Feminine and masculine power aren’t exclusive to men or women, Brandon Ferdig writes, and each one needs the other.
In part one of this article series, I introduced the idea of there being two kinds of power: the masculine and the feminine. My discovery of the latter was eye opening because I was brought up believing that power and masculinity were synonymous, that femininity was a lack of power.
By discovering feminine power, I better understood masculinity as well and defined each in the following way:
Masculine power is about dominance, conquering, and about proving yourself worthy by doing so.
Feminine power is the appreciation, expression, and glorification of life and the life experience, and the ambition to see it prosper.
Masculinity and femininity are not monopolized by either sex, and in this spirit I invited readers of this site to discover the benefits of feminine power for themselves.
Living in China, I saw how cultures manifest these two powers differently. It was clear that America has been tilted in this balance. Its strong masculine power has, on one hand, helped the U.S. rise to new levels of accomplishment and prosperity. However, the lack of acknowledgement and respect for feminine power has biased everything in the U.S., and we have largely missed out on its beauty and joy as a consequence. This is unfortunate.
In this piece, though, I argue that this lack of appreciation is now more than just “unfortunate.” Tired scripts of “might makes right” and attacking every problem with force are becoming a liability.
Let’s go back 66 years.
On August 6, 1945 the United States military dropped the loudest exclamation of masculine power ever designed by humankind. The atomic bomb explosion over Hiroshima instantly killed 75,000 people. 75,000. Three days later was its encore: a similar unspeakable devastation over Nagasaki.
Humankind entered the atomic age with a kaboom. As understood in masculine power terms, man had conquered the challenge of controlling the atom and then used it to dominate his opponent.
America won the war and celebrated its inauguration as super-power (super-masculine power) of the world. But in its quest to conquer, where could masculine power go from there—how do you out-do an atomic bomb?
Let’s go back much further.
Since the beginning, for most peoples, dominance and conquest has been humanity’s M.O. In times of scarcity and moral infancy, things were simple: if I can take it, it’s mine. These conditions prioritized and perpetuated masculine power and enabled its darker side to go unchecked. Thus, people and societies succumbed to the masculine power-abuse of influencing and conquering others for no reason than to simply dominate.
Besides the protection established within a family, tribe, or society, it was conquer or be conquered. And so it was for thousands and thousands of years: one civilization after another germinating, developing, necessarily defending itself, and then taking the offensive. This steered the tides of civilization from Asia and Europe, to pre-Europeanized North/South America, to Africa, Australia and Oceania.
(We study history and hear about, say, how the Khmer people of modern-day Cambodia conquered the nearby Chams in 1203, and we think nothing of it. We understand ancient times to be about this constant warring, but we should also be conscious of how incredibly different this world was.)
Societies came and went, but in time better resource allocation allowed for technological advancements and now brains made “might” a matter of innovation rather than sheer brute. New ways to attack motivated the invention of bow and arrow, metal weaponry, gunpowder, navies, tanks, aircraft, chemical warfare … and atomic warfare.
So many ways to conquer.
In the meanwhile, something else was evolving. This resource allocation also allowed for greater prosperity which contributed to higher morals. This cut and dry, logical decision recognized that peace and security within a society meant a better society. It wasn’t because those with more might couldn’t go around taking other people’s things. They could; they can today, too, but a moral adolescence was reached, protecting the vulnerable. Simultaneously, it also allowed a space for the freedom and influence of feminine power—the glorification and expression of life. Women’s rights still far behind, a higher appreciation for feminine power resulted.
In time, the moral trend began to seep to those outside one’s group. Old Testament times called for the complete eradication of other peoples. A thousand years later, Rome conquered foes, but tried to be gracious in victory, citing a moral character. They allowed for locals they conquered to remain as they were, live as they lived, though under the blanket of Roman rule. Accordingly, Rome also birthed an artistic movement of poetry and drama celebrating life.
(Judeo-Christian religion is a good example of the rise of feminine power as the conquering, wrathful Old Testament god was replaced with the feminine power of Jesus, whose forgiving, love-your-enemy message moved the world without raising a sword.)
Nonetheless, things were still terrible if you were an enemy. These same Romans would crucify theirs (crucified Jesus) as did the Spanish crucify Indians in South America in the 1500’s. Recently, though, we saw how the Abu Ghraib prison scandal of 2004 disgusted the world as Americans tortured inmates, one fatality confirmed.
This disgust is a good thing and indicates continued moral progression. Which, in turn, has enabled feminine power—the glorification of life—to gain influence.
So this history reveals twin trajectories: masculine power’s global rule is taking humanity into ever-scarier potentials and actualities of destruction. Meanwhile, conditions perpetuating a rise of feminine power as higher morals shortened the leash on runaway masculine power-abuse and allowed a space for feminine power to shine.
These two opposing trajectories came to a head in WWII.
By invading Poland in 1939, Adolf Hitler and the Germans simply followed the script played out thousands of times in history: a more masculine-powerful society conquered a weaker one. Yet because of heightened morals, Hitler is considered perhaps the most egregious example of radical leadership ever. The key is that he did this in the 20th century, rather than, say, the 4th century B.C. That’s when Alexander the Great invaded the East. We don’t vilify him; we call him, well, you know.
Same actions at different times under different morals. And a most ambitious activity by Germany and Japan toward world domination led to the pinnacle of the arms race they held with the Allies. The atomic bomb was born.
Today, several countries are armed with nuclear weapons and the notions of “mutually-assured destruction” that prevented extended combat during the Cold War aren’t going away. The dominance of masculine power hit a ceiling in 1945, but rather than trying to break through it, it went underground and still not without death and destruction. Instead of going head-to-head with the Soviets, the West battled proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam. Then, rather than warring at all, economic and political battles were fought to increase hegemony and control of many third world countries.
This brings us back to the present.
The U.S. is involved in an international stalemate of masculine power. The days of “might-makes-right” may not be completely gone, but the importance of diplomacy and relationships is paramount. From here, progress doesn’t mean who can over-power another, and the U.S. is stuck in an identity ill-fit for modern times.
It’s not enough to cloak military missions of domination under the veil of humanitarian efforts. In this post-war, global era, it’s about who can handle matters peacefully and, at the same time, how a nation can turn their attention inward and take care of their own. Unfortunately, America also uses the same masculine-dominant tactics domestically.
As we did in the Vietnam War—lacking acknowledgement of feminine power, equating “pulling out” with “giving up,” admitting defeat, and ceasing power—we see our domestic problems and we “go to war” with them: with crime, drugs, and, most tellingly, poverty.
These efforts, despite being ineffective, are perpetuated as calls for them to stop—to “pull out”—are equated to being “soft on” the issue. And in America there’s no worse sin than “being soft.” What’s more, this insistent warring keeps new ideas for solving our domestic and foreign problems from reaching the table. The result has been a mono-faceted approach: more manpower, more spending. And now our spending is breaking the bank and the problems continue to eat away.
“Good Men” need to implement other measures.
For the whole of humanity, the masculine power of “dominate and prove your worth” has taken a necessarily exaggerated role. Today, though, this exaggeration has become a liability. The 20th century was the turning point of this trend—the slaughter and annihilation from the atomic bomb its peak.
First we’ll give it its due: like the hero who protects the damsel, masculine power has allowed humanity to evolve to this point of being. Though still far from perfect, humans recognize the value of life like never before—where norms and morals allow us to assume the feminine without it risking our security, further defining our world order.
It’s not just allowed, though. It’s crucial.
This has put not just America, but also men, at a crossroads. Men, as being the typical embodiment of masculine power and, especially in America, self-defined as such, now see that they’re not needed as they used to be in the form of fighting foes or even providing for their partner. In a way, feminine power can say to masculine power, “no worries, I got it from here.”
A man may think, “what good am I?” Old assumptions of self-worth have been pulled out from underneath. I think this helps explain men feeling a bit lost today. This, I believe, is also what the GMP is all about: men finding meaning in their lives in a new world where the feminine is equal and the masculine redefined—defined, in my opinion, by further implementing the feminine.
Let the masculine motivation to conquer and compete be inspired by the feminine appreciation for life. Use the drive for success and accomplishment to lead to productive ends. Grow a competitive business to enable the growth of jobs and the economy. Invent a new widget that makes our lives easier. Address life-threatening problems like famine and cancer. This time, conquer atomic technology not to defeat enemies, but to benefit others.
Indeed, as technology increases wealth, connects the world, and reduces the need to fight by providing our needs, we ought to continue seeking answers in it rather than brute force—perhaps if we could create a powerful and sustainable energy substitute, we needn’t seek military involvement in Libya and Iraq.
Masculine and feminine power are truly the yin and yang. One without the other is a one-sided challenge. Realizing feminine power as part of our psyche, and shaping our outlook accordingly, creates a well-rounded, more apt, more powerful approach to solving the problems in the world as oppose to simply using force.
There is still a place in this world for the maverick who goes it alone. He may not resemble Clint Eastwood on the American frontier, but she’ll be an independent thinker who leads people to better ways of thinking, producing, and relating to one another.
In fact, it’ll take such leaders to go up against the strong taboos of femininity in certain circles in America that repress feminine power. In business and sports, especially, reducing the competitive, conquering edge can be defeating (despite the moral considerations evermore prominent in the global business world). But though masculine-power dominates these worlds, it doesn’t mean is has to dominate American culture and American leadership.
This is where a division needs to be made as business so strongly directs government in this country. So from city council to congress, from church to academia, we ought to lead with a 50/50 approach—or better yet, a 100/100 approach. The whole spectrum is more powerful than the sum of its parts.