Does Masculine Have to Be the Opposite of Feminine? by Carol P. Christ

“Furthermore, like Obama, [de Blasio] projects a masculinity that is empathic and introspective — anathema to the patriarchal attitudes that dominate hierarchal institutions like the police.”

I wish the analysis that accompanies this quote had been mine, but maybe I should be glad that it comes from an insightful young man who goes by the name liamcdg. He argues that the real beef the New York police have with Bill de Blasio is his challenge to their definition of masculinity as dominance, or shall we say white male dominance.

As noted by liamcdg, in the NYPD version of reality, parents should teach children to comply “to comply with New York City police officers even if they think it’s unjust.” In terms of competing definitions of masculinity, the NYPD version is that men in power should be respected simply in virtue of their position, even if they are acting or appearing to act unjustly. In other words we should respect the powerful because they are powerful.

To be empathetic is to be able to put yourself in another person’s place, and in its literal meaning, to feel the feelings of another. In the recent public conversations about race and the police, both Obama and de Blasio have invited white Americans to put themselves in the place of a black man stopped by the police for little or no reason and to ask themselves how they would feel in that situation.

In so doing, liamcdg asserts, Obama and de Blasio were not only trying to explain the feelings of those on the other side of the racial divide, but they were also redefining masculinity. We all know that according to traditional stereotypes, the realm of feeling is the realm of women. And of course we also know that real men don’t cry. Yet what is happening to black men is enough to make anyone who feels their feelings want to cry.

The conflicts between de Blasio and the police and between Obama and a large segment of the older white male voting public may have as much to do with the challenge to white male privilege as it has to do with any particular event or issue. White male privilege involves a complex interconnection of race and sex. It is about the power that comes or is expected to come to one simply by virtue of being born into a white male body.

In recent weeks I have been asking myself why the police are so upset. After all there is room for improvement in any profession. Over the past few years I have also struggled to understand why some people object so strongly to the idea that women have a right to control their own bodies, to choose birth control or abortion. I am coming to the conclusion that the vehemence of the protest is rooted in the perception that the patriarchal edifice is crumbling.

Forty years ago, inspired by the feminist movement, men began to speak about redefining masculinity. This was easier said than done. It is so easy to accuse men who criticize male power as domination of being “sissies,” “girls,” or “gay.” Even men who might want to discuss the subject may be afraid of being labeled.

I say the fact that the NYPD is turning its back on de Blasio is one measure of how far we have come. I suggest that the NYPD recognizes that a different definition of masculinity and male power is being born right before their eyes. And it is this that they cannot bear to see.

We have been taught that feeling and feeling the feelings of others belongs in the feminine realm. What if it doesn’t? What if in the end male power and female power are much the same? And what if they both begin with empathy?

Perhaps we really have “come a long way baby.”

According to Heide Goettner-Abendroth, whose work I am fond of discussing on FAR, matriarchal societies defined the power of males and the power of females similarly.

What if Freud got it wrong? What if males do not have to differentiate themselves from their mothers by becoming “not like” women and girls? What if masculinity and femininity are not polar opposites? What if all any of us has to do is to learn to embody the qualities of those who nurture us?

We are beginning to glimpse a different world. Any thoughts on how to bring the NYPD and other older white males into a new world along with us?

Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter) spring and fall–early bird discount available now on the 2015 tours.  Carol can be heard in interviews on Voices of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess Alive Radio, and Voices of Women.  Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions and the forthcoming Turning to the World: Goddess and God in Our Time. Photo of Carol by Michael Bakas.



Categories: Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Gender, Gender and Power, General

Tags: , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. I so hope you are right that “the vehemence of the protest is rooted in the perception that the patriarchal edifice is crumbling.” That would provide a ray of hope for the future. I’ve been thinking lately about a statement I read recently by Arne Ljungqvist, chair of the International Olympic Commitee Medical Commission: “There is no scientifically sound lab-based technique that can differentiate between man and woman.” Also, I read a book by Andrew Solomon entitled, “Far From the Tree,” in which he advocates the creation of a society in which gender is “disestablished as a legal concept.” There is no sensible or scientifically valid way to classify people based on race or gender. So many things need to change. Stating these facts “out loud” is a start.


  2. Great comments, Carol. I believe you are absolutely right when you say “the vehemence of the protest is rooted in the perception that the patriarchal edifice is crumbling,” The greatest fear of men on the NYPD (and in every other male-dominated institution) is that they don’t know what will come next, and they face the “horrific” thought that they will they become less “manly.” What can be done? Keep the doors of the new world open. Be empathetic and understanding as we come broken and stumbling in your direction, and give us honest assurance at every opportunity that our ability to truly feel makes us more of a man in your eyes.


  3. I mistakenly left 2014 as the year to publish this blog when I wrote it last week and it went out to some people via email. Some of them posted comments, which disappeared into the ether when I changed the date, so I will post them below. Sorry for the confusion.


  4. Ann Marie Waterhouse commented on Does Masculinity Have to Be the Opposite of Femininity? by Carol P. Christ
    “Furthermore, like Obama, [de Blasio] projects a masculinity that is empathic and introspective — anathema to the …
    As a Quaker, I would say “hold them in the Light.” And then, like always with these bigger issues, I wonder, “Is this enough?” Certainly speaking out like you’ve done, Carol, and clarifying the issues, making them startlingly clear, is a big help. Thank you.


