The yin of being looked at and the yang of looking

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  DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1





11 thoughts on “The yin of being looked at and the yang of looking

  1. Reply
    Peter Wright - January 9, 2019

    Great to see this topic explored in a fair and reasonable way, Jennie. The fact remains that women tend to go to great lengths to ‘harvest’ the male gaze, and male are hardwired to respond to it as you’ve pointed out. Categorizing that behaviour from both sexes as ‘toxic’ misses too much, not to mention the beauty of the sexual dance.

  2. Jennie Cummings-Knight
    Jennie CK - January 10, 2019

    Thanks Peter! Its SO true…the worst thing you can say to most women is to guess that they are older than they in fact are…massive insult! And as you also comment, the sexual dance is indeed a thing of great beauty – long may it live on !!

  3. Reply
    Kenneth Kennington - January 11, 2019

    An interesting read, Jennie.

  4. Reply
    Kenneth Kennington - January 11, 2019

    “”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.””

    The MeToo campaign, in a way, became indicative of the polarised paradigms that society has of men and women; we’re instantly invited to leave unquestioned the woman’s virtue, to recognise that she’s “telling the truth” and that “all women should be believed.” Conversely, for the man, we’re expected to believe that he must be the dark, mysterious and devious sort of chap that would perpetrate such an act. Asking ourselves if there is any validity to her claim is seen as an act of patriarchal oppression. The MeToo campaign, regardless of how honestly it was conceived, was instantly hijacked to further the political aims of feminist and social science activists.The Brett Kavanough, Supreme Court fiasco became an all too inevitable low point example. Several of the women that laid accusations against him retracted their claims.

    Another aspect of the MeToo campaign was the Harvey Weinstein incidents. How many women chose to pay the exchange of sexual favours for roles in films? And is it now that they see an opportunity to regain their “innocence” by claiming MeToo? Rather like women that are caught in the act of infidelity choose to claim they were being “raped”, even to the point of sending their “lover” to jail.

    The psychology of male and female seems to be slowly disappearing behind the cloud of social science ideology. For many, it was easy to ignore, but now, no one can escape its reach, as it’s pushed by every mainstream media outlet.

    Interesting point about the sexual harassment the your male friends had to put up with in Doncaster. Some years ago, I was parked by the side of the road near Doncaster town centre. I was only there for a moment, when there was a knock on the window. A young “lady” was staring back, with an unhealthy, pale look to her face, asking if I was “looking for business?” What a sight! I told her “no” obviously … then waited for a better offer to come along. Haha, just joking there. I headed for a better part of town.

    Best wishes, Jennie.

  5. Jennie Cummings-Knight
    Mrs J R C-Knight - January 12, 2019

    Thanks for your comments, Ken! So “you too” ( as opposed to “me too”?!) have been the recipient of unwanted sexual harassment from a female in Doncaster.
    Vive la difference and long live the spark between male and female!
    Traditionalists would say that we are all “fallen creatures”, male and female alike – and we can choose to stay in that condition or work to nurture the best in ourselves.

  6. Reply
    Dr Stephen Brooke - January 12, 2019

    Thank you Jennie for offering concepts and material for reflection which invite us to see the beauty of co-operation and complementarity as a contrast to competition and power struggle. Your blog impelled me to pick up again the delightful little book on Beauty by the Oxford philosopher Roger Scruton who presents a chapter on human beauty in which he concludes by arriving at the connection between sex, beauty and the sacred.

    1. Jennie Cummings-Knight
      Jennie C K - January 15, 2019

      Thanks Steve! Must have a look at the book you mention. Jennie

  7. Reply
    Stephen Pirie - January 14, 2019

    An excellent article Jennie.

    Re your “Because the male is “hard wired” to respond initially to what he can see visually,” — I agree.

    Would you mind citing a few of the resources you’ve encountered supporting this aspect to the masculine physiology? I expect some will be the same as I’ve encountered, but in case they’re not, that would be helpful to my research and writing.

  8. Jennie Cummings-Knight
    Jennie CK - January 15, 2019

    Hello Stephen
    If you give me your email address we can talk further.

  9. Reply
    Robert - January 29, 2019

    Dear Jennie

    Thank you for a very thought-provoking and well-written article.

    I agree with everything you’ve said, but I’m wondering what would be your response to the argument that these differences are not hard-wired but a result of our conditioning from birth – i.e. boys wearing blue and girls wearing pink etc?

    1. Jennie Cummings-Knight
      Jennie CKnight - February 8, 2019

      Hello Robert
      Just seen this! The biological vs sociological debate began with Judith Butler and it is common to confuse the sociological Male and Female conditioning processes with biological givens and evolutionary processes. They are in fact separate, and my chapter discusses this in more depth. The book launch is at UCL on 30.05.2019. [Editor: the book is available from 19th April ].

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