November 21

A Capital Idea Part 42: Our Problems are Rooted in Masculinity

In 1992, when Bill Clinton was first elected, I wasn't thrilled with our dominant party choices for President, so I voted for a Democratic Congresswoman from Colorado that I liked named Patricia Schroder. I even got my mom to vote for her as well. Clinton, of course, wound up serving 8 years, with mixed results from my perspective, but the worst aspects of his policies continue to worsen and plague us now -- continuing the outsourcing of American jobs, continuing the corporatization of America, and more or less buying into American imperialism and militarism, although he did downsize the military in a time of relative peace and lack of occupation somewhat. I have to think that if a woman such as Pat Schroder had been our President -- a woman who represented feminine priorities and didn't feel obliged to act like a stereotypical man -- we would be much better off now.

I have long thought of femininity as superior to masculinity, and by extension, of females as the superior gender basically, although I am a male. Actually, I am okay with that, especially since from a psychological standpoint, despite being a heterosexual male who likes sports and who does not act like a "girly boy," I score pretty high on the femininity aspects of Sandra Bem's Androgyny Scale. Actually, I admit to having scored Feminine on the Androgyny Scale when I first went to college, which was embarassing in a way, but when I considered what that meant, not so much. Basically, that means I am a fine example of the modern male that feminists like to see -- sensitive to people's feelings, nurturant, emotionally in tune. (I guess that goes a long way in explaining why I became a Social Psychologist.) However, as is typical according to research on personality throughout the lifespan, I have become more androgynous psychologically over the years. I have developed my assertive, confident, proactive side, which are masculine characteristics, and it's a good thing that I have these traits as well.

Regardless of the merits of a masculine versus a feminine psychological approach to life, the world clearly operates under a system which is far too masculine as a whole. When alpha males and their masculine approach to life rule, as it does in most of the world, and feminine characteristics are effectively excluded from the economic and political systems by which societies are run, aggression, conflict, overcompetitiveness and huge economic disparities are created. Thus, I postulate in this post, that our economic and political institutions are in grave need of a huge dose of femininity. Despite seeing greater numbers of women in politics as well as female entrepreneurs, entertainers, and intellectuals, all of us -- male and female -- are still working within the confines of what is essentially a misogynist, masculine system. In fact, it seems to me that it is difficult for most female politicians and enterpreneurs to function without trying to act like men. Among prominant female individuals, only intellectuals such as professors seem relatively comfortable being their feminine selves, in my opinion. Female entertainers, for the most part, are compelled to be ultra-feminine sex symbols, on the other hand. (I think to myself at this point, perhaps this gives us insight regarding the reason that male celebrities can successfully become politicians, yet we never see female celebrities do the same.)

When considering this topic, I endeavored to check a list which ranks nations of the world in terms of femininity, as described by Industrial/Organizational Psychologist Geert Hofstede, thinking that it might give me some insight into the differences between feminine and masculine cultures, and hopefully, showed superior results for feminine cultures ( I have included a link to this list, but this issue is far too complex to be grasped by a simple ranking of nations by femininity. Actually, Hofstede postulated five different cultural dimensions. The other ones are Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty Avoidance, and Long-Term Orientation. Each nation has a different mix of these characteristics, much like a national personality, analogous to Costa and McRae's Five Factor Model of Personality. All of the data upon which these rankings are based are self-report, which means that they are subject to the personal response biases of the respondents and by extension, the culture. Also, being an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, Hofstede is interested primarily in consumer behavior, and thus may not define the dimensions the way that other people would. The rankings are further complicated by the fact that nations may evolve over the years culturally. Nonetheless, it is very evident from the list, that the more feminine nations grant women more equal status to that of men, have women who act like real women, in positions of power, have political systems largely based on democratic socialism, and are peaceful nations which never attack other nations. Furthermore, these are nations which seem to be doing rather well in enduring these difficult economic times worldwide and in maintaining a good standard of living for its citizens. According to studies done by IBM, the world's 12 most feminine cultures, in order from the most feminine to the 12th most feminine, are:

1. Sweden

2. Norway

3. Netherlands

4. Denmark

5. Costa Rica

6. Finland

7. Chile

8. Portugal

9 Thailand

10. Guatemala

11. Uruguay

12. South Korea

Cultural femininity as defined by Hofstede means a culture that includes that traits of modesty, caring and nurturance, while masculine cultures have traits which include assertiveness, materialism, self-centeredness, power, strength and individual achievments.

