by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright November 2004
This summer I read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. It was a good mystery, and the McGuffin in it was The Holy Grail interpreted to be "The vessel for the Sacred Feminine." Dan weaves an interesting legend that combines the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, the Sacred Feminine, and a dozen other cultural elements into a nice murder mystery. (Side point: I think he does his story a disservice by trivializing his McGuffin in the last couple chapters, but trivializing the McGuffin is a time-honored literary device in mystery and science fiction stories, so he is not alone in doing this disservice.)
His story got me thinking about the Sacred Feminine -- and the Sacred Masculine!
The Sacred Feminine is a concept that has been around for years and years. Stated briefly, the concept is that prehistoric humanity had a much more peaceful, harmonious lifestyle than historic humanity, and this peace and harmony was based on matriarchy and worshipping the Sacred Feminine. As mankind became civilized, "male domination" hijacked the Sacred Feminine as part of civilization's rise. (In Europe and America, the male domination is often symbolized by the patriarchy of the Catholic Church.) The concept continues, saying that if we can bring back the dominance of the Sacred Feminine, we will usher in a New Age of peace and harmony. (Yes, this is one of the many concepts of the 80's-90's New Age idea set.)
My classic thinking about this is “What hooey!”
First of all: Feminism and this Sacred Feminine mythology are both built solidly on the materialism of post-industrial age civilization. Only people who take the benefits of today's civilized materialism for granted are empowered to come up with a feminist-thinking explanation for human prehistory and embrace a Sacred Feminine mythology. In particular, feminism requires both reliable creature comforts and non-intimidating social interactions, and neither of these are "givens" of pre-information age human conditions.
However, I was entertained enough by The Da Vinci Code that I gave this "concept suite" some more thought, and what came to mind was the question, “How did men's thinking have to change to make civilization possible?"
As I thought about it, I realized that men's thinking had to undergo huge changes before civilization could happen. So much change that we shouldn't be worshipping the Sacred Feminine at the dawn of history, we should be worshipping the Sacred Masculine!
Most mammal males have little to do with others of their species -- they live and hunt on their own. They are loner animals. When mating time comes, they fight with other males and mate with females, but as soon as mating season ends, they become loners again. Mammal females can be just as lonerish, but when there is cooperating to be done within a species, it is usually done by the females. Lionesses’ team hunting is a classic example. So, when mammals are social, they are usually matriarchies.
Most male primates follow this basic mammal pattern. This means that in the "average primate species", the social organization, be it weak or strong, is a matriarchy, and the males participate in these matriarchal groups to share in food discoveries and to participate in dominance disputes with other males. When dominance checking takes up a significant portion of an animal's day, this limits the size of the group the animal can stably form. If the group gets too big, dominance checking takes up so much time that "players" become exhausted, and the group's survivability suffers.
Human males are an exception to the standard pattern; they are intensely cooperative instead of intensely dominance checking. This means that at some point in human evolution, and for a long time thereafter, human males had to be intensely selected for based on their cooperative abilities. The brain's hardwiring concerning social relations had to be altered dramatically by these natural selection processes. (This selection concept has already been fully discussed in my essays on language and arranged marriage.)
The main benefit of selecting for cooperative males was the material benefits of civilization, and the surprise outcome was the social revolution of patriarchy -- males dominating the social structure. This human patriarchy system is an oddity in primates and mammals.
Since modern feminism is built on and cannot exist without modern materialism, modern feminism cannot exist without the dawn-of-history change in male thinking that I will call the “rise of masculinism”. At the dawn of pre-history, mankind's male brain wiring had to be extensively rewired to tone down dominance disputing and amplify cooperating tendencies. If this change had not occurred, neither agriculture nor civilization would have been possible. Language and old age are very important to developing civilization. Part of their importance is that they allowed for the development of cooperative males.
We should not forget that closely cooperating males are as much an oddity of the human race as big brains and language, and a much more recent development. It is likely that closely cooperating males date to only somewhat before the dawn of recorded history. This means there is nothing "given" about males being cooperative -- it is something that the human race is still implementing in its DNA library.
Some extreme feminists are boasting that "males are about to become irrelevant to society". This is a case of a “Chinese wish”. (Watch out what you wish for because you might actually get it, but it will have a surprise twist to it that you really don’t want.) Should males actually become irrelevant, then there would be no need to continue selecting for intensely cooperative males in our breeding, and males would drift back into "standard mammal mode" thinking -- males that are loners and think about the world mostly in terms of dominance checking.
