Further to my earlier post about the Integral Life Newsletter concerning “The Need for Men’s Liberation”, we are also directed to the article, “Feminine, Masculine, Female, and Male in the Integral Space” (Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 4(2), pp. 89–103) by Rebecca Bailin.
Bailin does a pretty good job of echoing my concerns about the integral treatment of gender, referring to the conflation of sex and gender, biological determinism in development, and even how integral gender flirts with the pre-trans fallacy. It’s a shame she didn’t get the chance to read my book, as I unpack these issues further still, but looking at the publication dates we were probably writing at the same time (I would also have cited her).
Bailin argues that Wilber et al stumble in this area because while they have a sufficiently nuanced position, they complement this with problematic casual statements, correctly stating:
It is not enough that these individuals use footnotes and more nuanced qualifications from time to time. The fact that they engage in public conversation with “sound bites” that lack sophistication around these matters has an impact on our academic and embodied efforts to avoid naïve essentialism (n. 6, p. 101)
But this is also where Bailin’s paper shows its limitations. Bailin focuses on these casual (“less academic”) sources, “to draw attention to the more vernacular and simplified ways of talking about these issues that pervade the integral community both in its academic and popular expressions” (ibid). This gives the impression that if those “more academic” sources were addressed, the story would look less grim, but the reality is quite the reverse. Where my own writing on this subject differs from Bailin’s is that I unpack those footnotes and expose how their contents offer deeper problems. In short, I would argue there is no nuance to integral gender.
My feeling, too, is that Bailin’s research in to this area is colored by her investment in integral theory; as such, she seeks to look upon it in the best possible light, salvaging what integral gender insight she can rather than the more reasonable conclusion of rejecting it as faulty.
In the end, integral theory brings nothing new to the table in regard to gender and the spirit which hasn’t been outlined in various forms for decades with feminist, gay and queer spiritualties; indeed, it unwinds some of the valuable progress made by these arguments.