I haven’t contributed much here yet, but this morning I woke up full of ideas that might as well be a PhD. I actually considered whether I ought to apply for one.
But then I thought, why go through all that when I could just write here instead 🙂
My plans for contributing to this site have been centered around a post by post exploration of different ancient goddesses. Looking at what they symbolised and what purpose they may have served. I would also consider ways the patriarchy may have warped the meaning over time to suit their own needs. I will still do this, and I know Whimsy and Furiosa will have things to say about various goddesses too.
This morning, though, I woke up thinking about gender roles and stereotypes, something I have thought about a lot. But this morning it was on a slightly different level, that is, as archetypes not stereotypes.
What this does is subtle but important.
A stereotype is a cliche that is applied to real people. Chinese are good at maths, white men can’t jump, women are nurturers, black people can run fast and sing well, fat people are lazy and rich people are evil. You know the sort. It is a kind of abbreviated thinking, lazy thinking perhaps, or just efficient? It allows people simply look at someone and often without even realising that they are doing it they have formed a picture of who that person is, before they even say ‘hello’.
It is dangerous and leads to racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, any kind of ism you can think of. Instead of getting to know each individual and figuring out what their personality traits, talents, vices and habits are we jump in with an assumption. We all do it, no matter what race, culture, age, gender or culture you are. Our struggle in this era of mega cities and multiculturalism is to try and be as fair as possible, while still being functional.
In previous times we all lived in small villages or tribes. We knew everyone as well as we know our family and best friends. You know people. You’ve lived with them your whole life. The elderly were not ‘the elderly’ but Great Aunt Maud and Grumpy Mike. The disabled were not ‘the disabled’ but ‘Jane who tells good stories’ and ‘Fred who needs to walk slowly and have lots of rests’.
But these days we meet new people all the time, we are surrounded by strangers constantly. This is not natural. This makes us, in our innate fear of the other – the stranger, try to catch up and make them comprehensible as quickly as possible. So we take massive short cuts. We see a young Chinese person in a business suit, we assume they are an accountant or business manager, we have no idea if this is true, but we jump. They may well be dressed like that because they are an actor on their way to the set of a movie they are in. We see a fat person eating from a bag of lollies. You feel pity and revulsion, ‘they should know better’. But actually they are eating jellybeans to balance their blood sugar because they have diabetes and are overweight because of a terrible accident they were in as a child and food has always helped them manage the crippling anxiety and physical pain they have been in since the accident.
You get the drift.
Archetypes, on the other hand, are not attached to individual people. They kind of float in the ether and move in and out of people and situations. The feminine archetype is linked to, but separate from an individual person’s sense of femininity. It is not to do with performing gender as specified by a particular culture at a particular time in history – it has nothing to do with lipstick, high heels, bound feet or corsets. All humans have elements of the feminine and the masculine archetypes in them. (I think the debates around transgenderism and gender fluidity are fascinating, and I have no fixed position other than curiosity and a general sense that we should let people form their own identity definitions. More on this later.)
So, my current sense is that Archetypal Gender is more eternal than signifiers and costumes of gender. Archetypal Gender is more about the essence of femininity and masculinity. And I believe that every human regardless of biology, genitalia and culture can identify different aspects of themselves with different aspects of both archetypes. Each human on the planet is part masculine, part feminine.
I’m curious to find out if this is cultural. Is there any universal idea of The Feminine that is the same in tribes in the Amazon, Australia, ancient China and the eskimos? Is it universal to humans everywhere? Is it universal across nature? Is it a useful categorisation or concept to even hold?
The western concept of archetypal feminine is along the lines of passive, receptive, nurturing, emotional, intuitive. The Western archetypal Masculine is aggressive, dominant, assertive, rational, logical etc. The Chinese concepts of the archetype are the ying and yang. They act as elemental forces. In future posts I will look into how these things appear in different cultures and how they are assigned to different genders.
Archetypal feminine and masculine is potentially controversial and I am interested to explore it as a feminist.
So stay tuned for more posts about this.
Image from: http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/article/gender-binary