Gender and Equality in the Light of Anthroposophy

As I always say, a child is not born sexist; a child is not born racist; they are conditioned to these.

When people begin to engage with open-mindedness towards the questions of gender diversity and sexual orientation, we discover the complexity of the human being and our human experiences.

Gender identity does not predict sexual orientation, even though thinking it does is taken for granted by some.

Gender and Equality in the Light of Anthroposophy

Sarah Hearn interviews Lisa Romero

To begin, Lisa, could you share from your understanding how the themes of gender, gender identity, and equality are related and relevant to the theme of inner development in anthroposophy?

Because of the lack of love and satisfaction experienced in our relationship to others or to ourselves, commonly people turn towards inner development work to improve these connections. Gender inequality expressed in the world effects one’s sense of inner harmony and self-worth.

Rudolf Steiner was a real advocate of equality in various contexts. We see this specifically with regards to the non-discriminative support he gave to the spiritual life of all people engaging in this work (regardless of gender), which was not always the case in his time nor is it the case in some instances in our present day. This orientation was very evident in how he spoke, in how he tried to undo some old forms, but also in how he initiated new forms. Steiner was very clear; for example in the Waldorf schools, a teacher should never be chosen based on their gender but based on their capacities, and boys and girls should always taught together in all classes. This was quite original in his time; it also reflected the deepest esoteric nature of the work he gave. We can also recognize this aspect of his work as he united with various female individualities who pioneered aspects of the initiatives carried out in anthroposophy. He carried the intention and the will to plant many seeds of initiative, the fruits of which would show themselves in the surrounding world for years to come (even revealed many years after he had passed away).

We can see this in many aspects of Steiner’s work—not just in relationship to gender, but also in relationship to agriculture, to medicine, areas wherein he did not really get to see the full fruits of his work. Many wise people understand, it is not about what will manifest in each’s own lifetime, but what will be there for future generations. This is something we have lost sight of as we have lost sight of our relationship to the realms of nature: we have stopped considering the fruits of our labor and their consequences for the generations to come.

Even as there have been many significant efforts towards change, towards greater consciousness of the future impacts of the fruits of labor, can we also consider the differences between inner and outer changes (with respect to the theme of gender equality)?

It is useful to understand this. Something may change in our conscious mind, but how long does it take for it to change in our outer world?

If one considers this question even just as one individual, one might have an idea or even a revelation of how life needs to be in order to reflect the harmony and the truth of one’s spiritual understanding, but how long does it take for this ideal to become a living reality? One can strive for it, but it takes time to unfold.

It’s been hundreds of years of trying to find some form of equality between men and women in the social structures and fabric of life. Yet today’s research is showing we likely still have a hundred years to go before we will actually be able to stand on equal ground with all this knowledge and these ideals around gender equality—where the impressions of the past are not constantly influencing the gender equality/inequality of the times.

If we consider as much as people can think something, what does it take to feel it? Then what does it take to transform our lives with it (so it’s not a constant remembering), so we don’t have to remind ourselves to treat other people equally, but it actually becomes a way of life? Unfortunately, I think it takes longer to ripple across a shift in culture than any of us would like to imagine. We’d like to think in our individual lives, but also in our relationships to other people, we can see the error and immediately correct it.

I do think there are ways of speeding it up; I’ve had to learn this over time, because I often strive to think about this question in terms of ideals. The ideal here being one would not judge another human being based on outer characteristics but according to inner character; if we are going to make something into a practical change which becomes a part of life and a part of the next generation, we actually need to bring it into form. It can’t stay in the realm of ideal; it must go through this process.

We are seeing this today with movements like Black Lives Matter, and the need for racial justice, where we recognize these ideals. Even though many people can think it to be true, it actually needs to be felt to be true. More and more people are feeling the injustice; one has to feel it before one can actually do something about it to change it. I think in a certain sense, social media is supporting us to have a doorway into a feeling experience of the injustices, of the sufferings of others, we never had before—we have gone from just an idea to more of a feeling of it.

Again, it must come into an activity, and like we know when we do inner development, it’s not an activity we do just once. In order for it to become a part of our life, we have to repeat it, and repeat it, and repeat it, because we are overcoming old patterns and must create new pathways. We see this in neuroscience and neural development. We must create new pathways to change habits or conditioning. This requires us walking new ground, this new activity, day in and day out.

