Jonathan Delavan disputes the generally accepted concept that masculinity and femininity are mutually opposing natures.
In an earlier article, I explored the idea of two apparently contradictory natures being able to exist simultaneously and harmoniously within someone. I concluded that post questioning whether such a concept could be applied to the natures of masculinity and femininity within either a man or a woman. The following is my answer to that question.
Our rationally-based society has gone to great lengths to view everything in a zero-sum, winner-take-all system. Just take a look around you: our economy, our sports, our entertainment, and our politics (just to name a few) have all operated under this ruthless paradigm of all or nothing over this and that. It seems we as a society strongly prefer to either have a completely black circle or a completely white circle—heaven forbid a yin-yang harmony or a shot silk of two coexistent but pure colors! Unfortunately, the same mindset has been persistently applied to the issue of masculinity or femininity in regards to individuals and the gender rights movements.
Extremists on both sides have tried to promote their gender by toppling the other—“Women can’t be women till men stop dominating!” “Men can’t be men till women stop dominating!” and on and on it goes between radical feminists and zealous male-activists. This vicious bickering between the two camps operates, I believe, on that zero-sum mentality I described in my earlier article—the notion that femininity (yin) can only grow if masculinity (yang) wanes and vice versa. Of course, not everyone who considers him/herself a feminist or a male-activist operates on such an “us-versus-them” extreme, and organizations like The Representation Project and The Good Men Project have valiantly strived to not be locked into such a limiting mindset on issues of gender.
But I propose that we need to get rid of that zero-sum mindset on the two gender natures all together! This includes the practice of placing the two natures at opposite ends of a polarity scale to describe one’s “mixture” of masculinity and femininity. We shouldn’t have to settle for a “dirty gray” of our masculine and feminine natures; rather, we should be able to nurture and express both natures equally and harmoniously as one sees fit—as if tailoring with a shot silk of vibrant blue and dazzling pink (stereotypical colors, I know, but I’m making a point)!
Let us stop limiting ourselves here! Once we sincerely adopt the concept of a “multitude of natures” within each living person—as explored by Chesterton, Hesse, and others—then we can begin to see how the masculine and feminine natures can coexist without diluting or diminishing each other in a single person, man or woman.
Therefore, under this abstract concept, a man can still be a full man by being both an excellent leader of others as well as a nurturing and caring father to his children (biological or otherwise); and in the same way, a woman can still be a full woman by also being an exceptional leader of others as well as a nurturing and caring mother to her children. In this case both the man and the woman exhibited traits stereotypical of masculine and feminine natures that in the past—and still somewhat today—would be considered exclusive of each other. And yet I say the man was no less of a man for being nurturing towards children nor was the woman any less of a woman for being a leader of others.
Alas, many people are made uncomfortable by the dual expression of natures within either a man or a woman. And so to try and reconcile this tension of apparently opposing natures, we as a culture and society have resorted to dividing the two natures between men and women—only men can be truly masculine and only women can be truly feminine. The lamentable consequences have been a long history of shaming men and women to conform to their expected natures: women are shamed for speaking out or for wanting to lead a business or nation; men are shamed for nurturing others or for living with compassion towards people and nature. Hence, the woman is labeled masculine to deprive her of her femininity whereas the man is labeled feminine to deprive him of his masculinity—operating on that zero-sum mindset that to have one means to lack the other.
What are we to do in order to escape such a culture of gender confinement? The zero-sum approach has resorted to debilitating shame, and yet simply trying to create “mixtures” of the two natures for each person will not fully address the problem either. “It is constantly assured that when the lion lies down with the lamb, the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is—Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity?” inquired Chesterton. That is the problem we need to address; that is the miracle we can achieve with sincere effort and compassionate patience!
So let us make a paradoxical equipoise out of these two natures: The absurdity called masculinity shall correct the insanity called femininity; and likewise, the absurdity called femininity shall correct the insanity called masculinity. Let both natures grow freely without limiting, endangering, or diluting the other within an individual, man or woman.
Living out this radical concept will require courageous persons to dare to explore, understand, and express their femininity and their masculinity. Such an endeavor will ultimately create new persons within our society; people who are no long just men or women, but people who are fully men or fully women simply because they accept and express both of their gender natures. In other words, having both masculinity and femininity harmoniously coexist will create a wholehearted person.
One of my personal goals in life is to strive to become such a wholehearted man—embracing and expressing my masculine and feminine natures as best I can. However, it has become all too apparent to me that my understanding of these two natures as they are manifested in my personality has become somewhat twisted and neglected due to the various messages and abuses I experienced growing up (e.g. my “Steppenwolf” complex). Therefore, a major part of my personal odyssey has been to discover and understand both my masculinity and my femininity, to reconcile their differences in a harmonious and self-compassionate manner, and to accept them as part of my identity as a wholehearted man.
I have discussed much with you in this article, dear reader. I do not expect you to agree with everything I have argued for or against here either. Nevertheless, I urge you to reflect on this important concept as it applies to your own life; and please feel free to share your thoughts, opinions, and feelings on the natures of masculinity and femininity and how they can (or even cannot) harmoniously coexist within you or someone else.
Photo Credit: Katina Rogers/flickr