Womanhood - The Conditioning

Like Martin Luther King, I had a dream. Only mine was while I was actually asleep.The dream was quite short, just a vignette of a man with two faces. Not two faces really, just one face with bizarrely mismatched halves.  The “right” side was normal, but the other had a big bushy eyebrow and wild, bushy black hair.  He had hurt a woman (more emotionally than physically I felt) and was trying to explain to her.  He kept turning his head from side to side.  The normal side would say, “See, this is me.”  Then he would turn to show the other side and say, “This is the true lie.”  This is me, this is the true lie.

What does it mean?  I think the dream was trying to show, literally, the two faces of man and to express, in that portrayal of duality, not only a split within him that now needed to be healed, but the damage that the split had done to woman and her relationship with him.  I think the “bushy” side symbolized the primitive, patriarchal man of the past--the wild, aggressive man bereft of his feminine softness.  The “normal” side was the man of the future, man as he needs to become.  He is the man who has integrated the duality into oneness--who has found, embraced, and reinforced his feminine resolve with his masculine strength.  Yes, HIS feminine resolve.  Just as each gender needs the other to survive on an external, global scale, each needs the other to survive on an internal, personal scale. 

Let me first begin with the individual, because there can never be true understanding and integration between the genders sans integration of the masculine and feminine within the individual.   Little girls are not supposed to play with trucks nor little boys  dress up a la Barbie.  While there may be some innate gender predispositions, I have no intention of testing the treacherous waters between first and second natures.  Aside from the fact that parents, society, and peer pressure have already influenced all but the youngest infants, it’s really not relevant.  Wherever it came from, the duality exists, causes problems and needs to be resolved. This schism damages both genders; it imprisons us all.  Just as the oppression of women for over 2000 years, being  an entire half of the world’s population, has cost the world incalculably in terms of their possible contributions, the repression of the other gender within costs every human the positive potential it can contribute, not to mention the negative emotional toll of keeping that very natural “other” repressed.  Man remains the patriarch, still too often the oppressor, the restrainer, the controller, who, if I may say so, always has the final say so.

The living lie of muffled femininity continues to let external forces contort the outcome of an acorn, no into the sturdy oak tree it ought to have been, but an exaggerated, hurtful caricature, not unlike what I saw in the dream.  That was no true oak but a growth stunted and twisted into bonsai or driftwood by the ancient, unamended codes society has imposed.  Where once, in the absence of better sense, these codes may have served, now they do disservice, not only to man’s society, but most deeply to the complete man who essentially needs a woman to share the earth and be part of him.  Real man is the one who has escaped from primitive notions of what it means to be a man, escaped from the ways society tries to shape and imprison him, to strip him of his femininity, and perhaps in doing so has conquered his own darker nature--bloodlust.  Who is to say, how much of his empire-building was created by true creativity and how much a product of bloodlust, both in the battles it entailed and in subduing another people to one’s own will and domination ? 

Look at cockfights, dogfights, bullfights, prizefights, gunfights, even hunting, all predominantly male activities.  Whether man has an innate compulsion to destroy or is genetically programmed to hunt for supremacy, in today’s non-hunting, non-warring society, it is out of both place and time.  Patriarchal Society however continues to encourage this disjointedness, teaching men obsolete codes of aggressive competition in a world that increasingly moves toward better communication and firmer cooperation.  Some of those ideals of manhood may have worked once, may have been “true” once but are “lies” now.  A man who, apparently, does not need anyone nor express feelings is the “boss,” especially of women; a man, who is the wage-earner and foundation of the household; is the “stud” and must defend his honor as society (not self) defines it, including physically without showing any vulnerability.  This regimentation was inculcated irrespective of man’s choice, uncaring of his nature and individuality.  He was supposed to epitomize the comparative; stronger, more aggressive, more assertive, more ambitious and more competitive, more stoical.  He built empires, not relationships, and that too through force and power rather than communication and cooperation. 

