Sex, Gender, Chauvinism, Feminism and Where Did We Go Wrong

This post started while working on another post about ISIS and their perception of women. As I was writing my thoughts on the matter, I realized that I first needed to lay the foundation of my theory. This post is an opportunity for me to explore the differences between biological sexual embodiment (male, female) and conceptual social gender traits (femininity, masculinity), and to examine how the misconception of these terms has been affecting our culture. 

This is a recommend reading for students who register to my class Creating Strong Feminine Romantic Heroine.

Before I expound on the subject, I would like to tell a little about my personal interest in it.  As a girl growing up in a Jewish orthodox Yemeni family, I was very much aware of the fact that as a female I was considered to be inferior to males. I had become an angry feminist before I even knew what feminism was. During high school, when my classmates were busy doing their hair and makeup, I wanted nothing to do with such feminine nonsense. For me femininity was a trap for a stupid and limited life. Masculinity, on the other hand, was offering me a world with a wide array of opportunities. At the university I studied literature and  focused on gender studies and subversive feminist reading. Despite all my grandiose feminist thinking, the basic conditioning that was ingrained in me in childhood took over. After I had married I became a housewife (of my own free will), but chose not to have children. During this time I was trying to suppress my masculine side and get in touch with my feminine side, but I had no idea how to do so in a healthy, peaceful, and balanced way. After my mother died in 2008 I started a painful journey of self-discovery. In the process I learned not to fear my masculine side and to make peace with my feminine side and to embrace it in my life. I was able to connect emotionally with my cultural heritage and be inspired by strong feminine archetypes in my family. When I went back to teaching I decided to focus on romance, a very feminine genre that deals mainly with emotions. I had decided to bring my masculine analytical skills to this genre in hopes to increase its literary standard. Today I believe that if each of us would embrace both the masculine and the feminine sides of our psyche, we would become better people who create a better world.

Sex and Gender

Since the growing awareness and social acceptance of bisexuals, homosexuals, transsexuals, and transvestites, gender discussion has become more of a complex issue. Here I would like to focus on the basic and most common social sexual status that is defined by genital appearance: male and female. The kind of sexuality, whether one was born or became one, is used as a personal identity in legal documents and defines one’s legal rights in society.  For example: if you are a female living in some countries you might be required by the local law to wear certain outfits when in public. If you are a male who wants to marry another male you might need to move to another state or country where this union is legally recognized.

Gender traits are the performance and qualities that society relates and associates with the behavior of the different sexes. These traits are described at masculine traits and feminine traits. Masculine traits include logic, focus, control, strength, discipline, alertness, toughness, confidence, dominance, leadership, etc. Feminine traits include affection, tenderness, intuition, creativity, empathy, beauty, domesticity, nurturing, softness, etc. The phrase “Be a man” is referred to boys and men with the demand to show toughness and hide emotions. The term “Girly girl” describes girls and women who show interest in their physical beauty and exhibit affectionate behavior. 

There is a mistaken social conception of the correlation between biological sexuality and gender traits. There is an expectation that males should manifest masculine traits while women should manifest feminine traits in order to be considered “normal” by society. The reality is that each man and woman possesses both feminine and masculine traits. There are men who are sensitive, compassionate, and creative, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Oscar Wild, and Walt Disney. There are women who are assertive, tough, logical, and powerful, such as Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth I, Angela Merkel, and Hillary Clinton.

Chauvinism and Feminism

The Feminist Revolution in the USA that started in the 60s succeeded in getting women out of the domestic sphere and entering them into the public sphere, which was reserved mainly for men. Until the Feminist Revolution, the chauvinist beliefs caused women to lead very limited lives. In their personal life they were expected to get married have children and care for their families, while their husbands acted as the sole or main bread earner. In their professional life women were also limited to professions that were considered to be feminine, such as teachers, secretaries, nurses and flight attendants. Those feminine professions, paying significantly less than professions associated with masculinity such as CEOs, physicians, lawyers, and scientists, limited the earning power of women. A married woman with children who wanted to divorce her husband was risking poverty. Unfortunately this situation hasn’t changed much even after the Feminist Revolution, since women are still paid on average 20% less than men for doing the same job. Another unfortunate side affect of the Feminist Revolution is that now women work two jobs, since childcare and domestic chores still fall mainly on women’s shoulders despite their advancement on the career ladder.

