The Positive Side of Gender Archetypes

by Anika Hahn

What is gender archetype? Loosely defined by Carolyn Zerbe Enns, the gender archetype revolves around the “alpha-beta” model. The male archetype is “alpha”; the “ideal” man is dominant, masculine, and powerful, according to Enns. The female archetype is “beta”; the “ideal” woman is feminine, dainty, and submissive. By applying the “alpha-beta” model to our lives, we can clearly see the harm it does to women and men. But what about these gender archetypes provides stability and safety within the framework of our culture? 

Of course, there is great comfort in having expectations set for who you want to be. In the transition between kid and adult, a lot of people struggle with the question “who am I?” Having a set of guidelines for how you should act and how you should treat others can be quite helpful for those who know their gender from a young age. The binary between male and female can be quite polarizing for people going through this transition–many people had more friends of the opposite sex when they were younger than when they were older because of this. However, many people, women, in particular, find their feminity empowering and take pride in having female friends who are seen as “strong women.” Just like all animals on this planet, humans need to evolve. The evolution of gender expectations allows us to keep hold of them in a continuously positive way.  Even though this doesn’t necessarily fit with the original archetype, the evolving connotation of “female” allows women to take pride in who they are. 

Moving on to the men now; In a video interpreting Iron John, narrated by ThinkBigAnimation, the narrator says, “If man were a modern-day bullfighter, he would let the bull tramplee over his body and wallow in self-pity. ” Fighting words (pun intended). There are two ways to interpret this: men are opening up and becoming more emotionally vulnerable, which can be seen as weakness, and men have strayed too far from their masculinity and need to toughen up a bit to protect themselves from becoming stagnant. Both are “correct” ways to interpret the text. In a world full of bulls, men should not just stand there and let themselves be trampled. Should he have to fight the bull all the time? Of course not! Should anyone let themselves be trampled? Gosh no! But there is a difference between lying down helpless and stepping out of the way. 

If we as a society, and men, in particular, can find a way to balance strength and vulnerability, we would be much better off. The alpha-beta model provides us with a jumping-off point to start this change to help better both the men and women (and everyone in between) in our society. No one should feel like they have to fit into the archetype all the time, but having the comfort of guidelines is something that we take for granted. In school, we are given directions on how to act and think. As we move into the adult world, we have less guidance and rules ot help us along our way. The closest thing to a teacher or parent as an adult is a boss, which is just not the same thing. Having guidelines and a point to jump off of for our identity can be helpful for people who are unsure of where to go from where they are. 

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