“The relationship with gender may have been pacified by integral discourse, but by no means has been transcended.” – Gilles Herrada
Gilles starts by giving us 3 names: Elizabeth Debold, Rebecca Bailin (?), and Chris Dierkes – as folks who have explored the gender topic themselves.
So what is the problem with AQAL and Gender? “A tendency to reduce everything to a simplistic and rigid four-quadrant model. Secondly, a “Kosmological Bias” – integral is epistemologically powerful, but at the same time, “symbolically stuck.” Wow, nice intro.
“The way integral has approached gender is not a match for the depth and scope of its potential.”
Gilles and I are similar in this understanding:
“Each stage… is embedded in a specific symbolic framework, and mostly visible in the myth or mythos of a particular culture. And that is true, all the way up from magic…magic…modern…postmodern…and even integral.” Yes, Gilles is saying that myth is resonant all the way up the structures and stages. “The texture of the mythos… the sacred is what feels deeply true.”
Just as the Kabbalah, or Buddhist scriptures are Mythic, so too is the AQAL framework.
First Gilles wants to take us before the written myths. Way back to our evolutionary origins:
“Human sexuality is quintessentially primate sexuality. We borrow a lot of elements, traits with chimpanzees and bonobos, our two closest genetic cousins. With chimps, we have male dominated societies, female exogamy, ranking among males, dominant males, who monopolize the females.”
With Bonobos, we share being the only species that have pleasurable sex, and even female orgasm.
So, sex precedes human culture.
Males have total control on the most coveted food = meat, which reduced others in the group, and gave males an economical edge in the beginning of human culture.
However… Gilles points out that innate sexual strategies are complex, multi-layered, and even contradictory.
That was the beige meme, now we’re onto the purple meme: the symbolic revolution and the invention of gender (as a subjective concept):
“Purple societies started to attribute the male and female qualities to the external world… Trees, rivers, food, would have a feminine or masculine quality…and they also had a very fluid concept of gender. Everything could change gender. It wasn’t an essence, but a quality that could be acquired, exchanged.”
Gilles shares an image of the prehistoric Venuses to emphasize the role of the feminine in this time.
In this time, interestingly, males have tremendous anxiety about female power (hence the giantess and rotundness of the statue). Male power is, however, considered fragile and passive. Men and women would often be segregated in this time, and sleep separately.
Females were viewed as the “sex-hungry” gender (Check out Catal Huyuk as a great example).
Interestingly, males would engage in warfare with males who were related to their wives. Or, in other words, the gender war has begun!
Then we see another big shift. The agricultural revolution, a “dramatic religious cosmology shift,” the masculinization of the divine. Male dominated pantheons of anthropomorphic power gods.
Gilles gives a good explanation: humans had to get food by hunting. You get what you found, symbolically more like a child. When the agricultural revolution happened, humans began to take what they needed, and this was reminiscent of male qualities of hunting and war. This was also a time where female life was dominated by pregnancies in childbirth, a vulnerability that humans wanted to escape from.
Now to the “Power gods!” First, an observation about the great diversity of archetypes they maintain. He shows us Shiva, Zeus and Hermes. Now for the females: Isis, Aphrodite, Medusa. Any kind of skill was embodied by a god or goddess, the “gifts” of civilization overseen and offered by the gods.
Athena: courage, civilization, justice, just warfare, mathematics, the art, craft and skills.
Females turn into male property, and males have “apparently” won the gender war.
Gilles makes the interesting observation that the “Red” ego saw itself at the mercy of the gods. Puppets of the gods. Take the Odyssey, the almighty warriors who are overtaken by the spells of the gods and goddesses. Very indicative of red consciousness. The image of the universe is one at war- the Gods at war- with humans trapped in the battlefield.
And so this brings us to the Axial age and the Blue Meme.
Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and later, Islam.
It brought us the unification of the divine: Brahman, God, etc., which goes hand in hand with the unified version of the Psyche, the Self—an “I” distinct from the chaos of emotions, desires, impulses, and all the distinguished the red ego.
The fundamental division used to be Us vs. Others. Axial thinkers reorient this so that it crosses through every single human individual “through body, mind and soul.” Humans are free to make moral choices, and that there is such a thing as human nature, a correlate of divine nature, which is morally perfect. In this consciousness, we can choose to enact this higher nature.
The consequence of having one divine nature is that suddenly, you only have one ethical standard. Only one moral.
“Remember that in the polytheistic societies, you could do whatever you wanted… you just had to find the god to do whatever you wanted… In Axial societies there is only one reflection of the unified divine, and it’s the moral code that’s applied to every human being.”
Axial thinkers, in addition, had an idea of a universal order. “The world was no longer a battlefield… The struggle was our willingness to embrace the universal order.”
They all conceived this universal order in dualistic terms. Nirvana vs. Samsara, Good vs. Evil, Heaven vs. Hell. And these terms, interestingly, were “polarities of complementary opposites… and lower and higher natures.” Gebser writes of this too concerning the mythic structure – polarities and complements, dualistic visions, though not yet splintered.
Harmony, in this time, was in balancing the opposites. Gender played a major role in these polarities.
Axial thinkers pushed gender to an extreme: everything had a gender. Masculine Yang, Feminine Ying. But these balances were biased.
Masculine: “active, creative, hot, dry, bright, aggressive, fast, creative… fire, sky, heaven.”
Feminine: “Passive, receptive, cold, wet, dark, gentle, slow, soft, yielding, diffuse… water, earth, moon, nighttime and death.”