What is the activity, the consistent deed which supports the direction of the ideals we are carrying? For instance, for many people, representation is recognized as an incredibly significant part of the path to equality. Even though the ideal is the people around the boardroom table or holding office are the people with the right capacities, or in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words “. . . people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” at this stage, we need governing bodies to reflect the diversity of our community because it is a practice to move us towards the ideal. We cannot get closer to the ideal, to realizing the ideal, without taking it through the process of the experience of the injustice and the deeds that create forms which require us to change the old pattern. Then we can say we are heading in the direction of our ideal.

I want to come back to emphasize the importance of the ideal, because this is not to say we do not start with an ideal. If we don’t start with an ideal, we don’t know where and in what direction we are actually orienting ourselves and our communities. If we start with an outer form not based on an ideal, it may not lead us to what we are truly striving towards as loving human beings. If we start with the ideal, then find our way through to the daily deeds which direct us towards it, this is extremely useful. If we have a practice we know is in the right direction (and we can do it every day, can know whether we have done it every day or not), all this actually supports the change. It’s not enough to just know there needs to be change.

At the same time many things are functioning far from an ideal. Let’s take for example the types of technology and social media perverting the attention, attachment, and self-regulation of children and most adults in order to gain profits. Steiner said we should build moral technologies, so only those who are moral could utilize them. Since we are too late for this, we are having to catch up and must at least call out the immorality of the existing use of many technologies. We could (knowing the ideal of moral technology) be vigilant and only use these types of technology out of a place of love or morality in ourselves. As strange as this seems, how we use technology has significant effects. Even though some feel the horse has bolted, it is not too late. We can continue towards the ideal and bring it into practice. Even if a machine can be used by those with either moral or immoral intentions, individually we can commit to moral use in our individual lives. This will have a far-reaching effect into future generations.

At a time where some injustices, prejudices, and biases are getting greater media attention, broader news coverage, larger scale activism, et cetera, there is also a tendency for stronger identities to emerge. In the case of gender equality, we see things like girl power. How can we understand and evaluate these expressions in terms of the future progression of gender equality?

The experience of gender lives at the heart of our differences in such a deep way—regardless if we have differences in religion, race, or culture, all those groups must face the question of gender. In a certain way, the gender question will be with us for a long, long time because we can come to terms with someone else’s differences from one group to another, but within each group we still having to confront the gender question.

I think it is quite interesting you use this expression girl power, because when we really look at the heart of these injustices it is actually an injustice around power. It is one group or type having power, influence, or privilege over another group or type. Steiner stated the tendency towards eroticism (using the other for your own sensual gratification) or power over others are the two distortions of the natural sexual force when it does not grow healthily.

It is really an issue that will be ongoing if we do not understand what Steiner meant when he said we must have love in order to really utilize power for world evolution. It is not there are not going to be some people who are going to have a greater position of being able to use power, but if power is used without love, it does not matter who holds it; it will create a detriment to someone else. This has been experienced by individuals and groups as the kind of shift of power over time. I am always mindful of this issue. It is not about who has the power, even though it appears to be; it is a question of how we can unite love in our beings, with any power we have, so we do not misuse it.

Having worked consciously with the issue of gender for so many years, for thirty-odd years, I’ve watched this process around power shift. It can shift in a dynamic in a couple, as in who has the upper hand; it can shift within a community group; and sometimes it can happen in a school, where it appears one group has the power and then it swings and another group of people has the power. At the end of the day, we cannot just shift who has the power; we have to shift how the power is utilized.

It is interesting to observe the use of the term minority and the idea being a minority means not having any power. Let us look at the 1%; they have massive amounts of power. It is not about being a minority in terms of being less than in terms of numbers, numbers do not explain it. It is more about power and what we have determined to be powerful in this earthly world. What we have determined as power is too often separated from love. Money is power; social currency, and influence via technology is a new power. Further, we know if we have money we can buy social currency and influence; all of this is a use of power that has nothing to do with love. From a perspective of inner development, when we use someone else’s resources and do not take the resources from our own connection to the sources of wisdom and the spiritual world, if we utilize someone else’s, we are working against the laws of love.

