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Rebalancing the Zodiac: Gender bias in horoscope imagery
Astrology is a 'language' of symbols. The twelve signs of the zodiac have their meanings encapsulated in the form of images of animals, humans, and objects: bulls, twins, scales, fish, and so on. These images have developed over thousands of years, and have not been constant during that time but have evolved and changed. For instance, Pisces was probably originally represented by dolphins, not fish. We can therefore wonder whether the images are still evolving.
The zodiac images have also been stamped by the cultural contexts in which they have existed. The values of the societies in which astrology has developed have often been ones where men and masculine qualities were esteemed, whilst women and feminine qualities were undervalued or denigrated. At the time of writing, the Sun is in Cancer and the Moon is in Taurus, and therefore feminine (or 'yin') energy is to the fore, so it is appropriate to write something about the feminine in astrology.
In the late 1980s, astrologer Sheila Farrant wrote a book called 'Symbols for Women: A feminist guide to the zodiac' in which she discussed the influence and bias of partriachal cultures on the zodiac images, and how the images we use today perpetuate this bias against the female and the feminine. Sheila put forward alternative images, taken from mythology and history, that demonstrate valuable feminine qualities of each sign. The tables below show some of these suggestions. Picturing them in your mind's eye can help to bring about a more balanced way of thinking of the zodiac signs.
This first table lists the signs of the zodiac with the traditional images associated with them, as they stand today.
The first column lists the signs of the zodiac with their masculine/feminine attribution, sometimes referred to as 'positive' and 'negative' - read into that what you will!
You will see that the attributions of the first column are sometimes at odds with those of the second column. In the second column (m) denotes a male image and (f) denotes a female image. So, for instance, the feminine/negative sign of Taurus is currently depicted as a bull, which is a male animal. It is not depicted as a cow, despite Taurus being a feminine/negative sign. It is also interesting to ponder the fact that, at least in some countries, calling someone a 'bull' could be taken as either a compliment or an insult, but calling someone a 'cow' would never be a compliment.
The third column lists Sheila's suggested female images from mythology or history that conjures up the sign's human virtues in a feminine context. These images could sit alongside the usual Greek and Roman myths associated with the signs and their planetary rulers, providing some balance to our thinking.
NB The Crab, Scorpion, and Fishes do not have discernible gender!
The planets are also heavily biased towards male images. The names of the planets - apart from the Sun and the Moon, of course - come from Roman mythology, which as we all know was a very masculine and indeed 'macho' culture. The Roman and Greek mythology associated with the Sun was also masculine, and although we speak of 'the man in the Moon' the Romans and Greeks both associated the Moon with goddesses.
The left-hand column of this table therefore lists the planets, plus the Sun and Moon, along with their gender as assigned by Greco-Roman mythology.
The right-hand column lists what astrologers tend to assign to the planets and luminaries when they are discussing the planets as principles, drives, or energies. You will see that it is a bit more balanced than the Greco-Roman ideas. However, it's important to note that not all astrologers agree on this classification in the right-hand column. It is therefore offered here for reflection, and should not be construed as a definitive statement.
Astrology is a fantastic tool for wholeness, but that wholeness is necessarily compromised if the tools we work with - i.e. the signs and planets - are seen through such an obvious and extreme cultural bias.
It stands to reason then, that we must alter our filters accordingly, and learn to view the rich symbolism of the zodiac, and the mythic images associated with the planets, in a way that is balanced between masculine and feminine, and which values both equally. Otherwise, we will not be able to use astrology to help us become as whole as we would like.
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