When I first was getting into astrology, one of my biggest turn-offs was how gendered it seemed.
Cheesy lines like this teaser from Linda Goodman’s 1978 classic Love Signsmade me roll my eyes practically out of my head:
A Scorpio woman…will expect a Sagittarius man to pay for his sins.
Aside from the assumption that everyone reading the book was straight (so 1978!), it also suggested that women and men inhabited separate universes of experience, desire, and emotion. (And obviously there was no gender between or outside those roles.) Even now, there are plenty of heteronormative astrologers who read women’s charts differently from men’s, and vice versa.
Mars and Venus are crucial tools in the astrology gender binary toolkit, a la another famous self-help book of the late 20th century, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Even though every human (and dog and parrot and world event) has both Mars and Venus in their natal chart, a heteronormative approach to the chart says that a woman’s Mars represents the men in her life and a man’s Venus represents his wife and girlfriends.
What a dysfunctional, ridiculous way to do astrology!
Mars and Venus are two of the personal (fast-moving) planets, meaning that they represent really basic parts of your personality.
Mars is self-centered and active. It describes your energy levels and sex drive, how you stand up for yourself and others and how you go about getting what you want. Venus is relationship-oriented and receptive. It describes what you love, how you experience pleasure and beauty, how you join forces with a partner and how you balance your desires with another person’s wants.
It’s convenient for sexism to assign Martian superpowers to men and Venusian grace to women, but, man, is it dumb.
To say a woman experiences her Mars solely through men, is like saying she never makes the first move (in any part of her life) and that if she has goals, she depends on her boyfriend or dad to pursue them for her. Meanwhile, without Venus, men are rugged, loveless islands needing women if they are to ever pause and enjoy the moment. Genderqueers and other gender outsiders probably don’t even exist.
It’s not like old-school pop astrology was totally wrong about this stuff.
As kids, boys are often rewarded for winning contests, strutting their stuff, arguing and punching – expressions of their natal charts’ Mars. As adults, women (and anyone seen as one) can increase their status by dressing stylishly, being sociable and having ‘good’ relationships – expressions of their Venus. That’s why some of those old clichés about Sagittarius men and Scorpio women, say, can seem true: we’re trained to make them that way. Even in queer relationships, and relationships between straight people well-versed in their Judith Butler, one partner can play excited, selfish, top-y Mars and the other can be 100% reasonable Venus, smoothing things over and getting their way through graceful manipulation.
Likewise, both Mars and Venus describe facets of attraction. Mars is what turns us on and excites us. Venus is what and how we love.
Let’s say your Mars is in Gemini and your Venus is in Capricorn. You get turned on by talkers (Gemini) and may tend to have several lovers (or at least flirtations) at the same time, because Gemini likes at least two of everything. At the same time, you’re looking for a serious, long-term relationship (Capricorn) and will likely choose someone ambitious and respected (Capricorn) to do it with. Depending on how these planets sit within your chart, and your free will, you might lean toward your monogamous values (Venus in Capricorn) or seek to feed your short, playful sexual attention span (Mars in Gemini). Butch or femme, agender or nerdy bro, your gender doesn’t really matter when it comes to interpreting your chart.
The cool thing about Mars and Venus is that, in the context of a real natal chart, they rarely split into a clean binary.
If your Mars is in gentle, indirect Pisces, for instance, you’ll still fight, but only in a gentle, indirect way. At worst, this can mean anger comes out as real & awful sickness (Pisces) that may give you a real excuse to quit (Mars) a job you hate but feel guilty (Pisces) about leaving. (There are big, unanswerable questions here about free will and how much control we have over our astrology charts. Like, can a Pisces in Mars person stave off chronic fatigue by doing tai chi? My personal opinion: it’s complicated.)
Mars in Pisces can also do amazing things that contradict the sexist model. If your Mars is in Pisces, you might be a master of diffusing anger by playing music (Pisces). You might be capable of astounding feats of courage (Mars) by using breathing and energy work (Pisces) to overcome fear. Because you dislike aggressiveness, you might learn to get your way by subtly influencing the energy of your environment. Or, you might see physical prowess (Mars) as spiritual (Pisces) and kill for your god, or, more peacefully, lift weights until you feel like one.
The limited psychological research on same-sex relationships has turned up a fair amount of evidence that lesbian and gay male partnerships are generally happier than their straight counterparts’ (see this and this).
The researchers’ theories (that I’ve read) are basically that it’s easier to get along with someone of the same gender. My theory is that queers, gay people, etc. tend to more comfortable with expressing Venus and Mars traits, and so are less likely to push their partners into being the Spider-Chaser-Outer, the Breadwinner, the Mom, and the Make-Nicer. Or, at least, maybe, we’re more open and used to questioning these roles.
Don’t get me wrong. People are not supposed to be well-rounded. Some of us – regardless of gender identity or sex – are more Martian than Venusian, and that’s healthy and appropriate for us. Projection – working out our stuff through a partner – is a totally legit and useful way to relate. Having opposition aspects in your natal chart or planets in the 7th house means you figure yourself out through mirroring and bouncing between opposing viewpoints. Projection can be a problem, though, if you get stuck in one role. A relationship where each person has a rigid role that the other enforces can become stifling, lonely, and cause us to feel disconnected from ourselves.
Your Mars and Venus positions (by sign, house and aspect) contain loads of information on how sex and relationships most comfortably fit into your life.
The more you know about each – and the more critical thinking you do to strip away the cultural and gender stereotypes people put on them – the more you know and can act in accordance with your true self. A boiled-down, astrology-free, diy tip: pay attention to which roles you gravitate toward in relationships and what you expect the people you love to do in return. The point of astrology isn’t to change yourself, but to see, understand and strengthen who you really are.
All images by Mars in Capricorn/Venus in Leo artist, Migueltzinta Solis.