We don’t know each other, although we have some contacts in common—my mentor, Carol Gilligan, and one of my co-authors on Mother Daughter Revolution, Marie Wilson. Of course, I say this to give myself a bit of legitimacy, because you are given advice from every corner—about as often as women are told to “smile” on the street—and why should you listen to me?
The personal and cultural dimensions of gender identity, intersected with class and race, have been my “beat,” so to speak. Identity and dignity are the passion drivers in this election. They call us to larger narratives and hopes for the future in which you, by virtue of your gender, race, and class, have played and are playing a dramatic, archetypal role. You seem to be a bit tone-deaf to the archetypal dimension of the campaign. You cannot … Read More »
Creation is the realm of Eros. No, I don’t mean eros as in erotic. There is a deeper meaning and experience of Eros that includes and goes beyond sexuality. This other, less known Eros comes from the Greeks, and emerged before the beautiful young god of erotic love that most of us are familiar with. Eros was the first deity to emerge from Chaos, coming into being simultaneously with the earth and the underworld. This Eros is often shown as neither male nor female. Creation couldn’t have happened without it. This Eros is the primordial creative impulse, the motive that drives all matter into its extraordinary manifestation as the Cosmos and all the lifeforms, including ourselves, that exist within it. That Eros, just like the erotic drive of sexuality, exists in all of us humans. Too often, we are not … Read More »
The hope for a united, pluralistic German culture within a larger unity of Europe will, to a considerable degree, depend on how we think about who we are as women and men. Just look at the gender muddle stirred up by the Koeln New Year’s attacks. How do we not blame women for being “provocative” and simultaneously not stigmatize men from cultures in which, as one Muslim asylum seeker from Eritrea said, “if someone wants a lady he can just take her and he will not be punished”? We are living side by side with such vastly different beliefs about the right and appropriate ways for women and men to behave. These differences aren’t casual or mere irritations. They go to the living heart of who we are.
Right now, gender is a minefield. The progress toward gender equality has created … Read More »
Gender, in a diverse global context, is an ongoing confrontation. The ways that we embody being male or female (or neither) vary remarkably from culture to culture, place to place. However, I find it very striking that it’s often very difficult to see this clearly. And if we do, it’s then very difficult not to have some kind of personal, emotional reaction to these differences—often some form of repulsion. Such responses are often particularly visceral because gender is entwined with the power and lure of sexuality. I’m not necessarily speaking about practices like Female Genital Mutilation, but the more subtle ways that our core identities frame our perceptions of what is normal, good, and right. A deep and unconscious attachment to our core gender identity easily can make us into subtle imperialists.
Our shared resistance, particularly in the West, to a … Read More »
I don’t know what “equality” really means any more. It’s so strange that after fifty years of movement toward gender equality, so much has changed, and yet what we have now is not the social transformation that I hoped for. In fact, we’re far from it.
Maybe I’m being too idealistic to expect more. But I didn’t expect that equality would come to be defined, as I feel it largely has been, as the equal right to do whatever one wants to do, to fulfill one’s lusts however one desires, regardless of the effect on anyone else. Somehow, even the notion of equality has become a tool of the status quo that plays zero sum games with men’s vs. women’s dignity, self-respect, and autonomy. My original inspiration could best be described as “the more beautiful world that our hearts know is … Read More »
The Potential of We Beyond the Gender Binary
Sometimes, when watching Kirstie Simson dance with others in concert, a different possibility for women and men arises before my eyes. Unlike the swan-like princesses and dashing dark-clad heroes of classical ballet that so often play out the polarity of feminine and masculine, the whirl of colliding, sinking, rolling, lifting bodies in Simson’s work defies any expected pattern. Female dancers drive and pounce, males curl and receive, or vice versa in endless permutations of call and response. An energetic impulse leaps from one dancer to another, passing through the dancer’s body, compelling it into motion to touch and move on. The sense is of human beings liberated, simple and open, in spontaneous creation. I forget that I am watching women and men, female and male, and find myself surprised and amazed by the … Read More »
When I watched Conchita Wurst sing her way to victory in the Eurovision competition in May 2014, I was thrilled. It wasn’t simply because her win was a triumph for transgender people everywhere (particularly given Putin’s gaybashing) but her unique masculine femininity (or vice versa) points us to a future in which the gender polarity that we feel is “normal” will no longer make sense. Conchita Wurst—the stage persona created by singer Thomas Neuwirth—breaks through drag queen conventions by sporting a full beard and no female prosthetics while wearing false eyelashes, big hair, and a sparkling gown. The transgender impulse challenges the very nature of male and female that has been the foundation of modern culture. It is an impulse toward a transcendence of biology that places a priority on freedom from the dualisms of modernity—masculine/feminine, mind/body, culture/nature—and thereby holds … Read More »
The Demise of the Heroic Leader
In Sleepwalkers, the fascinating history of the events that led Europe to war in 1914, historian Chris Clark asks an intriguing question: Was a crisis of masculinity an unconscious driving force behind the decisions that led to such a catastrophe? Clark observes that “invocations of fin-de-siècle manliness” were “ubiquitous” in the leaders’ rationalizations for their actions: the necessity of staying “stiff,” having “an unshakeable firmness of will,” seeing inaction as “self-castration,” and so forth. The pressure on elite patrician men was to embody a “harder and more abstinent” masculinity of “stamina, toughness, duty, and unstinting service.” This foundation of identity was inseparable from their motives as leaders. Not surprisingly, Clark’s question caused my ears to perk up. As someone interested in the intersection of gender and culture, I found his investigation intriguing—not just for … Read More »
In all species where there is a male and female, “except the bear and leopard,” Aristotle wrote, “the females are less spirited than the males. The females are softer and more mischievous.” Continuing, he asserts that, “Woman is more compassionate than man, more tearful, but at the same time more jealous, more apt to scold, more shameless, more prone to despondency, more deceptive. The male is more courageous and ready to help.”
There you have it, 2300 years ago: women are emotional, and, as he notes elsewhere, men are rational.
While Aristotle is often the whipping boy of feminists who accuse him of institutionalizing male supremacy in the Western philosophical canon, I don’t blame him. In a warrior culture in which might made right, males were stronger, which automatically meant better. Believing in the superiority of his culture—as we are all wont to … Read More »
As I picked my jaw up off the floor after hearing Rep. Todd Akin’s now infamous statement that women’s uteruses have the magical power to resist impregnation in the case of rape, I wondered, “Where could he have gotten that idea?” Laura Helmuth, writing for Salon.com’s XXfactor, noted that his “statement was a crystallization of Akin’s worldview: sexist, blame-shifting, and profoundly ignorant.”
Then it clicked for me — yes, it’s a worldview but in a much deeper way than Helmuth realizes. The Onion hit the nail on the head when one of their “experts” noted that “It’s almost as if these people are unaware that the Enlightenment, the scientific revolution, various civil rights movements, and the entirety of social progress over the previous several centuries even occurred.”
That’s right. Akin’s views are positively medieval. I mean this literally. Medieval means prerational. And the problem is that rationality, the capacity to … Read More »