Thinking in a Taoist yin-yang framework, typically we would classify male as yang and female as yin. But in her 1993 book Reuniting Sex, Self, and Spirit, Genia Haddon claims that this association is a product of our cultural gender biases, and not intrinsic masculine or feminine physiology. She describes a masculine Yin and feminine Yang that our culture typically represses, ignores, or fails to cultivate. The result is to make it difficult to be a complete man or woman in our society.
All beings desire to fulfill themselves and to move toward wholeness. When the masculine Yin is underdeveloped, men in their search for wholeness might seek it outside themselves, in a female partner, or they may take on effeminate qualities themselves, or the repressed Yin might occasionally burst out in an exaggerated form. The same goes for women and their neglected or repressed Yang. But what, exactly, are these neglected masculine Yin and feminine Yang qualities?
Let's start with the masculine (I am a guy, after all). The masculine Yang we are all familiar with. It is the phallic dimension, and its qualities are what define masculinity in our culture: active, taking the initiative, goal-oriented, linear, exploring, forging into new territory, impatient, aggressive, rising above, taking charge, dominating, setting the pace, strong, firm, erect, getting to the heart of the issue, adventuring, courageous. These are certainly male qualities, but they are not the qualities of the complete man, because they do not reflect the other defining feature of male anatomy: the testicles.
The testicles, lying quiet underneath the penis, represent the masculine Yin. The testicles are the generative reservoirs of the seed, the life-essence. Unlike the penis, which is given to occasional action, the testicles' function of producing, storing and conserving harks to male Yin qualities like patience, steadfastness, supportiveness, solidity, stability, reliability, and resourcefulness.
The feminine Yin we are again familiar with. It is embodied in the qualities of the receptive vagina and the nurturing womb: passive, accommodating, receptive, inclusive, welcoming, submissive, nourishing, and trusting. Our culture has equated these qualities with femininity, but there is much more to femininity than that. The feminine Yang has been left out.
The feminine Yang is embodied in that other important function of the womb: to give birth. Birth (and menstruation) show us feminine qualities that our culture denigrates or ignores, which Haddon groups under the descriptor "exertive" – literally, "pushing out". These include pushing forward, transformation, bringing forth the new, urging forward, propelling, dissolving the old (as in menstruation), forceful, bearing down, demanding, assertive, active in emergency, acting in concert with natural forces, harnessing the energies of the moment. Haddon explains the difference between the feminine and masculine Yang as follows: both are assertive, but while the phallic Yang is goal-oriented, the feminine Yang acts from a field of reference. One is forging toward, the other is birthing from.
Male or female, all of us embody all four of these qualities to some extent. For several thousand years though, it has been the masculine Yang and feminine Yin that have dominated our understanding of what it is to be a man or a woman. They have also created the civilization we know today. I have discussed in The Ascent of Humanity, we are on the cusp of a civilizational transition greater than the fall of one civilization and the rise of the next. We are about to create a whole different kind of civilization. One way of understanding this shift is that we are moving toward an age in which the masculine Yin and the feminine Yang will be in ascendancy.
Notice how deeply our programming of male-Yang dominance reaches. Even by speaking we tend to reinforce it. I just said, that the masculine Yin and feminine Yang will be in ascendancy. Think about that word and what it implies.
My book's cover artwork, Pieter Bruegel's painting "Tower of Babel," hints at the inevitability of this transition. The tower, obviously a phallic image, embodies the ambitions and limitations of the phallic program to attain heaven. Its upward thrust cannot go on indefinitely. Part of the painter's genius was to portray the hubris and absurdity of the builders' ambitions. Their project is obviously doomed, no more plausible than the aroused male desire to have sex forever. He can only reach a certain height, and then a period of regeneration is needed you might call it a testicular age.
So it is with our civilization's millennia-long thrust to reach ever higher, ever deeper, to forge into new realms, to conquer every frontier. We have reached unimaginable heights indeed, but all around us we see the base of the Tower crumbling, as one crisis after another besets us. The upward thrusting is nearly exhausted. We are seeing in these few decades its highest climax.
The vast womb of mother nature and mother culture has long nourished our growth, but now we are growing up against its limits. Whether in a body or on a planet, this is what triggers birth. We are rapidly entering a state of emergency. It is here that the feminine Yang takes over, bearing down and pushing us forward according to a spontaneous and irresistible rhythm into a new world. We can no more imagine what this world will be like than a fetus can imagine the world outside the womb.
Just as the feminine Yin has complemented the male Yang for the last few millennia, when the female Yang qualities come to the fore in coming centuries, it will be the masculine Yin that supports and sustains them. Already we begin to perceive the necessity of these testicular qualities of conservation, regeneration, patience, forbearance, and steadfastness. As the collective Female of humanity and the planet bear down in this emergency to birth us into the future, the collective Male will be at hand, calm, steadfast, solid and reassuring. These will be the traits that come to define masculinity, while the phallic traits will retreat for a while to a lesser role.
During this birthing, humanity will experience a life-and-death journey just to survive. When we are born into that new world, we will realize that our species is just in its infancy. This process is beginning in earnest in our lifetimes, and it may take centuries to complete. I do not know the specifics, but in my heart I sense the coming of a more beautiful world. I hope in my lifetime to see its outlines coming into focus. Sometimes I think I even see its light beckoning. Do you?
Image by Annabama9, used via a Creative Commons license.