Against The Use of the Terms Masculine and Feminine in the Spiritual Path

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[Warning: Video somewhat NSFW].  

Discussions concerning the masculine and feminine have a long and controversial history in the cultures of spiritual practice.

The key commonality to teachings that use masculine and feminine in spiritual discourse is to assume the existence of a masculine and a feminine principle.  These principles are said to be universal (even cosmic) in nature and therefore trans-cultural. Further, the masculine and feminine qua principles are not to be defined solely as men and women. That is a man can be said to have a feminine side and women a masculine side.

This idea of the masculine and feminine principle runs through the teachings of Tantricism as well as the Taoism traditions.  The teaching has a long and honorable heritage. Just so in the (self-named) integral world the terms masculine and feminine (as principles) are bandied about quite frequently, and in my experience typically in quite ignorant and deluding fashion.

There is quite a bit of criticism out there about the use of the terms masculine and feminine in integral thought (our own Sr. Vanessa is one of the experts on this conversation), which has to my mind too often been categorized as postmodern and therefore deficient (and therefore able to be ignored). A brilliant counter-example to that trend—one that takes seriously these issues and offers a substantive critique is this article on the Divine Feminine by Elizabeth Debold (highly recommended). Also, this one by Elizabeth.  

Into that fray, I offer this post. It is meant to be controversial and generate intense thought and discussion. Before I go there, however, I want to make clear that just because I’m taking a fairly critical stance on this one issue (the use of masculine/feminine) in relation to spiritual teachers in the integral world does not mean I think they have nothing to offer. I’ve learned a great deal from many of them and appreciate much of what they do. The main reason I offer this criticism is because I think it is creating an unnecessary barrier to the dissemination of their teachings. Here less would be so much more.

shiva-shakti

I’ll begin with the video at the top of this article by David Deida, perhaps the most (in)famous contemporary teacher of masculine and feminine. I should say upfront that I actually think David often gets a bum rap. This video is good because you hear David’s own words rather than summarized versions (whether pro or con) of his ideas. Nevertheless I still think there is a serious categorical error in what he says.

Deida clearly articulates the idea of a masculine and feminine principle. The Masculine, Deida says, is the Witness or the Unmoved aspect of Consciousness. The Feminine, in contrast, is Light or Energy-Radiance, the Manifest Form of Consciousness.

This teaching is the classic teaching of the Shiva-Shakti Tantric tradition. Lord Shiva is Dark and Unmoved, The Deathless Ease of Consciousness. Goddess Shakti is the Dancing Wild Energy of Manifestation.

Now you’ll note that David says his description of Consciousness and Light as Masculine and Feminine is how he paints, a form of art, and a description (really an interpretation I would say). Too often people have forgotten how this is an artistic painting and not a scientific description of reality.  

yin/yang

Another teacher who uses Masculine and Feminine in integral spiritual discourse is Genpo Roshi (Big Mind/Big Heart teaching). This article lays out nicely Roshi’s views on the matter. Genpo is more influenced by the Taoist tradition of the Yin/Yang symbol than the Shiva-Shakti imagery.

In fact though the Yin-Yang and Shiva-Shakti imagery are often thought to be interchangeable, it’s worth asking whether they are so. Notice that in the Taoist symbol it is the Feminine (Yin) that is dark, receptive, and unmoved while in the Tantric system it is The Masculine (Shiva) who arguably exhibits those traits. In the Taoist system it is the Masculine (Yang) that is energetic, the force of evolution, something akin to the Shakti (Feminine) in the Tantric system.

I don’t want to push those distinctions too far, but notice that in some sense, the language and categorization is a bit arbitrary.

Third, Sofia Diaz, one of the leaders of Integral Feminism. She writes:

So we’re basically talking about something that is invisible because it is so present all the time. And it is important to make the distinction between the terms feminine, woman, and female. The Feminine is an aspect of existence that is independent of women. A more absolute definition would be that, relative to the Masculine Principle of absolute infinity, the Feminine Principle is everything that appears, everything that is noticed, even the noticer himself or herself. However, in terms of human embodiment, it is expressed as a woman’s body, because the Feminine is the receptive principle and the masculine is the penetrative principle. Our relationship to the Feminine is our relationship to embodiment.

I think this equation of Embodiment with the Feminine and Infinity with the Masculine (as trans-personal Principles) is deeply flawed. By interpreting, naming, and labeling the principle of Consciousness-Agency as Masculine and Embodiment-Radiance as Feminine, we end up converting what are (in many cases) specific cultural and historical expressions of gender into Cosmic Archetypes of the Universe. The technical philosophical term for such a mistake is essentializing—making what is specific, chosen, and open to change into something eternal, essential, and given in the Universe.  This doesn't mean I think their teachings, practices or ways are invalid--I'm simply talking about interpretation and categorization here.  

I’ll have more to say about that criticism in a moment; I should note I’m hardly the first or the most eloquent proponent of that criticism.

womanspiritual

And yet….And yet there’s something going on here that has I think enduring value. Now, let’s take it as true that there is a basic polarity to the universe: Consciousness and Light-Energy in one version. I actually believe these polarities to be real (or real enough).

The question I have is: why do we need to label these polarities Masculine and Feminine?

Is this interpretation helpful? What if instead I called these polarities Directive and Receptive and explicitly broke the link between Directive being Masculine and Receptive being Feminine (which is where I think the mistake is)?

Can we notice directive and receptive positions or energies in our being?

I think so. I believe I can anyway.

Are both energies necessary and therefore both worth inculcating in all of us, men and women?

Absolutely I believe so.

Consequently my question remains: what does calling these polarities Masculine and Feminine add?

Because I can certainly say that the use of those terms is loaded and immediately triggers all kinds of reactions. However much any teacher says Masculine does not equate men and Feminine does not equal women, in my experience, the reality is that is what people hear.

If Masculine does not equal men and Feminine does not women, then why call these Principles Masculine and Feminine? Those two terms if they tend to evoke anything in the minds of people (it seems to me), they evoke precisely men and women respectively.

angelsword

Marc Gafni is another integral spiritual teacher who deploys the Masculine/Feminine Principles teaching. At last year’s Integral Theory Conference I was in the room when he spoke about a Rabbinic teaching concerning the two angels guarding the gates to the Garden of Eden, after the expulsion of Adam and Eve. According to this Rabbinic teaching, one angel’s sword went in a circular motion and the other in a cutting line motion. The Feminine he said is the Circular, the Masculine the Linear.

My question is: why add Feminine and Masculine there? Circle and line (for me) succinctly and non-confusedly make the point. Of all things to pile on this already subtle terrain, why gender for the love of God? Discussions of masculinity and femininity are just about the last context in which people speak, think, and act rationally.

I’m not being flippant. I mean all this sincerely—I really don’t get it.

With all of these Consciousness-Light, Directive-Receptive, Circle-Line, Infinity-Embodiment, let’s say those polarities are real (once more I actually think that is a valid distinction). Why add on Masculine and Feminine? Is it not sufficient simply to say Consciousness and Light or Line and Circle or Yin and Yang?

In this way we retain the brilliance of these spiritual teachings without adding the controversial brew of gender to the discussion.

Gender

What then about masculine and feminine? Are the terms meaningless? Do I think they should be abandoned altogether?

Not as I see it.

I believe masculine and feminine correctly point to gender (for the record, I’m open to debate here—this is more feeling out into a space of thought than a final declaration). By gender I understand the ways in which a society norms the relationships and the interactions between men and women.

gerewol

This is the Gerewol ceremony of the Wodaabe people of Niger.  It's a courting ritual. The men, as you can see in the photo, wear makeup and strut about while women gawk at them, making cat-calls at their favorites. The light-radiance polarity is clearly visible as is the witness-consciousness one but they are being performed by the reverse sex to what we Westerners expect. By my understanding, in this context, this action is masculine (and the act of the women watching, maybe even leering?, is feminine).  I mean I wouldn't tell these dudes that they are acting like women because they would likely kick the s#@! out of me.

And yet this basic polarity shows up.  

To flesh that last point out, I’d like to go back to the Genpo Roshi article, which is a partial transcript of a Big Mind process asking to speak to the feminine and masculine voices.

For the Feminine we get responses like:

As the Feminine, one of my characteristics is sensitivity.

As the Feminine, I’m in touch with my emotions and I express them.

There’s nothing that brings me more happiness and fulfillment than being generous, giving to and for the sake of others.

I’m very nurturing.

When it comes to the Masculine (not surprisingly) we get:

As the Masculine I protect.

As the Masculine, I create boundaries.

I take action, as the Masculine.  I am very rooted, stable, and strong.  I am also clear, directed and focused.

While I disagree with the labeling, I appreciate that the context of this teaching is about integration or the embracing of both sides of these dynamics. I think masculine and feminine just confuses the issue here (somewhat) but nevertheless the impulse to include both is deeply wise. That impulse can easily be honored without the use of the terms masculine and feminine.

two spirits

Rebecca Bailin has pointed to the ways in which though these qualities really taking what were social roles of men and women (partially determined by biology and available technologies) and then applying them to gender.

My own view is that these qualities are types (polarities) that aren’t to be equated with sex or gender. As someone who has been deeply influenced by the Tantric path, I believe those polarities to be absolutely essential to the spiritual path I just don’t think we need to bring in sex/gender language on them.

So back to the question—what, if any, validity do the terms masculine and feminine have?

I do think masculine and feminine can still work in gender discussions, though I realize I might be trying to thread through the eye of the needle on this one. I’m open to the possibility that it might be easier to just abandon the terms completely—that they are beyond salvation as it were.

If the terms were still going to have some resonance, they would need to be shorn of this confusion of polarities/types with the gender identity themselves. This may prove a very difficult or nearly impossible task. On the other hand, the danger I believe in abandoning the terms masculine and feminine (or some equivalent terms) altogether would be to head towards an androgynous spirituality under the guise of “transpersonality” or “impersonality.” I do however agree with Elizabeth that we should be critical of any claims that the Return of the Feminine is the future hope of our species.

I think what we need going forward is a much clearer sense of how we would like men and women to express themselves in a conscious, caring, loving, and sacrificial way for the good of life. My guess is that there will still be general tendencies among men and women within that showing up that will need some terms to help identity them. Masculine and feminine are (it seems to me) potentially helpful in this regard.

Admittedly we have no real good terms that I can think of to get at what I’m after here. So I’m trying to re-imagine and re-envision some older terms. The danger there being of course that folks will simply revert to the older understanding of the terms—again confusing what are polarities for essentialized gender distinctions.

An alternative to masculine and feminine could potentially be manhood and womanhood… I guess (note: commenters are invited to offer any others they think more useful in this context). I don’t think women and men work because those words (for me) don’t signify the question of developed identity. Women and men, for me, mostly signify male and female, largely biological qualities (i.e. what kind of “parts” you’ve got). I realize feminine may be too historically loaded—i.e. the “weaker” sex and all that—for it to be of use. I also admittedly have my own resistance to masculinity as it tends to mean either rampaging warriors or long-haired hippies smoking dope and banging on drums (neither of which is particularly appealing to me as a man).

Admittedly my understanding of masculine and feminine isn’t a perfect one. There’s a great deal more nuance that could be added, but I think it gets at a basic point. In integral-speak, gender is (in my book) mostly an expression of the Lower Left quadrant—the intersubjective, cultural mode of being.

Now this more gendered understanding goes against the way in which masculine and feminine is typically understood in integral circles: namely as individual types of the interior consciousness (Upper Left in the quadrants).

Lest I immediately be labeled a cultural relativist, let me say that I don’t think cultural conditioning is completely arbitrary. I do think there are universal (or at least quasi-universal) biological differences—what I call sex. Male and female refer to sex, masculine and feminine refer to gender, and Consciousness and Embodiment refer to Consciousness and Embodiment.

Contrary to the relativist position, cultural norming is also shaped quite strongly by the technological and economic dimension of a society (Lower Right Quadrant).

So we could draw it (again not perfectly but somewhat helpfully) as:

Upper Left: Orientation (Intentional Forms)

Upper Right: Biology/Sex (Behavioral-Biological Forms)

Lower Left: Gender  (Cultural Forms)

Lower Right: Techno-economics (Social Forms)

In that case Consciousness-Light are more Polarities (Cosmic Types if you like—less individual types).

To clarify, that’s a very rough and ready account. Don’t quote me as some final authority. It’s a way of interpreting these issues, making some (I think valid) distinctions and relating them to one another. But it’s not some perfect description of reality. It’s a not the way to cognize this area. There are undoubtedly other valid ways of framing this subject.

This issue of Masculine and Feminine Principles is so close to us in the integral world, like our noses, we can’t see it.

Equating the Cosmic Poles of Direction and Reception with Masculine and Feminine leaves us open to make eternal and trans-temporal qualities which were a precise combination of biological, social, cultural, and psychological conditioning--conditioning which both has a history (and one to be respected) but also might be open to change.

I believe this elimination of the terms masculine and feminine in regard to the polarities of Consciousness-Embodiment allow for those teachers to teach everything they are teaching, just without equating Consciousness with Masculine and Embodiment with Feminine.