  5. Marie Cartier commented on Does Masculinity Have to Be the Opposite of Femininity? by Carol P. Christ
    “Furthermore, like Obama, [de Blasio] projects a masculinity that is empathic and introspective — anathema to the …


  6. Linda Cooper Costelloe commented on Does Masculinity Have to Be the Opposite of Femininity? by Carol P. Christ
    “Furthermore, like Obama, [de Blasio] projects a masculinity that is empathic and introspective — anathema to the …
    Carol I think you are correct that the reason many in the NYPD are reacting the way they are is because they are afraid that the days of white male privilege are ending. I know there are many good men and women in law enforcement, including my late husband, but they do tend to be conservative and traditional. I don’t know if there is any way we can bring older white males into the new world along with us. The best we can do is to educate them, as you have done, but in the end they have to want to make the change.
    View Comment Trash | Mark as Spam


  7. Nancy Vedder-Shults commented on Does Masculinity Have to Be the Opposite of Femininity? by Carol P. Christ
    “Furthermore, like Obama, [de Blasio] projects a masculinity that is empathic and introspective — anathema to the …
    I believe that the patriarchal edifice is only just beginning to crack and that it will take many, many years for it to crumble. But I do believe that at least in certain parts of our society, we are beginning to forge new ideas about how to live together; how to see each other as individuals and not impose as many expectations about men and women as opposites; to be able to acknowledge those people who are biologically and psychologically in the middle between the two sexes and start to ask how to incorporate them without prejudice into our culture; to not believe automatically that sensitive men are “sissies” or strong women are “dykes” or “ball-breakers.” But it’s easier for these changes to happen when the underclass becomes more like the upperclass. So we see a lot of strong women out there, but sensitive men still feel they need to hide their sensitivity.


  8. On the NYPD problem, from a New Yorker’s perspective. In terms of the populace, NYC is considered one of the most liberal cities in the world, but the police and fire department, who are required to risk their lives every day, have always been conservative. New York very often elects a Republican mayor for that reason, because they work so well together. In fact, the disaster of 911 was handled spectacularly well by a Republican mayor in connection with the police, hospitals and firefighters. The police protest on Mayor de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, seems to me, therefore, to be mostly political.


    • Sarah,

      Of course it’s political. Everything about patriarchy is politically embedded in individuals, institutions, world views. de Blasio is politically progressive and the father in a biracial family. Hie wife and children are POC. This makes him a target of white male supremacy rampant in the NYPD, which is upheld, tragically with implicit and/or explicit collusion from non-white, white progressive, and gay officers.


  9. Maybe we haven’t come a very long way. One of my authors, in the chapter of his memoir about his athletic career, wrote about the coach calling him a “pussy.” I asked him if he really wanted to keep that word in that context and changed it for him. He’s come a little way. He kept the change to “wimp.” But the coach stayed aggressive. I think everything you say about white male privilege in police departments applies equally to professional and college sports–especially football. But don’t even get me started on the violence on the fields……committed by men of all skin colors and cheered by men and women.


  10. Hi Carol,

    Loved seeing your New Year’s snow!

    I have thought for years that the very notions of masculinity and femininity are problematic because they’re constructed to indicate rigid and discrete sets of qualities and characteristics applicable to the binary of one sex or the other. For this and other reasons, I have replaced the term “The Feminine” or “Feminine Spirituality” with “The Female,” “Feminist Spirituality” or “Female Spirituality.”

    In my view, this terminology embraces the paradoxical totalities of shadow and light, compassion and rage, love and ferocity, and life, death and regeneration embodied by the Goddesses we invision from before the ancients fragmented them into representatives of one or just a few specific qualities of love, war, mothering, etc. It is also more inclusive of queer or transwomen who do not identify as feminine but do identify as female.

    Happy New Year,


    PS Advancing to candidacy this month! HUZZAH!


    • Which Ann is advancing to candidacy this month? Harrison? Congrats.

      One of the reasons I don’t like the term Divine Feminine is that it implies that the Divine Masculine would be something different or oppositional. Just as women are intelligent so are men capable of empathy. But if the Divine Feminine is empathetic, what is the Divine masculine? And if the Divine Feminine is also intelligent (which is not the Jungian definition by the way) what does that leave for the Divine Masculine–aggression? nonempathetic judgment? These terms are problematic. But we still need images of divinity that are inclusive of all of our bodies.


  11. P.S. Carol, I’ve spent the day thinking through your question. The key is your saying does it “have to be” — in other words you are suggesting that gender difference, as opposites, is perhaps a choice we make. I have to agree it is a perspective we learn, not necessarily built in. But also I think men have begun to respect women more, just because we have had that courage to fight so strenuously for our rights.


    • And more and more are understanding, and respecting, and will try and help you Sarah, if you want it. I know you shouldn’t have to do it and I’m sorry for that — and someday you won’t have to — but right now it’s working. Keep it up.


  12. Thanks to everyone for commenting. What I really love about the new matriarchal theory is the idea thAat values associated with motherhood–love, compassion, care, empathy, etc. are the ideal values for both male and female, and for gender queer and transgender as well.


  13. “Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
    I will fear no evil, for I am the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the valley”.

    The above sentiment appeared in “Unmaking War, Remaking Men” by
    Kathleen Barry, published 2010.

    I reckon the NYPD and older white, black, brown & brindle males may enjoy
    some reading material as they sit on [or in] the can.



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