The Feminine Mystique

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Colored pencil drawing, Tokyo, Japan, 2000

It seems women are more on my mind than usual this week. First there was the discussion at Feathers of Hope (Looking Within) and WriteOutLoud (The Things She Carried: An Open Letter to Tim O’Brian) in which a number of women voiced disbelief and shock at seeing a woman, Lynndie England, participating in acts of humiliation and coercion in the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib. My initial reaction was that it seemed to me arrogant and presumptuous to ever have assumed that women are not capable of awful acts, just like men. While I still maintain that women are just as equal in this as men, I’m beginning to wonder more now if I was reaching for more justification than is warranted. In my life I have rarely encountered women who actually resort to violence and I feel that this is so everywhere. In a recent interview with England she claims that she was ordered to commit the awful acts that were photographed. And most likely this is true.

More than anything this provides a very clear picture of how it is that so many Germans (and I must point out that most Germans were not Nazis and did not descend to acts of atrocity) ended up committing the deeds that they did… just like England they were ordered to do so, and in typical military mentality, there was very little leeway for dissension.

I wonder now if England would have committed such acts, or even thought about them, if she hadn’t been ordered to do them.

But of course there will always be Nurse Ratchets in the world, so who knows?

Balanced on the other end of the seesaw came an earth shattering revelation within myself over the last two days. One thing that has always sat off kilter within me was a sense of not feeling right about both the places and peoples I lived in and with, and the suspicion that the general direction that everyone seemed to be auto-piloting their lives was missing a fundamental connection to the natural world. I always assumed this suspicion stemmed solely from my living in towns and cities that were physically disconnected from natural places and therefore I needed to find my way to some less developed habitat where I could discover my roots. The problem was that even when I did manage to get out into the mountains and woods and sea sides, there always remained a yearning and need that originated within myself, not out there. There was a hunger that drove me to keep seeking that sense of balance, but I could not discern exactly what it was that was supposed to be balanced.

Until this week when I picked up the suspense thriller “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown.

Now, I usually don’t like such cliched populist books in which the dialogue always seems flippant and predictable, and the first part of the book confirmed my notions, but then the plot twisted into talk of the Christian Church and the Goddess, and something clicked into place. Not to give away the plot to those who still want to read this book, suffice it to say that the book awakened me to something that I had known and felt all along, but never recognized: it was the feminine balance in the equation that was missing in my life and all I saw around. And it was the feminine that I had been seeking all my life, why the natural world meant so much to me but could never quite fulfill the completion that it promised.

This is the spiritual poverty that the world has been carrying around for so long, why it always felt wrong to see priests celibate and men make decisions about abortion and have sole husbandry of the land and to push women into subordinate positions. Without the feminine aspect of spirituality that had been an integral part of so many traditions before the Catholic Church there could be no sense of completion in the world’s understanding of itself.

I realized this week that what I, and everyone else in the Christian world, need to bring back together, whole, is the two sides of the circle, the male and the female, the god and the goddess. I realized why it is that I am having such a hard time pinpointing my need to fill my life with the natural world, and why it is that I can’t seem to find a more wholesome balance in planning a future with the women in my life. Why I seem to be able to speak better with women than men, but at the same time miss a vital connection with men. Why so many of the attitudes and prospects of men seem to me crude and one-sided. Why so many of the men I know who are “happily” married are so because they have procured a position of power, in which the women have backed down to carrying out the whims of the men, even in this modern, “enlightened” world. Even, why it is that eroticism and sex have always danced foremost in my mind, but I always find a great wall of hesitation in candidly speaking about it, or writing about it.

Part of what surprised me so much about this revelation is that so often in the past, when coming upon images of women gathering in “goddess reawakening” rites I felt fear. I could never quite grasp where this fear came from, except that it seemed to undermine men and threatened to topple the sense of equality that I believed in, in part because so often these gatherings conspicuously counted men out. So often I lashed out in anger. But why was I so angry?