Masculine and feminine as gender would still be an open topic for inquiry in a spiritual teaching. It would be a fascinating inquiry and I think a very necessary one. It would I think allow the inquiry to be much open-ended then what occurs now where Consciousness is defined as masculine and Embodiment as feminine.

So as much as it may seem like I’m laying some massive critique and huge deconstruction, the fact of the matter is, it’s actually a very small step.

In sum, my proposition is a very simple one (that I’m happy to let go if someone can prove to me the converse):

1. Adding Masculine and Feminine to the Polarities of Consciousness and Embodiment adds nothing essential to the teaching that Consciousness and Embodiment doesn’t already convey.

2. Using Masculine and Feminine for Consciousness and Embodiment (or whatever the preferred polar terms are) creates much more confusion and resistance and also can end up incorrectly equating cultural historical patterns with universal traits.

3. Given the relative weight of #1 and #2, I think it’s worth dropping the terms Masculine and Feminine while retaining the teaching of the Polarities in non-gendered language.

I think that step—which again in the span of things is actually quite minimal--would make a huge difference in terms of what is often called “skillful means.”

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27 comments

  • Comment Link Rebecca Bailin Monday, 24 January 2011 19:05 posted by Rebecca Bailin

    First of all: WHOO-HOO! Bravo! Yipee! Fabuloso!

    I agree, agree, agree (not surprisingly.) I absolutely agree that using the words “masculine” and “feminine” with regard to cosmic principles buys us nothing and leads to lots of confusion. Because humans tend to conflate sex with gender (masculine with men and feminine with women), the teachers may be saying that they are independent but people hear them conflated.

    I also argued (in the paper you linked to) that the teachers themselves often conflate masculine with male and feminine with female so there may be shadow essentializing going on. In the Deida clip he talked about the cosmic as “she.” She is how we talk about females. We don’t talk about males (biological sex males) as “she.” On the surface he said cosmic principles are independent of male and female but then used “she” to describe the feminine.

    So, bravo! Why not say penetrating and permeable? Why not say darkness and light, rest and activity, witness and manifestation?

    I’d make another argument: masc/fem not only buys nothing but it carries a gigantic and important risk. Because masculine is conflated with men and feminine is conflated with women (often in shadow, beneath the level of awareness where it is, arguably, even MORE powerful), those men who are not masculine and those women who are not feminine are powerfully, powerfully and powerfully made to feel wrong. This is a very bad thing and needs lots of awareness to deconstruct. The use of the words “masculine” and “feminine” tend to reinforce this. A teacher can say over and over that these cosmic principles are independent of sex but, as you say, that’s not what the audience hears and it’s also in contradiction with the way they actually walk the walk.

    Here’s another bit of heresy: I think polarity is way overemphasized in the integral community: Deida and Gafni are great examples. There’s a power in opposition and there’s a power in same/same. Deida gives lip service to homosexual (and other) kinds of sexuality but puts polarity at the center of sex. The way someone is different from you is really sexy. But when you think about it, isn’t what resonates with someone else as the SAME really f**ing sexy too?

  • Comment Link Sarah O Monday, 24 January 2011 20:17 posted by Sarah O

    Bravo.

    Thanks Chris for diving into this oh so messy territory. I had to smile at the multitude of times in your piece you re-stated your intent to not draw too many hard lines or conclusions, to only open the conversation... speaks volumes of the tender-ness of the subject.

    I certainly agree with you that applying the terms masculine and feminine to universal polarities is clunky and unhelpful. And I would also agree with you that turning to Elizabeth Debold for her clear and considered thoughts on this is a must.

    I was recently at the Integral Spiritual Experience 2 (and had an absolutely amazing, life-changing experience). The topic was The Future of Love... so not surprisingly these issues arose. There were several sessions, plenary and small group that got into this territory, and I wasn't privy to all of them of course. What I did want to add was an experience that I had on one day when three separate people spoke to me, (well, raged, actually might be more appropriate) about their frustrations with how these issues were being handled... and these individuals were coming from three separate sessions and didn't know one other.

    The point is not to speak badly of the conference (again, an incredibly rich experience) or the teachers/presenters in question. It is simply to support your point that the applying of masculine and feminine in this way is creating all kinds of tension, anger, frustration, and as you've well said, doesn't seem to be adding anything essential.

    Thanks again Chris - can't wait to see what you stir up!

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Monday, 24 January 2011 20:41 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Great article, Chris.

    I really agree with your point about not needing to overlay masculine/feminine terminology over emptiness/embodiment polarities. I think where it gets a bit more tricky is when we start to use these words in reference to gender. I'm curious, for instance, if the Wodaabe people of Niger that you give as an example, use the terms "masculine" and "feminine" to describe their customs and ceremonies? Or is that our overlay on what they are doing?

    I like Rebecca's point about the attraction of the same. This is not only true for homosexual circumstances, but I also for straight couples. I'm just reading a very interesting book called "Why women have sex" and there was a lot of scientific studies done that showed that although we can definitely experience attraction to our opposite, we tend, in the end, to actually be more attracted to those that are similar to us. For instance, people tend to marry those that have similar beliefs, similar levels of attractiveness, and similar political views, etc... In the end, it seems that sameness actually attracts more than opposites when considering long-term relationships, something that Deida doesn't seem to account for.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 24 January 2011 20:47 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Rebecca

    Thanks for the response. I think partly it's just a kind of reflex and how ingrained the habits are, that feminine becomes manifestation becomes she (or vice versa).

    Breaking the habit is hard. Or if it's going to be invoked that way, it seems we need some "Metaphor Alert" warning system so people know not reify ("thing-ify") these issues.

    I really appreciated your article which I hadn't seen before writing this and which Vanessa "turned me on" to.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 24 January 2011 20:48 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Sarah

    I'm grateful for your considered articulation of this issue in relation to ISE--without it becoming a bash various teachers fest (which I'm definitely opposed to). Very well articulated.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 24 January 2011 20:55 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Vanessa.

    Great question. And that issue of what masculine and feminine could still mean was definitely the sub-theme (or minor key) of the post.

    I have no idea what the tribe in question would label or not label the practice in question and whether it would jive (or not) with our frames. I've never met this tribe or spoken with any of them.

    Which I think helps get at this notion of how we are always in an interpretive moment (Gadamer was the master of this point). I think if we made clear that these frames (masculine/feminine), are ours we leave open that others might formulate them differently. Differently in ways that could be similar, differently in ways that could be just way different.

    In that part of the post, I was stepping out a bit beyond my comfortability so I'm really interested to get feedback, particularly from you and from others who have more background in gender than I do.