To clarify or emphasize this point, when we say changing who is in power is not enough, I would still understand—in the context of your earlier statement—representation is still a very significant and important step towards an ideal.

Yes, that is right. When we are looking at new representation, we do not just want new rulers—new wielders of the existing power structure still separated from love. Hopefully it can be possible to be and work with others in a way which brings love to the structures of power. This would be the ideal: those given positions through representation would know part of their job is to bring love to power; love is morality in deeds for others.

Yes, you do see this already in some ways. For example, in light of the empathy lacking in existing power structures there is a potential doorway towards this shift we are speaking about, towards love, through new representation. Those individuals know what it is to live with the realities of the existing paradigm and recognize the need for deep change.

Yes, I agree.

What are the most important things we can do for the next generation of young people? As parents, teachers, community members, what can we do to support this progression?

Ultimately, the younger the child is, the more they are influenced by what lives within us, not by what politically correct thoughts we have—but by what we carry as much deeper ways of life. They are conditioned by what lives within us below the threshold of consciousness. As I always say, a child is not born sexist; a child is not born racist; they are conditioned to these.

We can look at nine- or ten-year-olds and see if there are any behaviors to indicate they are sexist or racist. When we see a child who refuses to hold the hand of another child because of boy germs or girl germs, we know as a community there are still issues around gender passed on to the next generation. When we hear fourth grade students using racist terms, we know the community has fallen short of helping the next generation forward in this way. Obviously when a child is making comments at an earlier age it is often imitation; it does happen at an earlier age; there is judgement and bias, and prejudice. However, we really know how it is unfolding in our community when we look at children from the ages of nine and ten. We should observe them in their play, we should see what they are doing when they think we are not watching, the types of jokes they are making, et cetera. We will know through these observations how well we are doing as a community. I would say every parent, every school, should actually keep an eye on this, because it is not telling us about this individual child; it is telling us about the community in which the child has grown. Then we should go about doing what we can in a way appropriate for the age of the children, to correct the errors we see.

This is interesting for me. I've worked in many, many schools and sometimes we have a class where there is incredible harmony and care and respect around gender, and then there could be another class where it is completely divided and it is almost like a war taking place. It is up to us to not just let those things go by as if they will work themselves out, but to find the right way to support the children without demoralizing them. We can support them through our behaviors and through the adjustments we make to the errors reflected in them.

Once children have developed further, we can be much more radical in meeting the injustice that takes place through the bias and the prejudice they carry. Because when a child is fourteen or fifteen, when they are what Steiner termed earth ripe, they are able to encounter how destructive humanity can be and how certain groups of people have been really destructive to other groups of people. Before then, we need to meet this in everything which surrounds the child.

This is a really tricky thing, because we do not want to harm children as we try to heal the wounds of injustice, so we really have to understand how to do it in a way children are not harmed in the healing process. Once teenagers, they can be much more confronted with the consequences of their own behaviors. We’ve seen this in various campaigns in Australia, for example. The Chief of Police in Australia said to best deal with domestic violence, we must start with gender equality at the earliest age. It was the need to change domestic violence that brought in programs to fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds to really enlighten them about gender equality. As confronting as it can be, it facilitates huge change when they are at an age where they can bring consciousness to it. Before this age, we want to be able to bring those pictures to them through how we live and behave.

My colleagues and I have been working in Waldorf school communities for over fifteen years with students, parents, and teachers supporting them with changing old unconscious patterns and helping to engage new practice for healthy relationships throughout the community. Interestingly this is not as easy for the adults, as people’s individual identity is often bound with the forms passed down and conditioned within. Being prepared to take responsibility or even admit my unfreedom may be affecting the wellbeing of the children in the community is very uncomfortable, but we can’t hold a young child responsible for what is being conditioned into them. We can hold a fifteen-year-old more responsible because they are now a part of the conditioning!

We really have to be mindful of this reality—of where children are at different ages and the question of what kind of education is required to help bring about healing. How do we ensure we do not wound children on the path to healing? There are injustices in gender. Depending on the age of the children, they can manage the knowledge of injustice without it becoming a deep anxiety for them about the world they are growing up in.

There is a significant and growing number of individuals coming out as transgender,[1] could you provide some context and understanding for transgender experiences today in the light of anthroposophy?

