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The Problem With “Masculine” and “Feminine”

By November 5, 2016Sexuality, Spirituality

In the new world of relationships and the new age sex and spirit movement, the terms masculine and feminine have been co-opted to apply to a range of behavioural characteristics.

This new approach, often arising from tantra and Taoist traditions helped to broaden out many people’s understanding of traditional male and female roles by using spiritual language. In tantra the masculine principle is depicted as Shiva, the feminine as Shakti. Shiva is said to be consciousness, direction, purpose, stillness. Shakti is defined as energy, flow, emotion, movement.

So to be in your Shiva (masculine) means to be conscious and have direction. Many in those circles would say that it is about having a purpose or mission in life. David Deida, a popular writer on this topic writes “Your purpose must come before your relationship”, and “if you’re playing the masculine role in the relationship it’s your responsibility…to make decisions”.

The problem is that these characteristics sound a lot like the old paradigm of “the man must make the decisions, the woman must follow him” or “men do the thinking, women are emotional”. A lot of qualities of the new age view of masculine and feminine relationships simply mirror the old paradigm with new language, masking a kind of male superiority behind a veneer of spirituality and reverence. On the surface this appears to be a respect and honouring of the feminine, but at a deeper level I feel that it perpetuates the sexist stereotypes of old school thinking about men and women.

These positions are justified by saying that the masculine and feminine qualities occur in both men and women (what about transgender persons, I wonder?) New ageists would argue that by removing the construct of “male” and “female” and relabeling them as “masculine” and “feminine” they free the stereotypes from their gender identities.

The problem is that nothing that we think can arise from beyond the episteme in which it occurs. Our thinking is always coloured by the social soup in which it arises, influenced by endless years of social ideas about what it means to be “male” or “female” and so on. As soon as we apply labels that we understand to derive from a gender-based paradigm, we instantly apply all the social constructions we have about those roles to them, no matter how consciously we try not to.

So why do so many continue to assert the importance of these masculine and feminine roles? It seems to me that the significance of these constructs comes from the potency of polarity. Masculine and feminine (irrespective of gender) are understood to be opposite energies and like the poles of a magnet create a strong resonance and mutual attraction. 

If we throw out ideas of masculine and feminine aren’t we risking ending up with a soup of sameness that denies the power of this attraction? My response to this is that polarity is indeed a powerful force for attraction – but we need to separate it from the gender-associated constructs that have been applied to it.

So, polarities like stillness and movement, dominance and submission, wildness and “domesticated” (think Beauty and the Beast) are mutually exciting. Let’s not lose the passion of polarity but split it out from the meaning-laden terms of masculine and feminine.

It is only by identifying the importance of the polarity in its own right without applying thousands of years of gender stereotyping to it that we can begin to move beyond the old paradigm that has created such conflict and mutual suspicion between genders.




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