Archive | Navajo RSS feed for this section

Gender Flexibility

17 Aug

Gender flexibility is a delicate understanding that as men and women, we need to nurture the opposite gender within ourselves. A man has a feminine as well as masculine nature, and a woman has a masculine as well as feminine nature.

You reap what you sow. We have for many generations adhered to a gender binary model. Inflexible and restrictive, this has damaged us individually and as a culture. I believe, the more gender flexible a culture is, the more of value it will be to our wellbeing as a species.

Our world is presently dominated by the fundamentalist tribes of the United States who are facing-off with the fundamentalists of the Middle East and beyond. These tribes are, by their nature, gender inflexible. Men are men, women are afraid, and in the kitchen. They bring nothing of value to our future longevity. What is the alternative?

Professor Barry Hewlett has spent decades studying the Aka tribes of Africa, and he claims their male and female roles are virtually interchangeable. ‘Aka fathers will slip into roles usually occupied by mothers without a second thought and without, more importantly, any loss of status – there’s no stigma involved in the various jobs.’

I’ve spent decades studying the tribes of the United Kingdom, and I can say they are in the process of becoming as gender flexible as the more advanced Aka peoples of Africa. They probably need another three or four generations, and then their men will slip into primary childcare roles without a second thought or loss of status. Many of their families already do this.

Having lived and worked in the South Wales valleys I have witnessed this occurring. The traditional gender roles have undergone a dramatic transformation as a result of the death of the coal industry. The limited jobs replacing coal are mainly piecemeal, part-time, poorly paid, and reliant on very different skills. In other words, ‘they’re women’s work’. As a consequence, large numbers of men are now in the role of primary child-carer, or, at least, as active in childcare as their partner. Reluctant converts to gender flexibility, these men are struggling to comprehend that such a change is actually of benefit and not damaging them.

I work with them to look at their personal inner masculinity and femininity, and to start a process of reconciliation. ‘Your inner man and inner woman have been at war, they are both wounded, tired, and in need of care, it is time to put down the sword which divides them.’ Maureen Murdoch. The concept of an inner king and queen has been adopted by psychotherapy and clinical psychology. I prefer the North European and Navajo of the Americas traditions of four genders.

The four-gender model introduces a much deeper ability to be gender flexible for the individual. These traditions talk of a male and female as with our system, and two more, a male/female, and a female/male. Remarkably, they teach us that all four genders reside within the individual, and you can make the journey from being a male through the clearing houses of male/female or female/male, to your female, and vice versa.

The key to this new (very old) system is that you don’t lose your maleness by travelling to your inner feminine. In other words, a man can be the primary child-carer, without becoming a wimp (a deep-seated fear of some of the men in South Wales). Equally a woman can be a dynamic pioneer in business without losing her femininity.

The four genders allow us to fulfil our potential without having to lose our identity. Many women say they had to adopt masculine traits in order to become successful in business. They did this because we have a binary system which makes us feel uneasy when we change our gendered behaviour, and often we can be criticised by ourselves and others for it. In a four-gendered system women are successful in business without loosing contact with their essential feminine self. Men adopt their role as primary child carer in a masculine way, not having to lose status and self esteem.

The four genders also enable us to explore our gender identity throughout the passage of our life. We can spend many years being a pioneer (male), and then move into a period of being a nurturer (female), and into a period of reflection (female/male). We all change our gendered behaviour very quickly, from hour to hour even, and it would be beneficial to do so without feeling wrong or being criticised by others.

With the four genders the myths of gender difference are exposed to be the lies they always were. Boys don’t cry, men are strong, woman are weak, girls can’t do what boys do, men have to not show their emotions, women aren’t as determined as men, etc, All a load of two gendered bollocks. Hurray!

If you wish to find out more about this please come to the event we are holding in Malvern later this year.