In this post I want to make the case that using the terms ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ instead of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ isn’t just inaccurate, it’s actually harmful.
How Sacred Sexuality Communities Describe Masculine and Feminine Energy
Over the years I’ve explored sacred sexuality, tantra, and intimacy communities whose paradigms rely on the concept of feminine and masculine energy.
Usually it’s described something like this:
“Feminine energy is receptive. It is soft, loving, emotional, intuitive, creative. It is the flow. Without the masculine to balance it out, the feminine becomes destructive chaos.”
“Masculine energy is penetrative. It is hard and stable. It plans and executes. Its purpose is to listen to the feminine voice and act on it. Without the feminine to balance it out, the masculine becomes rigid and dissonant.”
Followed by this caveat: “However it’s not just women who possess feminine energy and men who possess masculine energy. All people possess both masculine and feminine energy.”
The fact that this caveat must always be given should probably be a red flag that the languaging is off.
Here’s a post by EmbodyingMan that goes deeper into what is yin and yang. (Though beware that it is written from a heteronormative perspective).
In principle, the description of those energies is profound and useful. I’m not taking a beef with the concept and embodiment of energetic polarity, only with the terms ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.’
Why ‘Masculine and Feminine Energy’ Are Inaccurate Terms
This is the dictionary definition of feminine: ‘having qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women.’
And masculine: ‘having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men.’
This is the problem. No matter how much a person claims that women possess masculine energy and men possess feminine energy, we can’t escape the context of our language. The word feminine inherently means woman-like.
Here’s an example that shows why this language is messy and inaccurate.
Say you want to put on makeup. You feel inspiration to create and play with your aesthetic (yin). You then set aside 30 minutes to sit down and do your makeup (yang). You look at your face and let your creative ideas emerge (yin). Then you make a gameplan to start with the eyes then do the lips (yang). You grab your brush and execute your vision (yang). Upon completion you bask in the glow of your beautiful artwork (yin).
Clearly, this whole artistic process is a complex interplay of yin and yang. And yet in Western culture, makeup is feminine. Why is makeup feminine? Some weird history that women should be younglooking and beautiful. “Feminine” is a complex, inherited set of gender norms on what a woman ‘should’ be.
There are three distinct buckets. A person’s sex (male, female, intersex). A person’s gender (man, woman, non-binary). And polarity energies (yin and yang). These buckets are distinct, and our language should reflect that.
Gender norms have *nothing* at all to do with yin and yang energies. To use a gendered word to describe one of these energies is inaccurate because it is unnecessarily conflating gender with polarity, and it is harmful because it is perpetuating the notion that women are meant to be yin and men are meant to be yang.
Why ‘Masculine and Feminine Energy’ Are Harmful Terms
In my experience, within the intimacy movement there is a widespread undertone that: yes, a real man is balanced, but let’s be honest, a real man needs to be masculine. And a real woman feminine. There are some writers like David Deida who are more explicit about this idea. But honestly, if you are using ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ as words, you are encouraging this idea.
When you hear a word, your subconscious evokes your lifetime association with that word, and your society’s association with that word. We can’t escape the connotations of our words. But in this case, it’s not just that feminine means woman-like connotationally, it also means woman-like literally.
These words are pigeonholing women into yin energy and men into yang energy. If a man appreciates expressing yin energy, he shouldn’t need to question his gender.
I want to encourage the use of ‘yin’ instead of ‘feminine’ and ‘yang’ instead of ‘masculine.’’ Yin and yang describe fundamental energies of nature. Feminine and masculine describe gender roles that society created. Why on earth should we be conflating those two things?
If our goal is to give space for people to freely express who they are, and to encourage all people to cultivate yin and yang energy as they are called, then an easy and powerful place to start is with our language.
I’d also like to note that ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ aren’t perfect words either. They come from a different language and a different culture, and are wrapped up in their own history of Chinese patriarchy. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not sure the best words to use. ‘Yin’ and ‘yang’ are better than ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ because they aren’t actively reinforcing gender stereotypes while they are still recognizable terms that are commonly used. Though they do risk appropriating wisdom from a different culture.
Polarity energies are a very useful concept in intimacy, spirituality, and meaning-making. And our words are limited. ¯|_(ツ)_/¯ I’m in process in figuring all this out myself. Welcome to the mess!
If you’d like to further your exploration on gender and intimacy, I wrote a whole ebook getting deeper into the topic. It’s called “Beyond Sacred Masculine and Feminine: How to bridge the worlds of sacred intimacy, personal growth, and queerness to heal our culture gender wounds and transcend the patriarchy.” Check it out below!