Astrology is a product of its time and often shows wear and tear from its age. The biggest complaint about traditional astrology from modern day astrologers is the different worldview that’s necessary to understand it and the implications and political incorrectness that often comes with it. Many modern day astrologers attempt to change things in traditional astrology to reflect modern values. Unfortunately these changes often carry even more unfortunate implications. There’s nothing wrong with trying to be more politically correct and it is this very action that has made our world a much more open and tolerant place than it was even 50 years ago. Even with all this progress, there are times when some things just don’t feel right when reflected upon for some time. The most readily apparent example of this is the change in sexual significators in some forms of astrology.
In horary astrology, when presented a question about a relationship, the astrologer assigns the Sun and Venus to be secondary significators for the two individuals involved. The Sun takes signification of the male participant and Venus takes the female. Basically, no matter what else is happening in the chart and not considering any other factors, the relationship between Venus and the Sun will speak about the state of the relationship. If Venus is separating from the Sun in a “Will she come back to me?” question, it’s not likely she will. The same could be said for a “Should I play hard to get?” question where the Sun’s inability to catch up with Venus likely spells out the man’s disinterest. The primary significators must be considered first, of course, but these secondary ones can often give another interpretive layer.
The origin of these significators is based on the unique synodic cycle of the Sun and Venus. Venus cannot be more than 47° distant from the Sun, and so these two share a very visible dance where Venus conjoins with the Sun, moves away from the Sun, stations, turns retrograde back to mutually apply to the Sun, goes her maximum distance away from the Sun, stations, turns direct and applies to the Sun again, to start the dance over. A more personified example of these two would be a king and his consort who tends to him.
The implication that is usually seen here is that men are greater than women. Men are the Sun, a luminary, the brightest planet in astrology, whereas women are merely an inferior planet. Women don’t get to be the Moon, a luminary which would put them on the same level as men, but they are a level below men in this paradigm. This is more apparent in electional astrology when choosing a wedding date; the Sun and Venus are also secondary significators in this type of chart for the groom and bride respectively. Again, the woman gets the inferior planet that is not on the same level as the man’s significator. This could be seen as values dissonance now, as back then in a marriage the man was the master and owner of his wife. We have since redefined marriage to be more of an equal partnership, but we still fall into society’s gender roles where women are still expected to cook and clean and men are more likely to supervise.
Due to this implication and the evolution that the mainstream social ideas of femininity and gender equality have undergone during the various women’s liberation movements, many have seen this as an opportunity to streamline astrology into something that is more in line with today’s most common stance on gender issues. The most important feature is leveling the playing field for men and women and having both start off as equal players. The best way to accomplish this was to recast men to Mars while keeping women as Venus, this way no one is ahead, they are both mere planets, not luminaries, and power struggles can be avoided.
We often hear that “men are from Mars and women are from Venus”, and this is likely where this saying originated. However, assigning Mars as a general signficator for men was not a random choice. As you may have noticed, the planetary glyphs for Mars and Venus are used in biology to represent male and female animals. This decision by the scientific community was not at all based on any sort of astrological knowledge or idea, but its utilization by science and the general public to denote male and female is probably the main reason why this paradigm was the chosen successor to the previous Sun/Venus one. The first scientific use of the glyphs of Mars and Venus were in Carl Linnaeus’s 1751 dissertation on plants Plantae Hybrida wherein he marked the supposed female parent of a hybrid with the Venus glyph, the male parent with a Mars glyph, and the hybrid itself with a Mercury glyph. Later in his Species Plantarum (1753) he would use the planetary glyphs in more general ways to denote certain characteristics of the plants he documented (such as the Sun glyph for an annual planet and the Jupiter glyph for a perennial plant) as well as continuing to use Mars and Venus to show the gender of particular hybrid plants or plant parts. This trend would later catch on in zoology and biology.
This new idea of men being signified by Mars is not technically incorrect, it’s merely incomplete. As children, both genders are signified by Mercury, the androgynous, asexual planet. They retain this signification until puberty, where they split paths, young men become Mars and young women become Venus. Women will retain the Venus signification essentially until menopause; afterwards they will become the Moon. This reflects the biological function of women with Venus being the fertile maiden who is able to bear children, and the Moon as the nurturing, older mother figure. The male path is a bit more complex. Men will stay with Mars until around the age of 25-30 (for a more astrologically appropriate time, let’s say until their first Saturn return), afterwards they will become the Sun. This change is more in line with the maturity rate of men who are often more impetuous and impulsive in their younger years. When men age a bit further (perhaps after their second Saturn return), they become Saturn who typically has significance over grandfathers and old wise men.
The most unfortunate part of this shift is the new batch of implications that have risen from changing the roles. Men get the most apparent unfortunate implications due to having had a shift in their astrological significator, while the implications for women are a bit more subtle since theirs has not changed. Instead, the implications for women seem to come more from a comparison to men’s new significator as an easily identifiable dichotomy.
Classically, Mars is known as the lesser malefic. This planet destroys things through injury, separation, war, recklessness, and conquest. By removing men from the Sun and relocating them to the Mars significator, we deprive men of solar qualities. It suggests that we no longer expect them to be mature and stable, but that they are forever expected to be violent and hateful. Essentially we have cast men into a villain role by assigning them one of the villains in astrology. This echoes throughout modern culture in the way that we interact with strangers. We’re more likely to mistrust men and trust women as pillars of morality – and this is where the unfortunate implications for women start – because we assume that women are less capable of harm or action by comparison. Who are you more likely to ask to watch your bag at the airport; a man you’ve never met before or a woman you’ve never met before? This is called the Women are Wonderful Effect which was observed in studies where participants associated more positive words and images to women than to men.
With the new Mars and Venus pairing we can also see the active/passive dichotomy being stressed or accentuated more. Men are associated with active qualities while women are associated with passive qualities. We can boil this down into a simple adage: men act, women are. Basically, men are defined by the actions they take or the honors they acquire, while women are defined by being women or by the people they are related to. For women this becomes interesting, their relationships to other people (usually who happen to be men) is what sets them apart more than the actions they take themselves. Not everyone can be the President’s daughter, but this highlights women as only being important if they are possessed in some way (through a relationship) by a man who is important. In media, when we see female heroes, they tend to be daughters or sisters of some man important to the plot, and are only involved because of that relationship with those male characters. We also see this in the modern view of virginity. Women are considered pure through virtue of their chastity (an inherent quality), which spills over into society’s sense of women’s morality. A woman who is a virgin is considered more morally pure, while a woman who is sexually active is seen as lacking in morals.
On the other hand, men must act or seek to achieve something that others could call a goal. A man who is passive or more hesitant to get things done is often considered less of a man. This plays itself out in many different ways. Draft dodgers are often considered cowards who are too weak or afraid to join the military and fight for their country. This is the default expectation of others around them, completely disregarding whatever other motives a person could possibly have for not wanting to go to war. Men are expected to want to fight (there’s that Mars again) and we expect there is something wrong with them when they don’t. House husbands are considered lazy because they aren’t actively employed. Society still sees men as being the one who has to go to work and financially support his family and those who elect to prioritize their family over their careers are considered strange or incompetent. This shows a stark contrast between a housewife, who is often seen as having made a values choice to place the well-being of her children above her own ideas of personal achievement, men usually aren’t given this option. We also see an opposite viewpoint in regards to virginity. There is something that society considers wrong about a man who does not take action to change the innate quality of virginity. Men don’t get the option of having made a moral choice to wait for “the one” like women do, but instead must be functionally imperfect in some aspect since they have not attracted a woman.
Finally, and perhaps the most important social issue this change highlights, is that men are expendable and women are helpless. This basically relates to how society and audiences sympathize with characters of either sex or issues like violence. For men, the implications are that they are not special or that their lives aren’t worth as much as the lives of women. So, when tragedy strikes, men are looked at to put their lives on the line to fix it. By default, men are viewed as less sympathetic and less likely to obtain sympathy or support, whereas it is more socially acceptable for women to seek help and support and they are also more likely to get it. There are a myriad of social problems that disproportionately affect men because of this mindset. Men are more likely to be homeless and to be victims of violent crime, and any man who is a victim of domestic abuse should be able to handle it himself, and if he can’t, well then there’s something wrong. In military matters, most countries refuse to assign females to active combat roles, but are more than willing to throw the lives of young men at their problems. This has a unique vicious circle quality to it as it’s almost impossible to raise the issues that men face to the public eye because advertisements about social issues are more likely to catch people’s attention and inspire action if they point out how women are affected.
Ironically, women get the shorter end of the stick on this issue, but only because it casts a much wider net. The idea is that women are helpless and need to be protected by a man, the other side of this is when the man fails to protect a woman, he’s seen as less of a man, regardless of which of them is actually more capable. We have the phrase “women and children first” which prioritizes women and children over men (again, men are expendable) in extreme cases of emergency or we’ll say someone killed “women and children” to highlight the horror of their crime. What makes this so terrible is that children are dependent and helpless, often incapable of being able to defend themselves and needing an adult to fill this role for them. This saying implies the same thing for women; women are as helpless as children and in need of special protection. In the same vein of thought, violence against women is often seen as worse than violence against men because women are viewed as less capable of defending themselves. A man who failed to defend himself wasn’t man enough and deserved it, but a woman who failed to defend herself was overwhelmed and vulnerable. There was nothing she could have done. On top of that, because women are helpless their achievements aren’t as worthy of praise as the achievements of a man, because if she fails, well, she’s a woman and it’s not her fault if she can’t pull it together and fails which implies she didn’t work as hard or want it as badly.
Now, there is an inverse relationship between capability and sympathy, a woman who is able to put up a fight but still loses is seen as more capable and less sympathetic because they’ve shown they have some skill, they just didn’t have enough. This gives them an equal share of “not man enough” and “she’s just a woman” for an interesting double dip. On the one hand she’s viewed as not being good enough to defend herself, but she’s still a woman who can’t be blamed for her shortcomings because no one expected her to be able to do anything in the first place.
Though their intentions are pure, the attempts of modern day astrologers to correct the sexism that is often used as an argument against traditional astrology only serves to complicate the matter. Sexism is not so much lessened as it is spread out and perhaps now with more unfortunate implications lying underneath. Modern astrology has now also become a sign of the times, where our modern gender issues and identities are projected onto the stars much like the astrologers of old who we are supposed to be more politically correct than. This does not assume that the change from Sun/Venus to Mars/Venus created these gender issues, it’s likely that they are as old as time itself, but that it merely shows a change of focus. Today, we’re more likely to focus on equality in name rather than in reality. It is considered better for society that women are legally equal to men rather than being functionally equal to men while just pretending that gender inequality is a thing of the past; in reality, as long as little boys are instructed to not hit little girls (as opposed to not hitting anyone), society will continue to struggle with gender inequality issues.
Stearn, William T. “The Origin of the Male and Female Symbols of Biology.” International Association for Plant Taxonomy 11.4 (1962): 109-113. Web.
Eagly, A.H.; Mladinic, A.; Otto, S. (1991), “Are women evaluated more favorably than men? An analysis of attitudes, beliefs and emotions”, Psychology of Women Quarterly 15: 203–216