The world's most masculine nations include several which have been notable in the past century for starting major wars (Japan, Germany), have been known for imperialism (United Kingdom) or for having macho attitudes and high rates of violent crime (eg. Mexico). The United States is fairly high on Masculinity, but nowhere near the top, and of course is extremely high in military spending and international military involvement, plus suffers relatively high rates of violent crime. The world's 12 most masculine cultures, according to the IBM studies, are:

1. Japan

2. Hungary

3. Austria

4. Venezuela

5. Italy

6. Switzerland

7. Mexico

8. Ireland

9. Jamaica

10. China (although Taiwan ranks closer to the feminine than masculine end of the scale)

11. Germany

12. United Kingdom

The larger issue here, though, is that of worldwide dominance of masculine traits, and the suppression of feminine traits from being built into our institutions in ways which would make them more compassionate, caring and better able to take care of citizens, provide a good overall standard of living and prevent international conflict, war or military occupations. The reframing of our economic and political systems which I previously suggested in this series, in terms of morality (especially the "feminine," caring, emotion-based approach to morality), and in terms of an ecosystem (i.e., "mother earth") are both essentially feminine approaches, for example, which would result in feminizing our world's culture in a good, necessary, and long overdue way. It's not just a matter of women learning to "play the game" that our system requires, so that they can enter into positions of power. What we really need is to feminize the system! Until then, the world's citizenry will continue to suffer the same sort of conflicts and inequities as it has in the past. The world is becoming not quite as masculinity oriented as it has been in the past, but the breakdown of the masculine hierarchy has been gradual, and limited. We cannot get to where we need to go, until we create a system which grants at least equal status to feminine concerns (from a psychological standpoint of nurturance, caring and emotion, for example) as our current system has always granted stereotypically masculine concerns.


Zenzoe 8 years 34 weeks ago

Darn you, NL. It's cold in this room, and I only meant to stay a minute.

Did you ever read my blog post, Wearing Obedience? It touched on the same point, though from a different angle and framing. The differences—often the words "feminine" and "masculine" are conflated with the personal characteristics of men and women as genders, rather than as the abstract notions they represent to you. I prefer "the Feminine Principle," etc., just to avoid confusion and opposition. Also, the words "feminizing" or "feminization" are used to invalidate, discredit and stigmatize (by Republicans, usually) all sorts of things: "The military is being feminized..." or, the "feminization of boys..." Of course, these are symptoms of the problem you have raised.

I would tend to say, rather than that a country should adopt more feminine ways to be healthy, that a country needs a balance of those abstract masculine and feminine characteristics, as I mentioned in my post, that is to say, Yin-Yang. Or, androgyny, on the personal level.

Femininity is not superior to masculinity, Silly.

Other than that, you get no argument from me. My guess, though, is that only a few progressives have thought this out as far as you have, and some, dare I say, are in fact misogynists who imagine themselves to be enlightened in every other way.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 34 weeks ago

Actually, I agree about the androgyny/Yin-Yang thing, but if you look at the stereotypical masculine and feminine characteristics, which is what we are really talking about here, it seems to me that the feminine ones are the ones which lead to long-term social well-being. Probably my background has allowed me to think this issue out further than others.

I think I did read "Wearing Obedience." It was about muslim women wearing their garb dictated to them by men, if I recall correctly, or was it? I will look again.

