07: Spirituality cont’d

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The second part of the solution deals with addressing the anxiety that spirituality is a largely feminine phenomenon. On an intuitive level this concern is quite reasonable (but remember what I said in the Introduction chapter about intuitive responses often being little more than conditioning responses). Yes, it is true that there are fewer men than women sat in the pews of the average congregation. Yes, it is true that outside organized religion, spirituality appears to be “feminine.” For example, I recently gave a talk at the MindBodySpirit Festival in Melbourne, and noticed there were a number of stalls which referred to products about Goddesses and the feminine, but not one that referred to Gods or the masculine. And nearly all the stalls were built around a pastel or crystal-type aesthetic which resonates with a stereotypically feminine spirituality.

The intuitive response to this anxiety has been to counter those stereotypically “feminine” spiritual phenomena with the equally stereotypical “masculine.” Spiritual writers and men in leadership positions know that men have just as much need and ability to be spiritual as women, and in order to enable this they frame the spiritual as “masculine,” assuming this is what men desire. This is why we see Christian men’s ministries built around a wild Jesus, paramilitary themes and sport. This is why we see alternative spiritualities built around spiritual warriors and the erect phallus of the Green Man.

Let’s assume for a moment that this concern is valid (rather than there being innumerable men who, due to social conditioning, simply articulate and embody their spirituality in less obvious ways). The primary challenge is how do we bring more men to the table? The overriding answer, as we have seen, has been to make the spiritual more “manly.” But the danger with this is that it has a habit of consolidating all those conspiratorial models of masculinity. But there is another way of looking at this: instead of assuming spirituality is the changeable variable that can be shifted into line with men, why not consider that men are the changeable variable that can be shifted into line with spirituality? After all, we have already seen that masculinity is socially constructed: it is malleable like putty.

But, comes the outcry, this results in denying masculine values and turning men into pastel-colored crystal-wearing lady men! Even worse than Mansfield’s gender-neutral society, this results in an unambiguous feminine society! Not so, of course. Or rather, yes it is about denying masculine values, but only inasmuch as those values are described as masculine, rather than denying those values in themselves. This is a reiteration of the point made previously about nurturing, but I’m going to say it again slightly differently, because it is of fundamental importance to both thinking critically about the problem, and proactively constructing the solution.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that spirituality is defined by two values (clearly there are many more): immanence (which is generally perceived to be feminine) and transcendence (which is generally perceived to be masculine). In the current formula, immanence is considered to be the more popular value, it is considered feminine by society and therefore spirituality is more appealing to women. In the current formula, to win more men to spirituality, transcendence is beefed up to almost comical proportions and thus, goes the theory, we reach some kind of holism in which both men and women are having their spiritual needs met.



Written by Joseph Gelfer

August 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm

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