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Beyond Gender, Towards Spirit

by Steve Taylor

Throughout almost all recorded history, in most cultures throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia, there has been a massive gulf between men and women. They have had a very different social status, sharply differentiated roles and apparently different personalities. It’s almost as if men and women have been members of different species with little in [M1] common, who have been thrown together to by mistake.

In most cases women’s status has been – and still is in many cultures – much lower than men’s. Until recent times, in most countries over Europe, the Middle East and Asia, women couldn’t own property or inherit land and wealth, and were frequently treated as mere property themselves. [M2] In parts of the Middle East, these attitudes have persisted to the present day.

Wherever women’s status is low, the duties and roles of men and women are usually sharply defined. In most cultures, they have practically lived in two different worlds: men in the external world of work, culture and politics, and women in the internal world of childcare, cooking and cleaning. In some societies – like Ancient Greece or Rome or modern day Saudi Arabia – women were/are effectively imprisoned in the internal world for much of the time. And at the same time, men were mostly excluded from women’s domain. Until recent times they were denied access to the birth of their own children and usually only played a minor role in childcare.

Traditionally, men and women have had distinct kinds of minds too. Many studies have shown that women have a stronger capacity for empathy than men, that they have a strong tendency for caring and compassion, and for forming relationships. Typically, men tend to have strong ‘systematizing’ brains, and to be more autonomous and less empathic.

However, it hasn’t always been like this. All over the world, in prehistoric times, women’s status was equal with men’s. The artwork, the burial practices and the cultural conventions of human societies from the Palaeolithic and early Neolithic periods of history show a complete lack of evidence for male domination.

In fact, the feminine form seems to have been venerated during these periods. Depictions of the female body seem to have been the main form of artwork throughout prehistory. Archaeologists have discovered tens of thousands of female figurines (or statuettes) throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia, usually showing women with enlarged breasts and hips. There are also many engravings and carvings of vaginas and womb-like tombs with small ‘vaginal’ openings.

The Old European culture (7000-3000BC) excavated and reconstructed by Marija Gimbutas seems to have been free of the pathological aggression, conflict and oppression which characterised later civilisations. There appears to have been complete equality between the sexes. Like many indigenous cultures, Old European societies were often matrilinear and matrilocal, and their artwork often shows women as priests or in other positions of authority.

The Closing of the Gender Gap

In my view, one of the most significant cultural changes of the last 300 years or so has been a return to this equality of the sexes.

As well as a massive increase in women’s status and rights, the last few decades have seen a blurring of gender distinctions. In the words of the cultural historian Riane Eisler, the 1960s was a period when ‘women and men frontally challenged restrictive gender stereotypes of male dominance and female subservience.’ Men became increasingly feminine, both in terms of their appearance and their attitude. And now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we have the popular notions of the ‘new man’, who helps out with childcare and domestic chores, and the ‘househusband’ who is happy to take care of domestic duties while his wife follows a career. And at the same time, of course, more and more women are rejecting their old gender schema and taking on traditionally ‘male’ roles. Men and women have entered each other’s domains, so that it’s no longer easy to distinguish them as separate areas.

And to some degree these changes in role have, it seems, been accompanied with a change in character. The strong distinction between the male and female psyche also appears to be fading away. The ‘new man’ has a more typically feminine psyche; he is more sensitive and empathic, less aggressive and self-assertive[M3] .

I believe that these changes are part of an overall shift which has been taking place for the last 300 years or so, a collective movement beyond the separateness and selfishness of the ego. One sign of this has been a growing ability to empathise with other human beings, as evidenced – for example – by the anti-slavery movement, and more humane treatment of the disabled and homeless. Another sign has been a new sense of the rights of individuals, which during the 19th century led to the rise of socialism and spread of democracy. And more recently, there has been a new openness towards the human body and sexuality, a massive growth of the spirituality and self-development movements.

These changes suggest that the walls of separateness which have divided human beings from one another (and from other beings, nature, and even from their own bodies) have started to fade away. The male ego – which has been the root of warfare, conflict and social oppression throughout recorded history – has begun to soften. After thousands of years of duality, the male and female have begun to merge. And this is surely completely right, since spiritual development – both for the individual and for our species – is a movement beyond boundaries. As we grow spiritually, we move beyond the distinctions of nationality, race or gender. Rather than being enclosed within our personal world of desire and fear, our sense of identity spreads to include human beings, other creatures and the whole cosmos. The superficial separation of physical difference gives way to an underlying sameness. At the core of our being, we are without identity of any kind. We are neither male nor female, human or animal, but spirit.

Steve Taylor is an author and teacher, whose main interests are spirituality, psychology and anthropology. He is the author of The Fall: the Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of a New Era (O books). Colin Wilson has described the book as “an astonishing work” while Eckhart Tolle has described it as “a fascinating and important book, highly enlightening and readable.”. For more information see www.stevenmtaylor.com

[M1]To avoid repeating 'almost'

[M2] I suggest cutting out a lot of the examples, since the mechanisms of patriarchy will be well known to most GreenSpirit readers

[M3](Of course, there's also the hypermasculine backlash happening, but you won't have room to give that more than a passing nod, if you mention it at all. Let's hope it's but a temporary phenomenon!)

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