Yin, Yang and Gender

The yin and yang symbol can be used to describe how our society believes in duality and operates through the “either/or” mindset. The society tends to classify a person as either feminine or masculine, either woman or man, either yin or yang. After such classification, people are expected to modify their behaviour accordingly to fit in with the definition of the class assigned to them by the society. The tendency to take a dualistic approach creates opposition and locks us into a rigid point of view.

Yin and yang are simply two equal and complementary forces. Traditionally, yin is associated with “feminine” and yang with “masculine”, each forming part of the whole. What it means to be female or male, however, is defined purely by the society.

“Feminine” is defined by the society as conservative, intuitive, cooperative, responsive, mild, subservient, shy, caring, sympathetic/emphatic, selfless, understanding, compassionate, listener, warm, meek, fond of children, easily influenced, naïve and courteous; while masculinity is characterised by a free-spirited attitude, strong personality, physical force, leadership and risk-taking, dominating or controlling, firm, aggressive, confident, analytical and causative, rational, decisive, egoistic, and competitive.

These feminine and masculine dimensions are then applied on gender. The male figure is considered to be connected with self-reliance, as the female figure with dependence. Men are considered to be more competent, achievement-oriented, strong, self-reliant, active, competitive, and confident whilst women are considered to be incompetent, weak, reliant, passive, vain and emotional. Men are expected to take the lead while women submit to them.

The above is a shallow and distorted view of reality. The idea that one gender must be fully masculine while the other is fully feminine is, at best, one-dimensional thinking; in reality, each person has a masculine and feminine side. Holding on to a rigid image of how a man or woman should behave gives birth to gender stereotypes. If “gender stereotype” consists of certain features and psychological characteristics for male and female, then “gender role” is defined as an expressed conduct in the social part being performed; gender roles are things that are expected, determined, or prohibited for a certain type of sex.

Obviously, many people do not naturally identify with the gender stereotype prescribed to them. There are women who do not fit the classic description of “feminine” and do not wish to be submissive or conservative, while there are men who do not always prefer taking the lead. The “either/or” mindset does not account for such people and pressurizes them to conform to what is socially acceptable for their biological gender. Consequently, many people (usually women) are threatened with alienation, rejection and withdrawal of social benefits. The society fails to acknowledge each person’s individuality as separate from their sex.

People, regardless of their gender, may have more of “yin” or more of “yang” in them. Some people may prefer to think in rational, linear, mechanistic and materialistic way; while some may be more intuitive, non-linear and cooperative. Instead of forcing people to identify with their gender stereotype, if we simply choose to accept the yin and yang within ourselves and allow others to do the same, the world will be a better place.