Misogyny and Homophobia
by John McNeill
There was and continues to be a profound connection between misogyny and homophobia in our culture. Misogyny is defined as a fear and hatred of women. It manifests itself psychologically in the repression of everything in the psyche that is tradition- ally connected with the feminine. Among other things, this includes all emotions, feelings of compassion, all spiritual feelings, all dependency, and all need of community. In the future I would prefer to refer to misogyny with the word “feminaphobia.”
Over sixty years ago, G. Rattrey Taylor in his classic book Sex in History (New York: Vanguard Press 1954, Chap. 4, pp.72ff.) attempted to expose some of the culturally conditioned attitudes on sexuality. He found a universal phenomenon in cultures based on a patriarchal principle. These cultures with few exceptions tend to combine a strongly subordinationist view of women with a repression and horror of male homosexual practices. The institution in today’s culture which continues to hold on to the clearest expression of that form of patriarchy, including its homophobia, is the Roman Catholic Church.
In contrast, those cultures based on a matriarchal principle are inclined to combine an enhancement of the status of women with a relative tolerance for male homosexual practices. Taylor concludes that the tradition of the Christian West has been fundamentally based on patriarchal culture. This may help to explain certain striking anomalies from an ethical viewpoint in that tradition.
One of the most remarkable of these anomalies is the almost complete disregard of lesbianism in western Christian tradition. Although the Holiness code in the Old Testament, for example, explicitly condemns under penalty of death male homosexual practices and female bestiality, no mention is made of female lesbian practices. (This should not be surprising when we recall that King David had reputedly a harem of nearly a thousand women.) Apart from a disputed reference to unnatural female acts by Paul in Romans 1:26, there is no other reference to female lesbian activity in Scripture and scarcely any at all in all the other documents of Christian tradition.
There is a marked tendency in all the sources of Christian tradition to condemn sodomy in terms of a man “playing the role of a woman” with another man or using another man “like woman.” This has led to the cultural tradition of respecting the man who plays the active role of penetration in male homo- sexual activity and despising the man who plays the passive role of receiver. This tradition is still strong, especially in Latino culture. As Bailey remarked, this has been looked upon in tradition not so much as a violation of human nature but rather as a degradation of the male as such.
If there is a certain message in the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is the belief of that time in the absolute respect that should be shown to males and the relative lack of concern for the female.
A perfect example of that are Lot’s words to the mob threatening to attack his male guests:
Please my friends be not so depraved. I have two daughters who never had intercourse with a man. Let me bring them out to you that you may do with them what you will, only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof (Gen 19:7-8).
Every Jewish male in Old Testament times would thank God that he was not created a woman in his morning prayers.
For a man to assume the passive coital function was a per- version intolerable for a society organized according to the theory of the essential subordination of women to men, a society which particularly valued male aggressiveness and dominance. It is my impression that this attitude is still strongly present in certain sectors of Muslim society. Consequently, as Bailey remarks, a man who “acted like a woman” in a sexual act was treated as one who betrayed not only himself but his whole sex, dragging his fellow men down with him in his voluntary disgrace.
Bailey concludes with this statement:
It might perhaps be well for us frankly to face the fact that rationalization of sexual prejudices, animated by false notions of sexual privileges, have played no inconsiderable part in forming the tradition we have inherited and probably controls opinion and policy today in the matter of homosexuality to a greater extent than is commonly realized.
More recently a strong light has been cast on the historical connection of feminaphobia and homosexuality by Richard Tarnas in his brilliant study of the evolution of western culture: Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Ballantine Books 1991). Tarnas’s basic insight is that the period of the past three thousand years in the development of philosophy, science, religion, and culture has been an exclusively male phenomenon from start to finish. It is my belief that the historical dialectical process that led to the development of the masculine archetype with the repression of the feminine represents the working out of the anima/animus mundi. Its past thesis was the development of the masculine archetype which, for some mysterious reason, had to be accomplished first. Its present and future antithesis will be the working out of a feminine archetype, which will not contra- dict or repress the masculine, but eventually will result in the synthesis of an androgynous fulfillment of all humans, male and female.
