectrum, not polarised stereotypes.
Man tussles with change, with the intensity of living and the pathos and threat of mortality – he grows through unconsciously encountering or creating climaxes and crises. Meanwhile, women experience intense internal transitions monthly, precipitating an option for inner change on a more ongoing, cyclic basis with less direct connection to events. Woman seeks to embrace and reconcile life's contradictions, weaving them into the web of life, while man seeks to eliminate contradictions he doesn't approve of. He seeks to kick ass and triumph while she seeks to love, sweeten, tolerate and mollify. These can also be turned on their head, leading to such things as defeatism and failure in men or resentment and rejectiveness in women.
He generally has a militant manner, she a sensitive one. The male principle seeks to get the maximum, to stir things, to assert itself until exhaustion comes. This leads to a pacification which gives birth to understanding and compassion, an urge to right wrongs or to balance excesses - but often that can be after the damage is done. The female principle sustains and nurtures the basis of goodness and survival in life, ministering to everyone's needs, since we all are family. She can, however, get stuck in acceptance of her lot or in the habit of being depended on, perpetuating her sorrows in an attempt to out-love or over-serve people and problems. These are generalisations, some might say stereotypes, subject to great variation and nowadays increasingly complexified and reversed. The main issue, however, is not the existence of gender differences or different types of people – it is that gender-differences have been manipulated into means of control. Control of both sexes, through a separation of each sex from the other and a troublesome and oppressive relationship between them.
Modern feminist tradition has tended to regard men as the instigators of female oppression. Time and the perspective it brings are turning things into greater partnership, especially since large numbers of women have been defining their own lives like never before. In any interaction, it takes two to tango. Men probably did not set out deliberately to dispossess women of what was theirs – though there have been bastards and blackguards in every generation. As with the historical transitions described earlier, gender specialisation probably crept up gradually through an ongoing process of shifting and forgetting. However, there would still have been points of awareness and change-cruxes where the issues and choices were clear – and somehow humanity chose to put itself through difficulty.
Women were central and focal to tribal society, tending to define a closer-in collective agenda in the home-area. Men ranged wider. When they sought change or stimulus, they built up power and energy in areas of life women did not so much concern themselves with, outside the home-domain. At some critical point men, or at least a few more assertive men, shifted the locus of social life away from tradition, regularity and the tribal homelands to a wider field of possibilities, strategies and ideas beyond hitherto-defined norms. They developed more theoretical or distant thought-constructs to justify action. This meant that, as societies grew in complexity and scope, it was men who created and occupied many of the new positions and roles which emerged. Assertive men led the way and other men followed. Meanwhile, women, geared to keeping everything going reliably and consistently, allowed these things to go on. They left men to their games, believing perhaps that men would one day see sense. Few did.
While men probably did not set out intentionally to oppress women, it is plausible that male oppression was rooted in a male reaction to a feeling that women consistently held the ropes. Such feminine power-holding will not itself have been intentionally planned, merely a naturally-arisen order of things. Nevertheless, ancestral tradition and stable-state social forms can generate inertia, which in turn become traditionalism and resistance when the world starts changing. The domestic and tribal focality of women, mixed perhaps with a dose of control over their men, possibly gave men an underlyingly cornered feeling to which certain generations of males reacted.
Men began to strike out to find more meaning, more business for themselves. Rooted in a nascently-growing feeling of individualism, this affected humanity's relationship with nature. Slash-and-burn village agriculture and the building of larger settlements and great works comprised early forms of world-changing activity which expressed the restless male urge to change things. At first this was ecologically manageable, but later it became large-scale and devastating. Long before the emergence of dark, satanic mills, the vast beechwoods of the chalk downs of southern England were denuded by 2000 BCE, never to regenerate.
Oppression of females by males arose and grew – and whatever mechanism by which it arose does not actually justify oppression. Oppression arises out of a forgetting of the divinity and purpose we all share. It gives expression to a retrogressive loss of consciousness which some promulgate and others permit. A few initiative-takers or tribes will have upped the stakes semi-intentionally, perhaps through warfare, plunder or abuse and its consequent impact on other tribes. The virus of male assertion began ricocheting through humanity: once a tribe was threatened by aggression or challenge from outside, it had to adapt, be absorbed, move on or die out - or fight back. The power held by women relied on 'holding the circle' of the collective or of the women, while male power emanated from bold individuals who manoeuvred rapidly.
Males began taking on-the-spot initiatives with reduced consultation of tribal consensus. They resorted to rousing argument and building momentum for their cause. Female influence was encroached upon or disregarded, slowly diminishing women's power and driving it into covert, more secret arenas. Non-Muslims have no idea what Muslim women do while their menfolk go off to the mosque.
