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The Illusion of Gender in Eastern Medicine

Updated: Jun 29, 2019

We all have a lens of perception. A lens in which we see and interpret the world. For those of us who have studied Eastern Medicine, the way we view the world and our relationship within it, has forever changed. Simultaneously, however, our newfound perspective will still, nonetheless, have fragments from the old or other ways of thinking as we integrate our experiences. One perception, in which many of our world views have metamorphosed, is in the area of Women’s Health.


Most current practitioners of Eastern Medicine in the United States are women and most of the patients are also women. This is especially profound when contrasting this to the outlooks regarding women's health throughout our world. Nonetheless, Eastern Medicine perspective, at its core, is based upon the individual’s presentation, not their gender. It is truly fascinating that although Eastern Medicine uses the relationship between yin and yang as its foundational diagnostic criteria, the concept of gender, is not within itself, a factor for diagnosis. There are disorders, of course, associated with men or women and the propensity to have more yin or yang, but being a woman, for example, has very little to do with treatment differentiation. The treatment principles do not take gender into consideration in that they do not create different sets of criteria for men versus women. Both women and men can have Liver qi stasis or stress for instance, and have very similar symptoms. Yes, the menstrual cycle is considered, as one example, but the pattern is based on the signs and symptoms. This can be argued to be semantics, but this is an interesting detail to contemplate.

This small detail in analyzing how Eastern Medicine uses or doesn’t use gender differentiation, is actually a really big point. One could think of Eastern medicine as something that is rather gender neutral. Yin and yang are not about being a man or a woman, but rather about proportions and relationships of yin and yang, which still indeed vary from one person to the next. It is in this root of thinking that Eastern Medicine exemplifies how the human body is based off of nature. And it is in nature, that we see no gender in a societal and cultural framework as we know it. “Gender” in nature serves as a matter of procreation and part of the cycle of birth and death.

It is only in our modern application of Eastern Medicine, that some actually consider gender. And when I say we consider gender, I mean how we, as practitioners, can bring our own experiences and lens of perception to the table and treat our patients regarding the societal and cultural definition of gender. For example, how do you approach a male patient versus a female patient regarding coping with stress? Are they same or not? Are there any communication nuance differences? While we aim to treat the individual irrespective of gender and generate custom treatment plans, we must also examine any potential biases we have that could influence treatment outcomes. As in Eastern Medicine, the balance between yin and yang is the ultimate goal. Any relationship with these concepts that are not based off of nature, but rather societal constructs, may impact the way the treatment is performed. So although most of us do not have egregious biases, there may be more subtle opportunities to refine.


In conclusion, the foundation of our medicine can be lost in practice, rather than in theory. Gender does not exist in a social framework in Eastern Medicine. Gender in Eastern Medicine is related back to the foundation of yin and yang theories. Examining how practitioners approach their patients regarding the patient's identification with gender, can be useful to see how inline the practitioner is to the medicine's originating principles. Are they really seeing the yin and yang dynamics of the patient clearly or are there pre-conceptions impacting treatment?

Listening Medicine


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