Milky Way

The Biology of the Archetypal Feminine

June 2014

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In a Wounded Masculine world, women who want to succeed will feel social pressure to adopt Wounded Masculine behaviors. But women are wired differently than men, both biologically and socially, and this does make a difference in the way that they often feel themselves driven to seek Sacred Balance.

Estrogen contributes to the psychology of women what testosterone contributes to that of men. According to Louann Brizendine, MD, author of The Female Brain (quoted in “Understanding Ourselves: Gender Differences in the Brain,” by Ginny O’Brien, The Columbia Consultancy, Volume #52, Fall 2007), the differences between the sexes begin altering our innate disposition in utero, where our brains are flushed with the hormone determining our gender. This biological conditioning of female brains makes young girls approximately 4 times as sensitive as men to eye contact and facial recognition at birth, and 10-20 times more likely to look to their mothers for signs of approval or disapproval at one year of age.

It is believed that these skills were originally necessary as a protective measure in the face of potentially aggressive males, but they also served to foster social harmony – in an era when cohesiveness of the group was essential to survival. Added to the fact that women are equipped to give birth and nurture babies, while men are not, relatively high levels of estrogen biologically predisposes women to caring, protective behaviors and adaptive skills conducive to keeping relationships, families and communities together. The instinct toward the wellbeing of the tribe is part of the dynamic of the archetypal Feminine in no small measure because it is biologically encoded in women, as is heightened susceptibility to stress when the fabric of relationship or community breaks down.

In puberty, estrogen drives women to ease their stress around relationship by seeking increased social connection. Communication skills and the ability to apologize, forgive, and mend broken relationships are also enhanced, although women can also be fiercely competitive for the attention of men. Women can fight when necessary, but they are also naturally more sensitive to the repercussions of conflict, and in situations where they must compete aggressively, fight for their positions, and/or take a competitive stand, they are subject to greater ambivalence than men. This can become a biological disadvantage in a Wounded Masculine world, but one that can also move women and those they influence toward a more egalitarian dynamic – provided they are strong enough to insist upon it.

Brain structure also plays an important role in rooting the archetypal Feminine in biology. When combined with a larger prefrontal cortex than men, the predominance of estrogen in female psychology predisposes women to look for solutions to conflict, even when this means that they must sacrifice their own needs for the resolution. With a thicker corpus callosum, women more naturally integrate emotional and cognitive information than men – so in a sense are more naturally disposed to balance between head and heart. At the same time, because the hippocampus – the portion of the brain that is involved in learning, memory and emotion – is larger in women than men, and estrogen-sensitive, women are better at expressing emotion, intuitively processing emotional cues, and learning from their emotional experiences over time.

Again – these differences can sometimes put women at a disadvantage in a Wounded Masculine world, but they also create incentives for women to cultivate attributes of the archetypal Masculine that are not always natural to them, but necessary to Sacred Balance. Women will often need to discover and develop their independence, a stronger sense of their individuality, practical self-reliance and autonomy, self-assertion, and the inner strength to hold contrarian convictions.

Of course, these are gender generalizations, and regardless of biology and social conditioning, each person will find themselves in a different place along a continuum for different attributes on the spectrum between archetypal Masculine and Feminine. Sometimes, the more difficult lessons are those encountered by men with a strong Feminine side, or women with a strong Masculine side – since there is generally less social support for these conditions.

Whatever the particular mix we struggle with personally, when we come into Sacred Balance, the world around us tends to reflect that Balance. Or put another way, as we heal ourselves, we become catalysts to Sacred Balance within the world.

From a place of balance within, we are empowered to contribute toward a potential solution to some chronic problem faced by the world (on the side of the Archetypal Masculine) from a place of balance within ourselves. Making this contribution will in turn generally be a deeply meaningful and satisfying thing to do (on the side of the Archetypal Feminine) – reinforcing the sense of balance we have achieved.

The next post in this series is My Own Story.

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