Do you remember learning about the Red Herring in high school English class? This term was coined to describe anything that is intended to divert attention from the real problem. It’s the smarmy butler in a classic whodunnit mystery that appears to be the villain when all along it was the sneaky maid with the candle stick in the closet.
When clients come to therapy, they often are looking to identify what it is about themselves that they need to fix. Through this lens, they see themselves as broken, which is a painful and unfair way to go through life.
How Culture Came to Be Unbalanced
“It’s so important that we understand we are not broken; we are not the problem.”
We are born into this world with all of the unique energy and principles that we need to experience our lives in a meaningful way. The culture is the problem, as it teaches us to that we have to give up parts of our soul in order to fit in. Culture will have you believe that you are at fault for as long as you will let it… That’s a red herring. It is making you think that you don’t fit in because of your innate and beautiful qualities, not because culture doesn’t allow for unique differences.
Why do I point to our culture as the culprit behind the imbalance, you might ask?
As I discussed in an earlier blog post, we are all born with equal parts masculine (Yang) and Feminine (Yin) energy. This blog post is a great read for understanding the often foreign or misunderstood concept of Yin/Yang, should you like to learn more.
These energies are the opposing principles that work together to create a balanced whole, and in an ideal world, these work together in harmony.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal world at all; it is one where our culture ascribes dichotomous and incomplete gender roles to the different sexes. Our culture has divided the masculine and feminine energies into two distinct categories when they were always meant to be opposing parts of a whole.
This division is by design, as this benefits the hierarchal system we live in, known as the patriarchy. The patriarchy is a system that is focused on keeping power limited to an exclusively identified group and oppressing those that don’t belong to that group. The patriarchal system has been in place in most of the western world for centuries and as such is the foundation for all cultures to come.
In other words, traditionally in our western culture, if we are born into male bodies, we are taught to be strong and stoic and to embody the masculine energy inherent in all of us (competition, linear and goal oriented behavior, hierarchical thinking). Males are taught to then squelch the feminine principles (emotions, nurturing, intuition, receptivity, etc.) that are also part of who they are and their internal experience.
Alternatively, if we are born into a female body, we are taught to embrace the feminine principles, and conversely to reject the masculine principles. Girls are taught to be nurturing and “nice,” as well as to to emphasize pleasing others over pushing their own agenda forward in life (also known as getting your needs met). Girls are robbed of the right to access the masculine energies that are inherent to them that protect them and that aid them in obtaining autonomy.
Men on the other hand, are asked to go out into the world and bravely embody all of their masculine traits without access to their feminine traits. This is essentially like asking someone to complete a task but then telling them they can’t look at the instructions (a.k.a. the innate qualities of intuition, emotion, feeling, internal preference).
Those in male bodies are pushed into the hyper-competitive world of the masculine without access to their intuition or emotional life as a means of balancing this; while women are asked to play the game of life identifying with the principles that the culture whispers as “weak” and shameful.
I think the ultimate example of this is that it is a common practice in our culture that when a boy/man shows any of his feminine traits, he is mocked through name-calling by the use of the term “sissy,” which is an insult filled with shame and rejection. (So much to unpack in that one, as society basically tells men, “Honor, protect and desire your mother/sister/wife, but be ashamed of all of the things she represents if you see them in yourself…” It’s a trap from the word ‘go’!)
Meanwhile, the culture asks women to reject their masculine principles in favor of the feminine, all while it systematically devalues (and in many cases, demeans and admonishes) the feminine principles in both males and females alike. This expectation for women creates a double-bind (damned if you do, damned if you don’t) scenario as women are told they are supposed to embody the very traits that the society openly devalues. Our world whispers to women, “Be kind, soft, gentle and passive – or you are a b****. But make no mistake: kindness, softness, gentleness and passivity are also things to be ashamed of”.
“Women everywhere are thinking, ‘Gee, thanks for that s*** sandwich– But I better be nice and look pretty while I quietly rage on the inside.”
Let me be really clear about something as I start to close this article. This isn’t a case of “men are the problem”; the patriarchy is a system that has been detrimental to everyone’s ability to live in their inherent qualities. In fact, this system is as harmful to men as it is to women and those who are non-gender confirming. You will never find me male bashing, so hear me right now that this is not one of those posts. Most of my public work tends to focus on women, but one of my personal hopes is that somehow my work in this world will bring healing to men, as well. I firmly believe that men are suffering miserably without access to their own feminine/yin energy under the current cultural norms.
No one is winning here.
To reiterate once more, just for good measure: the people aren’t the problem, they are the victims of the system.
Reclaiming Your Balance
The system might be in place, but it is up to us to decide upon healing and balance for ourselves. For many of us, reclaiming our inner peace and happiness will require that we reclaim this balance of our energies. It is my opinion that in order for our world to heal, the culture and the imbalance in the current system needs to be healed. And I also believe that in order for the latter to occur, the former must first occur. Healing yourself is your part of healing the world.
I invite you to think again about the masculine and feminine principles and be curious (you can look back at the list of the Yin/Yang principles if you need some specifics) and ask yourself:
- What did my culture tell me I had to be?
- What are my judgments about these principles?
- What did my culture tell me I couldn’t be?
- Do I have an imbalance of these in my own life? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Whether you are ready to take action and move towards balance, or simply be curious and seek clarity, there is value in what you discover. (Read: “Our Bodies Can Talk: Decoding Our Body Language” for more thoughts on getting curious.) No matter which side of this duality you find yourself, I hope you are able to see the value in all stages of change. There is a time for action (Yang), but there is also so much wisdom and value inherent in waiting and being still (Yin).
Both are necessary, and together they work to create change that leads to wholeness.
This, my friends, is balance.
Ready to get curious? Download my free Balancing Tool and start reflecting!