I will also consider using the term "the feminine principle," although I am accustomed to saying psychological femininity and psychological masculinity, or stereotypical masculinity or femininity, or psychological androgyny, so there are several other ways to say it. I did a paper on psychological androgyny when I was in graduate school, by the way.

About women being potentially superior, what woman has started a war, created a culture based on female superiority, and why are there so many more men that women in prison, for example, and why do women engage in more prosocial behavior than men? On the other hand, there have been many contributions to society and progress for which men have been responsible. Personally, I also think it is better to praise someone who is different from oneself (the opposite gender) than someone who resembles oneself, which of course, goes both ways.

dhavid 8 years 34 weeks ago

Ah, the psycho-progressive blog lives! Unfortunately, for the sake of argument, there is nothing I can disagree with. The first time I heard such an idea was in 1977, at a meeting of psychotherapists, spoken by a very wise Catholic Nun. She said that the feminine (principle works for me) was mostly unavailable/not accessed/damaged, for most men AND women in their daily lives. As soon as she said it I knew it was true. Been aware ever since. One of my things is tears. All of my life, when something wells up from my heart, or spirit, usually in conversation, my eyes weep. Can't help it, At first, I tried to hide it. I was sure I looked like a wierdo. Now, when such a thing happens, I just let it flow. It's just me. Long live androgeny!

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 34 weeks ago

Psycho-aggressive? What's that, Dhavid? Oh, you wrote psycho-progressive. I think the feminine principle (Yin in Chinese) is unavailable to most people regardless of gender most of the time, because we have developed a focus on the masculine stuff (Yang in Chinese). Perhaps the masculine stuff is more salient and attention grabbing to people. War makes lots of news, Crime makes news too. Presidents and other politicians acting tough on people we don't like gets good press. People acting cooperatively and nurturing progress, building infrastructure and job growth, etc. does not get much press.

For some reason, I am not much of a crier. I guess it's my Vulcan-like logical qualities which keep my tear ducts dry the great majority of the time, except during Pahn-Farr, of course. But I am really good at exhibiting nurturance, cooperation and slow, careful decision making, so I second that Long Live Androgyny!

Zenzoe 8 years 34 weeks ago
Quote Natural Lefty:

I think I did read "Wearing Obedience." It was about muslim women wearing their garb dictated to them by men, if I recall correctly, or was it?

It was not.

In my life I have been nurtured by both males and females, whether they were mentors, teachers, instructors, professors, managers, friends or family members. Just as often, however, I have encountered the more competitive spirit in others, where a person might want to withhold interest, praise and encouragement out of a desire to maintain dominance, or whatever—one does not always know the reasons for this behavior. It can be said it is the stuff of our culture, or the natural by-product of hierarchy, roles, status and competition within the culture as a whole. Thus, I have learned to sometimes depend on myself for nurturance; I am a very good self-nurturer.

My post, Wearing Obedience, while only an outline, was relevant to NL’s point, but it addressed the underlying significance of misogyny, or better, the anti-feminine-principle, to shed light on the WHY of it all; that is, as I said in the post, “...‘perfection’ means conforming to America’s extremist, polarized notion of femininity, which is determined by America’s extremist, polarized, masculinist standards, all of which are the foundation of sexism.

This is because sexism—fundamentally—serves laissez-faire capitalism better than all the other isms that we abhor; it is because the notion of incorporating feminine characteristics—compassion, community, empathy, care—into the culture, as something to be valued, is anathema to the capitalist system. Thus, the female—who embodies the philosophical, feminine characteristics— MUST BE DENIGRATED, ERASED, DEPRIVED OF SIGNIFICANCE, otherwise, how could a CEO rationalize laying off thousands of workers; how could the CIA justify torture; how could the wars go on, if all the people making the decisions were balanced, that is, had internalized compassion and care as top values into their personalities?”

