“That’s women’s’ work…” I threw the wet sponge in his direction. Had he not been laughing as he said it, I might have been tempted to throw something more substantial. There was a time, not so very long ago, when the roles of men and women were thus rigidly defined, and women continue to suffer the fallout from centuries of patriarchy, even today. But, I wondered, as I scrubbed the bathroom, where did the whole idea of gender roles come from, and what, in reality, might that mean?
Define your terms, I reminded myself. What was I looking at here? Okay, ‘gender role’ was a bit of a generalisation. There have always been those who crossed the divide, adopting and excelling in areas usually considered the preserve of either male or female. For anyone with an interest in the Mysteries, that divide is not a physical thing anyway, but speaks more of the energetic nature of the individual, so already the lines become blurred.
We tend to think in terms of male and female in general terms. In the Mysteries we see these as two poles of a single force, rather like a battery, with both poles and an alternating current being required in order for either to function to its full potential. That applies just as much within the individual as within a society. ‘Masculine’ and ‘feminine’ then equate to positive and negative… or dynamic and receptive… with the physical vehicle expressing itself in terms of whichever trait is dominant, and that shifts depending upon both the circumstances in which it finds itself and the level upon which it is functioning.
Then there is the nature of reality itself… which level is real? Is it the level that we experience through the physical senses, the realm of the mind which makes sense of what we experience, or a subtler realm that makes use of both the experience and the understanding we gain from it? Is it possible to say for certain? Or is it, as esoteric thought teaches, that all manifestations of reality are equally real on their own plane?
On the physical level, it is probably logical and fair to say that, in the earliest times, roles were defined by function. If the male of the species is generally larger, stronger and fuelled by testosterone, it makes more sense for him to be the warrior and hunter, while the female gives birth, nurtures the young and protects the ‘nest’, tending the hearthfire and such tasks as must be done beside it.
Fair enough. Take it one step up and, on the surface at least, men do seem, on the whole, to be the more dynamic and potentially aggressive side of the equation… though it is also true that the lion is peaceable compared to the lioness when the cubs are threatened.
According to the archaeologists, we were originally a hunter/gatherer species. The temptation might be to think that the men did the hunting while the women gathered the berries and tended the fire, though I am not sure we can generalise here either…and even berries must be hunted first. Maybe we are just a hunting species? Or maybe gathering is a type of hunting that just requires a different approach?
I realised that it was toward this that my thoughts had been meandering. There had been a scintilla of realisation, logged but uncaptured… one of those ‘aha!’ moments that are gone before they arrive, leaving behind them some vague comprehension of we know not what. Such light-bulb moments, however fleeting, are always worth pursuing. Although most of them are lost to the conscious mind, what surfaced momentarily is still in there somewhere. The trick is to let the associations lead you to it…and this type of contemplative meditation that can be exceedingly useful.
All the waffling in my mind led back to a single, simple thought. We are hunters… and while the dynamic hunt on the outer, the receptivity of the tender of the flame hunts on the inner. It need have nothing to do with whether we are men or women, that really is a generalisation although our bodies may reflect aspects of how we work, but only to do with how we function in the world.
The dynamic hunter seeks, finds, acquires… and provides. In physical terms, these are the spear-wielders who bring home the proverbial bacon, actively climb the ladder of success, and wear the mantle of authority and protection.
The receptive hunter looks within, growing and nurturing, as one would a child, teasing out understanding like carding wool and revealing the kernel of wisdom as one would the flour within the grain.
Many societies still frown upon any deviation from the accepted ideal where gender is concerned. ‘Real’ men don’t cry… a woman’s place is in the home… many of our customs, definitions and socially acceptable behaviours still insidiously mirror and encourage this outmoded way of thinking.
Neither society nor individuals can function fully without a balance between the two modes of being, any more than a battery with a single pole will work. By allowing ourselves, and each other, to embrace both sides of who we are… dynamic and receptive, we embrace a richer experience.