How Culture Changes

First we need to understand how change occurs in our human history, how it manifests and how it becomes integrated into our psyches – how it becomes ingrained in our group soul. How did gardens change from food into decoration? How did healers turn into doctors and get a sex change in the process? How did the mid twenties become extended childhood and how did we change the meaning of child bearing age? How did a tan become enviable, while fat became sloth and a disease?

Some of what seems new is actually ancient, for example in Greece, soft flesh was considered womanly, so it was considered manly to be slim, muscular and athletic. A fat man was a womanly man, thus softness and fatness became associated with the abject, the lowly and the despised. So the question is not why is fat now despised, but when did it become necessary for women to reject their own bodies? And why?

And while people discuss teenage pregnancy as if it is a modern scourge, a century ago, women routinely began having their children at equivalent ages. When did the age a girl became a mother become such a moral issue?

We need to realize that some of the norms we are trying to change may in fact hearken back to sources we are unaware of like the prejudices of ancient Greece or even ecological necessities of a wandering tribe with a high mortality rate.

We need, it seems, to have not only a larger view of change but a longer view as well. We need to understand the mythic level of some of the changes we are proposing as well as ones we are resisting.

And we also need to grasp that even as we work hard to bring about change, we may actually resist the same change in our every day lives.

I roll my eyes with everyone else when the right blames feminists for somehow making it harder on women to have children and stay home to raise them. But how many of us decided to not have children because it was too hard or had children and find ourselves facing seemingly constant pressure to choose between their needs and our own. The real issue is why is it so hard to raise children in this culture?

I know of so many women, feminist to the core, waiting for mister right to come along. I myself keep falling madly in love with any man who will carry my heavy bags, or fix items in my home. And I have met more than a few men who although working with incredibly talented women all day still find it surprising and a little unnerving when a woman he is dating earns more than he does. Why is it so hard to break habits born out of mores none of us actively embrace?

No, we are not collectively wishing for a return to the fifties, what we are doing is being human and wrestling at a personal level to integrate a cultural change that happened on our watch. And the right, to their credit, is trying to capitalize on that discomfort to turn back the clocks.

Because the changes we seem to be still fighting for have happened at the political level, but they are not yet fully integrated at the personal and at the mythic levels. And it is at those levels that the right is making in-roads and we are starting to lose ground. They are using mythic language to invoke the symbols and images of our unconscious fear, apprehension and resistance to cultural change. And we are affected by these symbols even as they outwardly appall us. We are like deer in the headlights responding to these mythic messages.

Steering at All Levels

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