Home > Social Justice > Redefining the Relationships Between Men and Women

Redefining the Relationships Between Men and Women


It is amazing to consider how much has changed in the past five decades in regard to sexual liberation and empowerment.  The woman’s role in today’s society is almost unrecognizable compared to the early 20th century, and would be wholly unimaginable in the centuries prior.  In America, attitudes toward sexuality and gender began to dramatically shift with the Boomer generation (and the newly emerging pluralistic values they brought with them), as birth control, free love, and several new schools of “second wave” feminism began to challenge the traditional attitudes that defined preceding generations.  Since the early sixties, there has been a tremendous amount of movement toward redefining ourselves as men and women—some forward, some backward, and plenty of treadmills with no discernible movement at all.  In the ensuing decades, we have witnessed the masculinization of women, the feminization of men, the neutralization of both genders, the roles of helpless victim set upon women, the witch hunts of fallacious prosecution set against men, genuine transformation of attitudes and behaviors of both sexes, the movement to procure equal rights for homosexuals, the advent of sex-change surgery, the rise of pornography as a multi-billion dollar industry, and the capitalization of just about every kink, fetish, and fixation imaginable.  And through it all, not surprisingly, men and women in the 21st century still seem to look at each other with the same bewilderment they did 20,000 years ago.

“It’s definitely true that men, as a rule today in industrialized societies, are basically where women were in the 1950’s, psychologically and socially. Part of what is keeping men there is being blamed for having power that is really a camouflage for the powerlessness. Real power is control over my own life.” – Warren Farrell

In order to come to any coherent definition of ourselves as sexual beings, we must take as comprehensive a view of sexuality as possible. Ken Wilber has developed a theoretical model known as the “Four Quadrants,” which, when applied to nearly any field of human knowledge, offers a very simple way to ensure that all bases are being covered and that nothing is being left out. The Four Quadrant model accounts for the interior and exterior dimensions of both the individual and the collective, yielding four major realms of consciousness: intentional, cultural, behavioral, and social (or “I”, “we”, “it”, and “its”, respectively, for those interested in tracking pronouns). All four of these dimensions are closely related, with each quadrant having strong correlates in the others—though none of these quadrants can be reduced to each other (despite the entire history of human thought being essentially an attempt to do exactly this.)

When applied to human sexuality, the Four Quadrants allow us to clearly see the respective roles of biological sex (male vs. female), interior sexuality (masculine vs. feminine), and sexual gender (man vs. woman, as defined by cultural beliefs and expectations), while also accounting for the various technological and economic systems all of these are situated in. By differentiating each of these important dimensions of sexuality, we are able to see how each is able to develop along its own trajectory, with its own history, without needing to confuse one’s sexual orientation with one’s sense of “manliness,” one’s secret desires with one’s cultural taboos, or even one’s gender with one’s genitals.

As previously mentioned, each of these major dimensions of human sexuality (sex, sexuality, gender, and sociological factors) grows through several distinct stages of unfolding. Just as the human body grows through stages of physical maturity—from fetal to infancy, to toddler-hood, to adolescence, to reproductive maturity—so do we grow psychologically, culturally, and socially. In fact, it is only toward the higher reaches of psychological growth that these sorts of important differentiations between biology, psychology, culture, and society can be made—and only from within a relatively advanced culture can significant strides be made on behalf of sexual identity, expression, and liberation. Both men and women evolve through ego-centric, ethno-centric, and world-centric stages of development, creating cultures that reflect these ever-deepening and increasingly inclusive values as they go.

A special note should be made in regards to our techno-economic development, which arguably has the most influence upon development in the other quadrants, for a variety of reasons. By looking to the history of economic production, we can find the history of gender roles themselves—in the earliest stages of civilization, men and women were able to produce food fairly equally, as men would hunt and women would gather, and even later when we moved into the horticultural stage and both men and women could use a digging stick to grow crops. Things changed, however, when we moved into agricultural mode of production, requiring the training of large animals to pull heavy plows through the fields. As men possess more upper-body strength than women, and women were much more susceptible to birth complications under this sort of physical labor, men and women both made the mutual decision to each tend to different spheres of life. This is we begin to see our first true divisions of labor, with men becoming responsible for the public sphere, and women for the private sphere. (And as an interesting footnote, most of the cultures from the early foraging and horticultural eras worshiped gods that were predominantly matriarchal or evenly split between male and female deities, as opposed to agrarian societies who typically only worshiped male deities.) In societies still struggling with survivalist needs, women became valued as humanity’s most precious resource, and men became valued for their disposability, and are expected to compete for the opportunity to protect these resources.

