The “#MeToo” campaign, which was very prominent in 2018 and became a platform for women to complain about male behaviour, also reflects the tendency of society to polarise opposites and set them up in “boxing” mode against each other. It also chooses to ignore the fact that women can also be abusive of men. When I lived in Doncaster, South Yorkshire for example, I used to witness the effect of unwanted sexual advances on male friends of mine who were approached by female prostitutes who got into their cars at traffic lights. This kind of casual reverse sexist discrimination is what has inspired me to write a chapter for the new Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology (2019).
I think we should be celebrating male and female difference rather than setting up men and women in competition against one another. My belief is that the male and female are designed very differently because, as we have developed as humans, we have needed to take on different tasks to survive. The male has been designed to “look”, not only at the female, but to “look out” for prey, for danger, and for ways to protect his family unit. The woman, much to the surprise of some, still likes being “looked at” by the male, and will in fact go out of her way to make sure she is seen, unless of course, she dislikes the particular male who is “doing the looking”.
The unprecedented rise in the use of cosmetics and surgical enhancements proves that women feel the need to look good for as long as possible. The use of botox is no longer confined to the ageing female – it is now used by young women in their 20s, and the number of women between 19 and 34 using botox has risen by 41% since 2011. This is because the need to look good is “hard wired” into female genes. It is rooted in mating behaviours which we see also in the animal kingdom. In the avian kingdom, it is usually the males that display for the females, but for mammals, it is always the other way around.
The eastern concept of Yin and Yang is, I believe, a sensible way to view male and female complementarity. The ancient Chinese world believed that the interlocking building blocks of the universe were Yin (the feminine) and Yang (masculine). “Yin” is negative, dark and feminine, and “yang” is positive, bright and masculine. Yin needs Yang and vice versa, and the two need to be in perfect balance for health and harmony in the body.
Because the male is “hard wired” to respond initially to what he can see visually, this is not something that he can “turn off” to avoid offending the modern female. The female on the other hand, in a biological sense is designed to be especially attuned to touch because of regular reproductive cycles and physically nurturing the young from conception. She therefore has tended, in an evolutionary sense to have a more internal frame of reference, but also needs to “be noticed” so that her primeval instincts can be satisfied.
The male will always need “to look” at the female and the female will always need “to be seen” by the male – even if she continues to re-define exactly how she is looked at and what she wants the male to see.
Looking and being looked at can be thought of as opposite forces interacting to form a dynamic system, in which the whole is greater than the parts.
About the author
Jennie Cummings-Knight, MA, MBACP, PGCE, FHEA
Jennie is an experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor of individuals and couples. She works privately near Cromer, Norfolk, as well as lecturing in London and online as a part time Associate of the Existential Academy. She also runs regular workshops for counsellors in Norwich. She has a particular interest in Male Psychology.
Jennie explores the topic of ‘the gaze’ in her chapter ‘The Gaze: The Male Need to Look vs the Female Need to Be Seen—An Evolutionary Perspective’, in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (2019) available for purchase here https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030043834#aboutBook DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1