A diverse group of students, alumni, faculty, and community members joined me for a discussion about the need to reconcile sexuality and spirituality, two powerful human instincts that have not always been at odds with each other.
The conversation happened in February during my workshop at the annual Alverno College Community Conference, and it felt like a continuation of the conversation I had with an equally diverse group of deep thinkers last year when I spoke about the collective wounds that women AND men carry that prevent the deep connection that research confirms humans are hard-wired to seek (Dr. Brene Brown, 2015). (Image: https://universityofmetaphysics.com/sexuality-and-spirituality/)
Just like last year, this blog post is meant to capture the essence of the conversation, the goal of which was to get people thinking differently about women’s empowerment. I posed questions about what exactly women are fighting for or against, what part of the fight is internal vs. external, and what it means to lead from a position of inherited reverence for the feminine AND masculine based on eternal truth vs. defensive positions driven by fear. I also wanted to shift the language of fighting against to transcending.
Patriarchy today is NOT about Men vs. Women or the Masculine vs. the Feminine
During the hour-long workshop, I offered information that is based on the most recent evidence-based theories that are NOT widely known. This information has the power to completely shift one’s perspective about how to accelerate that long arc towards justice to which Martin Luther King, Jr. referred. I asked the attendees to reflect about how their approach to women’s empowerment might change knowing that:
Patriarchy – or a dominator model of social organization –
was NOT always present, did NOT evolve naturally,
and was NOT necessary for the evolution of the human species.
Patriarchy – or a dominator model of social organization –
emerged as a result of the trauma of living in harsh climates –
these hierarchies aggressively expanding through the institutionalization of trauma.
Patriarchy requires the denial of real relationship in order to
maintain its focus on hierarchy and ranking, and requires the cooperation
of those who are ranked lower in order to maintain the hierarchy.
Patriarchy reflects a larger system that Riane Eisler (Sacred Pleasure, 2011) calls a dominator model of social organization. This model is driven by hierarchy and ranking, which is enforced by trauma, fear, and pain. One way this system is fighting to survive today is through the competition of suffering and trauma between marginalized groups. In this system, individual defense mechanisms cause even the most marginalized groups to find someone that ranks even lower.
Development of Christian Religious Doctrine Coincided With the Spread of the Dominator Model of Social Organization
The development of Christian doctrine coincided with the aggressive expansion of the
dominator model of social organization, AND there was resistance from the start
towards the removal of the Goddess and the feminine from religious life.
In my own re-exploration of my rejected childhood religion of Christianity, I felt the tension between Jesus as reconciler of the masculine and feminine, as an intimate connector, and as love vs. the conflicting language when it came to the stories told by religious male authorities about women and men. If you look carefully, the Bible includes two versions of how men and women were created. And what about Lililth? The evidence shows that there was a lack of consensus from the very beginning when it came to the development of Christian dogma. There was a real fight against the forced subordination of the Goddess, feminine, and women (Ruether, 2012).
For me it seems the new aggressive model of social organization was covert by co-opting the reverence once held for the Goddess by toning her down as the Virgin Mary, who would submit to being impregnated by the masculine God. The reverence of the Goddess remained though as reverence for Mary, the Mother of God. I often feel perplexed by the lack of awareness of the power of the statement that Mary is the Mother of God. (Image: http://jessicajewettonline.com/did-isis-become-the-virgin-mary)
We Don’t Really Know what is Natural.
The argument about Patriarchy being natural or being necessary for evolution has been turned on its head. If Patriarchy was natural, women and other marginalized groups wouldn’t risk their lives to resist it.
Before patriarchy there were examples of more partnership-oriented societies
where the feminine and masculine were equally revered.
In these societies – where neither women nor men were subordinate –
the union of male and female through sexuality was viewed and experienced as sacred.
If patriarchy had always been or was natural, there would be no need to go to suchextreme lengths to control women, their bodies, and their sexuality.
