Friday, March 13, 2009

Gender and consumerism

Most feminist responses to what I have written about the connections between consumerism and gender have been angry or dismissive. Attempts have been made to silence, humiliate, ridicule or throw food at me. On the one hand, this makes me think that I may be onto something, because the same responses were given to early feminists like Margaret Fuller (with the exception of the food throwing) and other thinkers who have exposed what I call Naked Emperors—that is things about a culture that everyone in that culture knows at some level of consciousness, but ignores or represses on another. On the other hand, perhaps I am simply wrong. But then why the anger? People can say things that are wrong without eliciting anger—for example, if someone said the earth is flat. Maybe the anger is a reaction to all the oppression of women by patriarchy (and it’s mythical/religious manifestations), and a perception that I am only going to perpetuate that oppression with my theories. In other words, people may be thinking that I am a patriarchal reactionary. I think this is a misunderstanding, and I want to explain in detail why I think that.

Like most feminists, I share the following values. I would like it if:
1. People are free to express themselves in any joyful way without being constrained by their gender. In other words, I believe that gender fluidity is desirable, and I am not a biological or cultural determinist.
2. People could find an inner balance between masculine and feminine energies, so that they don’t project what Jung called “the Shadow” onto the other gender, but instead have a good understanding of both masculine and feminine energies, through their own experiences and introspection.
3. People are free to experiment with these energies not only within themselves, but within larger groups and relationships, such as dyads, triads, etc. In other words, much joy could be created if for example, one member of a dyad has more feminine energy, and another more masculine energy, then if both are more feminine or more masculine. Both these people could be male or female or trans, although it might be easier if the person with the predominant masculine energy is physically male, and the one with the predominant feminine energy is physically female, as there is more endocrine support for these energies that way.

Things that I am NOT saying (followed by clarification of what I am actually saying):
1. That biology has nothing to do with masculine or feminine energies. Like most sexually reproducing animals, humans are sexually dimorphic. It seems improbable that hormonal, morphological and gene expression differences would not be translated into some psychological differences. But this biological propensity is not deterministic, only correlative and historically originated the meaning of the words masculine and feminine. E. O Wilson had ice water poured over his head for stating the more general observation (which I agree with) that biology has consequences at the level of psychology and sociology.
2. That culture has nothing to do with gender differences. Many feminists and leftist thinkers think, at the other extreme, that differences are due mostly to culture. I disagree and take a more moderate position, but this is not critical to my analysis.
3. That women are responsible for consumerism, or that men are responsible for patriarchy. Both consumerism and patriarchy are systems with many interacting parts. I think the feminine energies of nest-building and the need for comfort and security, when out of balance with male energies, are major (but not only) factors in consumerism.
4. That men need to keep women under control with their testicular masculine energy. The best form of restraint is internal, so both men and women would be less consumptive if they exhibited more testicular masculine energy.
5. That advertising has nothing to do with consumerism. It does, but the advertisers are only successful because they understand basic psychology and appeal to primal things like the needs for comfort and security (in both men and women).
6. That comfort and security are bad. They are necessary for creativity and a good life. But there is more to life than comfort and security. Adventure, joy, curiosity and the comfort and security of others (including future generations) are also important. When comfort and security are everything, they murder the soul, as Khalil Gibran said.
7. That nest-building is bad. Nest-building is natural and beautiful. Only when it is not balanced by a bigger vision and an understanding does it become problematic.
8. That men do not need comfort and security. Of course they do, but less than women who are starting to think about getting pregnant, are pregnant or have children.
9. That men are not factors in consumerism. Of course they are, but I think the main reason is that they do not express enough testicular masculine energy in this present moment in this culture, and moreover are not expressing enough feminine energy within themselves, thus needing it from external sources, consuming mainly to obtain the comfort of female companionship.

The survey, the main experimental tool of sociologists would be useful in testing some of these hypotheses. The experimental procedure is fraught with obstacles though. In the first approximation, one could look for differences between men and women. It would be harder to test differences between masculine and feminine energies, or between the presence and lack of testicular masculine energy. Many controls would be needed, for example, men and women from middle eastern cultures (where men still have a lot of testicular masculine) who have immigrated to the West, could be compared to each other, and also to men and women from our culture. Motivations would need to be examined, not just money spent. For example, if a man buys a house, is he buying it for himself, or for his wife and children? Would he be content with a smaller house? Would his wife? How much money is spent on housing and related industries, vs other things and who cares more about housing, men or women?