Think of a stereotypical disenfranchised community. (An example of a stereotypical disenfranchised community is a community of aboriginal people after a vigorous in-migration of technologically advanced people has displaced them from their traditional hunting and farming ways of life.) The stereotypical complaint of the in-migrators describing the aboriginals is, “Those people are good-for-nothing. The men just sit around all day, and drink and fight." What is being described by the in-migrators is default mammalian behavior: The aboriginal community is now a matriarchy, and floating in this matriarchy are males who spend much of their day engaged in dominance disputing.
Due to the circumstance of being displaced from its traditional ways of sustaining itself, this community has lost the Sacred Masculine of highly cooperative males. I bring this up to show that the Sacred Masculine is not a given of human behavior. It can easily be lost.
Mankind created a workforce through the “Masculine Revolution” of the dawn of history. Mankind doubled the size of that workforce through the Feminist Revolution of modern day. Should radical feminism ideals actually prove correct -- should men become irrelevant -- then the world would halve its work force, and the unemployed half would be engaging in a lot of destructive behavior rooted in dominance disputing. Is this a place these radical feminists really want to go? Or should they, instead of boasting about their own meaningfulness, be more sensitive to the fact that humanity has gotten as far as it has by becoming more and more cooperative with time ... in both sexes.
If a little cooperation has been good for mankind, then a lot of cooperation should be better. What we should be selecting for are males and females who want to cooperate even more. Fortunately, this is likely to be happening spontaneously. Men and women who like staying together -- like cooperating -- are more family-minded than loners of either sex, so it's likely that the cooperative nature of the human race is still growing stronger.
The Sacred Feminine concept of a kinder, gentler prehistoric human race makes warm and fuzzy sense, but not real-world history sense. The prehistoric human race was likely to have been a matriarchy, but also a violent place with males doing a lot of dominance checking as they moved around within the matriarchal community. It was the Masculine Revolution -- developing cooperative males -- that allowed mankind to become civilized in the first place. The Feminine Revolution -- allowing women to participate as equals in the civilization-making process -- could not have happened until the civilizing processes produced both the huge and stable material prosperity of the sort we have in the developed world today and a large percentage of productive jobs that don't require great strength and endurance to do well.
The Sacred Feminine is not a concept of prehistory, but one that very much depends on modern conditions. It is the Sacred Masculine which came to life at the dawn of history, and toned down mankind's violence level by valuing cooperation over dominance checking.
It is likely that this trend towards cooperation is still growing in mankind, and it's likely that the world is a kinder and gentler place today, not yesterday. I don't know about you, but I find that thought very comforting.
Update: This 8 Sep 12 Economist article, Gender politics: Female muscle, is a book review of "The End of Man And the Rise of Women." by Hanna Rosin which addresses this issue. From the article, "Instead, many men, especially young ones, have retreated into a world of video games, drinking and prolonged adolescence—a phenomenon identified in “Guyland”, a 2008 book by an American sociologist, Michael Kimmel."
Update: This 11 Apr 13 Fortune column, America's wayward sons: Why they can't carry on by Nina Easton, is another description of dysfunctional Sacred Masculine. From the article, "But even as outspoken women try to change that dynamic [the glass ceiling], a less noticed and equally troubling phenomenon is happening much further down the economic ladder: Men are disappearing from the bottom rungs. MIT economists David Autor and Melanie Wasserman spell it out in a new study: While women are adjusting to the 21st-century economy -- graduating from college at higher rates than men and then migrating into higher-paying jobs -- the average guy is moving backward. "Although a significant minority of males continues to reach the highest echelons of achievement in education and labor markets, the median male is moving in the opposite direction," the authors write in "Wayward Sons," a study for the centrist think tank Third Way."
Update: This 29 Oct 13 WSJ editorial, The Incredible Shrinking Workforce Unless men re-enter the job market, prospects for vigorous growth in the labor force are dim. by William A. Galston, brings this home yet again. Men are not looking for jobs like they used to. Their role in US society is changing and the change is not attracting them to being productive members of the workforce.
Update: This 19 Apr 15 Daily Mail article, Why men won't get married anymore: Women complain chaps today won't settle down. Sorry, ladies, but it's all your fault, argues a wickedly provocative new book by Peter Lloyd, describes how the marriage rate is declining because men find marriage and divorce, so expensive.
From the article, "According to the Office for National Statistics, marriage in Britain is at its lowest level since 1895. In 2011, there were just 286,634 ceremonies — a 41 per cent free fall from 1972, when 480,285 couples tied the knot.
For an army of women, Mr Right is simply not there, no matter how hard they look for him. And the reason? When it comes to marriage, men are on strike.
Why? Because the rewards are far less than they used to be, while the cost and dangers it presents are far greater."
-- The End --