PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Male - Female Archetypes

Male - Female Archetypes

One of the fascinating things about the human brain is its
ability to recognise patterns. The survival advantages of
this ability and skill are, as we know, quite enormous. For
example, being able to recognise the outline of a wild sabre
tooth tiger from a background of foliage and bushes can be
quite handy at times.

An even more sophisticated application of our pattern
recognition skills is in devising and developing a language.
Language either written or spoken is an intellectual
exercise in pattern recognition and memory recall. And one
of the most important causal consequences of this is
prediction. As a result of language we can, for example,
know what people are going to do, we know what people are
thinking, and we can even extrapolate behaviour by virtue of
being able to fit a single example to a given set of
behaviours. For example, if my friend John tells me that
Simon has a new guard dog, without any further information,
I can safely assume that the dog must have a good bark and
not very friendly to strangers. Of course, the reality might
be different, but until proven otherwise, it is a good
assumption to make about guard dogs. Being able to predict
behaviours and characteristics of things, including people,
is a real advantage for survival. For example, I can tell
friends from enemies and what to expect from each.

However, predictions as we all know, are not always
accurate. Sometimes we make mistakes, but in the medium
term, mistakes and errors can help us to make adjustments
and improve our classifications. Assuming of course that we
are still alive. Predictions are a sort of set theory using
modern marketing techniques; instead of try before you buy,
it's try before you set-tle in! In other words, we can
adjust our predictions depending on the facts as they
develop and behaviours of individuals.

By establishing archetypes for men and women we are doing
something that seems to be both programmed in us and
something we collectively do to help us deal with the people
around us. The meaning of the word archetype, already tells
us something about what type of men and women we're talking
about. Archetype is different from stereotype which tends to
focus on the negative or undesirable characteristics of
people. Archetype refers to perceived common characteristics
of people and if it carries any value judgements it is
because of or when we tend to approve or disapprove of these
common characteristics in people. Therefore, archetype has a
lot in common with the words 'classification' and
'paradigm,' some would say that these are just straight
forward synonyms. Maybe, but usually we don't use paradigm
or classification to influence our social behaviour nor to
make value judgements, not to mention that we tend to
restrict archetype to describe people.

Of course, my simple outline of the theory behind
archetypes, does not do justice to what is involved when we
archetype men and women. One of the questions worth looking
at is: how do we use this classification of people? For
example, how do we use the concept of an archetype father?
It is fair to think that a question like this is more
appropriate in anthropology or sociology than philosophy.
However, this question involves value judgements, meaning
and probability and these topics will always be legitimate
philosophical issues.

A second question we should consider is this: who is
actually responsible for, so to speak, setting up and
managing this body of classification? First of all, another
implied meaning of archetype, and paradigm or
classification, is that these are public classifications and
in circulation in the public domain. The fact that
archetypes are language labels which identify public
behaviour and characteristics is ample evidence that they
are public. In other words, I cannot just go around creating
my personal archetypes and expect to function in a society.
Of course, we can have our own private classifications and
archetypes, but these would be for our own personal use

Fonseca and Penna* suggest that the reason why more women
become nurses is because protecting, promoting and
preserving are characteristics usually associated with
women. And these characteristics are inherited in the
collective consciousness, so women are usually expected to
become nurses. CIO Today** report a study with monkeys which
showed that female infant monkeys tended to play with dolls
while male infant monkeys preferred toy motor cars. Both had
an equal preference for neutral things such as a book. The
researchers speculated that this is due to evolution, where
the female would naturally be interested in the doll and the
male in moving objects. These examples surely indicate that
at least some archetypical characteristics are due to nature
and certainly evolution.

