Saturday, August 16, 2008

Integral Gender Discussions

To further the conversation started last week by Kelly Bearer at her blog, Black Plum - Emptiness and the AQAL Matrix, (and mentioned here: WIE Editor Suggests the Eradication of Terms Masculine/Feminine), there is a discussion going on at Integral Life that includes Masuline/Feminine as a Stage, with some good stuff being offered up by the various members.]
We need to be really clear which developmental level we are referring to when we use these terms. How human beings have understood sex difference, gender, and gender roles has varied enormously in history in relation to consciousness development. There isn't some "pure" feminine and masculine that is outside of intepretation in culture and embedded in a particular consciousness level. I'm saying that the full embodiment of integral consciousness is new and that we don't yet know what the integral emergence will mean for us as women and men--what the manifestation will be or what these concepts will come to mean. Holding onto ways of thinking about these terms that come from prior levels of development doesn't seem useful to the emergence of the new--and will end up limiting where we think we can go or how we can be. The thing about the evolution of consciousness is that at each new stage, potentials and understandings become possible that couldn't be imagined at a prior level--and may be strenuously resisted.
She makes a great point here.

I have serious doubts about what we can actually say about masculine and feminine beyond our current stage development. The reality is that most of the people living a post-masculine life (or post-feminine, for that matter, but I'll be focusing on the masculine), are doing so far from the discussions in which we are engaged. We don't know what a post-maculine man is, but we do know that the feminized men who seem to be increasing in numbers aren't what we want to see for the future of masculinity.

Although I tend to agree with Debold that we can't possibly know what an integral consciousness will look like, since none of us are there yet (yeah, I know there are many people claiming to be, but I really don't think it's anything more than intellectualization of integral concepts).

One thing that seems rather obvious and seems to have been overlooked is that no matter where our consciousness develops, we are still human beings in distinctly human bodies, male or female.

A truly integral viewpoint, if I may offer some conjecture, will include the physical body as part of its consciousness, not leave it behind. Therefore we will never be free of the physical concepts of male and female. This is good!

I'd like to see the concept of masculinity evolve to encompass a prepersonal, personal, and post-personal defintions. For example, we might see the prepersonal as being male, the physical self. The personal stage might be agentic, the realization of personal power and the ability to engage the body's energy to create. The post-personal stage might be eros, the drive to transcend and evolve. [For women it would be female, communion, agape.]

Now the other part of this is that once we get past the prepersonal, men can embody the feminine qualities and women can embody the masculine qualities, but they will look different because the physical foundation is different, the biology is different.

Try as we like, we are always human beings embodied in either a male or female physicality -- any attempt to not include that truth is doomed to failure. However, biology is not destiny, so we can choose, to a certain extent, how we want to embody those gender qualities that are not purely physical.


MrTeacup said...

What you describe here is no different from biology is destiny.

You say "we can choose, to a certain extent... qualities that are not purely physical", but you also say that even when women embody masculine values, they still do so in basically a female way. They aren't truly embodying masculinity, only a man can do that. And vice versa.

The problem is that you've made these categories normative. The feminized man is bad, the alpha male, the "real" male is good. How does homosexuality fit into this picture? The inescapable conclusion that we draw from this is that it's a perversion of your true male and female essences.

What if a man likes being a metrosexual? From a relationship perspective, women like men who are comfortable with their feminine side because it leads to greater intimacy. The ideal you describe of manly men and feminine women probably does lead to a more intense kind of relationship, but that's because each individual has repressed their opposite gender, and projected it on to their partner, so the relationship feels like being made whole again. It feels right, but that's because the psyches are fractured, and really we are in relationship with what we need our partner to be rather than who they really are.

WH said...

Mr Teacup,

I would qualify your assessment by saying biology is not destiny, but it sets certain parameters that are not transcended until we move way beyond our current stages of development. I think that we can reach those stages within an inter-subjective context, although it might be a while before we can do so in any real and lasting sense. But even then, if we are fully integrated, we don't leave the body behind, we are still embodied consciousnesses, with whatever gifts and limitations come with our particular neurochemistry and hormones.

I'm not totally opposed to a man being a metrosexual (most people who know me probably put me in that classification), but not at the expense of being a man. It's not an either/or issue to me, which is where the problem seems to come. It's both/and -- we can be both masculine and have good grooming skills. We can be both fierce and compassionate. We can be both strong and tender. My sense is that many metrosexuals are becoming more feminine at the cost of the positive masculine values.

Some women do like men who are more feminine in their energy, but my guess, based on recent studies, is that these relationships don't last. They want manly men who are also sensitive and empathic, and I don't see why we can't see this as an ideal.

As far as homosexuality, I see no contradictions. Some gay men tend to adopt very feminine modes of relating. I'm not sure this is an issue -- they are choosing to embody their feminine selves more than most men do. It's a choice, but at the end of the day, they are still men with male biology and male brains (although there are some studies suggesting that some gay men have more "feminine" brains). I'm not really qualified to talk about this, so I probably should just leave it to the researchers who are, and the men who are living this reality.

For the most part, in this blog I am addressing straight-identified men, so I don't consider the gay man's perspective as much as I maybe should. I would prefer to leave that to someone more qualified, like Joe Perez.

I appreciate the thoughtful comments. I am not SURE about any of this, just enjoying the exploration.


MrTeacup said...

we can be both masculine and have good grooming skills

Would you say that good grooming skills are rooted in feminine biology? To me, the idea that men are fundamentally violent and aggressive (and ungroomed) and in need of civilizing by women is a Victorian myth that calls the Red stage masculine and the Amber stage feminine - I think this is part of what Debold is getting at. This is a strategy that Western culture because it needs to valorize Red to encourage men to kill themselves in war. So what men are faced with is an impossible situation: that you aren't a real man unless you are Red, but its completely unacceptable for you to be Red in everyday life. The only good man is a dead man, or a man who is preparing to die for the culture and stays invisible until then, at which point he is worshipped as a hero.

So the perspective of "You aren't a real man unless you do X and don't do Y" - is ultimately the language of male disposability, as Warren Farrell points out. I think there is a partial truth in the observation the feminized man is not permitted to embody masculine virtues, but the traditional alternative is far more vicious and brutal to men, which it calls "natural and authentic manliness". Why is it necessary to force young boys to endure decades of brutal punishment, psychological and physical violence which ultimately results in self-hatred, homophobia and misogyny to ensure that they grow up to embody "natural" masculinity? This is a celebration of being a man? This sounds like a problem to me.

Some women do like men who are more feminine in their energy, but my guess, based on recent studies, is that these relationships don't last

Please provide some links to those studies. I've read quite a lot about a cultural backlash against metrosexuals, which is both good and bad. Some women don't like metrosexuals, and some men don't want to be that either, and that's fine. But reading between the lines, the language follows the same lines as the above "You aren't a real man unless..." As soon as we engage in that kind of discussion, of putting men in a box, we justify some form of male disposability. Futhermore, why is it necessary to define and enforce that box if men are in it naturally anyway? You can immediately see parallels between the belief that men are naturally in the box the culture defines and the discredited belief that black people naturally belong in the box labeled slave.

they are choosing to embody their feminine selves more than most men do. It's a choice, but at the end of the day, they are still men with male biology and male brains

So for you, homosexuality is a choice?

WH said...

Quick note, as I'll address your more substantive comments when I have a little more time.

NO, being gay is NOT a choice. Being a "feminine" gay man is a choice, in part. I know a lot of gay men who are very "masculine," so I don't see being effeminate as a "natural" part of being gay.

I TOTALLY believe people are gay or straight at birth, not by choice but by genetics.

More later,

Riverwolf said...

In a perfect world, i think those who see themselves as transgender could teach us a lot. They're more visible than ever before, but still not heard as often as they should be.

gregory said...

oh, gosh, i so much dislike sexist and genderist conversations, but want to offer that you may benefit from changing your mind about a couple of things that only serve to limit your efforts.

of course you can know what the next level is, just stop thinking you are a gender. that is what it is.