When one thinks about basic archetypal concepts such as masculinity or femininity, a lot of preconceptions and associated feelings naturally come to mind. What those associations are, very much depends upon the cultural context you are in, and of course, your gender and background experiences. Still, there are some very basic ideas and feelings about gender that transcend culture and epoch. I suppose that is why they are archetypal after all.
With masculinity, for example, there is an immediate association with strength, boldness and virility. Ah, yes, there is also size… It does matter in the natural kingdom, whether we admit it or not. In general, females will always be more attracted to taller men or physically well-built men and this is because the ancient ‘reptilian’ part of the female brain–the one responsible for basic things such as breathing, eating or mating–is hard-wired to opt for size, among other criteria.
The more recent addition to our brain, the neocortex, might be rationalising something about how this is not so and how we grew to become more sophisticated than our natural impulses, but our biology doesn’t lie and it doesn’t need to. It is what it is. Out of these very basic precepts of what masculinity is for most people, we have also created other more metaphysical and mythic ideas of masculinity in our collective psyche. For instance, we associate the masculine force or energy with piercing intention, penetration, firmness, power and dominance.
In the Shadows and Out of Balance
The masculine ideal, however, has been corrupted throughout the ages and a lot of what the masculine stands for is regarded from a modern day point of view as borderline grey, at best, and outright guilty at worst. For instance, we also tend to associate authority and dominance with the masculine and this has historically been deeply related to abuse, violence and injustice by men, in regards to women. Lack of equal rights, relegation and disempowerment of women to submissive and passive roles in society is historically pegged with the idea of male dominance and authority. Seen as the weaker sex by many cultures and religions throughout time, women have suffered the basic human wounds of shame and rejection, together with physical and psychological abuse.
Aggression is a perpetual manifestation in the shadow side of the masculine. When the masculine goes out of balance with the feminine, and emotions escalate unconsciously out of control, there is the more base and animalistic retort using aggression and violence. Yet, domestic violence and other forms of abuse are not being suffered in silent desperation as they were, say, fifty or a hundred years ago. More women are coming out of the woodwork to report abuse in public. The recent #metoo social media movement against sexual abuse and misconduct, for instance, can be seen as an attestation to this.
Fighting Abuse of Power with Power?
The question here is, does it work? And by work, I mean–does creating a movement solve the issue or conflict? Which takes me to the next question–what is the real issue? Is it perhaps a crisis in masculinity? And if yes, what exactly do we mean by that?
Now we might say, ‘oh yes, the problem is obvious’ and ‘we need to focus the spotlight on the problem of sexual abuse and violence’. Yet I ask, is this the real problem or is it symptomatic of a deeper, underlying illness? Does the buck stop with aggressive behaviour and sexual misconduct or is it a manifestation of a deeper problem?
So reporting abuse, hopefully with the support of a fair system of justice, is not only in place but is to be encouraged. Yet at the same time, I believe that in an ideal society, there shouldn’t be a movement like #metoo in the first place. The checks and balances should be part and parcel of how society works. In other words, there should be fair justice with respect to any form of abuse or criminal behaviour and we need not go to the village streets with pitchforks and torches in a metaphorical male witch hunt. Now yes, society is far from perfect, as are its institutions that are supposed to protect its citizens, but I still think that it’s a case of two wrongs and I am hoping to make myself a bit clearer in the paragraphs below.
Those women who have been affected unfairly or abused or harassed need to take a stand and claim back their power, but creating a power struggle–as in the case with movements–might not be in their best interest, or that of other women, in the long run. You don’t fight abuse of power with power; not when we’re talking about gender.
The Holographic Gender
Now please bear with me for a few lines. This may look like a deviation but I will tie everything back together, I promise.
Scientists are coming to agree that one of the best models available nowadays to understand and explain the Universe is the analogy of a holograph and fractals. I will be as succinct as possible here. In a nutshell, reality folds on itself and in many ways, the whole is in the parts as much as the parts are in the whole. Basically, everything is in everything and the whole universe can be said to be literally at your fingertips, no matter how inconceivable that might be.
One of the adages in Hermetic philosophy, in fact, goes ‘As Above, So Below’ and we are only now coming to grips with how deep that saying runs. The macrocosm is in the microcosm. In Taoist philosophy, the principle of masculine and feminine also run through everything in the universe and not least our mind and consciousness; which are also holographic. Simply put, we all have masculine and feminine aspects of our psyche. Carl Jung, when exploring the depths of the collective unconscious, mentions how we have two archetypes he called the Animus and the Anima. The Animus is the masculine inner personality in females, while the anima is the feminine inner personality in males.
In more esoteric philosophy, there is mention of the sacred marriage, the harmonisation of the masculine and feminine qualities in the inner microcosm of the psyche. Some also interpret the left and right hemispheres of the brain in terms of masculine and feminine principles respectively; with the corpus callosum being the wall that divides the two. Higher cognitive performance and enhanced creative thinking are seen as the balanced activity between the two hemispheres, or between the masculine and feminine principles. I am sure you are starting to see a picture forming here.
On the other hand, when these aspects of our psyche are out of balance, they manifest in different ways externally and collectively. Gender inequality, reversed gender roles, aggressiveness and unhealthy repressed emotions are possibly some of the effects. Outer reality is nothing more than an expression of inner reality. This is also part of what we mean by saying that we live in a holographic and fractal universe.
The Sacred Marriage
So now back to my question: Is there a masculinity crisis in our society? No doubt there is, as there is also with femininity in all of us. Both are part of the same whole and are expressed in the theatre of outer reality as an unfolding drama of abuse and victimhood, to give just one example. But these are simply signs pointing towards something deeper. Controversial as it may sound (and I do apologise beforehand if I offend anyone in particular), there is no victim or perpetrator in reality. We are all victims of our unconscious impulses as long as we remain…well…unconscious.
So in my opinion, and may I reiterate that this is just my opinion, the safest way to look at the crisis in masculinity–if we are to address it like so–is that it is only part of a bigger picture. There is a Yin-and-Yang dynamic here, to borrow from Taoist philosophy, and both move together. We cannot isolate one from the other and neither can we heal one without the other. They heal together. Masculinity is in crisis because it is out of balance and it can only be out of balance with respect to something else–the feminine. In other words, this means that they are both out of balance and this is manifest in all of us. The masculine and feminine aspects of our collective psyche are out of balance and if we want to see a change in its outward manifestation, we have to address this imbalance from the inside.
Resorting to isolating the problem as being in masculinity or femininity does not help at all. The solution lies, first of all, in raising our awareness to the fact that a lot of what we see on the outside is a projection of what’s inside. We reflect each other and project on each other all the time. In simple words, pointing fingers and labelling problems never works. The gender crisis is a holistic one and can only be addressed holistically. I know it’s such a cliche when one says ‘we need to come together’–poets and bleeding hearts have been harping this tune for too long…but it’s because it’s so true, isn’t it?
Conflict resolution happens through different channels but isolating and labelling, which is an activity of the mind and not of the heart, isn’t one of them. Forgiveness, reconciliation, awareness of our deep connection with all things, and recognising the hermetic maxim mentioned above that what we experience outside as nothing more than what is inside, are better ways to heal and bring the masculine and feminine back into balance.
There is also another point that I would like to comment on here. The point is that crisis is not a bad thing per se, although there are negative connotations to it. It’s only how we manage crises that can be bad. In fact crises are the basis of any real change. Every system in the Universe goes through a crisis before changing or transforming. Now that crisis could be a major one or one so fast and small that it goes by unnoticed. A crisis is a temporal breaking down of the old structures or beliefs in order to make way and accommodate the new. This normally happens when a self-organising system, such as the human mind or a culture, experiences a mismatch between its internal states and the environment. In order to restore balance and equilibrium it changes and self-organises itself but first it needs to go into a crisis. So my point here is that a crisis is also symptomatic of change and transitions can be a good thing. Of course this transition, when we are talking about collective consciousness and archetypes, is one that happens throughout a long period of time but it is still a change nonetheless, and one that I believe is for the better.