(Essay 1) Re-Visioning Mythologies of Gender/Sex by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

This is the first part of an essay by the author published in Goddess Pages in 2008.

“Gender” might be described as “one’s perception of their self” as being either female or male, and “sex” as “the physical appearance of one’s body” as either female or male[1].   The “sex” of a body is commonly understood to necessarily be able to fall into one or the other designation, and if it does not then life, within many cultures, is almost certain to be traumatic for the being involved. Within Western culture of more recent centuries at least, and within many other global social/religious contexts, no shades of “grey” have been allowed in this matter, no kaleidoscope – as is allowed in almost all other dualities. This rigid polarization of sex has not been so for many indigenous traditions – even still today: there is often much more fluidity about the significance of sexual physical appearance. Within my own Western culture, “gender” is commonly understood to “ideally” be in alignment with the “sex” of one’s body, and that’s where categories such as “feminine” and “masculine” are entered into.

“feminine” and “masculine”

I often hear in conversations and read in publications that these two must be integrated within, as if they are distinct known qualities. But what is “masculine”? What differentiates it from “feminine”? … power? vigor? efficiency? order? left brain capacities? … these are qualities attributable to Goddesses of all cultures, so why masculinize them? It seems to me that “masculine” and “feminine” are both inventions from a time in the human story when the male came to be perceived – to perceive himself? – as separate from the Mother Goddess of us all. She embodies all qualities. We are all born of Her. His separation is referred to in stories like the Epic of Gilgamesh where he refuses the Goddess and prefers the heroics of battle, or in the Enuma Elish where Marduk murders Tiamat, or in the Greek Oresteian Trilogy where matricide is no longer a crime.

Radha KrishnaWhat is “feminine”? Is it “femality”, a word which I feel might refer to the female form more clearly? Perhaps “feminine” was meant to pertain to the female form, but what does the female form mean? The female form has both experience and cultural stories that vary. The female body has the capacity to bear and birth new beings: and the resultant engagement may give rise to “maternal thought”[2] or a “Mother-mind”, focussed on regeneration: that is, a cultural focus on the nurturance of an “other” who is not actually separate from one’s self (hmmm … sounds to me like a very deep spiritual discipline). Any male (or another female) may participate in that Mother-mind – and many do, and apparently have, throughout the eons – by supporting regeneration: living lives that support this cultural focus. There is evidence in story and images from around the globe that this occurs – whole communities of women and men, as well as gallant individuals, who support the focus on regeneration. Thus imagery and stories of the male may be within that life-enhancing metaphor (for example, the Green Man of Old Europe).

Surely the term “masculine” was meant to pertain to the male form, and/or perhaps to the nature of some tasks that men may carry out within a culture. The male form has both experience and cultural stories that vary. Adding to the complexity of such categorisation is the fact that for the last few millennia at least, female physical processes have been particularly de-valued – their potency forgotten, whilst male physical processes have been associated with a false kind of potency – locked off from subjective participation in a relational cosmos.

“Masculinity” and “femininity” are largely cultural developments – developed over time by story, belief systems, even the foods each sex have been allowed to eat in some cultures, the activities they each have been allowed, so that certain styles, physical and psychic, have been bred into and out of maleness and femaleness to suit the mindframe. “Maleness” and “femaleness” on the other hand may be something quite different and more like a physical kaleidoscope: and it was a very creative move at a relatively recent point in the evolutionary story …”[3]

Long before sex arose in the story of the Universe, Creativity proceeded: sexually differentiated bodies were not required for the most part of the story of Creativity, albeit a splendiferous complexifying move for Cosmogenesis[4]. There would seem to be deeper dynamics of potency and desire that each being participates in, and that may be brought to the forefront in discussions of sex/gender. How might we make our way through the stereotypes to an ease with powerful sexed being of various kinds? I don’t think it is achieved by an erasure of the body differences – a kind of homogenisation.

In the realm of dualities, there is dark and light, and many shades in between. There is joy and sorrow, and many complex cocktails of both. There is height and depth, and a range of placements and values ascribed to both. Birth and death have lots of apparent varieties in between, and are integral to the continuity of Life. There is female and male, and much more variety than our generally clothed context allows knowledge of … yet imaginations in regard to sex and gender are often so rigid. Perhaps it is because it is a relatively recent evolutionary development? In ritual where the sacred space is described as beyond the bounds of time and space, and where “light and dark”, “birth and death”, “joy and sorrow” meet as one …” female and male” somehow escapes the dissolution.

UnknownFlowers don’t present rigidly – some are decidedly phallic, others decidedly vulval, with a great variation of appearance and combination in between. This blurring also occurs in some species of creatures. Perhaps more wholistic contemplation of our Natur-al/Maternal context – as opposed to our cultural context – could offer a model for how we might regard human sex and gender.

“Creative Potency”

celebrating Creative Potency

Beneath the form and chemistry and stories of sex and gender, there are more primordial powers at work. Perhaps the most basic is Desire/Allurement[5] which courses through the Universe, and is not bound to the particularities of female-male relationship or any notions of “femininity” or “masculinity”. All being knows this power – within the self and in relationship. Long before the advent of meiotic sex in the story of the Universe, each singular cellular entity – from which our bodies arose, had a primordial sense of agency that I describe as an Urge to Be. It may be defined as “the capacity, condition or state of acting or exerting power.”[6] This is an organic power, that each being must have.Urge to Be It is a creative potency that is felt and desires expression. I consider it an ultimate category: thus written as “Creative Potency”. It is a direct participation in the Creative Cosmos: there are no gurus or cultures or legislations here in between … it is innate to coming into being.

(to be continued)

© Glenys Livingstone 2008


Read Meet Mago Contributor Glenys Livingstone.


[1] I take this definition from Jesslyn Moss, “Star Crossed: Situating gender performance in a contemporary cultural context”. A Master of Fine Arts thesis. RMIT, Melbourne 2005.

[2] I first learned of “maternal thinking” from feminist philosopher Sara Ruddick in an article  “Maternal Thinking”, Feminist Studies.

[3] Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology, p.61.

[4] For more on this see Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, pp.108-109.

[5] “Allurement” is a term used by Brian Swimme, The Universe is a Green Dragon, pp.43-52.

[6] Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, p.40.


Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. Lincoln NE: iUniverse, 2005.

Moss, Jesslyn. Star Crossed: Situating gender performance in a contemporary cultural context. A Master of Fine Arts thesis. RMIT, Melbourne 2005.

Ruddick, Sara. “Maternal Thinking”, Feminist Studies 6, no. 2, Summer 1980.

Swimme, Brian and Berry, Thomas. The Universe StoryNY: HarperCollins, 1992.

Swimme, Brian. The Universe is a Green Dragon. Santa Fe: Bear & Co., 1984.

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