I feel a need to defend femininsm, but first I need to define that which I am defending. There are many (at least a dozen!) differing schools of feminism and it is such a broad term that in reality it is a very difficult target to attack or defend with any degree of accuracy. A large number of men and women are on the internet are ‘having a go’ at feminism but I think they need to be much more accurate and attack the specific parts of feminism that have not worked for them. So with that in mind I will try to identify and defend the specific parts of feminism that I agree with and think desrve to be recognised for the value that they have brought to us as humans. In particular I believe that feminism has brought us to a point in history where the rights and freedoms previously only enjoyed by the ruling classes (white men?) can now be enjoyed by more and more humans. I also want to be clear that the feminism I support is not the sole preserve of women. Many men have also been involved in the extention of rights and priveledges to their brothers and sisters and I want to acknowledge that. The feminism I support is a part of the evolutionary process of the human species.
I’d like to differentiate words here and note that when using man/woman and female/male I am talking of the biological nature of our existence. The flesh and blood bodies. When I use Masculine/Feminine I am talking of matters on a spiritual level of being. The energy and spirit bodies. When I use Agency/Communion I am talking of a polarity on the psychological level of being. The mental and emotional bodies.
- Agency arises from strivings to individuate and expand the self and involves such qualities like instrumentality, ambition, dominance, competence, and efficiency in goal attainment.
- Communion arises from strivings to integrate the self in a larger social unit through caring for others and involves such qualities like focus on others and their well-being, cooperativeness, and emotional expressivity.
- With respect to biases in self-perception, there seems to be an agency related egoistic bias or the “superhero” bias. This is a tendency to exaggerate one’s social and intellectual status and leads to positive self-perceptions on such traits as dominance, intellect, and creativity
- A communion related moralistic bias can be called the “saint” bias. This being a tendency that leads to positive self-perceptions on such traits as agreeableness, dutifulness, and nurturance.
It is the agency/communion polarity and, where we each sit on the line between the two poles that I would like to address in this article. This line between two poles gets longer the further away form the biological poles of man/woman, female/male that we get. Placing or finding ones self on this line is an ingredient of self discovery.
Is there a pattern evolving here?> Is Agency descriptive of men and Communion descriptive of women? Broadly speaking of course! I think it is and here’s why.
This agency/communion divide may well (I believe it does) have its roots deep within our biology. Throughout nature there are often very clear distinctions between the roles played by the different sexes of different species. They do not follow any specific patterns other that one sex tends to be dominant. One sex seems to be more agency driven and the other seems to be more communally driven. In many animals it’s the male that looks after the young. In others it’s the eldest female that heads the pack. In clown fish there is only one female and when she dies the biggest male undergoes a sex change and turns into a female! In Komodo dragons the females don’t need a male to lay a fertilised and viable egg. Female hyenas are larger and more aggressive than the males and male sea horses are implanted with the eggs of the female, he fertilises them and carries them until they hatch.
These differences serve mostly to ensure the survival of the species. For what ever reasons they have evolved that way to ensure breeding success. In short they do it like that because it works.
What has worked for us in the past, in terms of survival, was for women to stay at home and for men go out hunting or warring or ploughing, all of which are extremely dangerous for pregnant or nursing women. It’s a biological and historical fact that women, once of age, were more often pregnant or nursing than not, until they reached an age where it was no longer possible to bear children. So the agency/communion divide between men and women may have a very real biological and survival driven reasons. But as a species we have evolved beyond our biological needs. It’s no longer just about surviving for most of us in the western world. We are psychological and spiritual creatures too. And our psychological natures are different, not as man/woman, black/white, as our biological differences, more nuanced. Women, it seems, have a need for self determination or Agency, and men appear to have (even though many hide it) a need for emotional connectivity or Communion.
Throughout history women have often not been allowed (By men (Law) or nature or both?) to be very agentic in there lives. Self determination for women has not been high on the agenda, political or otherwise, survival was. Over the centuries laws have changed to give freedom to more and more groups of people and looking at a timeline of Female emancipation we can see that right from the 1500’s it has gone hand in hand with the emancipation of the poor and other distressed and subdued classes and groups. It’s not until we evolved to the modern world that the rights of women and others become a lot more important important to the human tribe.
What some branches of feminism are calling for is the right for women to self determine. To be, if they choose to be, what they choose to be. If a woman chooses, or is naturally drawn to be, a communal stay at home mummy who loves and nurtures her children, then other feminists would like her to be to be valued for this service as much as the hunter is valued for his service. Do you think the meats of the hunt were given in the main to those that did the hunting? Or did we share with the community because we recognised the fact that we do all exist interdependently. That without the communal, agency is homeless. So why do the best hunters get paid 1000’s of times more than the carers in our society? In the west Agency is more highly valued than Communion, and it’s that imbalance that much of feminism seeks to address. That and the right of self determination.
Evolution is always beautiful, but it ain’t always pretty. And yes there have been many feminists who have egotistically and agentically pushed their own agendas to ‘bash men’. And men have been guilty of some terrible crimes against women. Such as burning them at the stake! Men have been guilty of doing some pretty horrific things to other men too. Too much Agency and not enough Communion can do that.
The common misreading of Charles Darwin’s ‘Evolution of the Species’ leads to a system that thinks that evolution is all about some dark fight for selfish survival. The strongest and most agentic man will grab and impregnate the most women and therefore further his genes the most. That may be one side of the story as 0.5% of the worlds population are descendants of Genghis Khan, but its not the whole picture. What Darwin really said is that Love is the primary force of evolution. He cited many examples of altruism in the natural world such as old and, in terms of the survival of the species, worthless old animal being fed and maintained by others nearby. Have you seen the video of the cheetah with the baby monkey? [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaHX6kZSnK0] She is distraught and tries desperately to nurse it. Where’s the survival drive in that? That’s love in action! The internet is rife with examples of lions nursing kittens and dogs nursing cats.
The developing sense of the rights of women and other repressed groups is our psychological and spiritual evolution. It’s growth to extend more rights and privileges to more and more people. I don’t want a world where I am my woman’s keeper, like the 1800’s. I want women to be free and self determining as much as I want them to be communing and relating. For myself I don’t want to just be being agentic all the time, I want to develop my sense of relationships. Feminism won’t be done until we all value our feminine as much as we value our masculine and we can access either or both at any given moment. Feminism I have long argued is not about Women, it’s about the Feminine. Can we men embrace that?
In summary: We all exist as agents in communion or as selves within a group. Niether the self or the group is more valuable. In our current meme some selves are seen as more valuable and therefore other selves are seen as less valuable. In any tribe this inequality will disrupt the balance and things will be upset. Maybe a new word is needed, maybe feminism is too loaded to pull apart and find the real meaning beneath all the misreadings and downright lies. A new movement who’s intent is to extend universal rights and priviledges according to the needs and abilities of each member of the tribe. I’m currently working on a name for the new movement but before we move on I’d like to recognise the good work of feminism.
A Man in a Skirt.
Notes 1 to 4 are edited extracts from a paper entitled Agency and Communion From the Perspective of Self Versus Others by Andrea E. Abele and Bogdan Wojciszke