    As to the sameness piece that you raised (and so did Rebecca), I think it's helpful to remember David D. is doing Sexual Yoga--and that for whatever reasons (marketing?) he gets placed in the relationship coach box. I don't think Sexual Yoga necessarily works well with relationships as they are typically conceived in the Western world. [Maybe elsewhere in the world too but I'm not an expert on that one.]

    In the Sexual Yoga, he's right you need to magnify the difference and the polarity but that doesn't necessarily work for say a marriage and family. It's also unclear to me whether Sexual Yoga is the right metaphor for pervading one's life with the spiritual.

    But when it comes to relationships, the sameness thing certainly plays a huge role.

    That's a helpful distinction, thanks to you and Rebecca for raising it.

  • Comment Link chloe Tuesday, 25 January 2011 00:24 posted by chloe

    I always found it fascinating in biology how humans seem to be the anomaly in the world of mating animals. In Western and other cultures, unlike the Wodaabe, the female sex is the one that makes more of an effort to appear attractive physically.
    When you look at the animal kingdom however, the animals that reproduce sexually usually have very showy males and plainer females (e.g. peacocks- well most birds, fish). As well the males are often the ones who put on a big show (e.g. rams, seals, shrimp, etc etc).
    This most certainly should not be called 'feminine' behaviour.

    Great article.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 25 January 2011 00:36 posted by Chris Dierkes

    thanks c-lo.

    That's an excellent point.

    It reminds me of the work of Joan Roughgarden whose studied the prevalence of homosexuality in the animal kingdom and how (she believes) this undercuts notions of sexual selection as is typically described. It also allows her to question Dawkin's read of selection as selfish.

  • Comment Link Gail Hochachka Tuesday, 25 January 2011 01:35 posted by Gail Hochachka

    Chris, everyone,

    Great article! Caught my eye for sure!

    Some questions arise for me in reading this, contemplating a post-postmodern view of the issue... The first big question: Why was it that the Traditions that framed Consciousness as a Masculine principle and Manifestation as a Feminine principle? What was actually gained by doing this for so many thousands of years? Chris, you say in #1 "1. Adding Masculine and Feminine to the Polarities of Consciousness and Embodiment adds nothing essential to the teaching that Consciousness and Embodiment doesn¹t already convey."

    Which certainly might be true and your reasoning here is compelling, but why was it framed that way initially and, more importantly, why was it retained for literally thousands of years....? If it didn't add anything and wasn't meaningful to people, why was it sustained as part of these cosmologies?
    Interesting, isn't it...

    In your #2, you say, "2. Using Masculine and Feminine for Consciousness and Embodiment (or whatever the preferred polar terms are) creates much more confusion and resistance and also can end up incorrectly equating cultural historical patterns with universal traits." Yeah... Regardless of the
    metaphysics of these traditional systems (which characterized the Masculine and Feminine Principles), the post-postmodern task is most definitely to situate these truths in their socio-cultural contexts, and jettison what doesn't hold. Toss the bathwater, but retain the baby. So, yes, certainly seeing the incorrect aspects of this from a cross-culture perspective is
    needed. I agree. Bathwater we can get rid of. Still, a question arises for me about how and why these have shown up across so many cultures across time... I wonder if it was it was a way to retain our Goddess roots as the
    God religions arose?

    And, in regards to #3 "3. Given the relative weight of #1 and #2, I think it's worth dropping the terms Masculine and Feminine while retaining the teaching of the Polarities in non-gendered language." Sure, I can see us generally heading that way--certainly with postmodernism--and I'm fine with that on the whole. I agree that we'd lose the risk, the baggage, the
    misunderstandings and the rage (that Sarah spoke about). Though, again a question arises for me around what else we might lose in dropping these characterizations? Will we actually lose the polarity as well? maybe not, probably not, or as Rebecca and Vanessa suggest, maybe that is just fine to
    lose the polarity too, in place of sameness and similarity.

    So, I dunno, on the whole. I agree with you in so many ways, but these questions still surface for me. (Laughing at myself for commenting here, since I've intentionally not joined the feminine/masculine debates in the integral world.)

    I love what each commenter has said--really excellent stuff. And it makes me wonder if maybe the issue is less the terms but rather how they are misunderstood. In society on the whole and even in the 'integral community', perhaps we haven't yet integrated the truths of postmodernity well enough to use these terms responsibly, and instead end up wielding them inappropriately, with a lot of unquestioned assumptions, shadow elements, and unexamined power dynamics. I feel like it says more about us--our consciousness as a community and as a society--than about the usefulness of these Principles. If that makes sense...

    (I personally find great use in them in my spiritual practice, at any rate. But agree that they are fraught in a social context.)

    Anyway, thanks for taking up such a difficult topic. I've noted all your points, love how you present them, and have been following particularly Rebecca and Vanessa's work on this, feeling like you are all on the money simply in taking up the issue. Talking this through is what we need more of
    to move it forward in ways that are compassionate and awakening.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Tuesday, 25 January 2011 02:41 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Hey Gail,

    I appreciate you bringing up these questions/queries and I think you make some insightful points.

    As always, I don't think there are any easy answers, but the inquiry itself allows us to bring more consciousness and awareness to the topic itself, and unmask some of our own unconscious assumptions.

    I personally don't mind teachers choosing to use the words masculine/feminine in their teaching per se. I think the most important thing is just being really clear about why and how you are using these terms and being in constant questioning about how well they actually serve a particular teaching.

    I really like what you said, Gail, about us not having sufficiently integrated the truths and insights of postmodernity in regards to gender distinctions, which is a big source of the problem around these terms. I really tend to agree...

    It is also interesting because there was a certain point in my own life and spiritual development when identifying with the feminine and the Goddess was very important to me and supported a particular kind of growth for me. I think it is often very important for women to see the divine reflected in their own gender and to even call that "feminine". But then there were other points in my development when my growth edge was to really let that identification go and let those terms go so that I could go beyond that kind of categorization. That is why I tend to think some of it has to do with where we are at in our own development and what is most needed at a particular time to serve our growth.

    My main concern is always when we make anything into a rigid ideology, whether we try to make inflate the feminine into a rigid ideology, or whether our very refusal of the feminine becomes an ideology... I think it can go either way, which is why I advocate keeping the inquiry open, just as Chris is...

  • Comment Link Tim Mansfield Tuesday, 25 January 2011 04:25 posted by Tim Mansfield

    Chris, thanks as always for your careful thinking. I completely resonate with your suggestion of de-coupling the abstract polarities from human gender.

