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Could Rebalancing the Head and the Heart in Education Help Address Issues of Violence Towards Women?



Alongside the stillness created for many this past year, we seem to have developed a greater collective capacity to look directly into the face of some of the most challenging societal problems that our usual busyness distracts us from. It can feel like the world is being washed on a spin cycle with lots of dark grit emerging out of the fabric of our collective lives. For example, we’ve been reminded repeatedly of the horrors many suffer from social inequalities related to issues such as race and gender.



Several high profile tragedies have led to new dialogues emerging, and we are beginning to ask some incredibly difficult questions, which don’t have easy or singular answers. One of these essential questions asks how we can ensure future generations don’t have to continue facing or perpetrating these horrific behaviours. Part of the answer to this question may come from rebalancing the masculine and feminine within our education systems and bringing the heart back into balance with the head.


"how we can ensure future generations don’t have to continue facing or perpetrating these horrific behaviours"

Schools have been particularly challenged recently by revelations of sexual violence towards our young people, especially those who identify as female. This issue needs to be addressed from many angles to ensure immediate and long-term change. However, many parents and teachers feel at a loss about how to even begin doing so. To make truly lasting changes, we need to go to the source of these insidious problems and explore the underlying social structures that drive them. One key factor that fuels ongoing violence towards women stems from imbalances created between the masculine and feminine at all levels of our patriarchal society.


"To make truly lasting changes, we need to go to the source of these insidious problems and explore the underlying social structures that drive them."

By masculine and feminine, I am referring to the principle energies that reside within each of us, irrespective of gender. These are also known as yin and yang, amongst other names. For over two thousand years, we have lived in a very cockeyed society in this part of the world where imbalances between the masculine and feminine have become increasingly pronounced. Qualities associated with the ‘heady’ masculine have largely been revered, whereas qualities related to the ‘hearty’ feminine have been diminished and hidden in the shadows of our psyches and our societies. For example, we tend to celebrate masculine qualities such as competition, linearity, hierarchy, autonomy, doing and rationalism as essential and relegate more feminine attributes such as compassion, being, intuition, emotional expression, community and creativity as of lesser importance.

"Qualities associated with the ‘heady’ masculine have largely been revered, whereas qualities related to the ‘hearty’ feminine have been diminished and hidden in the shadows of our psyches and our societies."

When these aspects of the Self are imbalanced, it can create distortions in our inner world that also become mirrored in our actions in the world around us. Multiple psychological theories, such as the depth psychology approach, explain how denying or suppressing aspects of ourselves can lead us to project these disowned parts onto others. That means that when we cannot integrate specific qualities within ourselves, we tend to see these ‘shadow’ pieces elsewhere, especially in others. We can then be unconsciously triggered into a reaction when this happens. For example, we may end up feeling admiration or feeling contempt for someone who we unconsciously see as possessing a quality we can’t accept in ourselves. Celebrity status, for example, has become such a dominant feature of our contemporary society partly because celebrities can become symbolic representations of things we struggle to own about ourselves.


When we project onto another, our reactivity can result in a multitude of different kinds of behaviour that allow us to interact with this aspect of ourselves in the outer world. For example, it could influence who we wish to spend time with if we unconsciously want to be closer to a disowned aspect of ourselves. If we want to push away from something we deny within ourselves, it could motivate aggressive behaviour towards people who we see as possessing what we deny. This happens with both masculine and feminine aspects of ourselves, and we can project and interact with them externally with people of any gender. However, although the feminine and masculine principles are not gender-specific, they are closely bound up with gender within our cultural history. Therefore, projections related to the unintegrated feminine principle often become externalised onto women. This is illustrated by the toxic objectification of women within the porn industry and within dominant media imagery associated with the female form. This process of disowning feminine qualities internally and projecting them onto others externally can therefore form powerful unconscious motivations behind violence towards women.

"This process of disowning feminine qualities internally and projecting them onto others externally can therefore form powerful unconscious motivations behind violence towards women."

The impacts of imbalances between the masculine and feminine are not just about violence to women, and they also don’t just impact those who identify as female. These systemic imbalances affect us all in so many visible and hidden ways, irrespective of our chosen pronoun. Nobody wins. For example, recent campaigns have highlighted how the tragically high rate of suicide amongst young men is in part associated with early life experiences that teach boys it is not acceptable for them to express their emotions.


The imbalances in our relationship to the masculine and feminine are so pervasive and longstanding that it can be difficult for us even to see them or recognise that we are unconsciously colluding with them. They seep into every aspect of life in overt and subtle ways, including school life. You only have to reflect on the prioritising of academic subjects way above creative subjects in the national curriculum to recognise this. This was highlighted for me recently in the structure available to my son when he was choosing his GCSE subjects and was limited in the number of creative choices he was allowed to select. Condemning creative subjects to a significantly lower status than their academic counterparts illustrates how the current traditional education system, built from the foundations of a patriarchal paradigm, enacts this imbalance in the very fabric of its culture. The implicit and explicit messages we are giving to our young people through this alone is very powerful. We can also see these messages playing out, for example, in the general focus on individual competition and achievement during their time in school more than on community contribution and co-creation. Similarly, it is present in the emphasis on doing but not on being, or in how we teach young people to use their logical brain, but we don’t equally invite them to trust the wisdom of their intuition. There are many examples. What would happen if we focused more on skills such as compassion, kindness, listening? Some education systems, such as the Steiner system, are built on a different set of foundational beliefs. I’ve always been particularly fascinated by the Steiner school system, but there were no such options available locally for my children. I’m sure these approaches could offer much into this discussion within mainstream education.


"What would happen if we focused more on skills such as compassion, kindness, listening?"

Given that resources provided to mainstream schools tend to be head-focused, teaching staff are often left with the challenging task of working extra hard to compensate for these imbalances if they wish to nurture a broader spectrum of qualities in young people. A degree of rebalancing seems to unfold organically in some mainstream schools through some fantastic initiatives that promote mental health and wellbeing or environmental responsibilities. However, these developments are often championed by individuals and happen as add-ons. For a truly meaningful shift, they need to be integrated at a fundamental cultural level, which requires us to question the very beliefs and assumptions underpinning the foundation stones of our education system.


In many areas of our lives, we have an incredible opportunity to reassess the status quo in this particular moment. We can take this opportunity, in our homes and in our schools, to reflect on what we are teaching our children. What messages are we explicitly and implicitly giving about the vast array of masculine and feminine qualities that we each have the potential to access and foster within ourselves and within our collective systems? How balanced is this, and what are the implications? If we want to raise a more balanced generation, one that can build a more beautiful world where issues such as violence towards women are no longer pervasive, now is our chance to address these kinds of issues.

"If we want to raise a more balanced generation, one that can build a more beautiful world where issues such as violence towards women are no longer pervasive, now is our chance to address these kinds of issues."

Embracing both healthy masculine and healthy feminine qualities in our children could enable them to develop greater loving-kindness and acceptance towards these aspects in themselves and in others. Therefore, it could reduce the risk of distortions and projections that contribute towards destructive and violent behaviours directed at disowned shadow aspects, both inwards towards themselves and outwards towards others.


There are many critical and emotive conversations to be had right now at all levels of society. There are also many different angles from which to look at these issues. How we approach the issues that are surfacing now will have a profound impact on our future generations. However we address these challenges, the conversations themselves require both our wise heads and our brave hearts.




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