Are we witnessing an acceleration of human evolution? That would make sense since we’re also witnessing an acceleration of human endangerment. We’re in a race for survival, and if we don’t evolve to catch up to our technological capacity, we’ll go extinct. Humans must evolve or die, and we’re running out of time.
I believe our evolutionary leaps occur when we’re forced to take them. This is one of those times. You can trace these times back to the Industrial Revolution, 220 years ago, when humans acquired the technological capacity to begin destroying our planet. Or you could trace it to the development of the atomic bomb, when we acquired the capacity to destroy ourselves. Resisting our apparent death wish won’t matter, of course, if we destroy the planet first. And we’re well on our way to doing just that. Conversely, it won’t matter if we find a way to save the planet if we destroy ourselves first … or if we’re taken over by Artificial Intelligence … or if Extraterrestrial Intelligence intervenes on our behalf — or against us.
No wonder we call this the Age of Anxiety. We’re more endangered and vulnerable than ever, yet that may be triggering an acceleration in our evolution. No one can predict the outcome. Will evolution or self-destruction prevail?
Studying how we’re evolving might provide clues that could save us. As technological change accelerates, so does human development. And one of the many changes human beings seem to be undergoing at the moment is a gender revolution.
Gender-bending isn’t new. Men and women have been gender fluid for centuries. It provided the plot twists in plenty of Shakespeare’s plays, not to mention complicating the performances, which must have been particularly confusing when men played women’s roles, and a male actor had to pretend to be a woman dressing as a man to satisfy the Bard’s convoluted notions of romantic comedy.
Carl Jung, in his early examinations of our unconscious, theorized that all men and woman carry the traditional characteristics of the other gender within. The male psyche includes the “anima” and the female psyche the “animus,” those traits being “repressed,” appearing mostly in dreams. But in the six decades since Jung died, more and more men exhibit traditionally “female” traits, such as sensitivity and emotionality, whereas women are becoming more and more powerful and assertive. Most people today regard these developments as progress.
Many of us grew up resisting, even rebelling against the limited definitions our society imposed on “masculine” or “feminine.” In my generation, John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe, the Marlboro Man and Barbie dolls epitomized gender extremes. Traditionalists resisted redefining sex roles, citing the changes as evidence of cultural decline, but others celebrated it as evidence of liberation, free to be who we really are, not who societal norms and religious doctrine dictate we must be.
Gender stereotypes have changed dramatically. I recall when homosexuality first hit my radar, gay men were described as “effeminate,” which was regarded as some kind of affront to the “natural order.” A “disorder.” Now sexual orientation diversity is part of the mainstream, part of a wider natural order.
In the past few years, in remarkably rapid fashion, we have also witnessed a virtual explosion of gender fluidity, a dizzying array of variations on the norm, human beings “coming out” as transgender, transsexual, asexual, intersexual, gender neutral, transitioning — perhaps transcending. Some identify as the gender other than the one they were “assigned” at birth. Some don’t identify with either gender, or they identify with both. More and more of us know someone who is publicly “in transition.” Someone I know recently went public, which is why I’ve been thinking about this lately.
The speed with which this is happening may feel bewildering, but it’s also fascinating — and possibly promising in terms of where we’re headed as a species. Likely these variations always existed but seldom went public for fear of society’s reprisals. But perhaps this already existing phenomenon is also accelerating.
Maybe we’re witnessing the evolution of human gender in a single generation. The same has been suggested with autism — that the human brain is rapidly changing and all of us fit somewhere along that spectrum.
Maybe we belong to a wider gender spectrum than we ever imagined. That this is not just about a “disorder” but something deeper, something valid, something better. Where is all this leading? We don’t know, but at the very least it suggests we aren’t prisoners of the characteristics of gender that have long held people back.
I identify as male, but it’s not the same masculinity that John Wayne identified with. I know that males can be athletic and powerful and tough, but also tender and emotional, graceful and creative, because I’ve experienced those traits in myself and in others. And I know many strong women who are “feminine” yet exhibit every one of the traits I just mentioned, and more. We are redefining what it means to be a man and a woman — and also what it means to identify with neither, to simply be human.
When gender feels like a prison, it becomes a problem. If we more or less balance traits traditionally assigned to “masculine” and “feminine,” then maybe we’ll all be better off. Because these traits are not inherently masculine or feminine. They are inherently human.
We’re just beginning to learn what it means to be human. Our species will only survive if we all become fully human, not bi-gender human. The gender revolution may be teaching us how. And none too soon.
Because, as I mentioned, we’re running out of time.