None of this is new stuff, however, with due respect for the discussion. Nearly twenty years ago my niece—who suggested the illustration for my post—a professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado, wrote the following in her [mere, she would say] senior thesis, “Women’s Roles in the Nuclear Disarmament Discourses: “...Evelyn Fox Keller traces many examples of the imbeddedness of a masculinist rationality in science and technology. In her work we are encouraged to consider how feminism and duality-breaking might be able to change the institution of Western science in radical ways. Carol Cohn steps into the elite center circle with America’s foremost defense strategists and finds a quicksand of rhetoric that obscures reality and entangles even the critically feminist participant in a very seductive, super-rational language where peace is no longer an appropriate word. Cohn’s work reminds us that nuclear weapons are much more than their physical representations—they ‘embody’ ideology, language and values within which most of us are still deeply entrenched, even as critical observers.” [my emphasis]

I haven’t noticed American society making any progress away from gender polarization, sexism and misogyny (notwithstanding dhavid’s tears, which I find strong and admirable in a man.) Just the opposite. (Again, I urge all to see the documentary, Generation M—Misogyny in Media and Culture.) But it’s brave to bring up the issue again, just in case anyone is listening.

Regarding the supposed superiority of women—may I say, Margaret Thatcher, Sarah Palin, Meg Whitman, Barbara Bush...oh and, what’s her name...Ann Coulter. Just to name a few. But these are women who have internalized the Masculine/Capitalist values at the top of their hierarchy of values. This is something anybody can do, whether male or female, right? It’s really less about sex and gender, than it is about ideology and philosophical mind-set, in my humble opinion, as a mere female.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 34 weeks ago

Zenzoe, I did see your inner Burqua post before but didn't remember it accurately. Oops! What can I say? I looked again and replied. It's really right up my alley. I have written before about the concept of freedom, and the mental barriers to freedom which we confront. My emphasis was on what people willingly do to themselves. The difference here is that you are looking at what culture does to people, and I agree. I think it is culture which is the driving force which mentally stymies people and makes them "put up or shut up." Culture certainly results in the oppression of women by shaping both men's and women's attitudes.

Actually, I am more of a laugher than a crier, but I don't think it's related to gender. Even my mother is more of a laugher than a crier. I wonder if that is genetic. My eyes do get moist when I am exposed to something terribly sad (or when I have allergies), but the water stays in my eyes.

We could add to your list, Michelle Bachman, Christine O'Donnell, and my dad's former boss who was a petty woman according to my dad. It's interesting to contrast different people's reactions to this post. A male friend on my Facebook group disagreed with my use of the word "misogynistic." He thought there is no hatred of women or the feminine principle, Yin, feminine stereotypes or whatever we may call it, going on, although he agreed that the system is rigged to favor the masculine. I actually had used one form or another of the word misogyny 3 times when I initially wrote the post, but took out 2 of them. I did leave it in once, as I explained to my friend Fred, because I believe there is misogyny in society, and we see it when people such as Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and yes, even Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and Christine O'Donnell are thoroughly pilloried in the media while men with similar views and politics are not the objects of such hatred. Why aren't we demonizing John Boehner or that McConnell fellow in that way, for instance. Obama is demonized by the political right, but that probably is fueled by racism, plus their raw greed for power.

We are indeed talking about psychological androgyny here, ultimately, not about gender. I did make the point in this post that we need politicians who embody the feminine principle, regardless of their biological gender. It appears to me that most women politicians go out of their way to appear tough like a man is supposed to be, something I alluded to in the post. Hillary Clinton is an example of that to me.

I was sort of hoping for a cross cultural discussion and an examination of Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions, but I am fine with discussing inner Burquas, etc. I did think you would find this post interesting, Zenzoe, and our previous discussion sort of catalyzed it, so thank you for that, although I think it was inevitable that I would eventually write about the problem of masculine trait dominance.