    In a society where a single model of masculine-feminine dyad is the norm, I can see how using that stereotypical dyad as a teaching tool to illustrate polarities would be useful, but it is notable for what it leaves out as much as what it illuminates.

    To connect with Rebecca's comment, it leaves out human personality diversity: rough, attentive women; gentle, home-oriented men; all the various ways in which men and women choose to live out their lives on their own terms. To have one's personality called into question *at an essential, spiritual level* because it doesn't fit the archetypal essences seems to me... disappointing.

    Since I'm queer, one of the places it rubs is the way this kind of gendered spiritual talk so often breaks down into a kind of spiritualised hetero-sexism – where the normal, Divine order is figured as a dance between Feminine and Masculine – very appealing symbolism that totally leaves out my embodied experience as a gay man. I have to say when I'm told that "even in gay couples one partner is Masculine and one is Feminine" (which has happened more than once) – I don't experience that as "being included".

    Lastly, and this is another of Rebecca's points, maybe, just maybe we overdo the polarity talk. I have to say when I hit yet another polarity, lined up yet again against M&F, in yet another Divine Dance Of Erotic Heterosexual Embrace - I don't get angry, I just get bored. Again?

    Coming as I do (and I know you do too, Chris) from a Trinitarian tradition, I kind of feel the dyad's got its limits. Perhaps in terms of dynamic teaching, we could have an occasional Divine Threesome?

    I'm sympathetic to what you say above, Chris, about not wanting to collapse into some bland, androgynous space where gender is simply elided because it's inconvenient. Also as Gail says, we ought to honour that these perspectives have played a role in the traditions for a reason.

    I'm inclined toward the political tactics of my youth: don't wash the gender out, just Queer It Up! More genders, not less. Beyond dyads to trinities, quads and quints! Not just heterosexual embrace, but a homo-inclusive Divine...

    Anyway. Just my thoughts. Thanks for one of the few integral gender discussions I've experienced as spacious and welcoming.

  • Comment Link Duff Tuesday, 25 January 2011 04:34 posted by Duff

    Critique of gender essentialism in Integralism is sorely needed.

    The Masculine, Deida says, is the Witness or the Unmoved aspect of Consciousness. The Feminine, in contrast, is Light or Energy-Radiance, the Manifest Form of Consciousness.

    This teaching is the classic teaching of the Shiva-Shakti Tantric tradition. Lord Shiva is Dark and Unmoved, The Death or Deatheless Ease of Consciousness. Goddess Shakti is the Dancing Wild Energy of Manifestation.


    ...except of course when Lord Shiva is in one of his most popular forms, the form of Nataraja, lord of the dance:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nataraja

    Shiva also appears as a hermaphrodite:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ardhanari

    In Vajrayana, prajnaparamita is vast empty space, but depicted as a woman:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prajnaparamita

    As you noted, Integralism has reified space as masculine and form as feminine, but it is easy to conceive the opposite, and in fact this ideology doesn't hold true for the very religious traditions it is appropriating.

    The empty space of the womb holds the creation of the new form of a child. Even phallus can be conceptualized as feminine and yoni as masculine without too much backward bending hermeneutics---the phallus surrenders to the yoni and is complete subsumed within it until emerging limp, having totally surrendered its essence.

    In Tantric Quest: An Encounter with Absolute Love, Daniel Odier describes his time with a Kashmir Shaivist female guru. The practices he was taught were downright sensual, not simply resting in space or concentrating intently (although notably those as well as various ascetic practices were all part of his initiation).

    Notably, all the teachers you mentioned are highly controversial. Deida has partnered with "pick up artist" Eben Pagan in promoting his workshops:

    http://ebenpagan.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/come-see-david-deida-with-me/

    (Note that this weekend workshop cost "$5,000 for a male/female couple or $3,000 for an individual to attend.")

    Pagan got famous for his ebooks where he suggests men act like alpha male gorillas by subtly insulting women in order to get laid.

    Genpo Roshi markets his Zenlightenment with Bill "push button zen" Harris who rumor has it paid Roshi to become a certified zen priest...whatever that means.

    I like Sophia Diaz, but she's incredibly intense, and notably used to be Deida's partner.

    Marc Gafni has a pretty sordid past as well.

    Personally I think Integralism's main problem is that it has neglected to engage with postmodern critiques of gender, especially feminist and sociological thought, largely due to Wilber's Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Instead, Integralism as ideology has adopted conventional, heteronormative gender roles as universal spiritual truths, putting the level of dialogue on par with the Christian Coalition.

  • Comment Link Duff Tuesday, 25 January 2011 04:52 posted by Duff

    Oh! Almost forgot to mention the most intelligent integral voice on this subject, that of Joseph Gelfer. His accessible academic book Numen, Old Men contains within it a powerful critique of Wilber and Deida's views of the masculine and feminine. Gelfer also has a book on masculinity available free online at http://masculinityconspiracy.wordpress.com/

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 25 January 2011 18:43 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Duff.

    Thanks for the comment.

    That's an excellent point you make re: how Shiva "himself" and Shakti "herself" can be gender bent even in the traditions themselves. That the traditions are way more heterogeneous than we normally think they are. Point to Duff.

    I did however state in an earlier comment that I don't want this thread to turn into a teacher bashing thing. I realize this is subtle terrain and no one is above reproach, but I honestly thought at the end there you got a little too easy with the swipes.

    I'll just say for myself, even though I disagree on this masculine/feminine point, I have found a great deal of wisdom in each of the teachers I named in my critique.

    Though on the other (other) hand, talking about masculine/feminine does immediately get into power and sex and those are some topics that are definitely not being spoken about with enough truth-telling (in love) in the integral community I think. So I take your point even if I think it could have been framed in a different manner.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 25 January 2011 18:53 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Tim.

    That's an excellent point about "threesomes". And I hear you on the point re: gays and lesbians that the whole masculine feminine as energies in straight and gay doesn't seem to quite cut it.

    I mean our path Christianity would largely be labeled feminine (if we are using these terms). But I don't really identify with that term in that way. I can identify with descent--that seems quite real to me. But I don't think it's made me feminine in any way. But it has opened me to grace/descent/agape--but still in a (straight) man's body, and in terms of my person, what most people would call a guy guy.

    So I tend to see these energies as amazingly flexible and able to be expressed in all kinds of culture, psychological, gender, etc variations. Though with an underlying current throughout them.

    I just don't find the more Pop101 Version of these teachings getting at that kind of play and creativity. I agree with you, norming it so strictly can really disempower folks and lead them to disown these energies--feel like they don't measure up. When in reality, they might be doing just fine (or well on their way) just in a distinct container.

  • Comment Link shamansun Wednesday, 26 January 2011 00:37 posted by shamansun

    Hey Chris,

    I'm relatively new to reading this blog, but I come pleasantly surprised about the balance between critique and optimism towards the Integral community and theory. I really like your major points about labeling. It's difficult to imagine that the cosmos can be so neatly divided between masculine and feminine.

    One of the ways I think we can help balance the complexity/dynamics of Masculine, Feminine, Light and Dark, Expansion and Contraction, is to consider the intricacy of mythology.

    Myth weaves between light and dark and comes "packaged" together, often in ways which dark compliments the light. I think this is important, and perhaps in our "post-modern" culture, where we no longer base our thinking on the paradoxical and imaginative nature of myth, we tend to simplify and classify everything too quickly.

    Cosmic principles are rich, and are often un-nameable (or can only barely be categorized), so your call for a certain openness towards these principles is a good thing to hear. I hope the community heeds your warning.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 26 January 2011 05:26 posted by Chris Dierkes

    s-sun,

    welcome to the site. thanks for the comment.

    I'm glad you found it both appreciative and respectfully critical. That was the tone I was trying very hard to convey in this one in particular (and the site generally). So I'm glad that came through.

    I like what you wrote in terms of myth. Have you done any writing in that area?

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 26 January 2011 17:04 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Gail.

    Sorry I'm behind on the response to you.

    Like Vanessa I'm not sure we could ever definitely say why the traditions framed the issue in this way. I think Duff's point is valid that the traditions themselves played with the imagery in ways that I think we in the contemporary West have forgotten. So I'm not sure we can so easily equate Masculine and Feminine with the traditions (even as I did in this article).

    In [Western] Christianity, the soul is considered (classically) feminine and God masculine and therefore one enters in a (metaphorical) erotic relationship with God in spiritual practice. Men are said to have feminine souls because souls are feminine period in this construct. I think it's one of the reasons churches have difficulty getting (straight) men to attend--because of this gender language they are afraid they have to become gay to become Christian....because they have to erotically love Jesus.

    The less well known form of this in Christianity is the distinction between God and Godhead (as in say Eckhart). God is considered active and Godhead unmoved ("passive"). God is Masculine and Godhead is Feminine (as gendered words) in both Latin and German. That would be more like the Taoist tradition. But again even there note how quickly receptive can become passive. And in a society in which women had no public voice/rights, what does passive say in terms of inner experience as well as social forms?

    As with the Masculine/Feminine above more in relation to Eastern traditions, I think we can still use the love mysticism (still embody/practice it) and God/Godhead, but I need not refer to my soul as feminine nor does God need to be normed as masculine. It's fine (I believe) if we want to say that (or even switch the roles), so long as we remember we are being really really really metaphorical.

    One (and only one) reason I think why masculine/feminine became so common is that these positions arose in times when the sexes were socially radically differentiated. The energies themselves are quite radically distinct (and yet one). So I imagine that was an obvious social analogue to that experience and was easily linked up.

    Our society is not one in which the sexual roles are so sharply divided and my question then is do this analog connect anymore for people (many? most? some?). Or is it subtly (even if unintentionally) reifying older social forms under the guise of a spiritual teaching?

    Also English is not a language in which we are accustomed to speaking of things in gender. Other than I guess country songs where their truck/car is a woman :). So we hear gender language specifically in gender reality in ways that perhaps those raised in say Romance languages (where nouns have gender casing) would be more open to hearing in other ways. We might say that's a deficiency in the English language and our English-speaking minds (might well be), but as a tactical matter is it realistic to try to single handedly reform English?

    So taking the long road, back to your question: What are we going to lose if we drop the use of Masculine and Feminine? I don't know that we could know all the ramifications for sure.

    We do know (basically) what would be gained. It would allow people to begin to experience Eros without immediately sexualizing it as is (I believe) the overwhelming (and often negative) pattern in Western culture. I think that's problematic in many many ways.

    I think we can also safely say that the resistance and criticisms and anger that Sarah discussed at an event like ISE (in relation to this topic) would dissipate. It would allow those who have such feelings to still interact with these teachings (to their benefit I believe).

    But of course I'm sure something would be lost. I'm not sure what exactly. It's not an absolute determination but a relative value judgment. That was point #3, given the relative weight of #1 & #2, my interpretation of that evidence is that it's best to drop it. Not in all cases certainly, not without it's own problems, but overall I think the better way forward.

    I do still have a hard time imagining people couldn't get the essentials (or at least the basics) of this with gender-neutral terms like Directive/Receptive or Consciousness-Embodiment.

    Thanks for pushing back and raising this point.

  • Comment Link Gail Hochachka Friday, 28 January 2011 06:07 posted by Gail Hochachka

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for circling back!

    About the traditions: hmmm... I don't really get your first paragraph about suddenly de-coupling this from the traditions--seems to be evasive. Perhaps the best way I can reply at this point in regards to that is: I just don't feel ready to really do what you are suggesting in my own practice. I have so much regard for the lineages I practice in, and I don't want to practice in a neutered spirituality...where my Buddhist teacher can teach on Yin and Yang compassion, or Tantra Yoga teacher has to alter the references to Shiva/Shakti away from any possible translation of masculine/feminine. That is my own personal preference... and I hope you can allow me that....

    Where I do completely agree with you (and everyone who'd commented so far) is in how there seems to be 'problem' alight and alive in the integral community in our irreverent and simplistic uses and understandings of these terms. I actually see the teachers using these in skillful, appropriate ways and frankly was put off by Duff's slagging of each of them above. But, I do think that on the whole our community has not fully integrated pluralism and green values. And so, the uses of masculine and feminine, even if they are said in an integral context (like ISE), they come loaded with a lot of unexamined assumptions, sexism, power issues, etc. And then throw in our personal and social shadows around sexuality, and it's pretty darn messy! For simplicity, let's call this the 'core issue' at play here. And it seems that you have noticed that core issue too, which was the inspiration to write this article, yes? In regards to that, I am totally with you. Where it seems we differ is our approaches to addressing that core issue.

    If I got this right, your view is that the use of these terms is fraught, hurtful, unnecessary since we could refer only to what they point to, doing more damage than good, and much more could be gained by not using the terms at all. Summed up in your three points outlined at the end.

    My sense is that simply getting rid of the terms could be a remedial solution, but doesn't address the core issue necessarily. That is, changing the language doesn't necessarily change the awareness behind the terms. I agree it can be a remedial solution to alter how we speak, but removing terms from our discourse doesn't necessarily grow our awareness. Someone who no longer says, 'Indians' and instead now says, 'First Nations' may still be completely racist, prejudice, ignorant of the power issues at play, unaware of white privilege, and so forth... Same idea in this instance here. And so, perhaps I agree with the solution you are proposing to this core issue as a remedial way to get us at least thinking about these things. But, I doubt that it will get at the heart of the core issue. The people at ISE got upset about the use of two little words? Nah,...I would hedge a guess, it wasn't the terms per se, but the ways they were used and the awareness that came through whatever was said. So, we could strip the teachings of all their references to masculine and feminine, but very likely the core issue would remain if we don't also address it.

    Which brings me back to my personal interest to keep these terms (and their energy) in my practice. If we set aside the terms, I worry we actually bury the issue, instead of keeping it above board, overt, and directly on our radar, so that we can actually work to clarify and make conscious these very energies that are inherent to human experience.

    So, to sum up... Speaking more consciously and re-framing our use of terms as a remedial solution, sure! But, most important to address the core issue will still require us to mature our awareness around this issue. Which is hard work. And I believe made harder if we cull the terms out of the discourse and risk repressing the core issue, which would covertly seep out anyway. I am keen on keeping them in the discourse for us to work out the kinks in our own consciousness. Which, in some sense, is how this article has served those reading it. Let's have more of this overt talk on the subject, rather than less.

    I really hope, Chris, you see how much I am agreeing with you. I am only writing this to add something to what you are calling for, not to take anything away. If I am off in my understanding of this, help me see what I am not seeing. I hope what I've shared makes sense in some way and isn't completely out of left-field. Or, maybe just a little bit... :)

    In any case, thanks for drawing me back in here. You know how reluctant I was! At this point, I bow out simply because I am getting on a plane in a day or so (!) and have tons to organize prior to this trip. So, any silence from this point on doesn't mean we can't pick up the thread over coffee when I get back! Which I will look forward to.

    Lots of love and deep bows.
    Gail

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Friday, 28 January 2011 09:28 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Ha, I told you this conversation was addictive Gail! :)

    No, but in all seriousness, I really appreciate your points here. Thanks for piping up and offering your views. I'd like to offer one response to your position here with a little challenge to you. In general, as I said in my last post, I don't take the position of being strictly against the use of the terms, simply because I have no desire to police people for using them :) and I also think it does partly depend on context and purpose.

    I also deeply agree with your critique that the issues are more than "words deep" so to speak, and that simply getting rid of the terms won't address the underlying issues. That said, where I might offer a challenge to your position is in regards to your idea that keeping the language in play will actually keep us better aware and conscious about the problems that they point to and aid us in bringing more complex awareness to our understanding of gender.

    To use your analogy, this feels a bit to me like saying we should keep using the word Indian instead of Native American because it keeps us more conscious of our own racism. This seems like a bit of a flawed argument to me. Again, I'm not saying I'm strictly against the use of the terms (or even that the masculine/feminine terminology is the same as racist terminology, although some might argue that it definitely carries historical baggage of oppression), but I think something to keep in mind is also the way that language frames our reality.

    Perhaps we could get to a day when we are so conscious and skilled that when we deploy the masculine/feminine terminology it will be totally free of historical gendered baggage. It's possible, but I think it is also worth questioning if the terminology is itself set up to continually reinforce binary thinking? The terminology actually sets up a particular frame of reality that by its nature puts us into binary thinking. That is why I wonder if it is even possible to incorporate the postmodern critique into that language. The masculine/feminine terminology and the postmodern critique may actually be incompatible frames of reality reference. I don't know this for sure, but I think it is important to consider...

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Saturday, 29 January 2011 04:31 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Gail,

    Thanks for replying. I do hear that there is much agreement as well as some disagreement (between friends).

    I certainly don't want to cut anyone off from practice they find beneficial (including yourself of course). I'm just concerned by what I consider to be the monolithic use of the terms masculine and feminine in the integral spiritual world. Because I find them (at this point in my life) distinctly unhelpful to my own growth, so I find myself turned off by teachers employing those frames because they don't align with my experience. At least exclusively--as if they weren't contested terms which I think they most certainly are.

    I spend a lot of my time around gay and lesbian folk in my church life and I just can't see them getting on board with the way this is presented. I could be wrong about that one, but I just can't imagine that would do anything but turn those folks off.

    So it's not a censoring function for me. More that I think this other voice that isn't getting play in the integral world and ought to.

    As to the traditions, I'm just doing what I take to be a legitimate application of Ken's insight in Integral Spirituality that the traditions arose before the philosophical awareness of the intersubjective, linguistic turn (LL). As I understand post-metaphysics, there is no final one truth "out there" separate from human interpretation--interpretation occurred within the traditions themselves. And I think in this case, this interpretative framework is not really helping us and turning off a lot of people to this otherwise profound work. Not that my way again is the only response and we should repress such terminology but it's really worth asking as a framework if it's really moving us forward.

    I'm admittedly skeptical.

    I think we can retain the practices and their experiences were absolutely valid (and still are) but we need frameworks of understanding that are appropriate to our context and time. [Our here meaning postmodern Western....it might be very valid in other contexts].

    In that sense, I'm not really sure I totally get your frame around the core issue. I'm not sure I get how using different terms for the polarities of spiritual consciousness and emobdiment represses the core issue of sexuality? I did say that I think the terms masculine and feminine could apply more wisely to gender (LL) and its relation to things like sex (UR), orientation (UL). These are all issues (as I understand it) that were not really available to the traditions.

    In that sense, I don't think spiritual practice as its framed in the integral world (via traditions) is itself getting at what you call the core issue. I don't think it's designed to. I think it's getting at something else (hence my position).

    I do think the core issue needs to be examined but needs aids from other disciplines: cultural studies, biology, psychology, etc.

    Sure someone could (to speak really crudely) "only" teach Consciousness and Embodiment. This wouldn't repress the issue of sexuality but simply bypass it altogether (which is not something I advocate). Just as someone could deeply study the issue of gender and not have practiced Consciousness & Embodiment polarities. Obviously I think an integral embrace seeks both--or at least is honest about the limitations of one's own teaching.

    So I don't think (from my end) it's as simple as Masculine and Feminine are being too simplistically used. I think that's part of it but like Vanessa I think it might go a little deeper into the terms themselves (even in their "best" or most nuanced fashion).

  • Comment Link Rich Munn Thursday, 03 February 2011 20:35 posted by Rich Munn

    Hi Chris, I'm enjoying meeting you through writings/comments on this site.

    Hi Vanessa and Gail, I'm enjoying hearing you both talk so intelligently on the issues of gender, sexuality and spiritual practice.

    For myself, I've been having similar thoughts/concerns for a number of years and a lot of them have been voiced here and I find myself smiling with that.