“All that to say… the grand unification was also a grand simplification of our sexuality and gender.” Wow, nice. Brilliant how he puts this all together.
This unification did not favor the feminine: the subliminal message was that the “female divine principle remains subordinate to the male divine principle.” Especially in the West, Gilles tells us, was the “de-sexualization of women,” which meant that female sexuality became denied from fear. This created an incredible impoverishment of female archetypes (they became few and far between.. The Virgin, The Mother, the Whore… etc).
Same-sex desire in this age becomes against nature, because it goes against this “balance” of energy in the cosmos.
The Axial “truths” started a war against same-sex and female sexuality.
Gilles asks us: has anything changed since?
Now onto modernity.
“Because of its denial of mythic realities, and critically assess them and explore them, has basically kept the same symbolic framework of the axial age. If anything, modernity has amplified these same Axial ideas.”
Think of Victorian Age rigid sexualities.
This is a different turn. A rise of interest in female archetypes. Isis and Shiva were a big topic of interest in the intellectual salons of the 19th century. Wilber makes this point: they went backward to look for female archetypes.
Women rights emerge here, gay rights emerge. Postmodernity gets some job done.
And now Integral: each gender gets a part of the Kosmic pie. Gilles quips: “This is fundamentally axial.”
“We can’t help it, we had to match the beautiful models’ geometry right into the gender divide.” Eros is self-transcendence and agency are viewed as masculine qualities, and Agape, communion are viewed as female qualities. Sounds a bit like the Axial thought, huh?
Gilles believes Integral Theory and culture remains severed with the same problems of the Axial Age separation.
“Eros (self-transcendence) and Agape (self-immanence) might be complementary, but are they opposite? Like hot vs. cold? They don’t exclude balance, nor annihilate each other.”
“Shit Integralists Say” – Hilarious anecdotes reiterating these biases, which results in Gilles saying…
“If I had a kid, I’d never give my kid to an integral nanny.”
Now on Wilber: “Wilber has re-integrated the sociobiological, cultural, and spiritual dimension of sex and gender (trans-disciplinarity). He also pulled out women from the victim persona that resulted from the postmodern rhetoric (evolutionary). That being said, the Wilberian model remains largely blind to its mythic character, and some axial ideals have not been re-assessed.”
It’s beautiful hearing all this spoken – Gilles is a sort of mentor for me in my own studies of mythology and their continued relevancy beyond the stereo-typed “blue meme,” and into their recapitulation throughout human consciousness, modern or ancient. A vastly un-tapped and critical blind spot in Integral Theory (an area I hope to contribute to).The only other intellectuals aside from Gilles who tap into this (to my knowledge) are William Irwin Thompson and John David Ebert.
Gilles reveals a complex chart of interrelated variables that all play into gender identity. Mythos, cosmological model, gender concepts, archetypes, subjectivity, bio-genetics, innate behaviors, experiences and opportunities, learned behaviors, customs and rituals.
“This is more like a constellation… that will vary from culture to culture, and even individual to individual.”
“Subjectivity is not a state, it’s a conversation.”
Gilles says the AQAL model is “great when it forces us to expand our perspective,” but not when it conforms us to a simple 4-quadrant model. A little more complexity wouldn’t hurt (I’m sensing that Gilles has really been able to digest and work with postmodern thought’s messiness and complexity while not losing an evolutionary and “big picture” framework. He’s doing what Mark Forman and Sean were arguing about yesterday).
Gilles gives the example of light. White. And the opposite is black. Yet, light is actually a spectrum.
“Light is a tiny little fragment of a vibrational spectrum… of photons vibrating from infinitely short to infinitely long wave-lengths. Most of what we call light is not able to be seen, it is darkness.”
Polarities aren’t wrong, Gilles suggests, but polarities seen as polar complementary opposites, are inevitably limited. “A narrow epistemological filter.”
The kind of reality we face? More like clouds. He gives an image of clouds and asks us how many there are. You can’t tell. There are so many overlapping clouds. “We are dealing with a reality that is complex, because our consciousness is complex, individually and collectively.”
Gilles offers a few concepts to use to replace systematic use of polarities:
• To replace polarities: local tensions, creative tension, relationship.
• Spectrum and constellation rather than categories
• Bio-Psycho-Cultural continuum. We can tease apart as much as we can, but we’ll never be able to systemically understand the whole reality. From a distance things look really clear, but when you get closer, you can’t define it so well.
• Fuzzy realities, clouds, ecosystems, and context dependent identities.
• Archetype, mythic reality, symbolic framework, episteme.
“We don’t understand symbolic realities in the Integral community.” Big yes to this. I highly recommend Gilles books and the work Trevor Malkinson, Chris Dierkes, and myself did on Beams and Struts concerning the relevancy of myth in understanding cultural consciousness.
Gilles suggests you should have a look on the data you cite. He gives examples of gender and statistical studies (spectrums of different skills and abilities).
“We cannot do simple integral. We cannot do simple science.”
• Virtues and skills-just like trees, rivers, body parts-don’t have a gender unless you project a gender upon them.
• At the same time, the we-spaced generated can have a specific gender.
• The concept of polarity can be occasionally useful, but we can’t have polarities as the building blocks of our Kosmos.
• Consider the possibility if your model can’t integrate homos, then your model does not work, for it fails to reveal something important about all human beings.
“If you keep having simplistic models on masculine and feminine… you keep ignoring that part of you that needs to be revealed, which is that part of you you’re still seeking and trying to find.
Wow Gilles, what a presentation. Thank you!
Read The Missing Myth.