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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Dose of Reality for Both Genders

(Note: This article got corrupted during some reformatting efforts a while back.  I have fixed it and republished it here.)  

In an earlier article, I compared a view of gender issues, as written by a woman, with gender issues if that same article had been written by a man.

Let’s face reality now.  No men's movement is actually concerned about women's issues, nor are any women's movements addressing men's concerns.  The claim that either addresses the needs of the other is disingenuous.  The reason is quite simple.  Both men and women have tried to define masculinity and femininity as a dualism, as if the universe of human genders consists of two indivisible opposites, and all humanity can be constructed from the two.  Some believe there is masculinity, and there is femininity, and you're either masculine or feminine.  Period.  Masculinity and femininity are treated as if they are the matter and antimatter of human relations, absolute opposites, always at odds, and always negating each other.  Neither feminism nor masculism can ever address anything other than their own goals while the concept of dualism between the genders exists.   

You see, the concept of dualism in genders is utterly wrong. 

Masculinity and femininity are not duals, or negatory opposites like protons and electrons.  Neither are masculinity and femininity non-dualistic, meaning they are not essentially the same underlying construct, that is, humanism, or perhaps some other -ism. 

If masculinity and femininity are neither opposites, nor variations of the same underlying concept, what are they?

I assert that masculinity and femininity are actually "complementary opposites." This idea is not new, but is seldom addressed by feminists or masculinists in the western world.  The concept of the complementary opposite is common in eastern philosophies, but somewhat difficult for westerners to understand.  You might be familiar with the Daoist yin-yang symbol that describes two distinguishable concepts merged into a single whole.
Dao (yin - yang)

The symbol shows the way of the universe, or the “Dao", as a circle comprising yin and yang.  The symbol shows yang, white, as equal in size to yin, black. As they flow around the circle, one transitions into the other in a never ending cycle. Furthermore, each captures within itself a small essence of the other. The way of the universe is defined by the interaction of the two, to create one-ness.  Without both, there is no Dao.

A key to understanding yin-yang is that the two exist only in relationship to each other, and never on their own.  Consider the yin-yang of light and dark.  Go to a cinema and look at the screen prior to the movie, when nothing is being projected onto it.  The screen is blank.  You might know intellectually that the screen reflects all colors, but in a dimmed cinema, it probably appears a shade of gray.

When the screen fulfills its intended function, a movie is projected onto it.  Suddenly we see both darkness and light.  What we don’t realize is that parts of the scene appear dark only because other parts are lighter.  Lightness and darkness on that screen exist only in relationship to each other.  The screen never changes, but the lightness of the projector and the darkness of the room interact to provide a movie.  The movie is an interaction of lightness and darkness, of color and lack of color; an interaction of apparent opposites.

Another example might be the miraculous human body.  Among it's many complex systems is the endocrine system, which produces hormones, including both testosterone and estrogen.  Men are known for the preponderance of testosterone, yet they have a small amount of estrogen in their systems.  Similarly, women have a larger amount of estrogen compared to men, and a lesser amount of testosterone.  Each sex contains elements of the other, and cannot exist without the complementary opposite hormone.  In fact, the sex drive of women, including the sensitivity of the clitoris, is driven by testosterone levels while male fat levels are sensitive to estrogen.  (I will defer a lecture on endocrinology for discussion elsewhere.)

Hormones define the physical sexes, male/female, and our biological differences, but not gender.  Gender refers to masculinity and femininity.

Now that we've addressed the concept of complementary opposites, how does that apply to masculinity and femininity?

Here's my fancy definition: Masculinity and femininity can be considered to be society's collective categorization of traits, including psychological, emotional, and behavioral, of a person belonging to one gender in relation to the other gender in that culture.  Thus, a person is considered to be masculine if that person has adopted a large number of masculine traits, as defined by that society, relative to the number of feminine traits, also defined by that society.

The role of society is a subject for another article.  For now, the important part is that femininity is defined in relationship to masculinity, and masculinity in relationship to femininity.

Some of you might be willing to eliminate gender roles completely.  I suspect you will be surprised at the poor outcome.  The dynamic balance of masculinity vs. femininity is a driving force in society.  Eliminate that driving force and society will fall to apathy.  Rest assured that won't happen, as gender roles are historically based on biological differences.  I don't see the biological difference going away anytime soon.

Any gender movement must, by definition, address the issues of the other gender simply because the two genders are complementary opposites.  Any movements that don't tend to create chaos and ultimately are doomed to failure.  It's not the law, nor simply a good idea; it's the way of the universe.

Using the concept of complementary opposites, masculinity exists in relationship to femininity; femininity exists in relationship to masculinity.  We can only understand the concept of masculinity when it is compared to femininity, and understand femininity when it is compared to masculinity.  

Trying to alter femininity will necessitate a change in interpretation of masculinity, and vice versa.  If you change the allocation of traits to add more feminine traits to masculinity, or vice versa, you inherently change the interpretation of both. If you attempt to make genders more equal, spreading traits across both genders, all you will do is muddy them into an amorphous gray, or polarize them in unexpected ways, and you will achieve no results.
Distorted View of the World

Distort the essentials of either masculinity and femininity, and the other will also distort to achieve balance.  Some of you might have seen some examples in real life.  Perhaps you've seen a heterosexual relationship where the male is excessively effeminate, and the female seems to be more masculine.  The couple adapts to achieve balance.  

Sometimes balance is not achieved.  A woman I knew described her failed marriage as a result of her husband being emasculated by the loss of his job.  She had neither the ability or desire to be both the man and woman of the house, so the marriage ended in a divorce.

Others of you might take a different approach, that of advocating the superiority of one gender over the other.  This is actually quite common, as we see in many gender based movements.  For some movements, the goal is not about equality so much as superiority, or even punishment of the opposite gender for perceived insults.  These movements are as doomed to failure as movements to eliminate gender roles completely.

Life and society exist because we have successfully integrated concepts of masculinity and femininity into a whole.  It's time we recognize this.  It's time we stop these misguided attempts to disrupt the balance and instead actively seek balance, not disruption.

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