Men incrementally asserted imperatives and values of their own in a quest to establish new areas of power and expression. Thus a habitual game developed where men initiated things and women picked up the effects and shielded the vulnerable from the rough edges of change and from rumbustuous male action. This became deeply embedded over the centuries, taking the shape of male-domination and feminine acceptance, victimhood – and complicity.
Co-dependency of separated gender roles was ever more institutionalised into social forms, mores and laws, and also into the collective unconscious. This has gone so far that the historical re-balancing in process today implies a fundamental change in the nature of civilisation and society. The need to heal our tribes and nations, to overcome alienation and separativeness and to reclaim our identity and spirituality involve a re-assumption of feminine values and sensitivity. The feminine is now a crucial re-balancing factor.
Both the masculine and the feminine are being reinvented, transformed separately and together. This is happening by sheer dint of circumstance today and through multiple causes. The feminist paradigm operating from the 1960s onwards pointed at the male, at fathers, husbands and sons, exhorting them to awaken and change. Now that such a change-process is happening and things have moved on, the spotlight turns back to a more secret area of oppression, that exerted by mothers, wives and daughters.
While strong males did much of the instigating of the oppression of women, females implicitly allowed them to do it and even colluded and enforced it – again, probably incrementally and largely unconsciously. Some advantage-taking women might even have had a hand in it – one way a woman gets on in a man's world is to adopt his game, in her own way. The innate circle of solidarity between women was broken – partially by pressure and force from men, and partially by women's own mutual betrayals. Mothers taught their pain to daughters, teaching them to expect it. Some women began identifying with male heroes and strongmen, splitting any feminine consensus. The old order fell apart. This was psychological as much as anything.
On some level, victims allow oppression – it's rooted in a choice whether or not to permit one's human spirit to be broken. It's a painful decision with enormous consequences. Strangely, the decision to oppress is born in pain too, though it is a more proactive response. However, pain of whatever kind always offers us a choice: to use that pain to become a better person or to allow it to use us. Winners and losers are both victims of the same game. Oppressors are people who have failed to rise to their true power – the power to make pain and difficulty a catalyst for awakening and self-correction.
Both men and women have been divided amongst themselves during these long, slow changes throughout history, and many variations of this process will have occurred in different places and at different times – there is also a benign and creative aspect to gender-specialisation. Nevertheless, strong men, supported by influential women, came to determine the drift of the whole of society. It remained for other members of both sexes to accept their emerging lot. Those who resisted were eliminated, exiled or marginalised, losing health, wealth and power to others. Some of the stronger-minded women of Renaissance Europe who took exception to imposed women's roles became labelled as witches – and with them died knowledge and traditions which were a loss to European culture.
Today, gender roles are changing amongst a growing proportion of women and men. Women have entered into gender-transforming change earlier than men. This has arisen because, generally, women's transformation starts from within, as a private process which cannot be seen and thus easily suppressed. Meanwhile, male-oriented civilisation, while today approaching exhaustion, still holds the attention of males – the labour market and world of outward achievement is their traditional area of power, and they have modelled that world to reinforce it, obliging modern women to operate largely on men's terms. Being nowadays more in touch with the collective unconscious, women tend to read the total situation they find themselves in more clearly. Their message is not a complex intellectual argument which can be gainsaid and debated – it is a womb-level perception which simply says "this isn't right – it must change".
Men's way of change is slower, yet fast when it happens. They are deeply engaged in the machinery of civilisation, which would fall if all men suddenly downed tools and went home to spend more time with the family. This outward identification implies that masculine change goes hand in hand with change in the outwards forms of civilisation more than feminine change does, being more private, non-public. Women encounter change-challenges through menstruation-ovulation, childbirth and menopause, while men find such challenges more circumstantially, through crises, battle-encounters and their outcomes.
To change, men have a dangerous need to be either winners or losers – though ultimately it becomes a loss, seriously penetrating their defences and breaking them down. Men unconsciously crave painful breakdown and disintegration to justify change – their ideas can be advanced yet their actualities can be way behind. The physical-emotional-psychic shifts women customarily encounter each month – however willingly or comfortably – encourage earlier and more gradual change if it is called for.
In the 'men's world', it takes time for women to accustom themselves to occupying traditionally-male positions, and a complete systems-redesign is a likely longterm outcome as women themselves redesign the way things are done. The big question of our day is not unemployment – it is misemployment. It isn't tax-and-spend government or its opposite – it is national-scale dysfunctional householding. The presence of women at the heart of social and business decision-making will change civilisation from its core outwards.