For the next several thousand years, men did what they do best: kill, compete, and construct rigid and elaborate patriarchies, in all flavors of tribalism, nationalism, religion, aristocracies, meritocracies, and steel cage matches. And, in these testosterone-driven social hierarchies, a woman’s proper place in the public sphere was all too clear: she had none whatsoever. And though modern and post-modern feminists can (and do) scoff at the unabashed sexual inequities within these patriarchies, the fact that this was an intentional, necessary, and mutually beneficial decision made by both sexes early in history is regrettably forgotten. Most men aren’t the oppressive beasts they are often made out to be, and most women aren’t the helpless victims of men’s oppression that they are often made out to be.

Of course, we are now in a completely different era of history, with modes of technology that have rendered many, if not all, of these prior decisions about labor division obsolete. Much of the physical labor men traditionally had to do has been replaced first by the steam engine, then by combustion, and now by the microchip. This is probably the single most important factor in terms of the rise of women’s liberation, and has brought into relief one of the most frustrating aspects of collective transformation: although the technology can change overnight, the culture is much more slow to adapt, often requiring entire generations to die off before real change can be enacted throughout society. Or, as Ken has bleakly joked elsewhere: “the knowledge quest can only proceed funeral by funeral….”

All in all, it is an amazing time to be alive—to be a man or a woman, male or a female, masculine or feminine, gay or straight. We are bearing witness to an entire new wave of individual and collective values, an Integral wave of development which, when it reaches the tipping point of its emergence, will make just as extraordinary a splash upon history as the European renaissance or the postmodern revolution of the sixties. And while each previous revolution has occurred only to steer the world away from the pathologies and excesses of what came before, the Integral revolution will be markedly different—while creating a space of personal and collective transformation that is radically and unmistakably new, Integral consciousness will also help to bring a tremendous amount of healing, stability, and sanity to the rest of the world, with the crucial understanding that everyone must start at square one before evolving to Integral consciousness. With as comprehensive a view of human sexuality as Integral consciousness provides, it becomes apparent that all of our old and apparently obsolete methods of relating to each other will always exist, and we must therefore allow them to exist on their own terms, while simultaneously liberating ourselves from definitions of sexual maturity that no longer seem to apply to us or our relationships, and finding new ways to relate to each other with more authenticity, more wholeness, and more erotic passion than ever before possible….

Originally published on Integral Life: Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men? (w/ Warren Farrell & Ken Wilber)

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  1. August 11, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I love this one. In fact, I actually wrote a paper and quoted parts of it. My professor, a feminist herself, just couldn’t get past the data that came out of “A Different Voice”…it was to her simply more stereotypical views of women. I never did convince her and she gave me a 75 on the paper. But I may be more proud of that 75 than any A I ever got because I knew the paper was academically sound, based on quality scholarship, and contained some relative depth. Of course, to her, it was not “accepted by the academic community”…(never mind WHICH academic community she might have been referring to) but I enjoyed writing it nonetheless. Great article.

  2. dedangelo
    August 11, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Interesting piece. Thank you. My personal observation is that have culturally-imposed gender roles have a profound effect on sexual orientation. Dichotomous thinking along the lines of male/female, gay/straight are changing to multiple combinations.

  3. Derek
    August 13, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Wasn’t ‘the first true division of labor’ long before agrarian settlements? Maybe it is better to call the division complete by this time, especially when the baring of a child in a hunter gather / horticultural village provided the conditions for domestic privacy to also be public and hense the rise of matriarchal politics before the swing to the patriarch civilization.

  4. Derek
    August 13, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Lots of goods points otherwise. Thanks Corey.

    • August 13, 2009 at 12:46 pm

      Thanks, Derek. That was a useful critique, and i might rephrase things to better reflect your point.

  5. norikostale
    August 17, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Well done. That is a fine article; you tackled a complex and rather controversial subject in a reasonably short space. It seems clear that the “male bashing” mentality that has been in vogue for so long must NOT be the end perspective of human development, and yet per the comments by another reader, that mentality will go down kicking and screaming!

    (By insisting in interpreting human history through the lens of “victimization”, the green perspective perpetuates a victim mentality, all the while crying for “empowerment!”)

    May this article humbly help in the reconsideration of this perspective! : ) Jim http://www.norikostale.wordpress.com

  1. August 11, 2009 at 4:13 pm
  2. August 12, 2009 at 2:17 am
  3. August 13, 2009 at 11:45 am
  4. September 10, 2009 at 4:09 pm

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