The Balance:
Re-envisioning Gender
By Kiva Rose & Jesse Wolf Hardin

 

 

While exclusively neither male nor female, the living planet, the natural world, embodies, contains, expresses, agitates and unleashes the qualities and characteristics of both. We are each integral, inseparable components of that living whole. As such, we too are a collection of traits, abilities, tendencies and potentials that in consort, constitute our authentic selves.

These neither define, nor are defined by gender. Unlike some of the other life-forms, we humans can assume roles according to our individual desires, characteristics and callings. And unlike most of our fellow creatures, we have the option of creating or co-creating our roles in life, not just suffering, accepting or acquiring them.

Together we explore a shared path to balance, personal, sexual and global... in the still distinctive voices of woman and man.

Jesse: Gender can be a way of understanding our authentic, whole selves, instead of a set of rigid expectations or role we are forced into. Unlike some of the other life-forms, we humans can assume roles according to our individual desires, characteristics and callings. And we have the option of creating or co-creating our roles in life, not just suffering, accepting or acquiring them. Together we can explore a shared path to balance, personal, sexual and global... in the still distinctive voices of woman and man.

Kiva: It’s not easy. When I was a child, my well-meaning grandmother routinely tried to stuff me into frilly pink dresses, all of which were unceremoniously removed as soon as I was out of her sight. Back in the woods, I would slip happily into my favorite pair of blue jeans, the ones with both the knees worn through from all my tree climbing and underbrush adventures.

It wasn’t because I thought the dresses ugly, and in fact I kept most all of them in order to admire the pretty colors and lacy fabrics. Nor did it have anything to do with not liking them, as much as that they didn’t suit my propensity to crawl through muddy swampland or collect wildflowers from spiny thickets. They simply weren’t an accurate _expression of who I was. My family kept telling me, and each other, that I would soon grow out of my “tomboy” phase. Yet at 15, I was still requesting Swiss army pocketknives for Christmas, and still receiving sewing kits instead.

As my teen years progressed, my grandparents suggested that I think about becoming a stewardess. My mother, being slightly more liberal, thought I’d be better off becoming a teacher than the architect or artist that I intended to be. Just like the dress, both suggestions were rejected immediately and adamantly. I wanted no part in what I saw as boring and potentially oppressive roles simply because I happened to be born female.

Jesse: At the same time, we have a hormonal identity, that we as men often end up ashamed of. Needless to say, I could shave off my ample facial hair, conceal my musculature in loose-fitting garments, resist making proud eye contact, and still I am incontrovertibly male. I am engaged in my maleness. I rise up from the depths of my maleness as the first creatures rose from the primordial seas. I am buffeted and driven by uniquely male hormones, a mortal sail filled with the masculine instincts of countless generations.

Long before both man and woman co-developed language and culture, there existed male energy inseparable from the flesh and intent of Mother Earth. It fueled and colored the lives of our male ancestors, from the first “Y” chromosome through reptilian and primate paramours, from my early Celt and Norse predecessors to my known relatives. I am of the planet. I am animal. I am mammal. I am man.

Together these aspects of my identity form the context of my being. These are the “givens,” the corpus animus, the terrestrial/contextual/experiential basis and body from which I must work. There is nothing I can do that cannot be done by a woman, but I do it with a man’s body, out of the needs and calling of a man’s heart. I can make no apologies for my being, only for inappropriate or unjust actions.

The problem is not with the nature of masculinity, but men’s disenfranchisement from our natural maleness — a maleness that is as compassionate and protective as competitive and aggressive. As with all social and environmental disease, the cure likely lies in the reclamation of our essential beings, instead of in the suppression of intrinsic instincts, tendencies and urges. The solution for both genders would seem to be becoming ever more ourselves, not less so.

Kiva: And that’s hard without alternative role models. Throughout my adolescence, I searched for an archetype to whom I could relate. My search led me through the teen traps of anorexic pop divas and shallow cultural icons that left me with a feeling of lonely otherness. Just as my body refused to conform to artificial standards of size and shape, my personality resisted being reduced to a cliché — whether bad girl, romantic, sporty or city chic. Being the woman society expected, seemed to mean paring down or altering who I really was at the core.

The older I got, the more I realized how often we sell ourselves short by expressing only fragments of our authentic nature. This was especially evident in my mother, as she tried desperately to pretend she was only a mother and no longer the brilliant artist and musician. I saw her grow more bitter the longer she suppressed her passions and dreams, sure that being a mother somehow implied that she would be neglecting her womanly duty if she pursued her gifts while raising her children. I also watched my best friend turn off her “feminine” heart and instincts in order to further her career. I promised myself no single part or aspect of who I really am would ever overshadow or subsume the other.

