A Call to Dialogue About Gender


UntitledAfter my last post, Lorrie B said that gender is a huge elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. It’s true. But talking is essential if we’re to heal our gender-related wounds, so in this post I’ll offer topics for conversations.
Tribalism: Our species is between 100 and 150 thousand years old. In that time we’ve made more progress taming the instincts of carnivorous canine and feline pack animals than our own. Why are we still so territorial? So hostile toward members of our own species whose only differences from us are physical appearances and culturally- and geographically-conditioned adaptations? Episcopal priest Matthew Fox says that as a species we are extremely dangerous and our tribalism is eating us alive. What roles do gender issues play in tribalism? What changes can men and women take to eliminate it?
Violence: Lorrie B also noted that men, onto whom we’ve traditionally projected our masculine drive (self-preservation) and values, are accountable for over 90 % of the world’s violence. Why are women (onto whom we’ve projected our feminine drive of species-preservation with its values of caring, connecting and relating) and spiritually enlightened people of both genders still so ineffective in reducing violent conflicts? Is testosterone the only culprit? How can the genders cooperate in healing our violent tendencies?
Male-Dominated Spirituality: Our “primitive” forebears appreciated and worshiped the sacredness of all life in its masculine and feminine aspects. Why do so many “advanced” Westerners believe that a one-sided masculine-oriented spirituality is preferable? Why has organized religion failed to solve the problems of male violence and female oppression? Why do both genders submit to external religious authorities instead of acting on the truth of these words from the Dalai Lama? “We can do without religion, but not compassion.” Didn’t Jesus and Mohammed teach the same thing? Why is Mother Teresa the female spirit person who most readily comes to mind? What can we learn from her?
Gender Stereotypes: Why do gender stereotypes still abound? Why are some people still rigidly obsessed with defending them, especially ones related to sexuality and fundamental personal rights? Why do some of us privately project logic and rationality onto males and sensitivity and emotionality onto females even though both genders contain the psychological potential for both? We’ve had three generations of world-wide immersion in technologically produced visual images, beginning with photography, and moving into film, television, and computers. Why are we still so visually illiterate and vulnerable to subtle manipulation by the media? When and how does advertising take advantage of gender stereotypes and perpetuate unhealthy ones? Who wins from this practice? Who loses? Is it true that men are more out of touch with their feelings than women? Why? Why do women seem to find it easier to integrate their masculine sides than men, their feminine sides? What factors account for the high divorce rate in North America? Why do the genders still have difficulty understanding each other and communicating?
Exploitation of Women, Children and Nature: What can I say about human trafficking, child labor, and sexual exploitation? About the rape of Nature, our Mother? These things are unspeakably appalling and both genders are complicit. God help us. With all the freely given bounty and beauty of life we certainly haven’t excelled at preserving it or helping ourselves and each other enjoy it! Why?
I know most of us would rather imagine figures of light than face dark realities, so if these questions have aroused uncomfortable emotions or offended sensibilities I hope you’ll understand and forgive. May we all advance toward Buddhism’s goal of joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.
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10 Responses

    1. Yes, painful. Which is one reason why we remain so unevolved, I suppose. It’s human nature to shy away from pain, even when we know that ignoring it eventually results in more, and worse pain. Another reason: inertia. It’s easier to do nothing than to do the hard work of changing.

  1. Thank you for your words of wisdom. As each one of us comes forward to acknowledge our collective failings we move one step closer to enlightenment, peace, and justice in the world. Namaste!

