Popular media and folk psychology would have us believe that men and women are radically different from one another. Modern thinkers often proclaim that men and women are very much alike – all human beings, beneath the physical differences. Which is true?
The psychological contrasts between genders are determined both by biology and society. Three ways of looking at this issue indicate that we are more alike than we think.
Chinese medicine, based in Taoist belief, identifies masculine traits as yang and feminine as yin. The classic symbol, the taijitu [Cantonese: taigei], demonstrates how these traits flow into and contain one another. Each has its own attributes; however, each also possesses elements of the other and they are mutually interdependent. In fact, while we refer to these as yin and yang in English, they are more accurately represented as yinyang, and optimal health is represented as balance between them.
Jungian psychology identifies animus (masculine psyche traits) and anima (feminine). Both men and women contain both animus and anima in their unconscious, and while one is generally more dominant, it is the goal – typically in middle age – to embrace and integrate the other.
Biological science tells us that, while men are driven by testosterone and women by estrogen, in middle years these begin to balance out; each decreases, which then gives men more “feminine” attributes and vice versa. In addition to the more obvious changes in appearance, men often become more emotionally oriented in later years, while women experience the opposite.
How do we grow psychologically, in order to increase harmony between women and men? One such way is by the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. In mindfulness meditation we are focused on the detail of our lives, in order to live mindfully or have a greater awareness – and also detached from the emotions that arise within us, identified but just as quickly allowed to disperse. This brings us to a state of grace, or homeostasis, beyond either emotion or rational thought…a state of simply being.