Early in my writing, I took an important distinction for granted—that between gender and archetypall-masculine or archetypally-feminine qualities. I assumed that the difference between these two kinds of concepts would be obvious. I now recognize that for many people this is a new kind of distinction. I also find myself more and more struck by the important implications this distinction has for making good choices in our individual lives and also for effective policy.
A primer on the difference: Gender is obvious (well, these days perhaps not so much). Gender archetype concerns human qualities and tendencies. The essential recognition for these reflections is that such characteristics are not specific to gender. We find both archetypally-masculine qualities (such as assertiveness, ambition, and the tendency to draw most strongly on the more rational aspects of intelligence), and archetypally-feminine characteristics (such as receptivity, the capacity to nurture, and a tendency to draw most strongly on more emotional and intuitive aspects of intelligence) in both men and women.
Why then do we think of these qualities in gender terms at all? We do so for a couple of reasons. In part it is because there are in fact gender differences. We see, on average, about a 60/40 balance of these qualities relative to gender—with men, on average, having a bit more of the archetypally masculine, and woman a bit more of the archetypally feminine. I emphasize “on average.” There is great individual variation. And the expected balance of archetypal qualities is different with different personality styles. In addition, we think in gender terms because of our historical tendency to polarize perception—to make life’s complexities more manageable by turning them into opposing categories. Historically, we’ve simplified quantitative differences with great variation by dividing them into separate male and female realities.
Today, we see important changes in this picture. We still find the same relative balance of qualities within individuals, but the historical tendency to polarize gender has lessoned considerably. The concept of Cultural Maturity provides explanation. Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes make it possible to more deeply engage our human complexities. We come to better appreciate all the various aspects of our makeup and how they interplay to make us who we are. One consequence of these changes is that we no longer need the protection that creating wholly separate gender realities has provided—indeed it now gets in our way. (See Cultural Maturity’s Cognitive Reordering.)
The implications for how we think about the archetypally masculine and the archetypally feminine are equally significant, but those that pertain to the archetypally feminine can be particularly striking—this for the simple reason is that in modern times we have understood the archetypally feminine so poorly. Creative Systems Theory describes how the archetypally feminine’s influence has become less with each stage in the evolution of culture. Today, the whole notion can be difficult for us to grasp. Note that if we are asked the opposite of “active,” most people will say “passive,” not “receptive” (missing that receptivity could not be further from passivity). And when we speak of someone’s “net worth” or a company’s “bottom line,” we we are referring to a wholly monetary—extreme archetyapally masculine—measure.
This historical dissociation from the archetypally feminine provides one of the best arguments for the concept of Cultural Maturity. A Creative Systems notion called the Dilemma of Trajectory observes that if this direction continues we are in effect doomed. We would end up wholly disconnected from an aspect of who we are that is essential to being human. A key attribute of Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes is that they are integrative. As part of that integrative dynamic, they help us reengage the archetypally feminine. The result is wholly different from going back. But Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes do help us again appreciate the archetypally feminine’s role in making us who we are. In the end, Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes help us understand the archetypally feminine’s contribution with a nuance and depth that before now has not been possible.
This aspect of Cultural Maturity is essential to the more mature values necessary if we are to effectively address future challenges of all sorts (see The Future of Morality). It is also critical to the new, more life-affirming kind of systemic understanding that effective decision-making will increasingly require (see Creative Systems Theory). And certainly it is essential to understanding gender—and identity more generally—in ways that can serve us going forward (see The Myth of the Individual).
Some of the implications can at first be surprising—and controversial. Interestingly, they can be most controversial for people who think of themselves as advocates for the feminine. Certainly they can be threatening to people who get caught in political correctness. In the end, these implications expand understanding in ways that benefit everyone. But to fully appreciate them, we have to step back and take in a bigger picture. A few examples illustrate:
First, one from the news. National Public Radio recently did a segment about women and pay. It noted that as far as equal pay for equal work, with most professions we are getting close. But it also observed that there is still great difference between the average pay that men and woman receive—women being paid on average seventy-three percent of what men are paid. The difference is a product of the kinds of jobs men and women are most likely to choose. For example, woman are more likely to be employed as teachers, nurses, or social workers than men, jobs with relatively low salaries.
