Masculine Traits vs Feminine Traits: Should They Matter to You?
In discussing “masculine traits vs feminine traits”, I should point out that I really dislike that word “versus” in that phrase.
It seems that, even today in our culture, femininity and masculinity are so often seen as incompatible opposites, when they should be seen as complementing each other. We often talk in “politically correct” ways about femininity and masculinity, trying to be very sensitive and careful about our language, yet, often, on the unconscious level that /a-midlife-transition addresses, we are still carrying deep conflicts about the place of masculinity and femininity in our culture — and in our own lives.
The “Battle of the Sexes”: Is It Over Yet?
Recently, I saw the film “Battle of the Sexes”, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell (Dirs. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris; Fox Searchlight). This is the story of the famed 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King, then champion women’s tennis player and Bobby Riggs, former triple champion at Wimbledon.
In many respects the film transports us back to that 1973 world. Clearly, for many in that time, there was real resistance to women being in the working world, professional sports or any of a number of other kinds of endeavour. Steve Carrell’s Bobby Riggs character is full of bombastic sexist one-liners. We smile at them: it seems incredible to us that anyone could say such things publicly. Or, at least until very recently, it used to seem incredible that anyone could say such things.
Recent events are sobering. The last couple of weeks have seen the downfall of Harvey Weinstein, the former entertainment world giant now apparently undone by numerous allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and even outright rape. There seems to be very strong evidence that far too many people who could have spoken out turned a blind eye to this. This follows the actions of a U.S. presidential candidate caught not so long ago boasting of doing very much the same kinds of things and, like Weinstein, subject to allegations from many parties. In Canada, similar controversy swirled around broadcast personality Jian Ghomeshi not so long ago.
We live in an age that gives lip service to an attitude of equality of the sexes. We can reject figures like Bobby Riggs, with his boorishness and his sexism. Yet, in our own time, plenty of examples show how our society and many individuals within it continue to deny the validity of women’s perspectives. There is still widespread denial of women’s right to preserve appropriate boundaries with regard to their bodies, their sexuality and fundamental choices about how they live their lives. That this is the lived experience of very many individual women is a reality to which a vast number of case studiess can attest. We still see women dealing with these realities on a daily basis, as they negotiate key life transitions.
Masculine Traits vs. Feminine Traits: Is There a Better Way?
We need to accept that, in our culture, and within our unconscious minds, masculine strength, as defined by our culture, is still often put on a pedestal, while the feminine is associated with weakness, and is viewed with contempt. Ours is a society which exalts strength and power, and that shuns vulnerability and receptiveness. Not all cultures throughout human history have had this problem, but ours certainly does.
As a result, we live in a culture which still encourages men to ignore their emotional life, because having feelings would be to display weakness. This is still a culture that often shames boys growing up if they do show emotional vulnerability. A boy who is taught to regard his feelings as negligible, contemptible or shameful can easily respond negatively to women, who often show more openness to their feelings and vulnerable aspects, and who emphasize the importance of relationship and connection.
It’s not uncommon for a male to be accused of femininity or of being “not a man” if he expresses his feelings or acknowledges emotional pain. This outlook cripples men, alienating them from their own being, as they often become aware in midlife transition. It’s also closely associated with the tendencies that we have to devalue women. We still all deal with regarding the feminine as the mere absence of the masculine, rather than allowing particular women and their experience to have validity in its own right.
In our culture, when it comes to masculine traits vs feminine traits, as culturally defined, women and men would both benefit from an equal valuing of female and male experience. This is an area of on-going growth for our culture, and, if we are honest, it is most likely an on-going area of growth for each of us.
In the work of Jungian or /a-midlife-transition, the opposition of masculine traits vs feminine traits disappears. Our on-going journey towards wholeness entails our acceptance of all of the “masculine” and “feminine” in others — and even more fundamentally in ourselves.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst