Integral Feminism: The soul of the Integral Feminine – Part II

by editor

This is a continuation of the post “Integral Feminism: The soul of the Integral Feminine – Part I”. In Part I, we explored the nature and characteristics of an Integral female. In other words, how would Integral Feminism be and what would it contribute to the world and society at large. We analyzed the thoughts of three prominent women from the Integral institute – Sofia Diaz, Diane Hamilton and Willow Pearson and meditated on Diaz’s argument on the female principle as the “receptive” principle and male principle as the “penetrative” principle. We discussed on Diane Hamilton’s description of the Integral feminine – including her relational, connecting and healing nature; her fearlessness and love for the world etc. We also pondered over Willow Pearson’s concept of the Integral Feminine through the lens of “I am Loved. I am Lovable. I  Love.”

In this post, we will take a different view of the Integral feminine – a view that explores the Integral Spirituality of the female and her innate “relational” quality. This article is inspired from Elizabeth Lesser’s “Women’s Integral Spirituality” from the Integral Naked.

The Masculine and Feminine Principles: Sofia Diaz is of the opinion that the masculine principle is the “penetrative” principle and the feminine principle is the “receptive” principle. Elaborating on this, Diaz says that this aspect of the masculine and feminine is prevalent throughout, even in the biological framework of human beings. But Elizabeth Lesser takes on a different view of the “receptive” principle. Just as Diaz does not mean the female to be dormant by calling her “receptive” similarly, Lesser does not mean she is in any way low by calling her “relational”. But how is the female relational? Why does she have that healing nature in her which the male fails to have? Why is she essential for connecting to others? What is so special about her relational nature?

Elizabeth Lesser answers all these questions through what she calls the “Phoenix Process”. The Phoenix Process means a process wherein a “truly positive life change begins from the ashes of apparent ruin”. Lesser explains this process in her book, Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. Just as the Phoenix Process spurs people to reach exceptional heights, oppression and opposition from the society help women to transform into the Integral Feminine. But what is important is, we, human beings, ourselves have “damaging” elements in us (influenced by the society) to pull down the masculine and feminine principles in us. These damaging elements push our masculinity and femininity to corners, leaving us puppets in the hands of society and popular culture. Human beings have both masculine and feminine principles in us. It is our social nature which pushes our principles backwards, exhibiting only what is accepted as the social norm. Ken Wilber and Elizabeth Lesser analyze the “broken points” of men and women to understand what distinguishes them so much and why are one sex oppressed by the other. This exploration leads to a new kind of feminism which Lesser dubs as “Three-dimensional Integral Feminism”.

Three-dimensional Feminism: Lesser dubs this “three-dimensional feminism” as the “feminine mode”. This three-dimensional feminism is all about “wider and deeper modes of female care”. Why is the emerging feminism called three-dimensional? How is it different from the previous schools of feminism? After all, every other school of feminism talks about a woman’s caring and relational nature, so what is special this time, with the Integral Feminine? Lesser explains three-dimensional feminism by pointing out the differences between “flatland feminism” and the emergent feminism. Barbara Ehrenreich in “Flatland Feminism’s Assumptions Upended” reminds us of the ills of a flatland or one-dimensional perspective of feminism. It evokes a lot of problems by valuing the feminine for its femininity. In the sense, flatland feminism ignores all the negatives of the feminine and instead presents a rosy-view of the feminine principle. Lesser opines that the feminine mode, in three-dimensional feminism, would aspire to reach an awakened mode of “greater depth, care and consciousness”.

Masculine vs Feminine – Ranking vs Relational: Carol Gilligan in her In a Different Voice says that the male mode is “hierarchical or ranking” while the female mode is “non-hierarchical or relational” in thinking and expression. Many feminists hang on to this concept by Gilligan and say that female mode is superior and linking, while the male mode causes oppression and subjugation, related to “hierarchy”. Which brings us to the thought that women are suppressed only because of the domination of the male mode in the society. Lesser says that this is but partial truth and feminists and critics have not understood Gilligan properly.

Lesser opines that Gilligan intends to convey that both the male and female modes pass through four hierarchical stages of development or growth. According to Lesser, Gilligan meant that “men develop through the moral hierarchy using a logic of justice and autonomy, whereas women develop through the same hierarchy but “in a different voice,” a voice of care and relationship.” The four stages of female hierarchy include – “selfish, care, universal care, and integrated (which we sometimes summarize as egocentric, ethnocentric, worldcentric, and integrated).”

Gilligan says it is not that females don’t just think non-hierarchically, but even female non-hierarchical thinking has to develop through four stages to become the Integral Feminine. The four stages are: Stage one: Egocentric, selfish thinking wherein women tend to be selfish in communal ways, while male mode tends to be selfish in agentic ways. Stage two: ethnocentric/caring. In stage two, women extend love and care to those of their race, while men extend justice to those of their race/tribe etc.

Stage three: Universal or worldcentric care. In this stage, the masculine mode extends rights/justice to all people irrespective of their race or tribe or color, while the feminine mode extends love and care to all in the universe. Stage four: integrated. This is the stage of the Integral Feminine. This is also the stage in which the masculine and feminine mode “integrate” together and a human being expresses worldcentric consciousness. It is at stage four gender inequality will become a thing of the past as the male and female modes will be integrated together. But to achieve four, human beings, women especially should grow out of stages one and two. To achieve Integral Feminism and grow into deeper, spiritual beings, women should stop being egocentric or ethnocentric and cultivate worldcentrism in them.

What does the world need to achieve Integral Feminism? Unlike what the feminists believe in, the world does not need more female values, but needs human beings to grow out of stages one and two. That is, leave egocentric and ethnocentric consciousness. As Ken Wilber points out in his discussion on Integral Feminism in The Eye of the Spirit “It is at the integrated stages—and only at the integrated stages—that male and female values themselves tend to be balanced and integrated with each other, a growth that requires at least four hierarchical stages of unfolding.”

Barbara Ehrenreich puts this differently, saying that uterine thinking has to go through four levels of consciousness to achieve “integrated” thinking. In order to arrive at a new kind of female spirituality, integral women’s spirituality, consciousness has to grow from the selfish/egocentric and the ethnocentric to the universal or worldcentric. Then, women’s development would rise through the Phoenix Process and achieve an “integrated” consciousness which exudes nothing but innate female relational values like universal love, care and healing. Society, at such a state, would be balanced without gender disruptions. And women would express what we call the “Integral Feminine.”

Reference Links:

1. Integral Feminism: The soul of the Integral Feminine – Part I

2. Integral Naked’s “Women’s Integral Spirituality” by Elizabeth Lesser

3. Integral Naked’s “What is the Feminine Shadow? Part I” by Willow Pearson, Sofia Diaz and Diane Hamilton

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