  2. Jean, on behalf of the literate world, thanks for opening this discussion with such courageous calm (and thanks for acknowledging my remarks, that was generous). I was reading Jon Kabat-Zinn this morning, who reminds us that the universe is (to our limited knowledge) 13 billion years old. The planet is probably 4 billion years of age. Humanity has been around for only 12,000 years. I think this puts things in perspective. We can begin an examination of our hubris with the sobering fact that we are just a blip on the radar, with extinction a distinct possibility.
    Cultures and countries evolve differently; I am most familiar with North American history. But I think we have to look at European history to determine when the majority of the world’s population became patriarchal in nature (perhaps it was always so?), and I’m fascinated with the one matriarchal society that still operates as such, the Mosuo in central Asia. I’m going to presume you know of them. Finally, would a matriarchal society be any better than a patriarchal one, and is gender equality even possible as long as we see ourselves as “individuals”? It seems to me that as long as we hang on to ego, we might never get past the need to win/succeed/lead/compete. Other than the Dalai Lama and Eckhart Tolle (currently), who else is championing the diminishment of ego?

    1. You’re welcome, Lorrie. I’ve heard of the Mosuo but know nothing about them. It’s a topic I’ll research with interest. I don’t think a matriarchal society would necessarily be any better than a patriarchal one as long as the ego is still the center of the psyche. Certainly not if it repressed masculinity as patriarchy represses femininity. Of course, since the feminine principle is about receptivity, feeling, nurturing and relating, one would assume it might be better at placing a high value on partnerships that value contributions from both genders. I’ve read that matriarchal cultures on Crete and the Maltese islands appear to have maintained gentle, joyous, sensuous and peace-loving societies that were unbroken by war for at least a thousand years! Perhaps they were still immersed in an Epoch I Physical Consciousness and had not yet developed strong egos. (I write about the three epochs of ego development in my new book and note that collectively we’re still struggling through Epoch II Ego consciousness, although more people than ever before seem to be moving toward and through Epoch III integrated Consciousness.)
      As you say, the individual, immature ego is the problem! Until it connects with the whole psyche by integrating its contrasexual opposites, people in power, whether male or female, will still be more intent on pushing their own agendas, even when the societal ideal is partnership. It takes an ego committed to participating in inner work which brings growing awareness of the power of the unknown inner Other before partnership becomes an inner and outer reality. Carl Jung and Jungians talk about ego death, by which they mean dying to the outer world (losing the need to please others or prove one’s worth with competition and the trappings of external success and power, etc.) and achieving the proper relationship with the Self (our god-image and religious instinct). This enables the ego to step aside and allows the Self to take its rightful place as the center of the psyche. This “humbling” of the ego, combined with its connection to and active partnership with the Self, is truly transforming, and those who have attained it are our hope for the future.
      Thank you very much for your insightful comments and questions.

  3. It baffles me. Some anthropologists suggest that we are somehow hardwired to be tribal. That our response to ‘difference’ is the same response as we might have to visible disease signs.
    I don’t know. It’s too easy to blame men, or blame women. Inertia seems at root, and I’m as guilty of that as anyone.
    Matthew Fox is an extraordinary man, and has been a shining example to us in many ways. When Nigel met him last year, he was very. very impressed, came over all fanboyish when he got back. If only the people who are so thoughtful could also be more numerous but there’s a huge divide between those capable of the deep thought and action and those who are not.

    1. I just read an article on Huff Post that says the same thing about our “hardwiring” to avoid contagion from outside influences. It makes sense, I suppose. But then, we’re also hardwired to preserve our own lives at all cost and yet there are people who willingly sacrifice their lives for others…in both positive and negative ways (think WWII suicide pilots and the current bomb-wearing terrorists).
      So obviously we can alter our hardwiring when we care enough to try. I think it’s about finding your passion, something that gives your life meaning, fills you with hope and joy, makes you feel as if you have a purpose, as if you are known and loved and have something of value to contribute. This is what makes you care enough to try. It’s what the vital, living myths of every religion do for us. The fact that so many of us are floundering in a morass of inertia, fear, depression and meaningless suggests that the old myths are no longer working. We’ve lost our fluid relationship with the Divine because we’ve become stuck in fixed ideations and are lost in collectivity.
      We spent some time with Matthew Fox last weekend when he was here for a conference. I agree that he’s an extraordinary man. He’s an example of someone who dares to risk censure from the collective because he’s found his life’s meaning and is passionate about making a positive difference in the world. I admire that so very much.

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