A proportion of men have started changing from within as a result of experiencing inner psychological collapse – and many more are not far from the boundaries of collapse. Loss of jobs, health or children, relationship-breakdown and other indignities precipitate self-examination. However, courageous men who undergo this shift voluntarily tend to move out of the centres of decision-making and influence, by heading off toward the margins of society to pursue their interests or lifestyle choices, or by retiring or withdrawing.
There's a corresponding danger amongst women in employment: women work hard to fulfil pent-up achievement-needs inherited over generations, and in so doing they can unwittingly contribute to maintaining and increasing a culture of competition and self-interest. While many males are losing interest, many women are gaining interest, and there's a danger a similar game goes on. Women's roles can thus become transformed in shape and form, compared to what they were, while the inherent destructivity of today's civilisation goes untransformed. There will come a point where feminine values will need to assert themselves and where the quieter males will need to speak and be heard.
The full impact of this historic shift will emerge during the 21st century, worldwide. In the 1960s-70s in the West, it looked as if we were heading toward a new unisex middle-ground, though developments in the 1990s amongst post-feminists and 'new men' tend to point to a redefinition of gender roles, with greater depth, flexibility and variance. After all, what is important is that each and every person of whichever sex or orientation may fully express their potential without undue pressure or resistance from others – for the benefit of all.
Gender specialisation has been created by both sexes, by commission or omission – whoever was the instigator. This is important to acknowledge. Blaming things on men has been a viable way of jump-starting a feminist movement during a dark period for women, yet once that movement started moving, other truths emerged. In modern times, many children are experiencing absence of fathers – not solely a result of male error or lack of caring, but equally a manifestation of feminine possessiveness and muscle. This has some damaging effect, and it masks a denial of the male influence in the upbringing of coming generations. Old male/father stereotypes need to die before new possibilities can fully be reborn, so we might be in a productive transitional phase, without fully knowing it. Yet it is painful for its victims – especially men and boys.
Paradoxically, progressive males who are willing to make changes can find themselves up against a feminine 'glass ceiling' in the domain of families and home-space. They are guests in a territory where they must conform with feminine-set rules. However, some men demonstrate that they perform domestic and family duties with a care and gusto which differs from traditional women's ways, passed down from mother to daughter. In other words, gender roles are likely to change further than feminism has so far defined. For while many aspects of male-dominance in the public sphere have been despicable, many aspects of domestic reality have been horrendous too – and that's where the people of planet Earth grow up. Every male oppressor had a mother. Today and in coming times, we see an interesting transitional dance taking place: both sexes equally need to get out of each other's way while also working together.
Gender-rebalancing is but one aspect of the overall challenge we face in the world today. Seeking to correct gender issues in isolation will not get to the bottom of the question, since it is thoroughly interrelated with other things. Gender reform implies tremendous changes in overall social structure, economics, justice and... everything. However, a first step is the validation of women and their release, to whatever level, from traditional feminine duties. This enables them to explore new possibilities, and it also creates a new reality. In the space created, men may then find greater room to re-create the inside story of the human family, released from their own prisons as providers and defenders. Men must face and deal with the effects of the meaner and more shocking aspects of male history – cruelty, serious folly, excess and danger – and women must unearth their deeply-historic, hidden mothering, home-keeping and manipulating patterns too.
No patriarchal power-manoeuvrings could have taken place had there not been a perceived opportunity or need to do so. The male assumption of power showed manifest symptoms around the 3000s and 2000s BCE during the founding of the ancient metropolitan empires of Sumer, Egypt, Harappa, Crete, Hsia (Xia) China, pre-Olmec Mexico, Chavin Peru and Megalithic Europe. This dominance-power was demonstrated by the dramatic architectural feats they achieved, which changed human experience fundamentally. The patriarchal ascendancy then achieved solid lift-off from around 700 BCE, at the end of the so-called Axial Age, as the new classical cultures of Greece, the Middle East, India, Mexico and China came into being. These cultures gave birth to ideas which have profoundly affected all of history since that time. One of those ideas was military escalation. Another was doctrinal mass religion.
Yet this male-dominant tendency lifted off as a result of deep-seated urges felt long before. This was not a sudden switch from feminine to male prevalence – it was more a transition from earthy cooperation and mutuality toward concentrated wealth, power and individualism, in which males took the lead. Since some women today demonstrate a power-urge and competence of exceptional quality and determination, it is presumably the case that male dominance and emphasised hierarchy and individualism, which have characterised life since classical times, are not inherently bound to each other or necessarily arising from each other. However, this is the way things panned out.