From this it should follow that archetypes that satisfy a
natural function are predetermined in us. Of course, we can
ask how does the innate instinct for an archetype manifest
itself into an act of volition? For example, how does an
instinct to care manifest itself into volunteering to be a
nurse? But nursing, for example, must be contrasted with the
other instinct of motherhood. The desire to become a nurse,
however, seems not be as strong as becoming a mother. There
are many more mothers than there are female nurses. Could it
be that besides having natural archetypes there is also some
sort of hierarchal system amongst them; motherhood being
more pronounced than caring and therefore more prominent?
Could this explain why some mothers stop caring for their
children; their caring instinct is not as strong as their
maternal instinct?

It is quite ironic of nature, or whoever is responsible for
these things, that whilst the female monkey prefers a doll,
the male monkey preferred the car. The irony being that
nature gives females a strong maternal and caring instinct,
whilst men have a strong killing, as a result of the hunting
instinct, and procreating instinct at the same time. This,
of course, is not to suggest that men cannot be caring or
women cannot kill. The report, however, does not say whether
the monkeys were presented with models of guns or spears;
one only hopes that political correctness did not get in the
way of science. Let us assume that it is true that males
preferred the car because of some innate instinct to moving
objects or to throwing things, as suggested in the report.
These preferences by implication represent the hunting
instinct and by default killing is a natural archetypical
characteristic for males. Presumably the bad hunter not only
did not catch dinner, but probably could not defend himself
against aggressors and thus did not progress much along the
conveyor belt of evolution. The question we have to ask
ourselves is this, at what level of intensity does the
killing instinct appear in the archetypical male hunter
today? We can assume that the instinct for reproduction is
still much higher than killing. But even still, what
happened to the instinct of killing in the male? If the
caring instinct in the female has channelled itself into say
nursing, where has the killing instinct gone in the male?

Some would justifiably point out that men still do a lot of
killing and some would go further and claim that the killing
instinct has manifested itself into armies, navies and air
forces. So the killing instinct has not gone away, it is
still there. I'm personally inclined not to accept this
argument as totally representing reality. First of all, self
defence is also a natural instinct and being able to protect
one's self, one's family, land and neighbours is no less a
positive archetype than caring for the same people.
Secondly, the proportion of men who commit murder is
insignificant when taken in the context of the whole
population. I would agree with the suggestion that the
killing instinct in males is no less strong today than when
it was possible for males to hunt mammoths for dinner.

Female oppression and discrimination by males are usually
given as reasons why there are very few women in top jobs
with real power and authority. First of all, there are also
very few men in top jobs with real power and authority
because there are few jobs in the world with real power and
authority. There is usually one chairman of the board of
directors, there is usually one prime minister or one head
of department; unless we are talking about some modern
navies where one is more likely to find more admirals than
ships. My point is that the killing instinct which is
present in the archetypical hunter has been transferred into
board rooms, civil service bureaucracy and the very top jobs
some women talk about. Today, instead of killing with arrows
and spears to survive we kill with profit margins, return on
investments, market share and share holder value. Our sixty
percent market share means that someone else has to hunt in
a different part of the valley. Our high profit margins and
return of investments mean that someone else has to hunt a
different beast for lunch; maybe smaller than ours, full of
bones and more difficult to kill. So our archetypical hunter
became our archetypical managing director or an expert
lawyer in company law.

The foregoing suggests that although some archetypes seem to
be very basic to the nature of human beings, they never the
less do keep up to date and adapt with the progress of
evolution. The caring woman need no longer use her caring
instinct in looking after the people in her tribe, but now
she can become a nurse, a doctor, a nun or whatever. And the
killing instinct need not necessarily result in dead bodies,
maybe today the killing instinct need only result is less
well off people than us. After all, increased resources do
reduce the pressures on survival.

Are there archetypical males and females that are not the
product of nature or evolution? First of all, what would an
artificial archetype look like, and I am not thinking of
train spotters as candidates here? Sure, train spotters are
doing nothing more than collecting patterns of train
movements, but we need something more consequential to
society. Maybe we can find these artificial archetypes by
looking at typical human activity which does not reflect
natural survival. Art and literature come straight to mind
immediately followed by religion and maybe even by
philosophy. Sure the actor or the artist are working for a
living, but for every multi millionaire actor there are
probably hundreds who might just about make ends meet not to
mention the thousand of amateur actors. Could these be the
archetypes that are not established by nature per se, but by
human activity?