The answer is NOT to suggest that women or the feminine are better than men or the masculine, or that if women ruled the world it would be a better place to live. Many women are just as overly masculine as men these days. That’s the dominator way. That’s the wounded masculine way. I always cringe when I hear women – or men – suggest that it’s women who clean up men’s messes. Men are also wounded and limited by the constraints of the dominator model of social organization. It’s difficult to see someone’s aggressiveness as a result of trauma, but that’s what it is. It’s tempting to want to take our turn as being superior, but we’re just strengthening a system that is unjust and desperate to survive right now.
We are at a turning point, but we can call on a time where neither women nor men were superior, and where survival depended upon a reverence for the union of perceived opposites such as women and men, feminine and masculine, and birth, death, and rebirth.
We don’t even know what it means to be naturally a woman or a man, or feminine or masculine, because all of this has been defined for so long by a system that seeks to survive through hierarchy, ranking, and division. Perhaps the resistance to being confined to a "gender" by younger generations is a reflection of something new that is breaking out of the unconscious when it comes to what it means to be human.
Sexual Pleasure and Romantic Love as Evolutionary Urges.
There is a tension between the destructive dominator model and the evolutionary push towards a partnership model where pleasure is sacred instead of pain and suffering.
The evolution of love and sexuality is connected to an evolutionary push towards the higher consciousness required to save our planet (Eisler, 2011).
In his book The Pleasure Areas, British Neurologist Herbert James Campbell (1973) represents a summary of 25 years of neurological research, indicating that the repression of pleasure that is since centuries rampant in our Judeo-Christian societies has negatively infringed upon human evolution and impaired the integrity of our psychosomatic health. (https://medium.com/on-health-science-sexuality-and-psychoanalysis/the-pleasure-function-f522981a2fbf)
I never gave much thought to how much we have been trained to elevate pain over pleasure and to feel guilt for experiencing pleasure. “No pain, no gain,” “The cross we must bear,” “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” “paying our dues.” The message that we must suffer and that suffering is somehow sacred surrounds us. We don’t need to accept this though.
New evidence-based theories suggest that the emergence of sexual pleasure and romantic love are the next stage in evolution. Embracing sexual pleasure and love requires the kind of vulnerability that a dominator model of social organization abhors. When we connect deeply with another human being, we realize that we are in them and they are in us, and it becomes more difficult to condescend, abuse, or dismiss them. The result of transcending a system based on hierarchy and ranking is real equality. Through this lens, it is impossible to rank economic gain over relationship for example; rather economics are seen through the lens of relationship.
Brene Brown (2015), researcher and author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable transforms the Way We Live, Parent and Lead, points out how many women say they want men to be vulnerable but cannot stomach it when they are. Carol Gilligan (2018), author of Why Does Patriarchy Persist? Suggests that we all cling to Patriarchy as a defense mechanism because of our fear of being vulnerable, which is required for deep connection.
I have been procrastinating writing this follow-up post because I had difficulty placing it within the context of the current virus crisis. I wondered whether my passion for reconciling sexuality and spirituality was a leisurely activity or whether it was as important as my intuition tells me it is.
It is interesting that aside from the terrifying life and death consequences of this global pandemic, our way of living has changed in an instant. I wonder about the forced shut down of an economy that disproportionately benefits the few over the many, AND one that we all perpetuate through our own behavior as consumers. I wonder about the cosmic meaning of being forced to reflect about all of this, and how this may be an opportunity to make a leap in consciousness. I wonder how the forced pause is impacting the environment.
What do sex and God have to do with this? I have come to appreciate sexuality and spirituality as a way of being more than about sexual acts or belief in religious dogma. I have come to see that sexual energy is an invitation from God or the Divine to connect with another human being. It doesn’t always mean actual sex though; sometimes it’s more symbolic, but we don’t have a way of talking about this. (Image: https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/earth/trending.aspx?p=4) In an age where women now are fairly free to experience sexual pleasure as much as men, I would like to offer a framework for talking about sexuality as a life force or life energy and how it wants much more from us than physical sex.
In another follow-up post, I will talk about how my passion for this topic unexpectedly emerged from a collision of personal experience AND my call to study depth psychology. It’s a big topic and was the focus of my research, which I recently concluded. Stay tuned for more about that.
As always, enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts.