In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.
Fortunately, I spent most of the weekend blissfully unaware of the latest topics dominating the news cycle. As such, when I awoke this morning to get caught up, it became obvious that a “manifesto” written by a male Google employee had become a huge topic of conversation. Given the outrage associated with the document, I expected to read some downright awful and unconscionable things in it. That never happened.
Personally, I’m really glad this person wrote the manifesto. Not because I agree with everything he wrote and the way he delivered it, but because it hopefully will allow us to have a conversation on a topic that has spilt people into binary factions that resemble dogmatic religious sects. Before I get started, I want to make it clear that I understand how some people — particularly women in tech — many of whom unquestionably experience harassment and sexism, could feel isolated and offended by this document. I don’t work at Google, and have never worked at Google, so I have no basis on which to agree or disagree with what he wrote as it pertains to the company. Likewise, I have no informed opinion whether it’s true or false that coding at a high-level for a company at the scale of Google requires a higher concentration of masculine traits or not. For a contrary opinion to the Google document on that front, see the following: So, About This Googler’s Manifesto (for the record, I found most of that piece to be painful and preachy, but his point #2 is worth considering).
In contrast, the purpose of this post is to have a conversation about the belief that there are no observable biological differences between men and women at the population level, and that all observable differences are social constructs. I completely reject this assertion based on logic, history and life experience. That being said, the most productive way to talk about these differences is in the context of masculine and feminine energies. The acknowledgement and acceptance of these different energies has been discussed since the beginning of time, and really shouldn’t be controversial. It has always been acknowledged that feminine energies tend to be found in greater concentrations within the female population, while masculine energies tend to be more concentrated in males. These things aren’t just invented social constructs, they’ve always been a present and observable aspect of the human condition, which is why they’ve been discussed ad nauseam for thousands of years.
Things get complicated and dangerous when you take the fact that feminine qualities tend to be concentrated in females (and masculine within males), and then apply it at the individual level in a stereotypical manner. We certainly should not do this. Every single male and every single female will have their own unique blend of masculine and feminine energies, and there will be plenty of women who exhibit greater concentrations of masculine energy than many male peers. These are also probably the sorts of women who tend to rise up to the position of CEO or political leader. This doesn’t make masculine energy better than feminine energy, but it does mean that our unbalanced and twisted world offers more financial and material rewards to those who demonstrate a greater concentration of masculine energy.
Personally, I think this is a huge flaw and the root cause of a lot of our suffering. For example, American culture worships the Wall Street trader who makes $5 million a year while adding very little to no value to society, while looking down upon a mother or father who chooses to stay home and raise their children. Rather than reflecting upon the world we’ve created and admitting how perverse this is, the mantra seems to be “hire more women traders.” That’s a one-way ticket to nowhere.
The one aspect of the Google manifesto that really struck me on a personal level was the following:
Men’s higher drive for status
We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.
Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.
I’m one of these people who worked a job that required “long, stressful hours” during my 10 years on Wall Street. I personally decided that it wasn’t worth it for a variety of reasons. Was this me finding more of an appeal in what can be characterized as feminine energy and wanting to embrace that side of me? I think that certainly was a part of it, and I’m very proud of that decision. In fact, I think much of my evolution as a human over the past decade has to do with me fundamentally understanding the importance of feminine energy and trying to connect to it more. I get to take my son out of his crib every single morning, and I simply can’t put a dollar value on how much that means to me. Claiming that these two types of energies don’t exists, or that they don’t tend to aggregate in higher densities in one gender versus the other, is just putting our heads in the sand and causes us to ignore the root of the problem.
The real problem as I see it, isn’t that feminine energy tends to aggregate more in females than in males, but that we undervalue feminine energy to the detriment of our societal health. I’ve written a lot about incentives over the years, and how we are creating more bad behavior because our culture incentivizes bad behavior. If Wall Street or other corporate crooks never have to fear prison and simply have to pay a fraction of ill-gotten gains for committing fraud, of course you’re going to have a fraud epidemic. Likewise, if we have an economic system that funnels the vast majority of material rewards to those with higher concentrations of masculine energy (which across an entire population will tend to be males), of course masculine energy will dominate and create a very unbalanced, unhealthy world.
This puts females in general in a very difficult and unfair position. There must be countless women who are extraordinarily talented and downright brilliant, yet feel trapped because they must cater their spirits toward a masculine-energy dominated world just to be financially independent and successful. Does this make any sense? Should we be denying the existence of masculine and feminine energies and their distribution within genders, or should we be questioning why our culture places masculine attributes on a pedestal and funnels most financial rewards to such traits? Is a systematic denial of the importance of feminine energy healthy for the human race?
These are the really important questions we should be asking, because the more we incentivize and reward masculine traits in favor of the feminine in a very unhealthy way, the more unbalanced and prone to collapse our civilization becomes. The yin and the yang, the masculine and the feminine, these things are equally important to nature and must be equally represented and appreciated in any society. Any culture that does not do this is out of balance and will suffer the consequences.
Finally, here’s a link to the entire “manifesto” should you want to read it. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll analyze the document, and the extremely heated reaction to it, from a Spiral Dynamics framework.