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The Mattering Map

By June 14, 2015May 29th, 2019No Comments

How and when does gender matter?

I want to introduce you today to a way to deepen your understanding of your own and others’ gender experience in all its uniqueness, complexity and variability. I want to offer you a way to understand the mind, as well as the brain, and I want you to be able to use this simple and elegant tool every day. I call this tool The Mattering Map.

The Mattering Map1 began simply as a way to understand gender as a personal, cultural and social set of demands. As soon as it came into being, it began to expand to organize and encompass all forms of experience. Mattering has a way of doing that.

Thought, feeling and responses used to be conceptualized as occurring in specific, isolated areas of the brain. As neurology has been increasingly able to look at that brain while it is responding, it has become apparent that the brain itself is connected in complex and interacting networks and does not function autonomously in isolated locations. Enormously complex circuitry connects disparate locations and thus permits complex biochemical, energetic, psychological and socio-cultural experiences2.

The same is so of gender and other human attributes. The mind itself can be represented on a Mattering Map. I prefer the term “mattering” to meaning for its ability to encompass and enfold, to embrace meaning and caring, mind and heart, feelings and ideas, for they are not separate nor are they related in a linear “cause and effect” sequence. Instead they are inextricably intertwined, each implicate in the others and deeply enfolded in the matrix of human experience.

The Mattering Map is a model of meaning making, of what matters in psychological life. Humans are nothing if not social creatures, and all social relationships are also organized by mattering. Our human minds cannot do otherwise than search for mattering; our human hearts cannot do other than have others matter to us and our selves to others. We are built this way as exquisitely social animals.

Mattering subsumes and contains what are dichotomously named the cognitive and the affective, the psychological and the sociological, the individual and the cultural. Additionally mattering is inextricably intertwined with matter, each of which shapes the other through the processes alternately named genetics, biology, psychology, culture or human experience. Mattering is what unites diverse aspects of the context into patterns that repeat themselves sufficiently to be designated in our human minds as significant and it is what connects us to each other so irrevocably. As much as matter is a sine qua non of our material existence, so is mattering of our psychological, spiritual and cultural aspects. Mattering is the glue that connects our experiences and that connects us to others. And mattering is how we all learn gender.

The Mattering Map is not a map like the flat, two dimensional ones hanging on the walls of geography classrooms around the world. It is instead a living, breathing multi-dimensional, morphing entity. It cannot hold still. It is alive with forces and vectors that change its shape and its valence slowly or rapidly, but constantly. The mattering map comes to rest only when observed and what is observed is not what was there a moment before the observation altered probability into presentation. For the sake of clarity, use your human neurological system here to imagine a map that can fully represent terrain, climate, airflow and other energetic forces impinging on the territory. On this map, volcanoes erupt; rivers change their course; storm clouds gather and dissipate; boundaries shift. Oceans ebb and flow; sun sometimes shines.

The map morphs with every interaction, every thought and feeling. What was a moment ago central becomes peripheral and what was a moment ago irrelevant can become central. In this rendering then there is no separate self nor is there anything but a more or less temporary context. In this way, we can begin to understand gender, race and other personal/cultural qualities in their full complexity. They are not static qualities. They are fluid and changeable in different individuals and in different contexts. Yet they share commonalities.

In future blogs, I will expand this discussion by describing and showing specific uses and applications of this mapping technique.


[1] Kaschak, E. (2013) The Mattering Map: Confluence and Influence, Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37:4.

[2] Edelman, G.M. and Tononi, G., (2000) A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination, Basic Books: New York.

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning psychologist, author and teacher. She is well-known as a speaker, workshop leader, human rights advocate and a public intellectual.