I recently had the privilege of seeing Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew for the first time. This particular comedy has a reputation for upsetting modern audiences, and especially feminists, as it can come across as misogynistic, but the production I attended was respectfully and tastefully done. I love Shakespeare not only for the entertainment value, but all of the insights into human nature. And this play taught me so much more than just the value of being agreeable.
For those of you not familiar with the plot, the “shrew,” Katherina, is so obstinate and ill-tempered that no one, herself included, expects her to ever find a husband. Her beautiful and demure younger sister, Bianca, has men lined up wanting to marry her, but the girls’ father won’t let Bianca marry until Katherina (Kate) has tied the knot. Bianca’s suitors then make it their goal to find some poor shlub willing to woo Kate. They bring in Petruchio, who initially wants her for her fortune, but after meeting her, sees that there is a lot more in her to like. He doesn’t seem put off by her shrewish behavior in announces that he will marry her. As was common in those days, Kate doesn’t have a say in this decision, but I got the impression that she kind of likes Petruchio, even though she won’t admit it. Her father, delighted that he will soon be unburdened of both his daughters, agrees to the match.
During the wedding and honeymoon, Petruchio acts like an arrogant, controlling jerk. He disregards social expectations. He insists on “nothing but the best” for his new bride, berating and beating the servants to enforce his impossibly-high standards. And he argues with and contradicts Kate about everything. She gets smart and just starts agreeing with him. Gradually you see her become more and more gentle and compliant until she is totally “submissive” to Petruchio. I see this not as female subjugation, but a choice Kate makes when she realizes she really does love and respect her new husband and knows that he loves and respects her as well. She really is happier and truer to herself than she ever was when she was brash and domineering at the beginning.
After seeing the play, I couldn’t help reflecting on how it’s all about masculine and feminine energy. I’ve only recently learned about these energies, and this knowledge really resonates with me as the key to so many of the challenges faced by myself and others. Carol Tuttle’s description of these energies is beautiful: “Feminine energy (Yin) draws in to create, in a soft and subtle expression. Masculine energy (Yang) moves outward to create, in a bold and straightforward expression.” Feminine energy attracts life and is very nurturing and gentle. Its power comes from the imagination and intuition. It connects us with one another and creates bonds. Masculine energy pushes us out into the world to build and create. It is characterized by leadership, logic, control, attainment, and perfection. While opposites, these energies complement each other, and both are valuable and necessary. (Our society definitely values one above the other, but that’s another topic!)
Every person has a different individual “formula” for the ideal combination of these energies, but to generalize quite broadly, men typically function best when in 60% masculine energy, and women typically function best when in 60% feminine energy. When these energies are out of balance, chaos and trouble result, but when they’re balanced, in both individuals and relationships, happiness, fulfillment and peace follow. Men and women need to learn to more completely embrace both these energies within themselves, but the trick is finding the balance that’s right for you and your relationships.
In the Taming of the Shrew, Kate is definitely out of balance in favor of masculine energy. She tries to control her household, dominating her father and insisting on perfection from the servants and beating them when they fall short. Her superior, tempestuous manner is very off-putting to the men who come to woo such a beautiful and rich woman, and she sends them running for the hills, all except Petruchio. Seeing her for who she truly is, he comes up with a plan to help her balance her energies by going into an excess of masculine energy, acting much more controlling and perfectionistic than Kate ever was. Since the energies in every relationship must come into balance, Kate was caused to shift in favor of her feminine energy, which Petruchio must have known had been there all along. When she finds this balance in herself, she is happy with who she is, content with her life, and very much in love with her new husband. I am inspired by the beautiful way Shakespeare has illustrated this principle in this story.
I’m sure we’ve all known a few Kates. Maybe you are her. (I have definitely seen a lot of her in myself.) Men can also take on too much masculine energy, but it’s more unnatural and destructive for a woman to be imbalanced this way. This is what she may look like in the context of our modern world:
- Whenever she gets afraid, she goes into control mode, becoming critical, judgmental, perfectionist, bossy, and irritable. In her eyes, no one can do anything right.
- She becomes aggressive, intense, and often disgusted with her husband or partner. She may nag or boss him until he goes into servant mode or withdraws from her. (He may then take on more feminine energy, becoming the primary nurturer the children, with a tendency to overindulge them and be excessively permissive of their behavior.)
- She tries to control every aspect of her children’s lives, becoming unglued over their failures or refusal to cooperate. Instead of comforting them when they get hurt, she may blame them for causing inconvenience and disrupting her plans.
- She is extremely critical of herself, beating herself up for every mistake and all the ways she feels that she can’t measure up.
- She doesn’t like herself, so she overeats, (or over-shops, etc.) and it numbs her pain.
It is healthy for a woman to go into a masculine energy mode when it serves her and others. There are many instances where she needs to take charge and get things done, and that’s good! But it hurts her to stay in that mode most of the time.
Seek to be independently united with your spouse, NOT exactly the same, or else one person’s gifts get smothered in favor of the other’s. Natural chemicals bond and unify couples when their energy is balanced. Healthy couples frequently switch back and forth between their different energies as needed given the circumstances. But when one spouse stays primarily in one type of energy, the other spouse may start to feel that his or her role is being marginalized or usurped and may start to feel resentful. But there’s hope! If you are experiencing challenges in your relationship, you can change it! It only takes one person to begin to balance the scales.
Women, I would love to give you some tips on ways to tune in to and increase your wonderful feminine energy, but this post is getting too long. I promise to expand on this topic in another post, but for now, I hope you will find it helpful just to be more aware of how masculine and feminine energy differences affect you and your relationship. Once that awareness is there, the answers you need to live a more fulfilling life will come to you.