How, then, do we judge a good archetypical artist or a good
archetypical monk or nun? Presumably we can judge a good
archetypical mother by the number of children she has or the
care she gives to her off springs. However, if motherhood is
innate in women can we also assume that judging what is an
ideal archetypical mother is also innate in us or at least
in women? Earlier I said that the subject of archetypes is a
legitimate subject for philosophy because it involves value
judgments. But if our judgement in what is an archetypical
mother is innate in us this seems to take away from us our
intentional and conscious instinct of making value
judgements. Therefore, are all value judgments innate in us
or only those relating to natural or evolutionary matters?
And if value judgements are not all in innate in us how do
we decide what is a good archetypical artist for example?

One powerful option is to imagine that there is some
standard deviation aesthetic evaluation involved when
considering art or the holy life of a monk or a nun. So when
we look at a painting by Rembrandt, the majority of us enjoy
it with degrees of pleasure while a small proportion just go
into a trance with the sight of a Rembrandt and an equally
small proportion just don't see what the fuss is all about.
Maybe, but there is an equally alternative argument that
might explain how we reach value judgements on matters like
artificial archetypes. Could it be that only a few people
get to influence the opinion of the majority? Sure the work
by Rembrandt is very breath taking, but if the relatively
rich patrons didn't commission him, Rembrandt wouldn't have
painted anything in the first place. Later, factors such as
the advent of the professional art historian or art becoming
a status symbol followed by the funding of art museums
sealed the fate of a Rembrandt painting. In other words, the
majority might appreciate the aesthetic values of an artist,
but only because a few influential people in our society
said so or did so. Of course, this is not my original idea,
it is just that we do not see this sort of argument used
more forcefully. So judgments might also be the result of
convention as much as respect to some super law of value
judgements. The question is whether it matters and when does
it matter how we arrive to have value judgments?

We also imply value in the use of our language. For example,
we have terms such as a gossiping woman or a loving mother
and of course for men we have such labels as a caring father
or a cad. By just using these labels we are employing
language not only to describe people with similar
characteristics, but we use these labels for two very
important things. Firstly, to give us a ready made value
judgement about people without the need of really getting to
know that person or going through some form of verification
process. If John's boss describes him as a hard working
employee the promotions committee need not go through an
elaborate process to confirm that John is really a hard
working employee before offering him a promotion. The second
use of language relating to archetypes is to pre condition
our behaviour towards people. If Jane is a reliable
confidant I can talk to her about my problems without either
having first to verify that she is a real confidant or even
having to worry about it. The expression, "it is who you
know and not what you that counts in life'' is, I suggest,
the result of the fore going. People who know us have the
ability to archetype us, thus making it easier for others to
deal with us when told about us.

That archetype groupings are used to determine or influence
our judgements and behaviour is in no doubt. However, this
does not guarantee that archetypes are always used for good
or honourable causes. A talented artist can be employed to
paint family portraits of rich patrons, but can also be
occupied to paint propaganda posters for some regime.
Motherhood can be a quality celebrating life or a propaganda
rallying tool for women to have more children to be used for
the ends of evil dictators. What is clear about archetypes
is that for something so powerful in a society, they are
certainly available on a free for all basis. To be used and
abused as we wish, as long as we can influence people. To
balance this is there an archetype of a person who uses
archetypes judiciously? And are men or women more likely to
be more judicious with their judgements?

Take care


*The perspective of the female archetype in nursing by
Fonseca VS, Penna LH Rev Bras Enferm. 2000
Apr-Jun;53(2):223-32 ** Boy, Girl Monkeys
Pick Different Toys, December 12, 2005

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