So far so good. But the liberal commentator then concluded that the discrepancy was a product of gender stereotypes and woman being pushed into these “lower status” occupations. I agree that we still see some of this—the unthinking assumption by teachers and parents that a girl should be a nurse rather than a doctor. But I think the correct interpretation is is more basic—and significant. Because these professions draw strongly on archetypally-feminine capacities, people who most strongly embody such capacities will be attracted to them—both women and men. (I have a temperament where the archetypally feminine is naturally as strong as the masculine. I would much prefer these positions over a job on wall street or as a computer engineer where the pay would be much better.)
Is the right conclusion from the observed discrepancy that we should be directing women toward jobs that emphasize more archetypally-masculine capacities? Certainly woman should have equal access to such positions—and often today they do not. But if there is an important big-picture sociological conclusion, I think it is that we should stop thinking of teachers, nurses, and social workers as “low status” and raise wages accordingly. Archetypally-feminine and archetypally-masculine contributions should be equally compensated. Arguably, because the archetypally feminine is a rarer commodity, work that requires its mature expression should be better compensated. Society needs more exceptional teachers, nurses, and social workers.
A second example turns from individual differences in the here-and-now to distinctions that have to do with how the relationship between the archetypally feminine and the archetypally masculine has evolved through history. I’ve noted that only faint vestiges of the archetypally feminine’s original potency remain in our time. In contrast, in tribal times—when truth was tied most directly to nature, community, and the world of spirits—the primal power of the archetypally feminine dominated. Creative Systems Theory delineates how each chapter in history’s evolving story is ordered by a progressively different relationship between the archetypally feminine and the archetypally masculine. Each new stage is defined a bit more by the archetpally mascline and a bit less by the archetypally feminine (see Patterning in Time).
The second example draws on this evolutionary picture. It comes from international relations. In a previous post, I argued that the biggest source of error with Middle East policy has been a failure on the part of the West to recognize that the groups it is engaging not only hold different beliefs, they occupy different stages in cultural development (see Seeking Effective Middle East Policy). Most of Iraq, for example, confronts us with developmental realities that parallel those of fifteenth to sixteenth century Europe. With Afghanistan, sometimes the appropriate analogy is much earlier—to Europe of the seventh or eighth century. When we miss the fact that we are dealing with stage differences, the best of intentions can result in policies that do harm. For example, we can attempt to impose governmental forms that simply don’t work at that point in cultural development.
Those same good intentions can have us misinterpret issues that relate specifically to gender. For example, we may misinterpret the wearing of the hijab by Islamic woman. People in the West can judge the wearing of the hijab harshly—as a symbol of oppression or denigration. It is true that the wearing of the hijab reflects a cultural reality with distinct gender roles and societal norms in which many kinds of freedom are not available to women. But these things are true with any culture at this stage. If we can include in our thinking about the hijab an appreciation of how cultural systems evolve, our interpretation becomes more generous.
This is particularly the case if we include an understanding of the archetypally feminine’s role in culture’s story. Indeed, we can then legitimately think of the practice as has having an almost opposite kind of significance. The hijab is worn in developmental times in which the archetypally feminine is much stronger than in today’s world. The wearing of the hijab has to do with that strength. The underlying dynamics of this historical period mean that the archetypally feminine’s strength risks being dangerous—to social order, and also to the well-being of both men and woman. Unless care is taken, that strength can undermine yet fragile social structures.
