Culture |

The Yin and Yang of (Male) Chauvinism

Culture | 25 June 2021

I suppose everyone has heard of the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang? But what do we understand about it? I personally loved the description of them in terms of the ‘Sunlight playing over a mountain and a valley.’ Yin is the ‘shady place’, the north slope, the dark area shaded by the mountain’s bulk, and Yang is the ‘sunny place’, the south slope, the brightly lit portion. This is the poetic version of this positive-negative dualism, but there are many other aspects of the symbolism that are not quite so endearing and have led to some very prejudiced conclusions about the roles of men and women in society. 

Chinese cosmology tells us that the universe was created out of chaos, and that material energy was organized into two equal and opposing aspects of life, for example : the annual cycle of summer and winter, the daily cycle of day and night and the sexual coupling of the male & female. The graphic representation of the principles of Yin and Yang is most commonly done by the ‘Taijitu’ , The “Dragon of the Supreme Ultimate”, the interlocking teardrops, but it is also expressed by the Hindu and Buddhist ‘Swastika.’ (annoyingly reversed and corrupted by the Nazis). Both illustrate the interlocking and reversible role of each. But I was very sad to read that the symbols also reflect a long list of ‘opposites’ which are very much not in favour of the female oriented Yin. 

Here is the list: 
Yang = Male = Light, heat, activity, life, cleanliness, the sun, day, delight, China and civilisation. 
Yin = Female = darkness, cold, passivity, death, dirt, the moon, night, melancholy, foreigners and barbarism. 

I mean to say, much as that may be a logical extrapolation from the “sunny side of a mountain” as opposed to the shady side, it does rather characterize the poor ladies as sad, passive, and barbaric creatives, and I have no doubt the strongly patriarchal ancient Chinese used these descriptions well to keep their pesky women in ‘their rightful place’, just through the power of these words. 

That goes some way to explaining the subjugated role of women in ancient cultures and is disappointingly borne out  - again - by the Greek Pythagoreans, who despite their loftily philosophical thinking also put man and women in very rigid boxes.

Here is the Greek version: 
Male = right, good, motion, light, square and strength.
Female = left, bad, rest, darkness, oblong & curvy. 

Now I don’t profess to understand the Pythagoreans obsession with squares & straights, but honestly I prefer the oblong and curvy aspects attributed to women. But apart from that little joke, this was again an insidious way to subjugate women in these two societies by defining (completely arbitrarily of course) the words which describe and limit the scope of women to the ‘lesser’ attributes. Clever indeed those old male  chauvinist ‘philosophers.’

So while the Yin Yang symbolizing is supposed to reflect the rhythm of nature, it is also highly, but not surprisingly, skewed towards to dominance of men: those active clean, happy, creatures. As opposed to  the passive, dirty, sad creatures that are women. Honestly I feel like starting a retrospective 2000 year #me too movement, and I urge the current interpreters of so-called ancient wisdom to re-think their biased and incorrect characterization of the fair sex. In so many ways they are superior to the weak and easily tempted males who have to invent philosophical crutches to support their dominance.