Finally, in case you didn't see it, and to put a neuroscience context to the topic of Androgyny, brain research has shown that our brains are shaped by our experiences, which is called neuroplasticity. I believe that there are very few hard-wired differences between men and women neurologically (sexual orientation probably being the exception), but our gender role socializaton differences can result in neurological gender differences. On the other hand, our experiences can result in men and women thinking the exact same way and having the same sort of brain organization, which is the neurological manifestation of Androgyny.

dhavid 8 years 34 weeks ago

There is an attitude i have grown into over the years. To me, there is little difference if a night-launched drone missle were to hit my house and destroy my family, my pets, my entire life, or my neighbors home, family and their entire life, or a family i have never seen in Afghanistan or Pakistan, killing and maiming all life within range of the explosion. I feel the same for the people i have never seen as i do for close family and friends. Almost daily I am angered and saddened as i ponder the human and animal toll, and even the grave psychological damage that occurs with the trauma of hellicopter and drone attacks, night time raids (greatly enhanced by the mad-dog hawk, general betraeus) - both in the attacker and the attacked.

If America had this attitude we could not fight these wars. Just simply wouldn't do it. This would be a full expression of the feminine principle in action. The lack of the feminine in the national discourse (and it is severely lacking) and the continuation of the wars of occupation work together, and reveal the incredible lack of the feminine in America today.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 34 weeks ago

Well put, Dhavid, I feel the same way. Perhaps we are brothers under the skin. I have always been good at generalizing and applying the same principles to others that I would apply to myself. Why other human beings fail to do so, I can only guess has to do with selfishness, naivete, and a "mascuine" competitive orientation. All of us are equally human, no matter what our parentage or nationality. Animals and plants are living beings too, and thus worthy of respect.

When I was writing about war, I ultimately suggested that we all be conscientious objectors, which would definitely be the feminine principle in action, and would end any possibllity of war. Being as militarized as the United States is, it really takes a "masculinized" society to do that.

By the way, today is my anniversary, and I married a foreign woman (from Taiwan). I always have seemed to relate better to foreigners. She is at her daughter's house remodelling, though, very sad for us to be apart. I went there yesterday and our daughter took us to a Chinese seafood restaurant for dinner, so that was good, but I wasn't feeling well since I have had an cold the last couple of days. I am improving today, but I still took a 1 1/2 hour nap this afternoon even though I slept well last night.

Zenzoe 8 years 34 weeks ago

As I said on the Obedience post, I don't have time right now to respond to all I noticed here. Maybe just one, or two, little points:

For one: "A male friend on my Facebook group disagreed with my use of the word "misogynistic." He thought there is no hatred of women or the feminine principle, Yin, feminine stereotypes or whatever we may call it, going on." What planet is this guy living on? How many times do I have to mention it: Please have him look at the documentary, Generation M, Misogyny in Media and Culture. And everybody else see it too!

Two: The care that dhavid and NL speak of is not, to my mind, a matter of "the feminine principle" at work in our lives. For me, it's about being whole, and wholly human, with attributes of both the masculine and the feminine. Sociopaths are not whole; they are split off from themselves, and lack integrity. To have integrity is to be whole, as I'm sure you know.

I like what St. Augustine said about hope: "Hope has two beautiful daughters—Anger and Courage; anger at the way things are, and the courage to change them." So there you have it all—the embodiment of the feminine and the masculine, in balance.

So much to do...

dhavid 8 years 34 weeks ago

So zenzoe is the guru here, if guru is defined as, "one who points." I am referring to her statement, "The care that dhavid and NL speak of is not, to my mind, a matter of "the feminine principle" at work in our lives. For me, it's about being whole, and wholly human, with attributes of both the masculine and the feminine."

What are these attributes of integrity, and compassion (lit. to feel with)? One could go on to speak of love (philea and agape), wisdom, genuineness, and levels of consciousness that characterize one who is whole, who has integrated the masculine and the feminine. To me they are spiritual, or eternal qualities. They tend to be reflected in integrated people. They begin to transcend egocentrism, allowing consciousness to live in quite a different way. We are now in a different land. I love this land, and i call it home.

I like where you have "pointed," guru zenzoe! :)

Zenzoe 8 years 34 weeks ago

Me "guru?" Hardly! But thanks, dhavid, very much. Really, I think I'll leave that terrain to you, which you do so well.

Just a brief comment (if redundant), before Thanksgiving descends, as to why I am opposed to the notion of women’s superior “souls”; first, about the qualities of care, attachment, feeling, and so forth, characteristics attributed to the feminine mind: These are in fact human qualities, and I could, if I had time, enumerate the infinite number of examples of works of fiction, film, music, law, ethics, etc., that were inspired by someone’s male mind, where the very characteristics attributed to the “female soul” are expressed as beautifully as any woman could express them. Ever hear of Jesus of Nazareth, for example?

Also, by designating a difference to women by using so-called “soft” qualities, those the culture says are predominant in the female, we initiate —have initiated— an environment where males are conditioned to shun those very real qualities in themselves and feel ashamed when they do express them; this takes a terrible toll on men and boys and causes great harm to culture, as we all know so well. Furthermore, in this way we also absolve men of the responsibility for demonstrating those qualities, giving them an excuse for cruel behavior, or a reason to discriminate against women and their works of philosophy, politics, judicial reasoning, or in opposition to their abilities in all fields traditionally available to males only.

I would suggest the “feminine soul-superiority” notion is the opposite side of the coin of the sexist notions of the inferiority of the feminine. And, an investment in such is an investment in discrimination against women, or the underestimation of the minds of women both culturally and personally.

As I see it, the masculine and feminine are mostly physical and biological characteristics, and those do not deny to one gender or the other the infinite aspects of the human mind and heart, and soul, that are available to all of us.

Happy Thanksgiving, but try not to be complicit in the torture of turkeys and pigs, okay? You can do it! —and I trust my care for turkeys and pigs does not contradict my position? :-)

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 34 weeks ago

We are having shrimp and various vegetable matter for Thanksgiving, apparently. My father requested that my wife cook something "non-spicy" (because they are intolerant of spicy food) with shrimp, and they weren't planning to cook a Turkey. There might be a pig involved, but I am not sure. Personally, I don't like ham, anyway.

Apparently my Facebook friend is living on the macho planet which his father left him, in which he is outwardly masculine, but has many androgynous traits and most of his good friends are women. He is a very nice, liberated man (from his father's machoness) and doesn't see any misogyny in his world. Gender relations are generally good. Of course I shouldn't really speak for him, but I think he represents a large portion of the male population, just as many whites think that racism is strictly a thing of the past.

You're conception of the feminine principle is consistent with humanistic psychology (my favorite orientation) and also Carl Jung's idea of gender balance and androgyny, as well as of course, Sandra Bem's concept of androgyny. Perhaps I didn't make clear that I am talking about the whole person incorporating positive qualities of all sorts, but that is what I have been talking about. Just take a look at Sandra Bem's work if you need to see that. Carl Rogers wrote a book called On Becoming a Person which I read when I was in high school. He wasn't talking about masculinity or femininity per se, but it was the same theme about wholeness which makes one a real person.

"Generation M, Misogyny in the Media and Culture" -- I would like to see that. I have seen something similar a long time ago at U.C. Riverside, but not the one you recommend. I think Fred should see it too.

If Anger and Courage are Hope's 2 daughters, doesn't that make both of them feminine. I guess we are getting into semantics and splitting hairs here, and I already look like an ape-man as it is (well, not really, just masculinely hirsuit); I don't need to look any hairier.

I agree with Dhavid that integrity, compassion, wisdom and genuineness are evident in integrated persons. These are all things that Rogers wrote about as well. They are the sort of qualities which allow a person to transcend egotism, so we pretty much have a love-fest going on here.

By the very fact that we are all equally human, as recently discussed, the souls of men and women are equivalent. We just have a few little outward differences.

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