The misguided male pride, the gigantic male ego – is there anyone to assess the quantum of blood they have caused to be shed, how many young lives they have nipped in the blood, how much potential they have rendered aborted, how many defenceless women and children they have left distraught ? What is gained today by any obsolete man-made code that destroys mankind?  How much, in fact, does anyone care about things that ought to matter? Preservation of the ecosystem, World peace,  A meal on your neighbor’s table,  someone else’s newborn child, true respect of your peers. Why do seemingly intelligent people willingly stay in the prison of others’ thoughts, letting them influence your behavior as surely as if they have you in chains?  Blindly accepting an established code on the base of precedence is akin to accepting the religion of one’s parents without question simply because that’s what you were taught.  Without making the effort to study, examine and evaluate whether an ism works for you, you are not only denying yourself the freedom to choose how to fulfill your own deepest human needs, you’re in fact abdicating your responsibility to yourself.  If there are occasions most certainly worth fighting for, surely a lurid comment or rude gesture isn’t one of them.

While today’s girl is free to pick up a bat and learn baseball without much comment, how many boys would opt to learn needlepoint?  A recent article discussed how “girl toys” needed to be more mechanical and mathematically oriented to help girls learn these skills.  Shortly after, there was an article about “tech camps” for girls, both tremendous ideas, but what about little boys?  What about a communication camp for boys?  What about more private AND public focus on sharing, relating, raising self-esteem and respecting women?  Girls and women may perceptibly have more to lose, but men and boys have an equal responsibility for the behavior, and have a great deal to lose if they end up siring an unwanted child, in prison, or in cycles of addiction or unemployment, more so as seeking counseling or external assistance would be going against the “manly” code of toughing it out alone.  All of these symptoms cost society grievously, which has an equal responsibility to influence the behavior of both genders. 

How can we hope to improve the world for women if we do not change men? The obsolete code of manliness touches every relationship a human can have.  The spread of possible destruction begins with indoctrination of individual men and lo, like ripples in a pond, reaches outward to affect personal relationships, society and then the world.  Man has only to open a newspaper to see the effect of what it has done internationally – death, discrimination and deprivation.  Countries whose leaders are still caught up in patriarchal notions of pride, honor, and dominance letting loose their own horrific egos cost their people liberty and peace.  The code not only affects man’s relationship with the world, women or his own inner relationship with self but also other men.  How can you deeply relate to another man or hope to understand his perspective if neither of you are equipped or programmed to share feelings?  In its extreme of homophobia, the code deals even more harshly with gay men.  It’s incredibly sad that society has ingrained this fear of the feminine in man so strongly (“hey, you hit like a girl” or “what are you, Nancy boy?”) that one has merely to open that same newspaper to see how even Western man continues to feel threatened by gays who have had the courage to ignore the code and incorporate the feminine, however excessively, and react by marginalizing and even brutalizing them.

The code has affected man’s relationships with children, his own and others.  Fathers are pressured to raise the same type of repressed, emotionally isolated sons as themselves.  Children need to be shown love not just through discipline and a hot meal on the table but also through hugs, openness, and praise--and not just from mom.  Too many fathers are still unable to overtly express affection, praise, or even accessibility.  What is a child to think?  How can a child feel loved and secure in this throttled kind of relating style?  How can a child extrapolate from father, going off to work every day, that this means love?  Boys especially need positive attention from their fathers or other male role models.  “I’m proud of you, I really liked the way you handled that situation.”  A tremendous potential of closeness, unconditional love, support and understanding is lost in these one-dimensional relationships.  How much damage is suffered by children who are programmed to be what they are not, and denied one of their most spontaneous reactions--freely expressed and no-holds-barred love. 

There is an even worse consequence to the code, in which man dons the role of sexual predator of children, a price he elicits for being their sympathetic confidante.  Exact statistics are difficult to come by (this is not the kind of information most people volunteer), but I believe it’s generally recognized that most sexual abuse of children is perpetrated by men (the United States Sentencing Commission gives a figure of 90%).  This is a severe act of invasion on the most powerless, causing immense and irreversible damage that unfortunately turns out to be self-perpetuating (the abused grow up to become the abuser). Whether or not biology plays a part in this con game, that patriarchal sense of entitlement, man’s belief that he is automatically entitled to take what he wants and his aggressive ways of resolving inner and outer conflicts must surely contribute.

