The Repackaging of Sexism: Gender and spirituality on social media
The rise of “new age” spirituality
The occult exists between science and art: covering a range from alchemy to astrology. Whether it is a daily horoscope or blaming everything on mercury’s retrograde; astrology is what is most associated with new age spirituality. With the current state of our world, many have turned to these new, although arguably old, beliefs in the search for stability. You can read more about the human desire to believe in something greater in Aliki Vareltzidi’s article: Humanity’s Natural Religiousness.
New Age spirituality is a very broad ancestor of occultism, containing many religious and spiritual practices. It is specific to the western world even though the ideology and practices were imported and transformed from many cultures. It is important to differentiate when speaking of spirituality because it is specifically the western ideas of gender that plague the section of “new age”. In fact, there are thousands of practices around the world that do not fall victim to the “repackaging of sexism”, an adverse fault that has gained popularity and spread rapidly through social media.
Brief tangent on the idea of “gender fair” language
When speaking about spirituality it’s important to understand how our language constructs meaning and the connotations our words hold. The arguments for gender-fair language have been going on for more than half a century and was spearheaded by feminist scholars. In the 1970s, along with rising interest in the occult, there was a shift away from assumed masculine pronouns and titles (such as Mr. and Mrs.) as they reinforce male first-ness. The aim of gender-fair language is to reduce stereotyping and thus discrimination based on gender. A study of cognitive effects of using masculine generics (conducted in German) shows that inclusion of women was much higher when using “non-sexist” wording versus pronouns. The exclusion of the she/her pronoun excludes women from opportunities. De-emphasizing gender isn’t anti-woman or anti-feminist rather it creates a space where women and gender non-conforming folks can exist without the reminders of gendered expectations.
The interactions between the spiritual and gender
Gender roles are applied to western spirituality because that is how we understand the dynamics between people. This can be seen through tarot which uses depictions of both men and women to convey meaning. Therefore gender-fair language isn’t completely applicable to this aspect of spirituality, but the intentions are valuable. Tarot cards are created to be representations that are visually immediate and understandable thus must play off our subconscious associations. They do not depict rules to follow based on gender, and if we get caught up in the images of the cards it can ironically be limiting to our understanding. For example, the relation between the queen and king of the suits can lend some understanding to how the opposites of these energies work together. The king is most commonly associated with action and completion while the queen, still representative of leadership, is guided by emotion and understanding. Through a balance, they manifest the complete potential of the suit and this wholeness is mirrored in every person. We need the balance of the divine. It’s our society’s obsession with gender that doesn’t allow us to move beyond our physical world.
How social media apps promote this:
What we are now seeing in conversations about spirituality is for men: “how to bring out your woman’s divine feminine” and for women: “how to bring out your man’s divine masculine” which is not only extremely heteronormative but shows a lack of understanding. The way the divine feminine and divine masculine are spoken about is very reductive and inhibited by our ideas of gender. Femininity is not exclusive to women and masculinity is not exclusive to men. Therefore applying these gendered ideas to energy is not productive. At the same time many women find it empowering and associate it with the divine feminine. This is not to be reduced to “feminine must equal woman” but as an individual act of defiance against the demonization of hyper-femininity and the culture of misogyny.
The creators are to blame for taking advantage of their audiences. The 15 second format of Tik Tok is designed for a lack of nuance or critical thought. We are mindlessly scrolling on a never-ending algorithm that already knows what we subconsciously believe through what we interact with. This is exploited by creators on the app in the search for social media fame. The messages being spread on these apps mirror toxic religious beliefs: the concept of energy transfers is spun into the new age spiritual version of purity culture seen by the evangelical Christian communities. When spirituality lacks critical thinking, it can become harmful.
A documentary that also uncovers the destructive effects of a lack of questioning, “The Social Dilemma” came out in 2020 confirming the mass suspicions about big tech’s negative influence and brainwashing. As individuals it is up to us to stay vigilant and continue to question everything. At the same time, people cannot be blamed for accepting these ideas so easily. They are nothing new; rather the gender roles that have been shoved down our throats since birth. It is easy to accept a message we already know to be true. As we interact with social media most likely as a form of escapism it’s even easier to blindly accept these ideas. That is to say, it’s important to be aware of the content we are consuming and what subliminal messages we are receiving.
Jerome, Lawrence E. “Astrology and Modern Science: A Critical Analysis.” Leonardo, vol. 6, no. 2, The MIT Press, 1973, pp. 121–30, https://doi.org/10.2307/1572687.