Sex and Gender are different concepts. Your genitalia does not tell you to behave a certain way, you are conditioned into it and/or predisposed to certain behaviors through your biological hardwiring – nature / nurture both exert their influence. Certain branches of academic feminism make a wonderful case for defining the relationship between sex and gender differently. For instance – you can look to the work of Judith Butler who speaks of gender as a repeated performance that we enact – if you’re interested in learning more. We all see it differently – but this is the ‘knowing’ that resonates with me.
In other words – we do not learn how to be a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’ based on genes alone – we are taught how to perform ‘being a woman’, or ‘being a man’. And as we repeat these performances over and over again, we begin to strongly identify with them and consider them as ‘real’. It is the embodied form of the idea that ‘reality is constructed’, and one of the ideas that underpinned my PhD thesis. For if there was but one definition of womanhood, or manhood, wouldn’t we all play it out the same way?
Some women are taught that they have to dress the part, curl/perm their hair to look a certain way, keep their legs together when they’re sitting down, wear lipstick (not too red!) and flowing dresses in order to be ‘a lady’. Other women rebel and wear their wild hair like a mantle over their shoulders and dance by the fires till dawn. Other women cut their hair to within an inch of their scalp and wear clothes which make them look angular, masculine, martial. And other women do other things…. the same with men …. In fact, I don’t know how to define womanhood or manhood anymore – I thought I had an idea, but now I see that that too is my construction and mine alone.
There is such a diverse range of such expressions of gender – Who can say what being a ‘real woman’ or a ‘real man’ is anymore? And why do we insist in linking it with a particular set of genitalia?
I’ve seen men with the nurturing instincts idealized as ‘feminine qualities’ and women who have none of that whatsoever. I’ve seen human tigresses roar and stride into battle, in a ‘man’s world’ and best the alpha male – so much for assertiveness and aggression being ‘a male thing’. (And yes, people still use these outmoded categorizations to put limits on behavior: ‘girls don’t beat boys at games’, ‘girls don’t run’, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘boys don’t wear pink’ etc.)
It works both ways, and is one of the dynamics which has led to the imbalance in Masculine and Feminine energies which we see in the world today. So what does all this have to do with my study of astrology?
GENDER STEREOTYPING IN ASTROLOGY
In astrology we associate Air/Fire, the Sun, Saturn, Mars with ‘male’ energies and Earth/Water, the Moon, Venus, with ‘female’, et cetera. I often clarify when I use these terms in my reports as I see them as archetypes which can manifest in all beings. But still that gendered binary gets reproduced ….
I find this deeply problematic – as my personal experiences and explorations of cultural archetypes tell a different tale. For instance, in primordial concepts of Shiva (male) and Sakthi (female), Shiva is the passive, receptive principle whilst Sakthi is that active, dynamic force. In my experience of reality – I know more fiery women and nurturing men than I do the opposite. Kali-Ma is my Raging Fire and Lord Shiva is the Calm Breeze on the Himalayan Mountain. (For one thing – but I work with different pantheons and archetypes as well: Some days Mother Earth and Father Sun speak instead. You don’t have to ‘pick one’ and consider all else ‘wrong’.)
So for me, I’ve never seen or experienced the elements exclusively in the traditional way described. Here are other examples less contingent on my personal views:
For instance, the Moon – closely associated with the Oceans is often seen in Western astrology as ‘female’. But the Moon is ‘male’ in Vedic astrology, and in pre-Vedic (Dravidian) India, the ruler of the waters, lakes and streams was Lord Varuna/Baruna – again, a male deity. [Incidentally, when I look at an Ocean, I do not see her as entirely Feminine to the exclusion of all else]
The Sun is seen as ‘male’ as in Western and Vedic astrology, but in other cultures – this is not so. Goddess Bhairavi. the Mahavidya, is associated with the Rising Sun herself. Goddess Ameterasu from Japan represents the Sun in all her states. Lady Sekhmet from the Egyptian pantheon is associated with the setting Sun – and I could go on.
So how do we say that A is B, and C is D? How do we say for sure that an energy is ‘this’, or ‘that’? Can we say that one cultural conception is right, and another is wrong? Can I reject Western symbolism, Vedic tradition and/or (pre-Vedic) Dravidian worship wholesale in favour of something else? And then call that other philosophy or system ‘right’?
I don’t know about you, but I can’t do that with a clear conscience. If there is any ‘truth’ that I have learnt in my study on this subject is that’ — We can’t create a Universal Standard that defines what a man, or a woman is, what ideal ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ traits are.
The best we can do is go with what feels right for ourselves and allow others to do the same for themselves.
And when it comes to astrology, we need to look at the gendered stereotyping of energies to become a lot clearer of how we talk about energetic influences on people. They’re just not seen or felt in the same way by everyone.
PART 2 of this series will address the androgyny of Goddess Pallas Athena.
Priestess Bairavee Balasubramaniam, PhD
** Please note that this piece was first published in another blog of mine on July 10, 2014
Image: Arthanari.png on Wikimedia Commons by Venu62 at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/Ardhanari.png distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.