    The points that come forward for me are:

    1. Deida puts Masculine and Feminine into the "Yogic" domain, not the "Spiritual." This is important. Why? Because ultimately they are contractions, fixed identities. From the perspective of Emptiness neither are who we are . . . yet I see a lot of people defining themselves by these terms and carving strong energetic grooves on either "side." They aren't Freedom.

    2. The question of sexuality and freedom within "spiritual" scenes is often poorly understood. Suzuki Roshi once commented on the "green" students who came to see him that "they don't know what true freedom is." I see a lot of people dressing their (healthy or unhealthy) egoic sexual drives in spiritual jargon and calling that "freedom."

    3. I have not begun Tantric practice proper as my realization is not mature enough. The perspective my practice is formed by is Tibetan and Japanese Tantric Buddhism however. In the Tibetan tradition the Masc./Fem. applications to men and women are inverted when compared to Deida's often Hindu Tantric presentation.

    In the Japanese Tantra of Battodo (sword training) the imagery is one of a Sword and a Dragon or Serpent, the Sword representing Awareness, the Serpent representing Energy, so there's no gendered/sexed representation present. One could say to this that Sword practice itself is very masculine (this is often said and men are often encouraged to get in touch with their "samurai" in men's work), however in order to engage an opponent with a sword one must be intensely receptive and penetrative and able to switch rapidly between both, requiring one to be, at core, bigger than either.

    4. How many people are truly interested in Tantric sexual practice? I see a lot of things labeled as 'Tantra' but really they are useful therapeutic methods.

    Tantra is to actualize the reality of non-ego. How many women would like their lover to say "Sweetheart, your Radiance is shining so powerfully through your haggard old face, which is why I want you as a consort."?

    Whether or not anyone would say this, I don't know. My point however is to ask how attached most people are to very samsaric (one's physical attractiveness, for example) points of refuge and engage in spiritual materialism to build up these samsaric places of "safety."? My guess is quiet a lot of people.

  • Comment Link Jeremy Johnson Monday, 07 February 2011 19:58 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    Good critique here! I would also like to add that maybe it is not so much the use of masculine and feminine being the problem, but the incorrect understanding. When we have such masculinized systems, based upon hierarchy (higher, lower), and prop ourselves up (and prop our teachers up), we are lacking the attention to the more chaotic, feminine dimensions of spiritual growth. As for the feminine in spirituality, please consider that the Tao is often regarded in more feminine characteristics. These qualities go deeper than is often reflected in our culture. If we harken back to the Goddess cultures of the past, perhaps we can get a better idea of what the chaotic, anarchic, wild/feminine dimension of reality is like and how it needs to be incorporated into our understanding. If we neglect it, it comes up to bite us. There is a place for masculine/feminine discussion, but could it also be said we are witnessing a cultural shift from an over-masculinized Western civilization to perhaps a more balanced, feminized planetary one?

    I have the work of William Irwin Thompson's in mind here, with his studies on the Goddess cultures of the upper paleolithic, and his study of the Tao. Have you (Chris) or anyone else read this work?

  • Comment Link Julia Wednesday, 02 March 2011 15:36 posted by Julia

    We are easily confused and hooked by shape. Especially the shape of words. Nice work. No argument. A generous articulation.

  • Comment Link vernpeace Thursday, 03 March 2011 16:33 posted by vernpeace

    hi, much...much...more...useful
    ...to...consider...the...poles
    ...of...a...magnet...as...this
    ...is...where...it...all...started
    ...and...became...the...other...terms
    ...much...much...later...when...they
    ...forgot...the...truth...and...the...
    myths...began!

    peace&love...vern

  • Comment Link William Harryman Tuesday, 15 March 2011 00:07 posted by William Harryman

    Hey Chris,

    I missed this first time around - then you mentioned it on Facebook the other day - glad you did.

    Excellent - puts into words some misgivings I have had about Deida for a while now, but could not articulate.

    Much appreciated.

  • Comment Link paul hess Saturday, 02 April 2011 17:50 posted by paul hess

    I agree that terms like masculine and feminine need to be handled very carefully. The worst use of these terms occurs in some versions of the search for "feminine power" that implicitly or explicitly assumes that females are morally superior and that a just society would be matriarchal or gynocentric. Many who believe that deny it. For example, social constructionist feminists deny any gender differences yet scapegoat men for all the world's problems. The idea is that women don't have hierarchical categories since they are more relational, so women don't believe in superiority like men do, so men are inferior for believing in superiority and women are superior for not believing they are superior. So the denial is logical, in sense. Pretty funny.
    The underlying ontological problem is to cast duality as dichotomies of exclusive difference of good and evil. The alternative is to cast twos as complementary dualities like yin and yang that can be harmonized externally and internally--this would be the basis of healthy masculine and feminine polarity. These ontologies reflect the difference between a logic of connection versus a logic of separation.
    I believe that use of terms like feminine and masculine should follow empirical research carefully, such as, the roles of parents. There is research that shows that the experience with mother represents closeness and the experience with fathers represents independence, as is reflected in their respective positions in reproduction and parenting styles. As we get older, these roles can be blended. From a dualist perspective, there is biological and socialization always.
    Examination of dualities gets interesting when thing are imbalanced. For example, there is much literature about how fathers have been relatively less influential in modern societies giving more weight to feminine socialization. This contributes to the emergence of the hyper feminine, which is the feminine conceived under dichotomy. This happens because the father cannot separate the child from mother to help adult individuation, thus consciousness remains merged with the overbearing mother. The myth of Ganeesh is about this, as interpreted by Robert Bly.
    There are political implications for this, a politics of victimization and matriarchy, that are explained by Howard S Schwartz in his critique of the left, which explains pathology on the left. Left dogmatism can be constructed around a metaphor of the hyper-feminine over-bearing mother that must have agreement--most feminists especially are dogmatic like that.
    George Lakoff explains the pathology of the right with his strict father model of conservative politics, which are basically hyper masculine politics based on extreme independence which is autonomy. This is fear based and the need to control and fear of feelings.
    Another huge piece that must be understood for all this to make sense, is Warren Farrell's book The Myth of Male Power that shows that men are worse off than women by most things we can measure and that refutes the theory of patriarchy. Almost all people on the left are completely closed to hearing that. The myth of patriarchy creates feelings of victimization in women and shame in men, and sets up a dichotomy of good and evil in which many women adopt a competitive attitude toward men. One of my spiritual teachers, Lola Jones, said that most worshiping the Goddess and Devine feminine are attempts to over-throw the masculine. The main problem is thinking of masculine and feminine in terms of a dichotomy and logic of separation.

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