Masculine: Aggressive/Feminine: Passive: Can We Imagine Alternatives? by Carol P. Christ

Today a couple of friends and I were discussing egalitarian matriarchal values. I stated that in these societies there is no great difference in male and female personalities because both males and females are expected to be as kind and loving and generous as their own mothers. “Oh no I would not want that,” the other woman responded. “I want my man to be masculine–not wishy washy or namby pamby.” This woman soon acknowledged that she did not want her man to be dominant or aggressive. Yet her first reaction was to reject the idea that men might do well to emulate the values of their mothers.

This conversation illustrates the difficulty we have in conceiving alternatives to the way we assign gender roles. Masculine: assertive and aggressive. Feminine: weak and passive.

In fact. being as kind, loving, and generous as mothers in egalitarian matriarchies has nothing to do with these familiar gender binaries. Mothers in egalitarian matriarchies are assertive, but not aggressive, and there is nothing weak or passive about them. Love, kindness, and generosity are not about standing back and letting others walk over you. Instead they are active values that require intelligence, reflection, and strength.

Mothers do sometimes sacrifice their own needs for those of their children. But there is no reason for necessary sacrifice to turn into self-negation or self-abnegation. A mother who does not love and respect herself as much as she loves and respects others is not what is meant by the love of mothers in egalitarian matriarchies.

Women in egalitarian matriarchies are not just wives and mothers. They may not be wives at all. The Mosuo do not marry. For them, love and sex are not bound up with providing for children. The maternal clans take care of that. Nor are mothers ever isolated in the home. Instead they live in matrilineal clan houses, and when one is overwhelmed, the others step into help. Yet the Mosuo enjoy sex and erotic love–but they don’t put either at the center of life.

Mothering children is just one of the many roles women in egalitarian matriarchies fulfill. These include planting and harvesting and preparing and preserving food (economics), supervising and leading rituals to do with planting and harvesting and with birth, puberty, and death (religion), and participating in the process of decision-making for the matri-clan (politics). All of these activities require intelligence and strength—both physical and mental.

In egalitarian matriarchies to be loving, kind, and generous does not make you any less attractive, sexy, or strong if you are a man, because these values have nothing to do with passivity or weakness.

How hard can it be to imagine this? Apparently, for us, it is very difficult.

Being a man does not mean holding back your soft feelings, it means expressing them. A real man can feed or bathe a baby with the same hands he uses to lift heavy loads or to build buildings. To lift a heavy load is not done to show off, but rather to help someone with less physical strength. Buildings are built to shelter women, children, and men too from wind and rain, cold and heat. To use your physical strength need not have anything to do with aggression or domination, but rather can be an expression of the desire to nurture the vulnerable.

Men have important roles in egalitarian matriarchies. They are the ones who leave home to engage in trade and to “see the world.” For this reason, they often become the spokespersons for the clan in relation to other groups. But again, these tasks are not undertaken to dominate or control, but rather, always with the interests of the vulnerable in mind.

And yet. . . we so easily slip back into familiar stereotypes. Masculine: aggressive. Feminine: passive, closing ourselves off from imagining how we might transform our culture—a culture sadly in need of radical transformation.

Another way is possible. Can you imagine it coming into being?


Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who lives in Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent book is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.

Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.

Author: Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a leading feminist historian of religion and theologian who leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, a life transforming tour for women.

9 thoughts on “Masculine: Aggressive/Feminine: Passive: Can We Imagine Alternatives? by Carol P. Christ”

  1. To answer your question Carol, with the violence and domination of male aggression at some kind of peak in this country I can no longer imagine HOW we can go about shifting this perception…
    Many women are apparently really attracted to the kind of man that is aggressive and dominating. Is this because they are confused? I certainly was as a young woman. Is it also because they cannot own their own power? I certainly couldn’t as a young woman. But maybe it is more than that? And isn’t it true that confused women help perpetuate the belief that in order to be a man one has to be dominating and aggressive? I personally am repelled by such men and there are a lot of them. What happened to the idea of male as protector? As you say “To use your physical strength need not have anything to do with aggression or domination, but rather can be an expression of the desire to nurture the vulnerable.” In egalitarian matriarchal societies men act like caring adults, can express their feelings appropriately and naturally, and have a wide range of other abilities, one of which is to model appropriate male behavior to children.

    I feel fortunate to know a few very fine men with integrity that are able to be present emotionally, are physically strong and capable and are able to withstand the collective pressure that this culture has put on men to behave like barbarians. But not many. Both of my own children grew up without a father and took on the collective persona of male dominance. I can’t stand either one of them.

    I have one male friend whose wife is an elementary school teacher. This sensitive , bright but solitary man makes his living working independently as a carpenter, machinist, etc. Mark took on the job of raising their son who at 21 years old is brilliant, sensitive,and incredibly wise in the ways of the forest – I have more in common with these two than I have with many women. But my point here is that it is possible to be male and raise a son with the values you speak of – however, with that much said, these two are both outsiders in their own culture.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Addressing how women can’t see beyond society’s conditioning is a great topic of discussion. Raised in a far more egalitarian place (Scandinavia) than the country I raised my children (USA), I was pulled from one side to the other. Today, in my seventies, I see clearly that US women are the greatest obstacle to gender equality. Women who, as Sara phrased it, cannot own their power, are unlikely to trust their own gender. When we can lead with confidence, men will follow.

      Great post, Carol. Hope this week finds you well and enjoying your beautiful balcony.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I wonder if seeing this issue might be age related? I too am in my seventies and it seems so obvious from women’s behavior/talk that this conditioning is as you say our worst obstacle – most distressing is its apparent invisibility to women who say they embrace feminism.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe that, if we strongly and repeatedly imagine a beautiful, loving matriarchal society, it can come into being! What we think and believe and desire, will be!
    Imagination is so essential to creating a new world without domination from males or females – or any other power!!
    I was very fortunate to have had a gentle and loving father as well as a fairly strong mother. In the society in which they were brought up they did both have their hang ups – which I, of course, inherited – but I never felt attracted to aggressive males. I was mostly drawn to gentle, ”alternative” artists.
    Humanity is going through a huge transformation and the present global horrors (with worse to come) are part of it.
    We either wake up and prevail to retain our total humanity (with NO additions) or we face the destruction of our species.
    Hope you are healing, Carol.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes, during these awful days we NEED to imagine men so other way before the Men In Charge–and we know who they are, the “presidents for life” all around the world, including the Orange T. Rex who apparently wants to be pres-for-life–kill us all through their greed and aggressiveness. Nearly the whole world is in need of radical transformation.

    Sooooo, how do we effect that radical transformation? Does anyone have any good ideas??

    Carol, thanks as always for your incisive thinking and writing. I hope you’re settled into your new home and that you’re feeling good. I hope you’re healing. Bright blessings!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Anyone who thinks females are not aggressive or fierce doesn’t know many females, in my opinion. In the whole of Creation, there is a time and a place for fierceness or aggression, but it is not often. We’ve become so constantly triggered for survival – always feeling we are under dire threat. I wonder whether we can change our brains, reframe our narratives, to be one of connection, safety, and abundance? Can that open up space for wellness, possibility, growth, healing, and deep community?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is such an important post. Making this change is so basic to all the other changes we need to make to create a peaceful, just, egalitarian, and sustainable world. I do see these gender stereotypes as gradually fading. I know many people of my generation (60s) who were the first in their families to go against the stereotype and some paid a heavy price from their families and communities. But now I see the younger people I know (under 40 and especially under 30) as much more fluid in gender expectations, though I imagine some of this comes from living in a progressive small New England town. I was just out for a walk and saw two dads bringing their kids home from school (and no moms). I think we make this kind of societal change by having a tipping point of people who just decide to live as they please and are willing to suffer the consequences, and the next generation has it a little easier, and the next generation a little easier than that. It’s a constant struggle, but I have hope we are getting there.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for giving me information that i can share with all my tribe, of all genders. You have clarified the issue in a way that i(as a queer male person) can see the problem from all perspectives. Your wisdom and humor deepened my breath. Namaste

    Liked by 1 person

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