What neither my mother nor my friend could see was that women are multifaceted whole beings, not one-dimensional paper dolls of mother, wife or career woman. I realized that I was not unfeminine in my adventurousTness and tenacity, nor was I too feminine in my sentimentality and emotional nature — not unnatural but utterly natural, a unique _expression of woman. I came to understand that all the roles and aspects I expressed were equally me, not disparate contending parts. Wearing a knife atop a lacy dress. Cuddling and playing with our infant daughter, while ready to fiercely defend myself and my loved ones. Nurturing delicate flowers from seed to blossom, yet capable of taking a life to provide our dinner. We are each strands and elements of the infinite _expression of what it means to be woman and, at the same time, an alliance of many beautiful pieces coming together to make us who we really are, to make us most whole.

Jesse: Truly. And there is also an alternative male archetype to the Marlboro man, the stoic provider, the commander in chief willing to sacrifice any number of “his boys” to do what he thinks is right: the ancient Green Man, forever linking men back to the raw, connective, vegetative, regenerative processes of nature. The Green Man is connected at the root to the source itself, tapping the rich nocturnal loam of a fermentive earthen heart. This icon of the masculine draws power from the maternity and mortality of Mother Earth, in cyclic reciprocity and carnal interpenetration. Simultaneously born of and lover of the Goddess/Earth, his distinctive maleness works in consort with essentially feminine forces.

The Green Man had romped through Paleolithic imaginations long before being adapted to the role as a minor god of agriculture, the innocuous carved corners of church architecture serving as a subtle reminder of our pre-Christian pantheism. He evolved to become Bacchus in ancient Rome, Osiris in Egypt, Shiva in India and Dionysus in classical Greece. Along with his duties as spreader of seeds and guarantor of crops, he was the god of divine rapture, charged with the promulgation and sanctification of human ecstasy. In Mayan and Aztecan cultures he was called “the prince of flowers,” Xochipilli, instrumental in their initiation into the realms of embodied spirit, the leafen, vine-entwined corridors leading to their own wild and glorious beings.

With the Green Man we find a seminal and assertive, prolific and playful maleness in balance with the archetypal Mother Earth from which it arose, a male empowerment that complements and contributes to the _expression of female power.

Kiva: Yes! And in the haphazard sprawl of dandelion and the clinging beauty of ivy, I saw the face of the Green Woman, providing an empowering choice for women. I found her everywhere I looked, not just in the wild places I hitched to and hiked in, but in the weeds erupting from sidewalk and roadside, in botanical gardens and city parks. I saw her when I gathered wild greens for my salad from abandoned ghetto lots and reveled in her beauty from under the oaks lining suburban streets. Part of the power of the Green Woman is in the way she adapts and thrives in even the most unlikely places, teaching us how to best remain our own essential selves, even when we feel out of place or oppressed by pressure to conform to what passes for “normalcy.”

The Green Woman fosters delight and deep grief, fierce protection and unsurpassed tenderness. We, as women, embody all these aspects, in varying proportions through a myriad of expressions, as seen in classic goddess archetypes such as Artemis, an unclaimed woman and midwife; in the Norse hearth goddess Frigga’s deep devotion to home and children, with an unmatched wisdom that allowed her to guide family and followers; and in the Finnish bear goddess Mielikki, who roamed the far northern woodlands as a wild creature, fiercely loyal to both mate and home.

Jesse: It is important that we men nourish the qualities of creativity, sensitivity, emotionality, gentleness and intuition ascribed to the “feminine side.” However, the very fact that they exist as aspects of a male body means they are as much masculine as they are feminine. Crying over sad songs, nuzzling small animals, tending to the needs of children, writing poetry or learning to make love ever so sweetly and slowly, doesn’t mean a man is getting in touch with his “inner woman.” Nor is a woman tapping any latent reservoirs of male energy when she exhibits the strength, confidence, purposefulness or drive regularly attributed to men. We all contain both male and female energies, but none of these are elements of gender so much as of character.

A man can and should feel comfortable staying home and caring for his children while his wife works to pay the bills, if it serves and satisfies him as well as benefits his family. Or making a living designing and sewing clothes, if he has the talent. And women have long proved they can both enjoy and excel at every career or task ever considered to be “men’s work.”

What we need to do, however, is not just to escape restrictive stereotypical gender roles, but to consciously and purposefully assume or even design and then manifest our roles in life. Those roles that best express, fulfill and satisfy our authentic selves: our talents, desires, gifts, hopes and dreams. And those who best help us contribute to, serve, nourish, heal or make more beautiful the world of which we are an integral and dynamic part.                                                                                                                                    

Kiva Rose and Jesse Wolf Hardin co-direct The Animá Learning Center & Women’s Sanctuary, an enchanted river canyon in the Gila wildlands where they host students and guests for studies, counsel, retreats, quests, resident internships and special events such as Plant Spirit Medicine May 12-14, and The Wild Women’s Gathering June 17-21. Kiva is a poet and herbalist, while Jesse is the author of five books including “Gaia Eros” (New Page 2004), and performs on the CD “The Enchantment”   Visit: www.cdbaby.com/gaiatribe  or contact The Animá Center, PO Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830. Also visit: www.animacenter.org
 


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