Not only had this sense of entitlement been bestowed to man by society, it had fostered a contempt and rejection of the feminine that deprived man of the sense of compassion and empathy that would otherwise have been inherent in them.  How much violence men expressed toward women -- rape, physical and emotional abuse.--was not just because women were weaker; it was also a manifestation of man’s enforced rejection of his OWN femininity.  If one has been programmed to dislike or disrespect other gender characteristics in oneself, how can one not project that same repulsion outward towards the other gender ?
However, was there a time when surging testosterone and accompanying feeling of lack of control over his own body and emotions become as much a liability for man as a woman’s gentleness had become for her?  As Father Time grew older, rape and pillage became acceptable only in battle; as battles grew fewer and farther between, what was man then expected to do with these powerful aggressive and sexual urges (which, I dare say, are intimately connected)?   He was not the creator but the victim of his uncontrollable desires.  It was woman, Eve, the seductress who made him fall weak and helpless.  It wasn’t his own Achilles heel but a woman that brought the “strongest” man to his knees--it was woman using her evil devises.  Man apparently could easily forget any role his own evil sexuality might have played in this.  As ironic as it was, this scorned “weaker sex” could wield such influence through that very femininity, thereby exhibiting her biggest threat to man and manhood. This proved, possibly, to be the root cause of her continued repression later, and not just through sexual love.  One of the strongest, most formative bond a man has is the relationship with his mother--the deepest needs he has for her, sexuality and dependence all swirling together, giving her not only power to guide and help him, but have power OVER him.  This dominance/vulnerability has always left man with an almost schizophrenic attitude toward women. “Love and respect mothers and sisters” says the code “but use the others as you will”. 

The church often used to set the standards of thought and behavior.  Naturally the God of this church was male, and from Eve’s original sin on into every other area of life, the Christian church made it clear what it thought of women--certainly not enough to allow any within its upper echelons of power.  Ironically, this was the church based on the teachings of Jesus, a man who openly promulgated the feminine aspects--empathy, forgiveness, inner power versus outer power.  Apparently the church failed to see the hypocrisy.   Women were equally excluded from positions of secular power.  Dynastic regimes in both East and West prohibited women from participating in the line of descent and often still do.  Not allowing women to work was a foolproof way to keep them dependent and “docile.”  Independence and self-sufficiency came from money, dependence and subservience from lack of it.  Women had no vote, no voice, no money, and no army to raise and smite man and his patriarchy down.  They were deprived not only of autonomy and independence but often devalued to the point of being nonentities.  In many countries, prostitution remains the only option if a woman loses or alienates her husband or family.  Imagine what kind of power this gives man over her.  Many women are so preprogrammed by the code of male superiority that they do not need too much encouragement to willingly sacrifice themselves for men.  As stated on, “A 24-year-old female prostitute in Shenzhen...sends home as much as $300 a month, which helps pay for her younger brother’s education.  ‘In China, daughters are not very important,’ she told the Post. ‘It's the son that matters.  Unless I leave (her hometown of Chongqing) and find work, there's no way that my little brother can continue his education.’  She said she had told her parents she wass a waitress--not a prostitute....” China’s population-control laws support this unequal valuation:  If a family’s first child is a boy  they are allowed only one; if they have the misfortune to have a girl, they are given only one second chance to try for a boy.  Since the working son is often the parents’ “retirement plan,” the girls are often aborted or sold.  In some countries, female infants are even killed after birth like so many unwanted puppies. In countries where a woman cannot work and/or where sons are considered parents’ security for old age, how can a daughter NOT be a comparative liability ? 

What are the consequences, not just to the women themselves, but to the countries that permit this kind of contempt?  Is it just coincidence that the current crisis of terrorism and extremism arises for the most part from some of the most patriarchal societies on earth, the areas most repressive to the power of the femininity?  This patriarchal stranglehold must be stopped at the roots.  Extremism and terrorism are yet only symptoms, not the disease.  The current war on terrorism may be a first step, but even though it is far from sufficient to minister the gaping wound of inadequate education, grinding poverty and an obsolete, dysfunctional patriarchal system. Empowering women gives them the opportunity to educate and change their children, and in turn, their societies.  That, then, is the target for comprehensive restoration of gender balance – to create a new system of progressive development.