Once the classical period had gained momentum (around 300 BCE) the changes were irreversible. The new social patterns were walled into the framework of city cultures, in cubic buildings arranged along streets. From this time on, only two eventualities could change the momentum: an apocalyptic conclusion to the quest for progress and ever-new conquered territory, or a psycho-spiritual transformation involving amongst other things the rebalancing of the sexes. Such a transformation would need to be so deep and profound that sophisticated authority-structures and power-patterns would be superseded by a new psychology and set of social arrangements. As for the apocalyptic conclusion, it looks as if, millennia later, we are close to it or already in it.
Jesus the Nazarene and Mary Magdalene made an attempt at psycho-sexual transformation, both in their private lives and the evangelical roles they were playing. At one point a row broke out when male apostles became jealous over Mary's closeness to Jesus. The integral tantric spirituality explored by Jesus and Mary, based on love, was later disapproved of by surviving apostles and by Paul of Tarsus after Jesus' crucifixion. Most accounts of it were edited, doctored or lost in later centuries. The legacy continues today in the question of ordination of women as priestesses in the Church. The subject hasn't been publicly broached in the Islamic and Hindu worlds, despite the example of Muhammad's close female associations or the importance of goddesses and consorts in the Hindu pantheon.
The mess we live in today was caused by its perpetrators, largely men – though most men have actually been victims of other men. It was also caused by its victims – largely women, though some women conspired with men to be perpetrators. Psychologically, the mess was catalysed by the male, the action aspect, within both men and women. It was permitted, however painfully or grudgingly, by the female, sensitive aspect, within each. In the final analysis, it has cost both equally dearly.
Both dominance and victimhood patterns start with a decision of some sort, whether personally or culturally. However, many decisions are made under duress, semi-consciously or they are acted out through obligation, imitation or ignorance. Victimhood, however arrived at, becomes increasingly difficult to reverse once set in motion.
To heal the wounds of victimhood, it pays to acknowledge one's own complicity, even if passive, and to identify critical points at which victimhood was established. This does not let oppressors off the hook, though it identifies the problem more accurately, engendering forgiveness and movement. As millions of oppressed people have found, waiting for the oppressor to acknowledge his actions sometimes goes on forever.
However, awareness and acknowledgement from all sides is needed for the game to end. Master-victim games of whatever form are a mutual co-dependency issue, and ending them involves a release of both sides from the co-dependency equation. This change is probably going to take longer than its pioneers might wish – but then it must be thorough to be wholesome. There are many layers of the onion to peel off.
Modern feminism has been an exceptionally vibrant and penetrating social movement, drawing attention to fundamental historical issues concerning not only females, but all of us. Unlike socialism, it is emotionally-powered rather than ideologically-based. Its dispersion from Euro-America into other cultures is a key factor in 21st century world changes. However, women of other cultures will treat it differently, from the basis of their own experience. They have much to teach Westerners too. And the change begins within them. They are pioneering Feminism 2, which concerns the family and the community.
Something has been achieved through the existence of patriarchy – not only near-destruction. We have become something which once we were not – for better or worse. It has fulfilled a distinct need, otherwise it presumably would not have come into existence – though it will take time to see what that need has been. It has expressed itself in many and wonderful ways – skyscrapers, airplanes and clanking machines have their beauty. The trouble has been not with the core business of civilisation, but more with its vast side-effects.
Patriarchal-hierarchical social systems have produced questionable perversities and defilements: we could have done much better. However, patriarchy is not inherently oppressive: it is oppressive because of the way patriarchy has evolved – the abuse of power and of the spirit by which patriarchy has been carried out. Some men suffer a transpersonal guilt for the doings of their fellow men, and some women use the term 'patriarchal' pejoratively. Human negativity is not an inevitable partner to patriarchalism – matrifocality could equally have been oppressive. Whatever systems we live by, it is the spiritual core of humanity that determines global levels of negativity and imbalance.
The problem is that the majority of archaeological finds and historical chronicles derive from the patriarchal period, after 3000 BCE, and historians are also generally trained to think narrowly, in patriarchal, reductionist terms. The result is that evidence of matrifocal societies is thin or ignored, misinterpreted or ideologically disputed. Females' items tend to be more expendable – textiles, wooden or bone implements, everyday disposable items. Nevertheless, many of humanity's greatest inventions – agriculture, building techniques, writing, the wheel, the arts – evolved during the more matrifocal, communal period before 5000 BCE.
The primary issue today is a review and transformation of all social forms and of the psychology and emotions behind them. That sounds grandiose, yet it is essential and at core relatively simple. It includes all aspects and offshoots of gender matters. Something which has existed in the past does not have to exist in the future – though the best of the past needs drawing into the future while we lose or transform the worst.