By Suzann Paneck Robins
Excerpted from the book, Exploring Intimacy
Brave individuals, who do not feel at home in their own bodies and explore the possibility of changing gender through medical intervention, have raised questions regarding what it means to be a "real" man or woman. There is no clear understanding about the difference between biologically based gender differences and those constructed by learned behavior. Identity, like personality, is eventually self-discovered. Every society, and each family within each culture, has a particular historical background that dictates how boys and girls should be raised, and most express expectations regarding behaviors. For instance, some families still believe girls "should be seen and not heard" and that "a woman's place is in the home." Other families teach that boys must be strong and never cry or show any emotions. Many children receive mixed messages, which leave them confused throughout their entire lives.
Any statement about gender differences is always a generality. All people possess attributes designated as masculine or feminine, but there is a difference in degree and balance regarding how people demonstrate these characteristics. The field of gender studies highlights that there are more similarities in some cases and more differences in others. Examples of this are Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, a dress designer at the turn of the twentieth century, and David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust performance days. As people began to ask about rights and responsibilities in general, they also questioned appearances and privileges that come with simply looking and/or dressing in certain ways. As television and movies became part of everyone's experience, they portrayed an assortment of cultural stereotypes on the subject of what it means to be male or female.
A paradigm shift began when mass media started to portray role models with a variety of qualities for men and women, through both realistic actors and animation. Characters played a broad range of roles beyond what anyone witnessed in his or her own neighborhood. This has meant that since the advent of television in the early 1950s, children have been exposed to a full array of possibilities for observing women and men in various settings, including situation comedies, reality and talk shows, and cartoons. This exposure led to an era of unisex preferences in ways to act and dress. Men and women were striving for equality, and suddenly everyone was wearing tee-shirts, jeans, and sneakers.
Times are Changing
The civil rights activism of the 1960s and simultaneous technological revolution paved the way for consumerism to flourish. During this period, the first oral contraceptives or birth control pills became available. Wives and mothers continued to fight for the right to participate equally in all levels of the work force, and to be equal partners in relationships. Women's willingness to work outside the home benefited the manufacturing of goods. In many households, the wages of both husband and wife were necessary to buy a single-family house with a garage, and soon these homes had more than one car and a television in every room. Women were now able to gain credit in their own names and therefore have greater access to material wealth. The divorce rate soared and women's liberation led to the ideals of feminism, which held that everyone should have equal rights.
The battle of the sexes was in full swing. A great divide became evident between being feminine and becoming a feminist. The struggle for equality increased when a few questioned the accepted paradigm of gender roles. Some people became aware of the detrimental influence that attitudes of inequality had on children's development. Consumerism intended to exploit sexuality continues to drive the market. If we do not drive the right kind of car, use the right skin product, or consume the right beverage, we will not be seen as powerful, sexy, or successful. This kind of advertisement leaves many wondering what it actually means to be a man or a woman.
However, most people never entertain a thought about their gender identity, just as the majority never questions their own sexual orientation, but for the minorities who do, it is important to respect their right to choose. Or is it?
The answer to this question is important in any discussion of self-love. In a perfect world, we would all embrace agape and share love unconditionally. When we love everyone without judgment, we free up energy that would otherwise go toward protection from those we fear, simply because we perceive them as different or wrong. One aspect of gaining full intuitive knowing and emotional intelligence is an open, aware mind that accepts and appreciates differences. In order to love all aspects of ourself, we must fully acknowledge all aspects of others. Hate or prejudice that we hold inside hurts us as much as when we direct it outward.
For instance, Jerry Falwell is a preacher with many judgments; he boldly says he hates gay behavior and teaches that we do not have to approve of another's behavior to be willing to extend love and good will toward them. But he and many other church leaders fight hard against any kind of lesbian or gay rights, including gay marriage. When those in favor of these initiatives fight back, act in a hate-filled manner, and do not project love, then the vicious circle never ends.
Anima meets Animus
By integrating the shadow of our own anima and animus, we begin to observe that men and women are equally capable of tapping into the intuitive knowing of the sixth sense. We are all a part of a universal collective, no matter how rich or poor, large or small, or masculine or feminine we appear. Although we do not always approve of everyone's behavior, we can still extend love and good will. When we are not projecting love, we are often judging and condemning others. Acceptance of difference is one path to peace on earth. Evolving into conscious awareness, both as a universal collective and as individuals, is an aspect of this path. Encounters with other people and their ideas constantly influence our own gender identity and our understanding of sexual attraction.
Fully functioning, mature adults allow for all possible variations of self-actualization and integration. This is something to strive for as we expand our capacity for intimacy through intuition. At the same time, it is also necessary to be aware of our own personal boundaries and the limitations of our tolerance. Only then can we move toward acceptance of those who are different from us and eventually reach the transcendent levels suggested by Maslow and Mikulas, where we recognize that we are all part of the same whole of humanity. This includes the ability to love without judging, and to fill our heart with compassion for those who are different from us.
Exploring Intimacy : Cultivating Healthy Relationships through Insight and Intuition
Creating true intimacy takes work, and many people don't know where to begin. Basing her work on both psychological and social research, Suzann Robins offers a roadmap to the relationship between intuition - our sixth sense - and creating true intimacy. Offering simple mindfulness and reflective exercises, she helps readers learn to integrate ideas from both Eastern and Western approaches into everyday practice that is intended to both open and protect our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health.