We Westerners have made unprecedented progress in our attitudes toward gender over the past fifty years and we’d like to believe we’ve overcome the old stereotypes and double standards. Some of us have, but we all know that prejudice against women and feminine qualities is still with us — even if kept mostly undercover. This is especially true in male-dominated fields like the military, upper echelons of certain businesses, and some professional sports. Why do so many people, male and female alike, still devalue femininity? Why do so many women still fear to act on our differing values and stand firm on our personal truths?
As you might guess, I have a psychological theory about this. For millennia we humans followed our natural drives and instincts and were as unconscious as any other mammal on the planet. But at some point we became aware of ourselves as separate from others and the world around us. We didn’t just exist. We knew we existed. Moreover, we knew we would die. Our self-awareness marked the birth of the ego, the thing which makes us different from other animals.
Once the ego stepped out of the maternal womb something radical happened: instead of behaving instinctively our egos began to choose how we wanted to act. We cemented our separation from the natural world by choosing to identify with our minds and the masculine principle of clear-thinking, upward-striving and forward-moving. And while we obsessed over all the magnificent philosophical and theological edifices we erected to justify our preferences, we anxiously tried to repress as much of the feminine principle — and the women who reminded us of it — as we could, including physical and emotional receptivity and intimacy with our bodies, each other, and the physical world. Since then we’ve never looked back. Why? Because from the ego’s newly conscious perspective, the feminine matrix from which it emerged felt like a regression into darkness, the void, and the big D: DEATH!
With no idea of what we’ve done to ourselves or why, the egos of both genders have identified primarily with left-brained qualities ever since because they help us make distinctions between ourselves and the rest of the world and allow us to believe we are invincible, in control, and eternal. Meanwhile, we have lumped together all our right-brained qualities with our instincts, emotions, and so-called feminine values, tossed them all in a box labeled “Danger: Do Not Open,” and stowed them away in the farthest caverns of our collective unconscious. Understandably, after thousands of years of glorifying the masculine ego and repressing the feminine unconscious, we still have difficulty understanding and valuing our feminine sides.
The only problem with femininity is that our egos don’t understand it yet! Moreover, we don’t want to because that would require us to explore the unconscious and face our worst fears. While there have always been a few rare authentic spirit persons who opened to their non-egoic selves, the degree of consciousness most of our species has acquired through the ages is very small compared to the expanded awareness of which we are capable. This is why I keep writing about the ego. We need more self-knowledge because our ego’s ignorance and fear is the true source of our problems — not only those related to gender, but all of them.
Isn’t it time we evolved past egocentricism into integration? A divided psyche cannot build a united world.
You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.
Ego and God-Image: Part VI
[T]he most important relationship of childhood, the relation to the mother, will be compensated by the mother archetype as soon as detachment from the childhood
Your blog was right on target today. I have just watched an enlightening and inspiring film entitled “Who Does She Think She Is?” Women artists are in the same plight of not being recognized or paid to the extent men are; despite the fact that they comprise more than 75% of art colleges in the world. At the same time, in order to fulfill their passion, they have the added burden of being labeled ‘bad mothers!’ Consciousness around this “missing” in our society is slowly increasing. But it will take many more women to bring voice to the issue. Thanks, Jeanne, for being one of them. ~ Sandy
This is a perfect example of my point, Sandy. The “bad mother” guilt trip is particularly onerous and painful to women whose passions lie outside the domestic sphere. (I expect the male equivalent would be “bad provider” for men whose passions do not produce sufficient income to support their families comfortably. Both cultural stereotypes are terrible burdens to those who carry them.)
But back to the feminine issue. I am heartened by the surging phenomenon of Mommy Bloggers: women who tell the truth about their daily lives in posts that enlighten the world about women’s wisdom and strength and adaptability. They are, as you say, bringing voice to the issue, and I can’t see how mysogyny can survive for many more generations with the extraordinary role models these courageous women are providing.
Thanks for your thoughtful response,
You express this very succinctly. I slightly differ re: ego. The concept has been battered too long. The ego is a necessary agent between varied psychic energies and demands. Humans need acceptance for their imperfections, the ego aspect must be helped to relax, soften, be less defensive. Not an easy task.
I also see the ego as a necessary agent, and dualistic thinking as a natural part of its development. The next step in our evolution is for our egos to see the negative consequences of our one-sidedness by facing our shadows, and, as you say, relaxing, softening, being less defensive about them. Not easy at all, but essential if we are to transcend the polarizations in ourselves and the world. As the heroic mature ego develops a relationship with the unconscious Self, it becomes a major player in this endeavor because it’s the part of us that has the power to choose to open up to otherness, grow and change! Thank you for calling attention to this important point!