I suspect that the historical process given to first of all working out of the masculine archetype creating the separated and independent human individual had to do with the greater power and closeness to life and nature of the feminine. If the feminine archetype had been worked out first, the masculine development, which is much more fragile, could never have occurred or taken place except with extreme difficulty. At this point in the dialectic we can no more simply return to the maternal matrix, than an adult could find fulfillment by returning to the mother’s womb.
The “man” of the Western tradition has been a questing hero, a Promethean biological and metaphysical rebel who has constantly sought freedom and progress for himself, and who has thus constantly striven to differentiate himself from and obtain control over the matrix out of which he emerged. This Promethean hero has been present in both men and women. The evolution of the Western mind has been driven by a heroic impulse to forge an autonomous, conscious, rational self by separating it from the primordial unity with nature. The result of that process has been the transcendent self, the independent individual ego, the self-determining human being in its existen- tial uniqueness, separateness and freedom.
The balancing feminine moment has to do with building a loving spiritual community and achieving a deep passionate relationship of personal love with each other and the divine, a relationship built not on any submersion of our ego and identity into any collectivity or matrix, but built instead on a relationship and a community freely entered into by free, autonomous, independent, and self-determining individuals.
Why, Tarnas asks, has the pervasive masculinity of Western intellectual and spiritual tradition become so apparent to us over the past thirty years, when it remained invisible and unconscious in almost every previous generation? It is only through the fem- inist movement in the last thirty years that we have become con- scious of how exclusively masculine, for example, our common prayers and liturgies were. Hegel once made the observation: “The owl of Minerva spreads her wings only at the falling of dusk.” Every civilization is unconscious of itself, until it reaches its dying stages; it is only then that it becomes fully conscious of what it is all about. True wisdom and insight can only be reached at the end point. The three thousand year masculine tradition of Western civilization is reaching its apogee; it has been pressed to its one-sided extreme in the consciousness of the late modern mind.
The evolution of the Western mind has been founded on the repression of the feminine, “on the repression of undifferentiated unitary consciousness, of the participation mystique with nature, a progressive denial of the anima mundi, of the soul of the world, of the community of being, of mystery and ambiguity, of imagination, emotion, instinct, body sexuality, nature and women.” (Tarnas: p. 442).
Today men and women face the existential crisis of being solitary and mortal conscious egos thrown into an ultimately meaningless and unknowable universe, an environment that is increasingly artificial, mechanistic, fragmented, soulless, and self-destructive. The evolution of the masculine archetype has reached an impasse. If we continue in this one-sided dialectic, the human race faces the real possibility of self-destruction through nuclear warfare or widespread environmental collapse. Human beings are feeling progressively isolated and alienated from their communities, from nature, and from each other.
Tarnas believes that the resolution of this crisis is already occurring in the tremendous emergence of the feminine archetype in our culture. He sees this phenomenon as visible in the rise of feminism, the growing empowerment of women, and the widespread opening up to feminine values by both men and women. He finds further evidence of this in the widespread urge to reconnect with the body, the emotions, the unconscious, the imagination, and intuition.
The deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being. The driving impulse of the West’s consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, to recover its connection with the whole; to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life; to differentiate itself from but then to rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul. And that reunion can now occur on a new and profoundly different level from that of the primordial uncon- scious unity for the long evolution of human consciousness and prepared it to be capable at last of embracing the ground and matrix of its own being freely and consciously. The telos, the inner direction and goal, of the Western mind has been to reconnect with the cosmic in a mature participation mystique, to surrender itself feely and consciously, in the embrace of a larger unity that preserves human autonomy while also transcending human alienation. (Tarnas: pp. 443-444).
