Musings on Gender Archetypes, Types and Stereotypes

The archetype is the starting place whereas the stereotype is the end place of narrow, culture-bound application.

Archetypes are built around a certain core principle, which is the summation of a particular gendered abstraction. Stereotypes are a limiting oversimplification or a popularization of gender archetypes, and while stereotypes might partially draw on the archetypes for some element of truth, they end up being much narrower in their application.

 

Archetypes, born in ancient Pagan cultures, were understood as universal abstractions that provided a general common understanding to an otherwise diverse fabric of life and particular application of gendered reality. The association of the woman with the earth and fertility, for example, is an ancient archetype common across cultures. Or take the 3rd century BC Asian Yin and Yang principle, for example. It was an archetype for understanding the inter-connectedness and interdependence of the sexes. Incorporated as a way of explaining the deep psychology of gender, Carl Jung later called them primordial images, shared in a collective subconscious. The philosophical “archetypical” thinking of Plato was a further and significant development in the history of philosophy. Though he may not have called them “archetypes,” his concept of “ideas” or perfect forms of things was on a philosophical level what archetypes are on a psychological level. Kant, much later, but still building on Platonic thought coined the notion of the “noumenal,” the idea of things in themselves of which we have only a faint grasp because of our subjective, earth-bound phenomenal experience. We cannot abstract the perfect idea based on our experience, because our senses are limited, and we are caught in time and space. All of these thinkers, however, assume there is a reality out there, greater than our own subjective experience from which our minds intuitively draw or that there is at a most basic level, some sort of collective unconscious that leads us all to a baseline understanding of the fabric of reality.

Archetypes are built around a certain core principle, which is the summation of a particular gendered abstraction. Stereotypes are a limiting oversimplification or a popularization of gender archetypes, and while stereotypes might partially draw on the archetypes for some element of truth, they end up being much narrower in their application. To formulate it simply, one can understand gender archetypes as the highest common denominator of ideal gender qualities universally understood, whereas gender stereotypes are the lowest common reduced denominator, but they are drawn from the archetype. Another way to put it is that the archetype is the starting place whereas the stereotype is the end place of narrow, culture-bound application. These stereotypes become laws unto themselves that coerce people into a prison of man-made regulations. I tend to agree that stereotypes are enslaving and culture-bound. We gravitate toward wanting simple answers and applications to the question: “What does it mean to be a man/woman?” We can shipwreck against them in our identity formation when we put too much stock in them. We have been set on a collision course with stereotypes since Western individualistic cultures, especially, have moved further away from traditional ones which often had an archetypical understanding of gender at their center. The only way to avoid self-destruction is to choose to either embrace them fully or change course radically. On the one hand, the most wholesale human sacrifice offered to stereotypes has come from the transgender movement.  A transgender person is a victim of absolute tyranny of stereotypical male or female behavior and he or she is willing to undergo self-mutilation to be subject to its demands. By this, I mean that the measure by which a person who feels like he or she is actually of the other sex is usually stereotypical. A girl who prefers stereotypical boy activities such as mechanics or certain sports and feels the pressure from parents and friends to conform, feels she is of the “wrong” gender, instead of embracing that it could be possible, normal, and acceptable to oneself and others for a girl to have such interests. On the other hand, the opposite way for individualistic cultures of dealing with enslaving stereotypes is moving away from gender binaries altogether. If there are no binaries, there are no “right” or “wrong” expressions of gender and hence no stereotyping possible anymore.

One of the main attacks launched against the Bible and main reason for its rejection is the accusation that it promotes stereotypical behavior for the sexes. We do not find the idea of an archetypical man or a woman separate from real embodied men and women in the Bible. Perfection is found in God alone and his reality is known by us inasmuch as he reveals it to us and gives us eyes to see it. We now see dimly, as in a mirror, but when we see reality through God’s lens, we are able to see things as they line up with reality, even as finite beings unable to grasp all of God’s greatness. His plan in Christ was to break into our “phenomenal,” our immanence, our gendered experience and rescue men and women to be made perfect for all eternity. The apostle Paul writes that we do have an intuitive sort of knowledge of God given to all men and women through natural revelation which leaves us with no excuse as to God’s existence and gives a sense of normative human sexuality as well. Our spirituality and our sexuality are hence connected:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, andexchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! (Romans 1:19-24)

Read More