In reading “The Da Vinci Code” a kind of hidden gate seemed to have swung open, to all my lifelong tendencies and imaginings, such as an almost erotic sense of intimacy with wild places, a more empathetic connection with female dialogue about the beginnings of life and reasons for being, and dreams filled more often with conversations with women than with men.

But I am a man and have always felt an ache from not finding a suitable definition and ethos for what it means to be a man, both without women and with women. When I was a boy I fell in love with the Arthurian tales and for a long time modeled my outlook on the code of chivalry, believing deeply in self-sacrifice, doing good deeds for others, and courage in the face of all odds. But somehow it always felt artificial, whereas women always seemed to carry something within themselves that didn’t need to seek codes and lists of qualities. Ever since I have been seeking for the same state of grace within men, perhaps attempting to find the key to the garden of Eden, where men and women were one.

I suspect that my thinking, by living in the world that I do, can only bring me heartache. But somehow I feel that it is right, too. Perhaps by embracing the feminine aspect of myself I can win back the balance of the whole world within myself. Certainly that must be one reason I returned to Japan, where much of that male-female intermixing has never been lost. And perhaps that is why, over the last three years, I have been able to slip past the great male anger that I carried for so long. Men, alone in the vastness of the wilderness, without the guiding voices of women, can only hope to cry out in anger and fear.

11 Responses

  1. Fascinating! I hope you will explore this topic further…

  2. Another courageous post, Butuki. I enjoyed the DaVinci Code too, for the same reasons.

    I’ve just realized that lot of what you’re getting at–and I mean this in a larger sense than just this post–is a need for authenticity. In men, in women. Without it, we’re doomed to blindness. And without it, there is just no chance for anyone to disobey an orderthat is, essentially, an order to commit an atrocity.

  3. I have been reading your very deeply thoughtful and spiritual writings for some time now, and I am usually speechless, not being such a skilled writer. But this…what synchronicity here!

    I am reading a book (mentioned on my blog http://www.marja-leena-rathje.info/archives/000072.php ) called “Common Era: Best new writings on religion”http://whitecloudpress.com/books/commonera.html. An article in it called “Ecopsychology and the Anima Mundi” by Theodore Rosczak is VERY interesting in the light of your writings, especially this one. He writes about the angst of urban man, ecopsychology, the “old” religion vs new: ” In the mainstream christian churches, for example, there is an active discussion of planetary stewardship and creation spirituality that seeks to undo the long-standing prejudice against “pagan” culture and its insights.” He writes a brief history of Anima Mundi, the Earth Mother, even mentions the Venus de Willendorf, a goddess symbol, which is a recurring symbol in my work,… then the GAIA hypothesis of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis….then moves on to the ecological unconscious and ecopsychology.

    Perhaps you are familiar with the writings in this area yourself, I’m just beginning to explore them myself, but it just struck me that the feelings you have expressed so beautifully are about the issues discussed in the article.

  4. This is powerful and moving, butuki. I remember once reading (can’t recall where, alas) that both men and women need the protective strength of the masculine and the nurturing endurance of the feminine. Two forms of power, two forms of loving care, one immediate and assertive, the other lasting and collaborative. Unbalanced, we see madness on the one side, apathy on the other. It was an image that stuck with me.

    Thanks for posting this.

  5. Butuki,

    I have to admit I cheered on reading this entry. It is inordinately affirming to see another person slip over into understanding. Although, I must say it seemed a little odd to hear you talk of this as a revelation of sorts, as ‘the knowing’ and reverence for the feminine has always been evident in all your posts. I’m guessing you always you always understood but have just found the words to explain that knowing.

    I made that quantum leap relatively recently myself and life has never been the same since. The world is now a richer place and life a more meaningful experience. It is not all roses though; it comes with a heightened sadness for the lack of understanding in the world. At times it can feel like I’m cruising on a vast ocean of ignorance in a little pea-green boat with not another soul in sight. When a fellow traveller appears on the horizon is always cause for celebration.

    Keep writing these wonderful words and who knows it may help another person slip into understanding.

    By the way…this is what I was referring to in my last comment when I talked about the reverence for logic at the expense of emotion. Everything feminine seems to suffer this denigration: emotion, instinct, mystery, nature and the boundless… We are collectively hoodwinked into believing the Great Lie: the supremacy of all things linear, logical and our ability to exert control over our environment and life itself.

    As you say “we need to bring back together…the two sides of the circle, the male and the female, the god and the goddess.” Until then we cannot understand what it is to be fully human or even begin to find a way to live in harmony with this world.

    Wonderful post. More please.

  6. It’s so weird. Pica called this post “courageous”, but I’m not sure why it is seen that way. I am painfully aware that men in the West, most especially America, often have to tread lightly when talking with women about the feminine side of things. You always risk getting someone incensed with you. But these kinds of topics I’ve always found to be relatively easy to talk about with Japanese people, women and men, and there is very little sense here of any kind of pre-ordained backlash from women. The same is also much more true among women I’ve talked to and known in Europe. Why is that? Why are North Americans so angry about such things, and so frightened to talk about them? They seem deeply important to us all, so I would think we would all need to talk about them…

    I can’t help but notice that none of the usual male commenters on this blog have said a word in this post. Are you just begging off, or is the topic irrelevant to you? I’m truly curious. Are the men and women unable to express to one another what they both think? Is it fear of reprisal or just plain cross purposes?

    Fujiko Suda, a Japanese blogger, ponders the mentality of men when they are with women. A lot of women say what her friend says about men. I wonder, though, since I know I’m not like that most of the time. Is it really true that men and women just can’t comprehend one another? I also feel this is another myth men and women like to impose on one another to preclude making an attempt to understand each other.

    I’m always surprised… the misunderstanding that men and women have of one another constitutes one of our society’s biggest obstacles to improving our lives as an integrated community, and yet we continue to adhere to the old standbys of feigning ignorance or grouping into the male and female cliques (what happens to those who lean more toward the middle?). Is it impossible for us to crawl out of the tyranny of ape mentality? Does our genetic heritage keep us from losing the models of champions and princesses?

    Perhaps too much thinking for a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning? I think I’m going to go for a nice hike today…

  7. people don’t always take the time out to look at the other side of things (that side which isn’t theirs, of course) and with all the studies that’s been done with men’s and women’s brains and well, just from everyday personal experiences, i believe it’s easy to comprehend the opposite sex. there are indeed differences – that’s not to be disputed. but i believe these differences are not too complex nor too vague for it to be forever a mystery. as you’ve said, it’s just a convenient excuse.

    it’s interesting how your regular male visitors haven’t said anything on this post of yours. it could just be the weekend, or well, who knows. we’ll see.

  8. “comprehend” meaning know where they’re coming from. i have a difficult time completely understanding myself sometimes (perhaps just because i think too much) but yeah. human beings, in general, are too mysterious to be understood inside and out, but you get what i mean.

  9. I think part of the problem is that as we grow up, our culture, whatever that may be, imprints its conventions, constructs and definitions upon us. This keeps us from having truly authentic selves. Winning back that self is such hard work that few attempt it, but for a man I think it would resolve some of the troubling estrangements you speak of. So rather than reacting against gender stereotypes, I think men would have the finest kind of masculinity and women would have the finest kind of femininity if they were authentic, self-actualized and had developed character strength as individuals.

  10. I return the compliment you paid me, Butuki: just knowing that you are exploring these ideas so thoroughly, so openly, encourages me to believe that the species is going forward–that Darwin still reigns!–rather than the direction the chickenhawks are trying to take us. All my adult life, I’ve watched men struggle with their own “feminine” side, as some of them called it (the ones who had some idea of what their conflict was)–in this culture, it’s a real battle for identity. Takes real courage (I echo Pica here) in the face of so little reinforcement, so much celebration of machismo, derogation of the feminine. But you keep hacking away at it, and I promise you’ll accomplish wonders for yourself, and never regret it!

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