The Feminist Revolution failed in bringing femininity into the public sphere. Women who wanted to integrate in prestigious jobs had to show masculine affinity; they had to limit expressions of femininity to their private life and adopt masculine dress style (such as suits and trousers) and demonstrate masculine behavior in order to be considered as serious professionals. As a result, more and more intelligent women rejected their femininity since it was an obstacle in their way to develop a fulfilling career. While keeping this rigid dichotomy between manifesting masculinity at work and femininity in the private life, women started experiencing growing rates of diseases related to their feminine organs (breast cancer, ovarian cancer and more). The mythologist Michael Meade claimed in one of his lectures that these diseases are symbolic of women rejecting their own femininity. 

Women are not the only ones to suffer from the rejection of the femininity from the public sphere; men suffer too. As I mentioned earlier, gender traits have nothing to do with the biological sex. The psyche of each gender is comprised of masculine and feminine traits. Due to old chauvinist perceptions, men have been asked for generation to hide their feminine traits and keep up the appearance of “manhood”. The most tragic victims of this approach, in my opinion, are male soldiers who suffer from PTSD. Interestingly enough the official recognition of PTSD in soldiers started during the Vietnam War, which occurred concurrently with the Feminist Revolution. Male soldiers are the epitome of masculinity; they carry a wide array of archetypes that are associated with masculinity such as courage, bravery, fearlessness, fighting, commanding, leadership, and protectiveness. Because they are held so high as a national masculine symbol, it is very uncomfortable for a society to let them reveal their feminine side. The result of this social patriotic standard is that male soldiers are not encouraged to reveal their feminine side and talk openly about their emotions, fears, pain, and doubts.  Suppressing this feminine side prevents the healing of the wounded psyche and leads those men to alcoholism, drug use, or even violent behavior as outlets to their emotional turmoil.  


Where did we go wrong?

Before I present my theory, I would like to explain some Jungian terms, so you would be able to understand better my approach to the subject. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed that archetypes and symbols influence our psyche and culture. They create the collective unconscious; a tapestry of powerful images that are expressed in myths, stories, fairy tales, art, dreams, and religious motifs that shape our beliefs, feelings, and perception of reality. Jung used the terms “ego” to describe the psyche’s conscious side and the term shadow to describe the unconscious aspect of the psyche. He recognized that the shadow has dual gender traits, which he identified as Anima and Animus. Anima is the unconscious feminine inner personality, and Animus is the unconscious masculine inner personality. Jung believed that “Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.” For the psyche to be whole and healed there is a need to become aware of both the feminine and masculine side of it.

Where did we go wrong? To answer this question we need to go back to the beginning of monotheism, starting with Judaism. As Judaism started to take over the ancient territory of Canaan, it was the beginning of a long historic process of eradicating and exterminating the polytheistic cult in the Middle East. Christianity continued the extermination of polytheism in Europe. In the process of bequeathing monotheism, the worshiping of one male God replaced the worshiping of multiple Gods and Goddesses.  The spreading belief of a patriarchal deity provided a growing range of masculine archetypes in the Judeo-Christian culture, but it lacked diverse feminine symbols. Christianity included the image of Mary as a religious feminine symbol, but her functionality is very dimension-limited: the virgin and the mother. Mary could not replace all the richness of the feminine archetypes that the polytheistic culture had. Here are some examples: Isis, the Egyptian goddess of motherhood, nature, and magic, Anat, the Canaanite goddess of fertility and war, Artemis, the Greek goddess of chastity, virginity, the hunt, the moon, and the natural environment, Venus, the roman goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility, Aine, the Celtic goddess of summer, wealth and sovereignty, and Elli, the Scandinavian goddess of old age.

When you have a culture without symbols of feminine deities, no wonder why the feminine side of humanity is excluded from the public sphere.  In order to heal our society, to make it more just, fair, and welcoming to all people, it’s time that both men and women will stop suppressing their feminine side and start embracing it in all aspects of life. It is time the to bring back femininity to politics, military, business, medicine, law, science and every area where it was absent for thousands of years. We need to introduce our civilization again to a variety of feminine symbols and archetypes that touch the different aspects of life, in order to inspire humanity to get in touch with their Anima.