Yesterday, we discussed duality in depth, which is the idea of a contrast between two ideas, or a juxtaposition of opposites. What is hot cannot be cold, what is heavy cannot be light, and so on.
The duality between men and women is particularly important to human beings, because it absolutely pervades human interactions. It gives rise to the actual reproduction of the species, and drives the attractions and interests of a large percentage of the population.
Comparison is Natural
Have you ever noticed how people compare just about everything intangible and abstract to something concrete in their day to day experience? The infinite of outer space gets named “space”, just like it was a corner of empty area in the next room. Digital arrangements of bytes on your computer are called “Files” as if they were bits of paper sitting on a “desktop”.
One of the ways we make things understandable in a complicated world is by comparison to simple every day things that we know well. A thing that most people know really well, intuitively, is the pattern of behaviors typical for men and women, which we abstract up and call the masculine and the feminine. We do not have universal agreement about what’s in the category of one or the other, but we do have near universal agreement that the categories exist, and exemplars of things that are clearly in one category or the other.
Symbolic Representation of Masculine & Feminine
So far we have a key duality (masculine/feminine) and we know that humans like to represent abstracts in terms of concretes they know. When we look back to creation myths, we usually see the masculine standing for order, or society. And the feminine standing for change.
Consider that order is laying things down in a fixed way to promote stability, and that change is fundamentally about disrupting a fixed set of rules. This makes for a neat duality itself; it’s hard to have order with change, and it’s hard to have change with order. So too the mapping is neat and clean back to masculine and feminine.
It is extremely important to keep in mind that this does not mean that men are orderly and women are about change. This is a symbolic mapping between two different dualities, and is a way of relating something huge and abstract (order/change) back to something we all can understand.
Positive and Negative
Order and change should not be seen as positive or negative. Order is simply akin to a fixed set of rules. This can be either very positive (social stability, predictability, low anxiety) or it can be awful (dictatorial control over affairs, tyranny, and being locked into backwards “ordered” patterns).
The same is true for change. It can be positive in the form of updating practices with the times, and it can also be awful and wrenching; when too much change happens in too unpredictable a way, the word for that is “chaos”.
As with many dualities, we’ll readily see that it’s overly simplistic to see one side or the other as good or bad, but there is a needed necessary balance between them. And indeed in any person (whether male or female) there will be a balance of these attributes, it would be foolish to claim that women are about change and men are about order. Obviously both are a mixture of both.
It is striking when looking back through creation myths and comparative mythology how often these patterns repeat, particularly with for example the Sky Father and the Earth Mother.
The Sky Father embodies order, in that he is usually placed at the top of a pantheon of gods. A hierarchy or ordering of any sort is the hallmark of order, because to understand a pecking order is … to have order.
The Earth Mother by contrast is where change comes from, usually in the form of birth. For example, in Hinduism, Durga represents the feminine aspect and the empowering nature of motherhood. Kali springs from her forehead, another goddess.
These ideas, by themselves — well frankly they can sound pretty crazy. Where we get to a true “ah hah” moment is when we note the universality of these types of representations. Over thousands of years, disparate cultures, religions, and eras – something about humanity has tended to consistently represent the masculine and the feminine in this way. Rather than recapitulate all of the examples, I’ll point you to the Wikipedia article for Sky Father, which has a long list of similar characterizations.
To have the same concept arise in so many different uncoordinated places, is evidence of some aspect of universality in this representation. To be clear, this is absolutely nothing to do with modern conceptions of gender identity – or even really gender. It is about human perception of patterns of behavior, over millennia, and how those things most easily translate to order and stability we see in the world.
Comparative mythology, and symbolism allows us to glimpse one small aspect of how humans are hard wired.
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