With the evolution of the human being and the change in the relationship to our individuality and individual freedom, many will begin to have more and more experiences which allow them to say, “I am not my body.” Some people have this recognition through experiences of inner development and meditation (perhaps through having different experiences of their consciousness in other realms of consciousness or through recognizing the multifaceted aspects of their interior life do not add up to just who they have been in their outer life). A transgender experience and identity is another way in which a person might experience this evolution. We can experience the way we experience our own individual interior world and recognize how we experience our individual identity is not configuring with the body we carry (and/or the way this community wants us to express our self and behave because of the body we carry).
This brings us back to being able to differentiate between the difference in our biological sex—sex being whether you are male, female, or intersex (the population of people who are not hormonally/biologically male or female but somewhere along this continuum) and the difference in the culture in which we are brought up influencing our understanding of gender—how we are expected to act and behave if we have a predominantly male or female body? On the level of the physical body (we can talk about one’s hormonal, biological make-up) is the body male, female, or intersex? But on the level of the etheric body (which is interesting because herein lies where our social conditioning really implants in us), we are given this image from Rudolf Steiner: if we have a male physical body, we have an female etheric body; if we have a physical female body, we have a male etheric body. We have this wholeness within the bodily vehicle, but it is on the etheric level where we also take in this conditioning according to the body we have. It is also interesting it is in this etheric shift we meet these new spiritual thresholds Steiner said we would be crossing, ready or not, conscious or not, more and more as this age progresses.

As this shift happens in our physical-etheric connection, there is going to be a lot more questioning, “Does my inner life connect with my physical life?” Therefore, we may find one expression, one understanding, of the genuine experience of those who feel they are in the wrong body is they may be uniting more dynamically with their etheric bodies or their etheric bodies are shifting in relationship to their physical lives—there is a stronger imprint of the etheric into the inner life.

When people begin to engage with open-mindedness towards the questions of gender diversity and sexual orientation, we discover the complexity of the human being and our human experiences. Gender identity does not predict sexual orientation, even though thinking it does is taken for granted by some. We recognize we cannot project our own dynamic onto another. Instead, by truly trying to understand what each individual is showing us about humanity (who we have been, who we are, and who we are becoming), we get closer to understanding freedom and unfreedom. In my research, I would say I have found several different ways of understanding new forms of gender identity. This inquiry is really bringing into question in a mainstream way, what is the self?

How does this emergence relate to the future possibilities of equality and justice along the lines of gender?

The deeper human beings strive to have knowledge of what makes us truly human, we will find the spiritual aspect of our beings is neither male nor female. We will find the I-am consciousness is not bound only to the sense world, but can prove to us we are citizens of the spiritual world. As citizens of the spiritual world, we are all equal in the eyes of the spirit, in the divine spiritual life. We will also then begin to realize each individual carries this divinity. We also have individual capacities. It will be this divinity, with these individual capacities, who will sculpt the future picture of community.

However, as we’ve already described, this is an ideal. We have to find our way towards this ideal by working through how we are going to get from where we are right now to a place where we can truly allow these individualities to be recognized as divine consciousness with individual capacities they can share and grow in the world.

Yes, Lisa, I can see when we talk about equality and justice on the basis of gender

(or any other basis), we can easily recognize the need for the development of certain capacities and virtues as a prerequisite for equality and justice to prevail more broadly in society—empathy, compassion, a love of freedom. How do we work in this direction?

Free individual ideals born out of striving towards love put into daily practice.

There will be an online professional development training for teachers and interested community members on growing healthy relationships through social understanding at the end of January. Visit www.developingtheself.org for details.

LISA ROMERO is an author of inner development books, a complementary health practitioner, and an adult educator offering healthcare and education enriched with anthroposophy. Her focus is teaching inner development and anthroposophical meditation. www.innerworkpath.com & www.educaredo.org

SARAH HEARN is a complementary health practitioner working out of anthroposophy, offering workshops in the Development of the Senses program, co-facilitating the Gender and Sexuality in-school curriculum (5-12th grades), and administrating the New York Y Project (supporting people ages 16-26). www.developingtheself.org

[1] Transgender | An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, et cetera. https://www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms