Are you having a tough week or is Mercury just in retrograde? Did the date end poorly because you were not compatible, or is it because they’re a Pisces and you’re a Libra? Throughout history and across cultures, people have looked to the moon and the stars to make sense of their lives. In recent years, zodiac signs have found their way back into mainstream popular culture: almost every Gen Z or Millenial knows their sun sign. What’s yours?
Astrology refers to the practice of interpreting the influence of the stars and planets on earthly matters and human destinies. A growing number of young people have turned away from traditional religion, and are embracing more spiritual beliefs and practices like tarot, meditation, crystals, and energy healing. Just a quick google search on ‘zodiac’ gives you thousands of articles on the signs and their personalities, compatibility between zodiac signs, and even which queer icon you are according to your zodiac sign (I happen to be Oscar Wilde). But why is astrology seen as a feminine activity? And what is the relationship between gender and zodiac signs?
Let’s start with a bit of history. The earliest evidence of the zodiac comes from the third millennium BCE in Ancient Mesopotamia. When Alexander the Great conquered Mesopotamia in the 4th century BCE, the Greeks started to be exposed to Mesopotamian culture, including astrology. From here, the study of the zodiac spread to India, Greece, and Egypt (before taking over the rest of the world). For the next 4000 years, astrology was not only considered a science, studied in tandem with astronomy, but its major practitioners and clients were men. Politicians, kings, even Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, and Ronald Reagan used astrology to help guide major political decisions. Talk about leaving your fate up to the stars!
So, despite the popularity of astrology, why do we now think of it as a futile interest? 18th century European societies came to prioritise science and logic above everything else. If something could not be proven through rational reasoning, it was relegated to the realm of the emotional and mystical. Astrology urges you to look inwards, introspect, and emote, which was seen as the antithesis of logic by white, middle class, cisgender, heterosexual men in power at the time, leading the practice to be designated as nonsensical. As the gatekeepers of knowledge, men perpetuated the idea that belief in the ‘irrational’ zodiac meant anyone interested in the subject was irrational by association. Sounds like they were all Leos to me.
During the 20th century, astrology became heavily marketed to women and girls, in the form of newspaper horoscope columns. The emergence of the hippie movement of the 60s coalesced with the New Age movement, ushering in a revival of interest in the study of the zodiac: New Age ideas, books, and academic literature were produced on this topic, but mostly by women. Coupled with the prominence of women astrologers such as Evangeline Adams and Linda Goodman, it appeared as though only women were interested and represented in astrology. Since then, femininity and astrology have been closely intertwined. As we, unfortunately, live in a binary world, rejecting feminine traits for some is a way for others to assert their masculinity, which leads many to brush astrology aside as a silly little practice without any scientific backbone.
Now that we see the role that gender has played in the history of astrology, let’s delve into how astrology as a practice is gendered. Astrologers often discuss the signs and planets as either masculine or feminine: Aries, is a masculine sign, as it relates to Ares, the Ancient Greek god of War, and Libra is a feminine sign, as it is ruled by the planet Venus, the Ancient Roman goddess of Love and Fertility. Even the different elements are divided by gender: Air and Fire signs are masculine while Earth and Water signs are feminine. But what if you don’t identify with the supposed gender of your sign?
Even when discussing the same star sign, certain traits are positioned as positive in men and negative in women (or the other way around). Let’s take Scorpio as an example. While Scorpio women are often stereotyped as sexual, vengeful, and manipulative (think Black Widow from the Avengers), Scorpio men are termed ambitious, intense, and mysterious (hello there Bruce Wayne/Batman). How come the same zodiac sign shows positive traits in one gender and negative in another? What’s more is that the gendered assumptions of zodiac signs are built on a binary understanding of gender, which excludes more fluid individuals from identifying with them. Despite recent developments, there is still (a lot of) work to be done on queering astrology. With gender being on such a wide spectrum, modern astrologers have to work to disregard gender in their readings and be more inclusive to all.
Astrology, specifically Vedic astrology, is just the latest in the list of non-white traditions that have become popularised (and appropriated) in the Western world. Along with chai lattes, yoga, and ayurvedic medicines, this major South Asian cultural practice linked to identity is now a trend where white women lead the charge (a.k.a. Astrology girls). When we write off astrology as a harmful pseudoscience, we also engage in the depreciation of Hindu and Indigenous spiritual practices. Although Vedic astrology is gaining more recognition, we should promote further recognition of the historical and current significance of the practice in non-Western cultures.
Despite its origins as a masculine study, astrology is now widely regarded as a feminine pursuit. Even the language used when talking about zodiac signs is gendered. Steps have been taken to queer and diversify the discussion surrounding astrology, with podcasts such as Queer Witch or authors such as Alice Sparkly Cat, paving the way for more inclusion. Of course, generalising and writing someone off on the basis of their sun sign is not what I’m encouraging. But just because astrology cannot be proven, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy discussing your horoscope or reading your Co-Star app every morning.
Not everything in a capitalist society has to be productive, and in these uncertain times, where is the harm in having a little fun?