Given this developmental picture, it is reasonable that many more traditional Islamic women find the protective hijab a positive thing. It is also reasonable, given that these realities are in flux, that more progressive Islamic women might prefer to set the hijab aside. The important recognition for these reflections is that the hijab is being set aside not because it symbolizes something negative, but because culture, bit-by-bit, is engaging more modern sensibilities. Big-picture, we can think of this as a positive thing, but not for the reasons people often assume. Ironically for those who frame these changes only in terms of feminine empowerment, it is the fact that the archetypally feminine becomes weaker with modernity that most makes strict protective boundaries less necessary.
A third kind of perhaps surprising—and easily controversial—recognition is more explicitly psychological. As a psychiatrist, I find it of particular importance. It concerns how we define violence. Today, we tend to think of violence almost exclusively in archetypally-masculine terms—a fist, a gun shot. Culturally mature perspective makes clear that we need to think of violence in ways that are more encompassing: Violence becomes any act that does harm to life.
This more encompassing definition alerts us to the fact that the archetypally feminine, too, can manifest in ways that are violent—indeed as much so as the archetypally masculine. People who identify with the feminine may not appreciate this conclusion, but any good psychotherapist knows it to be accurate. Archetypally feminine violence takes many forms—for example, undermining behavior, passive aggression, back-stabbing, emotional manipulation, seductiveness, or actions that suffocate. In families, such violence often does greater harm than behaviors that are more explicitly abusive.
Like what I’ve described with more positive archetypal qualities, both men and woman perpetrate each kinds of violence. But it is also the case that because women, on average, embody a bit more of the archetypally-feminine, they are often the most adept at archetypally-feminine violence (as men are with violence’s more archetypally-masculine manifestations). Archetypally-feminine violence is particularly common in ways woman do harm to one another.
Beyond these everyday, interpersonal implications, the concept of archtypally feminine violence can also be applied more culturally. For example, I’ve written extensively about advertising in contemporary culture and how it can do harm in ways that we fail to recognize (see Advertising). Advertising draws on more archetypally-feminine modes of communication—imagery, metaphor, music, bodily expression (I argue that it is our time’s preeminent art form). And the violence it perpetrates is largely of an archetypally-feminine sort; its method is manipulation. We are told that if only we buy the prescribed product, we will have love, respect, and deeply fulfilling lives—an ultimate kind of lie. (Note that as we would predict in our time, this kind of archtypally-feminine violence specifically functions in service to the archetypally-masculine—to materialist values.) The fact that we are vulnerable to such lying—and lying of a particularly insidious sort—reflects how weak our modern connection is with the archetypally-feminine sensibilities that it depends on. Cultural Maturity’s changes should gradually help us see through this kind of deception.
In summary, one of the pivotal implications of Cultural Maturity’s newly integrative picture is that the archetypally feminine gradually regains its historical potency. With Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes, we become able—with a consciousness of perspective that has not before been an option—to embrace the archetypally feminine as an essential aspect of the rich complexity that makes us who we are.
This aspect of Cultural Maturity’s changes can be badly misinterpreted. If we confuse it with going back, or make it the be-all-and-end-all, we can end up replacing one outmoded kind of truth with another (see The Feminine Mistake and What Cultural Maturity Is Not #3). And as I have introduced here, even if we begin to effectively grasp it, the new realities it presents can be unsettling—and as much to those who traditionally identify with the feminine as those who have been more apt to keep the feminine at arm’s length. But it is a critically important dynamic to appreciate if we are to craft ways of understanding that can serve us in times ahead. This includes ways of understanding that can help us better frame particular issues, as here. It also includes more overarching perspective.
Creative Systems Theory provides illustration. No concept within Creative Systems Theory can be understood in terms of the archetypally masculine or the archetypally feminine alone—each requires more dynamically integrative perspective. And the theory is explicit about why this is so. It describes how the archetypally masculine and the archetypally feminine juxtapose as complementary “right-hand” and “left-hand” elements in cognitive processes of every sort. It proposes that their “procreative” interplay is what makes us the audaciously innovative—toolmaking, meaning-making—creatures that we are. Arguably, more integrative understanding is a requirement of any way of seeing the world that can effectively guide us going forward.