30 Aug The Battle of the Sexes and Middle Magic
One could argue that over the past centuries we have been cultivating a society that builds on some very ‘masculine’ traits. Trend watchers are prophesizing that our 21st century’s society will be dominated by ‘feminine’ characteristics. ‘Who will win?’, I hear you ask.
The Battle of the Sexes
The past couple of years many studies have been conducted within neurobiology and psychology to unravel the mystery of differences between the male and female brain. On multiple axes significant differences have been demonstrated, from working memory to emotional- and language processing. The most important traits of the male and female brain are depicted below.
– The masculine brain
Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, claims that the masculine mind is primarily geared towards systemizing: it focuses on systems, attempts to understand how these work and how to construct them. It entails thinking in terms of cause and effect, analysing components as to their relationships and applying the lessons learned to repeat an optimized variant of the process. In short, it builds on a carefully thought out method for achieving goals.
– The feminine brain
Baron-Cohen sees the female brain as being constructed to be empathetic: the natural capacity to comprehend and the feel others’ position. The ability ‘…to put oneself in another’s shoes and identify with how another might feel and think in a particular situation’. An important requirement herein is the ability to let go of one’s own state of mind and ‘reconstruct for oneself the state of mind or perspective of the other.’ This ability is what scientists refer to as ‘Theory of Mind’.
It should be noted that these feminine and masculine traits do no necessarily confine themselves to gender. Meaning; male brains can have feminine traits just like female brains can have masculine traits.
A trend watchers’ perspective
Now, as said before, a lot of trend watchers will predict the 21st century’s society to become a feminine one. I do not fully support this idea. Why?
Our natural tendency to take the dualist perspective: the masculine opposing the feminine. This dualism permeates our Western thinking. And it is a natural consequence of our being: our minds simply like to think in dichotomies. Because categorizing objects into sharply defined, mutually exclusive objects gives us a sense of controllability and comprehension. What else are we to do if we want to survive in this world seemingly full of chaos? We need (and are subject to) what psychologists call “anchoring”, a frame of reference that we can adhere to in times of uncertainty. It is like a boat’s anchor that prevents it from drifting towards unknown seas.
By taking the dualist perspective, however, trend watchers create a false sense of security. Moreover, most have the tendency (or bias) to focus on (economic, social or political) symptoms they see occurring and consequently aggregate them into a deterministic statement of linearity. “We’re going that way!”
Wavelengths of Harmony
Surely one cannot deny that current symptoms in our society have probably reached the limits of ‘masculinity’. We feel stuck. And indeed, at society’s grassroots initiatives are popping up that have a more ‘feminine’ character (take for example the ‘free hug’ movement, www.thegivingpledge.com, initiated by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and www.kiva.org to name a few). However, I think we should approach this subject with a little more subtlety.
To do so, we need to stretch the historical and prospective timeline a bit. What we then see actually happening is a convergence of two wavelengths: a feminine wavelength and a masculine wavelength. It is nature’s way of equalizing things out (just like those immensely popular pieces of 80-ies hifi-equipment) , to harmonize two frequencies into an enchanting chord.
So let’s not fall into the pitfall of dualism again; it will only lead us to the flip-side of masculinity; femininity. It is not hard to imagine that where the current overload of masculinity clogs our path to progress, so will overly abundant femininity. Instead, we should embrace the middle. It is where the magic happens.
The Magic of the Middle
Let’s build a little further on this metaphor of masculinity and femininity by examining the relational perspective of the two entities. Watsuji Tetsuro, one of the more important Japanese philosophers from the 20th century says that ‘marriage is a conjunctive relation between two individuals sharing the same essence’. He believes that a husband-wife relationship is a “ two-person community” , meaning that a new whole is created by virtue of the fact that two heterogeneous beings are conjoined. Male and female love is essentially heterogeneous;
• A man’s love is an active love – a love that loves
• A woman’s love is a passive love – a love that is loved
Embracing this idea and extending it to a macro-level, the societal convergence of the masculine and feminine clearly steers us towards a point of convergence, a point where two harmonically become one, the single point of compassionate conjunction where the battle of the sexes ends: Giving birth to our 21st century’s society.
- M.C. Corballis, The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization. Princeton University Press: 2011
- S. Baron-Cohen¸ The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth about Autism. Basic Books: 2003.
- YUASA Yasuo, The Body. Toward an Eastern Mind-Body theory. State University of New York Press: 1987