I was asked a very interesting question the other day. Perhaps it’s one you’ve even asked yourself: “Are women more spiritual than men?”
At first glance, it would seem so. Most self-help/spiritual-growth books are purchased by women. Most attendees at growth-oriented workshops are women. Women outnumber men in the pews of churches and temples. Statistics state, in fact, that it is the woman in a household who generally determines the spiritual life of her family.
Why is this? And where are the men? A look at women’s life journeys can provide insight.
As women mature, they inevitably question who they are. Our identities are always changing. We are single, then married; childless, then mothers; making choices between caregiving and working outside the home. Due to women’s changing roles, we are in a continuous state of change and growth, wondering and wandering from one stage to the next asking ourselves, “Who am I now?”
It appears that men’s roles are more constant, more defined in society from the beginning, and deeply enmeshed in cultural and genetic programming to provide, take care of, produce, and do. Men feel they know why they are. They know what’s expected of them, what they’ll need to do in life to “make it,” and how they must go about it. They are primed for action, outward orientation.
Because of the fluctuating nature of women’s roles and responsibilities, we are constantly self-monitoring. Our attention is focused inward on our feelings, and the feelings of those around us. We ponder, we sense, we intuit. We experience and process life quite differently because we, literally, grow others within ourselves through the act of childbirth. Our bellies and breasts swell as we give life to others. All the while, we maintain primary responsibility for the nurturing and education of the next generation. Growth is who we are.
Researchers show that this feminine attribute of attuning to feelings often kicks in when we find ourselves caring for a speechless infant. We look intently at his or her facial expressions to determine what it is they are feeling or what they might need in that moment. We pay attention to their body language and movements. We learn to “read” others to determine not only what to give them, but how we should behave around them so they are comfortable and happy. All of these ingredients add up to shape a woman who is in tune with the nuances and subtleties of life.
And even if a woman does not bear children herself, she may still embrace others, nurturing them through life. I have many single friends and relatives, and, though they are childless, they naturally reach out to care for others. It is deeply embedded in our DNA (and cultural programming) to tend to others in caring ways.
Everything I’ve mentioned here bodes well for a person’s personal and spiritual growth. So are women innately more spiritual? It seems it may be so, at least for now.
When men are given permission—by themselves and others—to explore their softer side, the side predominated by feelings and intuition, we will find more and more men on overt spiritual growth paths. We will find more men in workshops and seminars and standing in line at Borders with self-help books in their hands.
And if you take the time to have a conversation with one you might discover that much of his journey of opening to growth has come because of his interaction with welcoming women. Or from being a completely involved dad. The more egalitarian we become as a culture, the more that parenting duties are shared equally, the more men we’ll find in healing circles and support groups.
As I see it, one of the most important roles of enlightened women today is to open the doors of growth for men. To welcome them into our circles with openheartedness and true hospitality. To stop bashing them about not being attuned to their feelings and, instead, provide subtle opportunities for them to do so. And to continue to turn parenting duties over to them. They’ll learn by immersion—through the lives of their children—how to connect heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul. Growth happens, baby step-by-baby step.