Women, past and present, have also had to deal with their own imprisonment by attire, not just the burqas of the East but the scandal of a bare ankle in the pre-twentieth-century West.  Men may have been taught shame of their inner femininity, but this insistent of covering the female form cannot fail to teach shame also.  How can habituating women to be subservient, silent and asexual teach them anything other than being unworthy?  Clothing is significant in other ways, too.  While men were allowed the relative freedom of voluminous trousers, until fairly recently Western women were confined to corsets, high collars, and long skirts.  They were, literally, CONFINED; they couldn’t run, kick, or participate in sports. American women did not get to vote until 1920, less than 85 years ago...a nanosecond in historical terms.  Men saw to it that a “good” woman was demure and chaste.  Virginity was highly prized, never mind the double standard that came with it.  This may have been a throwback to the biological desire of a man to perpetuate HIS genes and his alone.  A woman would know if a baby was hers; a man would never know unless he could truly assure himself of the woman’s chastity and faithfulness. Perhaps at heart that was what frightened man most of all, this mysterious power woman had that he could neither understand nor surpass. 

Women went from the custody of their fathers to the custody of the men they were to marry, and God only hoped their fathers were decent enough to marry them to decent enough men.  We may never be able to truly understand how limited the lives, choices, and options of our foremothers were, but we must cheer the pioneering women of that time who insisted on choosing her own suitor, started her own business, demanded her opinions heard, or fought for the right to vote.
Women, gently help the men you care to reform.  Let them know it’s okay to cry or show weakness in front of you.  How can a man let himself be vulnerable if he is still operating within the code?  I was so surprised to read in an online forum how many women, especially the younger ones, felt they would lose respect for a man who cried!  Ladies, this only means you’re in the very same prison as him.  You’ve bought  the same line, the same stereotypes about what makes a “real” man.  I personally would feel honored if a man trusted me enough to let his guard down so in front of me.  Again, a real man is not the biggest, baddest guy in the room.  A real man is the one who cares about your feelings.  He’s the one who will get up in the middle of the night to sing your child back to sleep or clean up baby burble.  He’s the one who is courageous and open enough to tell you how panicky and unworthy he felt after losing his job.  He’s the one who will stand by you.  He’s the one who WILL die for you and/or your children but would much rather live to a blissful old age with you.  The one secure enough not to trade you in for a new model when you’re 40.  He’s the one who respects women as people and values their opinions, insight and input. Women, we must help men find their femininity by letting them know it’s okay, that the values of the code are not what WE value.

Parents--mothers and fathers--you have the greatest power and the greatest responsibility, not only to change yourselves but to change your children, to change the next generation, to change the world.  As Robert Bly says in an interview with Bert Hoff, “Marion Woodman asks women in her workshops not to be unconscious mothers, simply passing on what you got from your mother and your grandmother.  We have to ask men not to be unconscious fathers--not to pass on the shaming and the violence, or whatever it is, that they took in.  There’s a chance in this generation to become conscious mothers and conscious fathers. That's a tremendous possibility, a tremendous responsibility. For better or for worse, some of the unconscious matter is releasing its magnetic hold on this generation), any we don’t need that, do we? We don’t want out and out femininity or out and out masculinity; we want an equilibrium of each, both in and out. That would be normal. 


More by :  Nikhil Sharda

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Views: 3487      Comments: 2

Comment "How can we hope to improve the world for women if we do not change men?"

This is at the crux of the issue. Very well written piece. And I am reassured to see it is written by a man.

19-Dec-2012 08:15 AM

Comment Most of this article resonated strongly with me. I feel very fortunate to have had a musician father who could express both masculinity and his more tender side. Think I was able to integrate that into my own personality...was glad we had daughters and I didn't have to be macho. I'm now 73 years old and can
see clearly how true the writer portrays masculinity in the West. It has done
some vicious things to men as well as women. Of particular concern is the drive to ensure that little boys join some sports activity. especially football, because the father fears that without this experience his boys will grow up soft and perhaps homosexual. When I was growing up most of the symphony musicians were men, and it was a masculine domain. Now it appears to be just the opposite.

Very good insights, but we're too far gone to reverse the trend in what will be
the rest of my life span.

Bill Kinzie
23-Oct-2010 16:13 PM

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