How binary and gendered words for non-gender related concepts is hurting the world

I attended the dreamwork workshop recently for the diploma course. It was, as always, interesting and illuminating. But partway through the day, I encountered something that deeply troubled me: when we were talking about the archetypes present in dreams (taken from Jung’s theories and work), the masculine and feminine archetypes were brought up. This is something that was already mentioned back during the foundation course and I remembered that our tutors during that weekend had preferred to use the terms Yin and Yang for the opposing sets of energies.

But this time the two sets of energies were referred straight out as masculine and feminine. I wasn’t going to raise the point I wanted to make (which I am a little ashamed of as this is important to me), until another student brought up how she couldn’t understand the opposing concepts. What she couldn’t understand wasn’t the concepts, but the words used to describe them. The tutors sort of brushed both her and me aside saying maybe it would make more sense later. We dropped it. Then later on one of the tutors read aloud a passage from Jung’s theories about the animus and anima, their origin, and their effects.

Now Jung lived some fifty, sixty years ago, in a society that viewed gender as entirely binary (male and female) and where societal roles were more often than not dictated by one’s gender. But in the 21st century, things have changed: gender is now widely accepted to be far more than non-binary. There are transgender people, gender fluid people, agender, and non-binary people. There is a whole scope, a whole spectrum of colour that shows gender to be a far more complex thing than simply male or female. Similarly, what is—unfortunately—referred to as ‘traditional’ gender roles (it is perhaps time we start calling them ‘outdated’ or ‘old-fashioned’ gender roles), have started to be thrown in bin. Of course there are still many issues of sexism, of women being paid less, of men being promoted over women even when the woman is more qualified. But that is because society is still changing, transforming, and we are far from having achieved the egalitarian world that we dream of as an ideal.

We also live in a world that is fighting to de-gender needlessly gendered things like toys, clothes, colours, and the myriad of other things that centuries of binary gender perception have polluted with ideas that some things are solely for girls and others solely for boys.

So when energies are gendered, we face the problem all over again. For not only are they gendered, they are referred to as archetypes. An archetype refers to a very typical example of a 2a5ef1a7-bb94-44d5-a0d0-b505ed4919e0_560_420person or thing. Some Greek philosophers saw an archetype as the ideal of that thing or person. Which basically means that we are putting forward that the words we associate with the energies we refer to as masculine and feminine are the ideals of what feminine and masculine should be.

Understandably we are not referring exclusively to gender here, but masculine and feminine are inextricable from their gender connotations. By choosing to use these words, we are choosing to perpetuate the idea that these qualities are solely for male or female (and yes, I do realise that both within the course and within Jung’s theories there is the idea of balance in between these energies but there always seems to be points made about the masculine being dominant in males and the feminine in females in most cases—Jung sees that the animus comes from the father and vice versa).

I know people for whom the labels placed on these energies would be troubling: I know someone who is often bullied at the school he goes to for not being ‘masculine’ enough, and I know without a doubt that if he was presented with the ‘masculine’ archetype we have here, he would be upset. Because it would not fit who he is. It would compound the reason behind the bullying. However, if the energies were presented simply under the Eastern philosophy idea of Yin and Yang, then there is no connotation that either set of energy is less favourable for anyone, no matter their gender.

Let me give another example: a close friend of mine is gender fluid, which means he at times sees and presents as male, and at times as female. He would have found the above separation of masculine and feminine upsetting and unbalancing because they demand that genders be seen as opposites, not as things capable to flow into one another. There would be many more cases within the LGBTQ community and I think it is important that we are aware of such things, and the damage that our own choice of words could do if we were to have clients that do not fit within these archetypes.

Screen-shot-2014-03-28-at-2.14.58-PMAs therapists we have a duty to offer as safe an environment to our clients as possible. Needlessly gendering energies and words that represent them is not something healthy and is becoming increasingly problematic for more and more people. There is no shame in men being softer and women being stronger, it does not mean they are behaving like people of the opposite gender, it simply means that they are more in touch with a different set of energies. My father, for example, is the one who cooks and more often than not tidies around the house. My mother is the bread winner of the family. Because of it she has often been referred to as a very masculine woman, often with the connotation that it is a bad thing because women should be feminine and men should be masculine.

I’m not, by any means, suggesting we don’t study Jung’s model: I think that the idea of opposing energies trying to find balance is a very important concept. But Jung has to be placed within the context of his time when he refers to a binary vision of gender and we, as people living in the changing world of the 21st century, need to do our best to adapt our vocabulary and terminology to what is happening around us.

Eastern philosophies offer us two words that are detached from gender (even the kanji that form them are not made of any of the ones used to write male/man or female/woman) and would allow to explain the two opposing sets of energies without any connotations. There may even be other words but as someone who is in touch with more eastern philosophies this is the only other set of words I could think of using.

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2 thoughts on “How binary and gendered words for non-gender related concepts is hurting the world

  1. […] archetypes. I bring it up in the report below, but I also ended up writing another post about it (here) which I sent to my tutors at the time. Since then, the course has been altered to reflect our […]

  2. […] archetypes. I bring it up in the report below, but I also ended up writing another post about it (here) which I sent to my tutors at the time. Since then, the course has been altered to reflect our […]

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