Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Healing the Collective Wounds that Prevent
Deep Connection Between Men and Women
I came out last Friday! Not in the way you think. Over the past five years I’ve been trying to make sense of and find meaning in my mid-life crisis through the lens of depth psychology (working on securing my PhD right now). Last Friday I shared for the first time my thoughts about how deep collective wounds that men and women carry are preventing the deep connection we desire and stand in the way of saving our planet.
I felt honored that my coming out took place at the Alverno Community Conference, which focused on empowering women. By the way, my session was the only one that mentioned men.
The purpose of the conversation was to share what I’ve observed in my own life, grounded in some research that's already out there, bring a depth psychology perspective, and suggest a framework for evolving the way we look at the relationship between the masculine and feminine within ourselves and how that plays out in relationships between men and women – and anyone really. I know I'm not the first to suggest that women will never be truly liberated without doing it in partnership with men, and perhaps that that there is great urgency in reconciling the genders in order to save our planet.
Curious about your Reaction
Over the past couple years of living with this topic, these three quotes have stayed with me, and they provided a great starting point to our conversation. I wonder how you will react to these quotes.
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.
Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
- Margaret Atwood
“Women say they want men to be able to show vulnerability, but when they do,
women can’t stomach it.”
- Dr. Brene Brown
“Men’s greatest fear is being alone.”
- T.D. Jakes
For Every Step Forward . . .
I started with the imagery and symbolism of a movement and an event that collided, resulting in an explosion of what clearly was just beneath the surface.
The Me Too Movement has represented a tipping point of holding perpetrators of sexual assault accountable – they are not always men, but mostly. For the first time, very powerful men are going down and being held accountable for their acts. It feels like a huge step forward.
Contrast this with the hearing for now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The hearing felt like a step back for many women I think not necessarily because of the end result but mostly because it demonstrated the persistence of how women survivors of sexual assault and harassment are treated – their stories are easily dismissed and even if they are seen as credible, they are trivialized, and often they are accused of wanting to bring down a man just for the pleasure of it - remember "Are you a scorned woman?" asked of Anita Hill? (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/03/catharine-mackinnon-what-metoo-has-changed/585313/).
I am suggesting that both women and men carry deep collective wounds that are feeding into the continued division between the genders, a division that has little to do with how most men and most women feel about each other.
Women’s wounds are easier to see and understand – women have been crawling their way out of patriarchy for centuries. Men’s wounds are not as easy to see or understand, but I think these wounds perpetuate a backlash against continued progress for women. The backlash is more complex than men not wanting to give up power.
One Way to Look at This
There are two areas of recent research that are particularly relevant here – the work of Dr. Brene Brown, who researched shame and vulnerability, and Carol Gilligan, who suggests a theory about why patriarchy persists.
Both Gilligan and Brown’s work suggest that the danger of a one-sided masculine-focused society is a severely diminished capacity for vulnerability, which is required for the deep connection they point to as a hard-wired need in human beings.
Gilligan’s answer to why patriarchy persists – in my words – is that after 2000 years of being forced to suppress voice (women) and authentic relationship (men), we are too scared to experience the vulnerability that is required to deeply connect.
Women, Men, the Feminine, and the Masculine
One of the things we struggle with today has to do with the notions of what it means to be a woman, a man, feminine and masculine. For me the answer to these questions is not clear, as what it means to be woman and feminine, as well as what it means to be a man and masculine, has been defined by the patriarchal system for so long, that it’s not clear what it naturally means to be a woman or a man. And now research shows that not only women are naturally relationship-oriented, but so are men.
Stereotypes are constantly being challenged when it comes to what women and men can DO – women can be President and men can be nurturing Dad’s. But the stereotypes that are more persistent and difficult to break out of have to do with what it means to BE feminine and masculine and how those have been tied to gender. Many women are familiar with the experience of the tension between being considered weak if we are emotional and a bitch if we are direct. The interesting thing is that men too are labeled as weak if they are emotional – emotional meaning that relationships matter.
Tying the feminine to woman and the masculine to man and the subordination of what it means to be feminine and a woman happened as a result of patriarchy and was reinforced by patriarchal religions.
Another way to look at the feminine and masculine is to look at them as movements or traits, NOT tied to male or female. Feminine and masculine traits are neutral unless one set of traits is valued over the other.
C.G. Jung, one of the founders of depth psychology suggests that whatever we deny or hate in ourselves is projected onto another that becomes our enemy. So, when patriarchy and patriarchal religions devalued the feminine, man’s devaluation of the feminine within was projected onto real women, women’s bodies, women’s sexuality, and nature, which was associated with women.
Prior to Patriarchy . . .
Prior to patriarchy there was reverence for nature, the Goddess, the feminine, woman’s body and mystery. I remember having my mind blown when I read Chalice and the Blade (Riane Eisler, 1988) and When God Was a Woman (Merlin Stone, 1976) and discovered parts of my past as a woman that were covered over, buried, even denied. I felt this intuition about how the truth was kept from me, and then I felt anger.
Perhaps it was natural to move from revering the feminine relatedness to developing the masculine intellect – again masculine and feminine NOT meaning women and men.
The emerging masculine valued reason, expansion, invention, achievement, and led to the enlightenment and modern civilization. However, in the meantime, the new masculine became tied to the male gender, and the feminine was rejected, this reinforced by new patriarchal religions – leading to the de-valuing of nature, the feminine, women, the body and sexuality.
The masculine is NOT bad – but it can be destructive when not balanced with the feminine. A one-sided valuing of the masculine has led to exploitation of natural resources, violence against women, warped uses of technology, constant threat of war. The feminine became so threatening that women were murdered and controlled for centuries. The Goddess religions went down, were buried, although the symbolism can still be seen even in patriarchal religions.
The feminine, nature and women have been re-emerging over the past century – sometimes with a vengeance (e.g., the film Thelma and Louise, 1991 in general was empowering for women and threatening for men). The answer is NOT to bring back a one-sided feminine approach – which is tempting when you’re an angry and hurt woman – but to transcend patriarchy and bring balance to our approach to life – before we kill the planet.
But in order to evolve out of patriarchy together, we have to understand how damaging it is to women, men and the planet, and we have to begin by healing the split between the masculine and feminine within ourselves, our example perhaps making it safe for others to do the same.
So, what I’m saying is that men are NOT the enemy. Patriarchy – a system of hierarchy and exploitation – is the ENEMY.
Perhaps, underneath the surface, men and women are terrified of real relationship. We have all been developing our masculine traits at the expense of our feminine traits in order to fit into a system that depends on hierarchy and the capacity to choose profit over all other values.
This post is already too long, but I’m just so excited to ignite a new conversation that is about reconciliation. It’s very tempting and toxic when an oppressed group crawls their way out of oppression and then turns around and becomes oppressive in a totally different way, even if unintentional.
These thoughts developed as a result of an intersection between my personal life and a calling to study depth psychology. In my next post, I will share my story and how this is playing out in my 18-year old son's experience, and just as Betty Friedan’s (1963) book The Feminine Mystique empowered women with a name for the problem that had no name, I wonder if my observations and intuition about how to evolve beyond patriarchy will resonate with other men and women.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and pass this along to others, as well as your ideas about other places to take this conversation. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.