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Archetypal, Mythic Strong Women and Patriarchy -- A Conversation with Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD-- Transcript

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storycon.org H4'ed 12/14/15
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JSB: It's tough on boys. If you are a boy and happen to have qualities that are considered feminine as natural talents then you are taught to feel ashamed of it. If you have like a basic tenderheartedness and you...and in psychological terms, that you come in with intuition and feeling -- you can intuitively feel what it might be like to be bullied or to be considered inferior -- but on the school yard if you want to get along with the crowd and not have the crowd scapegoat you along with somebody else, you are acculturated to suppress feelings of compassion....empathic compassion for someone who is being bullied or beat up. So you become a spectator to maybe the narcissist who is feeling more powerful because he gets to beat up somebody else. And also, sons are expected to live out what the family expects him to do, often in more traditional cultures, whether he has any love for whatever the family business is or not.

Rob: So, as I mentioned to you before we got on the air, I've been covering psychopaths and sociopaths and narcissists, and one of the common characteristics of all of them is a lack of empathy and what you just said that basically the patriarchal culture discourages or punishes the expression of empathic compassion in men.

JSB: I think it really, it does, and it does it systematically at age 18 when, if a young man goes into the military service, there really is an inherent 'Thou shall not kill' in the healthy psyche of people. We seem to have an inhibition against killing our own species. And, you know, they discovered that in World War II when they found that even our well-trained young men....so many of the bullets were not aimed at the enemy, that there was a going along with -- you know the being trained to shoot to kill and all that -- but when it came time to actually aim it at an enemy, they didn't.

Rob: That's right, about 80% did not...course, by the time they figured that out for Korea and Vietnam, they got it up around 95% - they figured out how to get rid of that, as you describe it, a natural compassion to let people live.

JBS: And then they come back from serving, especially if they've had multiple tours of duty, and they don't feel fit to join the human race again. The post-traumatic stress syndromes that have to do with the inner experience of feeling unfit -- that somehow they have broken a human taboo, and they have witness things or done things that go beyond the pale. And they feel depressed and ashamed, and marked by the service that they were trained to do.

Rob: It's an extreme case, killing people, but I want to go back to patriarchy discourages or punishes empathic compassion in young men. This is not just about war. This is not just about soldiers. This is about everyday life. How does that affect men and boys, and can you put that also into the mythic terms that you do so beautifully?

JSB: Well if you are trained to not feel because that's considered feminine...what happens is interesting now that we know about brain physiology as well, what happens is that you then have alpha males who are....I mean a patriarchy is essentially a pyramidal...a pyramid. The men at the top have power over everything below in the pyramid and maintaining a position at the top is important. And that is what's rewarded. And so what do you have to suppress in yourself in order to be alpha male at the top? And one of the things that does get suppressed is the entire right brain -- the right brain is...if you are a whole person you have right and left brain. You have the left brain that is rational, is logical, and sees things in terms of either or. I'm mean it's very...I'm simplifying things, but that's kind of a basic thing. And the other , the right brain, is where art and music and metaphor and compassion and feelings and things like that, reside, often without words until when vocabulary is learned. And if as a result of becoming an alpha male and coming at the top of the pyramid, the net result is that as an alpha male, as research is beginning to come forth with, you have an asymmetrical brain as a result. You have a truly a dominant left brain and a smaller right brain instead of equal sides of the brain being the same. And women, because women are educated in the west, we have a chance really, a great chance of being as smart as we want to be using our minds, developing it as far as we can develop it, and we have the hormonal kinds of reactions to stress, which involves storytelling and involves listening to people's stories and collaboration and... I mean there's this research that was done in 2000 that says women respond to stress differently than men. Women respond with what's called an oxytocin reaction, which is enhanced by estrogen while men under stress do fight or flight. So there's....

Rob: Wait, in your book you call it an oxytocin...there's more to it. What is the rest of the description -- an oxytocin...?

JSB: It's enhanced by estrogen. It just is adrenalin in the fight or flight is enhanced by testosterone, so then if you...if men and women together faced what was stressful, the women would encourage talking about it and seeing what is in common. If we could be at the peace tables, as the UN actually has these wonderful documents that have been passed, but they...

Rob: Oh I found it...I found that I had....this is another one of those pages I marked in your book because I loved it. You said women... "the old saying is the stress response is a fight or flight response." And this is a world that I lived in for many years because I worked in the field of biofeedback and stress management, so the fight or flight response is like this meme that's out there as that's the way people respond. But what you're saying, and which makes so much sense, is that women have this oxytocin response that you call a "tend and befriend." That's the phrase I was looking for -- instead of fight or flight, it's tend and befriend. That's so different in terms of the stress response. Tell me more about that tend and befriend oxytocin response.

JSB: Well that was discovered by the researchers at UCLA, headed by women -- Sally Taylor and her crew of researchers in 2000, and that's what they named it -- tend and befriend. And it had a lot to do with the fact that there were women researchers because, but for the women's movement, there would not have been. So they note that their department, which had to do with studying stress, was under stress, and they noticed that the women in the department were reacting differently than the men.

So essentially just in ordinary life, men stressed at work and corporate work or whatever they're doing, the flight or fight would be to come home...I mean you could be angry, get a road rage on the way home, and then when you get home you say, 'Leave me alone. I don't want to talk to anybody, I've had a bad day.'

Rob: Well the other thing is, you point out that the fight or flight response in men is testosterone- and cortisone-driven, whereas the female tend and befriend stress response is oxytocin and estrogen-driven.

JSB: Yes, it's enhanced by estrogen and it is the oxytocin goes up, which bonds us when we talk about what's going on and we have empathic listening, and we also can then talk about solutions. So what if...I mean my whole effort to bring about a UN 5th world conference in India, for example, has to do with the bringing together the NGO women who, there were 40,000 in Beijing in 1995...there could be over 100,000 who would come together and share what they are doing and what they know, and what happens is a collaborative...a much more natural physiological collaboration. So that when women go to work and are stressed, and then can talk about it with their best friends or their circle of women, when they come home, the tend and befriend is that they want to hug their children -- they don't want to be irritated and say 'Go away, leave me alone.' But they do, women/wives often say, 'Don't bother daddy, he's had a bad day,' and he'll go down and retreat, which is flight. But the women's response is more to bond more with who she loves and take care of the nest, and even though she is working like he is. So that's the difference...and wouldn't it be wonderful if, as the UN would like to see us do, if women were equal and empowered, then men and women together with their differences could come up with solutions.

Rob: And yet, there are, at the same time, there are men who are also nurturing and have a kind of an oxytocin-like response, and there are women who are alpha male-types...Hillary. When I read in your book where you refer to alpha males, I wrote down under it, Hillary (laughs), because I think in many ways that's what she's trying to do and trying to be.

JSB: Except that she has had a remarkable ability to keep women friends and to have positive relationships with the people that work with her...and also keep her marriage, the kind of necessity to learn some forgiveness, and I think she has been humiliated and humbled and she's grown a lot psychologically in the course of having to live in the public eye a lot.

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