Beyond Binaries with Lara Catone and Verna Delauer
How do our developmental mindsets contribute to how we make sense of the shifting landscape of gender? What do we believe we are being called upon to do/embody as practitioners of ART in a more gender fluid world?
Lara Catone writes: “My conscious inquiry into gender began when I was five or six years old. I was riding in the car with my younger sister and my single mom who worked full time as an advertising executive. Out of nowhere my sister piped up, “Mom, if there are managers, why are there no womangers.” This question, like a splash of cold water in my face, immediately brought into focus something I was sensing and hadn’t yet put into words. I felt enlivened by my sister’s question and added, “Yeah, and how come there have never been any women presidents?” (I then promptly changed my future profession from astronaut to president).
For as long as I can remember I have been told that I am too confident, too independent, too focused, too righteous. And that I should smile more. While I am all for constructive feedback in the right developmental moments, these comments have often been unsolicited; commentary on how I am not quite “feminine” enough. Unfortunately, I think for much of my life this created a socialized repression of some of my best qualities.
In my training as a sexuality educator I learned to differentiate biological sex from gender and to inquire into the assumptions that people made about me based on how they perceived my gender. I then noticed that the general use of the terms, feminine and masculine, to describe psychological constructs and/or archetypal energies, often collapsed into notions of gender. Yes, even as people go to great lengths to say that they are not the same.
Differentiating sex, gender, and archetypal energy, and then zooming out to see our own gender conditioning and then how we might project assumptions about gender onto others – can serve as a practice of reflexivity for our ART. Where do we hold gender rigidly? Where are we more fluid with our notions of gender? The more of our authenticity, self-acceptance, and inner diversity that we can bring to our work, the more we are enabled to invite this for our stakeholders too.
Sex is based on biology and is determined by our genitals at birth. The possibilities inside the medical model of biological sex comprise male, female, and intersex.
Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct; it is determined by someone’s appearance and/or the gender identity that they claim. The western social conventions for gender have traditionally been woman and man (sometimes referred to as feminine/masculine). As many of us find the traditional gender roles limiting, there are new visions of gender including nonbinary and gender fluid, in which one gender is not claimed or both are embraced.
Archetypal Energy/Psychological Construct aka The Feminine and The Masculine also seem to be social constructs of sorts. Inquiring into where these deeper ideas come from, and what we specifically mean when we use them, might be a useful endeavor. The capacities that we are naming in our invocation of The Feminine and The Masculine often allude to assumed kind of wholeness together. Yet, there is a lot of room for interpretation when we use these rather vague, and all encompassing, terms.
In our current cultural transitions, these concepts call for more, and better, questions than they do answers. I offer the following inquiries from my developmental edge.
- What are the particular qualities and developmental capacities that live inside of our notions of archetypal feminine and masculine?
- How might we benefit by naming these qualities and capacities more directly and specifically?
- How might it serve our social institutions to have a more frank discussion about biological difference between male and female bodies?
- What must menstruating women repress/suppress in order to function in our current models of education and work with long, regular, inflexible schedules? What are the long-term costs of this suppression?
- How can our organizations and economic system become more equitable by truly supporting and balancing the cycles of pregnancy, birth, and parenting?
- How might we find more social, economic and ecological balance if our systems aligned more with the cyclical nature of our (female) bodies?
- How might a re-storying of gender support us to be in deeper relationship with the life-giving force of eros through our developmental friendships and ART?
For the particularly gender curious, you might enjoy read my first person case study on dating and gender, How Darwin Ruined Dating.
In the pre-Gathering we asked participants to do a word association with the terms feminine and masculine. Together we watched the word clouds you see below appear for each. Can you guess which words were offered for masculine and which are for feminine?”