Tarnas concludes his great work with the statement that the restless inner development and incessantly masculine ordering of reality characteristic of the Western mind has been gradually leading toward a reconciliation with the lost feminine unity, toward a profound and many leveled marriage of the masculine and the feminine, a triumphant and healing reunion. “Our time is struggling to bring forth something new in human history. We seem to be witnessing, suffering the birth labor of a new reality, a new form of human existence, a ‘child’ that would be the fruit of this great archetypal marriage, and that would bear within itself all its antecedents in a new form.”
This stupendous Western project should be seen as a necessary and noble part of a great dialectic and not just rejected as an imperialist-chauvinistic plot. Not only has this tradition achieved the fundamental differentiation and autonomy of the human which alone could allow the possibility of such a larger synthesis, it has also painstakingly prepared the way for its own self-transcendence. Moreover, this tradition possesses resources, left behind and cut off by its own Promethean advance, that we have scarcely begun to integrate and that, paradoxically, only the opening to the feminine will enable us to integrate. Each perspective, masculine and feminine, is here both affirmed and transcended, recognized as part of a larger whole; for each polarity requires the other for its fulfillment. And their synthesis leads to something beyond itself: It brings an unexpected opening to a larger reality that cannot be grasped before it arrives; because this new reality is itself a creative act (Tarnas: p. 445).
The Role of the LBGT Community in the Great Dialectic
Although, to my astonishment, Tarnas makes no mention of it, parallel to the emergence of woman’s liberation over the past fifty years has been the emergence of a positive gay identity on all levels — social, political, cultural, and spiritual — all over the world. Jacque Perotti, the founder of the Catholic gay group David and Jonathon in French speaking Europe, speaks of this same era as a “declic, a special moment in history, a revelation of the slow emergence of a positive homosexual identity from the heart of the world. After so many ages of rejection, destruction and intimidation, a wind of freedom has begun to blow.”
This emergence of a positive gay identity has accelerated in the past few years to a remarkable extent. I believe it has a teleological purpose in the development of the anima-animus mundi. This presence of a visible gay and lesbian world community, for the first time in the past three thousand years, is an integral part of that dialectic and is another aspect of the recovery of the feminine or, what I prefer to call, the balancing of the masculine and feminine in a new synthesis in the human personality
Clearly the dominant dialectic of the masculine archetype in the past with its repression of the feminine has also included the repression of the homosexual. As G. Rattrey Taylor pointed out, the patriarchal cultures combine a subordinationist view of women with a strong repression of male homosexual practices. The rise of the feminist liberation movement in recent years gives gay people a reason to hope that GLBT people will be fully accepted in the future human community. At the heart of all homophobia is feminaphobia and the repression of the feminine. Gay men are seen as a threat to patriarchy because they are frequently in touch with and act in accord with the feminine dimension of themselves. It is clear that feminine and gay liberation are so intimately linked that gays should give full support to women’s liberation and vice versa.
No dialectical process can succeed unless it carries within itself the seed of synthesis. That seed of synthesis is to be found in the gay community. The synthesis can only succeed through the emergence of a visible group that can live out fully both its masculine and feminine dimensions without the need to repress either. We need a group that will model the ideal goal of humanity’s present evolution, people who can keep their masculine and feminine dimension in good equilibrium and bring forth a balanced synthesis of the two.
This, I believe, is the providential role of the GLBT political and spiritual groups that have come into being over the past fifty years. We who are gay and lesbian need a vision and must be clear about what are the special gifts we bring to this moment in history and the central role we must play in bringing about the fullness of life for all humans. That role is being played out in a special way in the gay setting of a new paradigm for human marriage, replacing the now destructive patriarchal paradigm. In gay marriage both partners relate to each other as equals. Neither party is under pressure to repress a whole dimension of his or her humanity — the feminine for men, the masculine for women. Both parties can relate to each other as full human beings. Seen in this light, gay marriage is a gift from God which can rescue all marriages from their present proclivity to failure.
(A fuller analysis of the masculine – feminine dialectic can be found in my book: Freedom, Glorious Freedom in a new edition just released by Lethe Press and available in paperback from Amazon.com for $18.00.) There is a magnificent new preface by Catholic lesbian Rebecca Mertz.)