Misogyny, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Female Power.

It has taken me a long time to write this blog. I had to think carefully about whether I was prepared for what might come – negative or positive – from publishing something so personal. Ultimately, I took courage from the words of Luvvie Ajayi from her Ted Talk during Woman’s Week. She said that before she publishes, she asks herself three questions:

  1. Did you mean it?
  2. Can you defend it?
  3. Have you said it with love?

I believe I have the first two questions covered. So, I write this blog in the hope that the answer to the third question also shines through – yes, it is my intention to say the following words with love. Both to myself, and to others.

2017 was an interesting year for me. I had my ignorance about the issue of white privilege clearly pointed out to me via a Doula colleague, and as a result I went on a learning journey which has opened my eyes and given me a vocabulary to articulate some of the discomforts I, and others, see and have in life. I have come to realise that I will never really know the full extent of the lack of knowledge I have. However, I do know that the process of moving from ignorance to knowledge takes reflection, and I have through this reflective learning process come to recognise and acknowledge my hierarchical privilege as a white woman. I have begun to try to use my voice and spend my time in service of learning and in recognition of that fact. But, that’s not what this blog is about. This blog is about the fact that I have also been able to use a lot of the same language I learnt on this particular journey to express my experience of being a woman on the shitty other end of a different kind of privilege – that of male privilege.

In the TCM world we have an interesting situation. Chinese Medicine is predominantly a female profession, which is dominated by men. In my experience, they have written more of the books, comprise more of the lecturers, run more of the real-life and virtual learning institutions, lead more of the conferences and instigate and moderate more of the Facebook groups than women. What a strange situation! Where are our loud, proud, inspirational female voices? They are out there, but very few of them are shouting on their own behalf, very few of them are vocally supported by other women, and very few of them are talking about what it is like to be a woman of intelligence, drive, purpose, vision, committed to family, client and financial abundance. Most importantly, even fewer of these few women are talking about how to do this using female and not male words, paradigms, energy and tools.

What was the catalyst for writing this blog? It was arriving at the end of 2017 and thinking back on my year.

So you understand what I mean, here are a few of things that have happened or been said to me over the last year:

On asking to join my vision up with an organisation to supply them with something they don’t have:

  • “My, you’re ambitious” (why does that need to be remarked on?)
  • “Do you have the funds to do that” (there isn’t much point proposing this unless I do, right?)
  • “Well, that’s just based on you isn’t it” (well yes, that’s how I make my living and support my family.)

This next comment was repeated in pretty much every conversation I had this year about my business plans:

  • “Let me give you a piece of advice” (I didn’t ask you for advice.)

To my surprise, I’ve even been:

  • Threatened with a third party’s anger if I didn’t accept some advice that, whilst well-meaning, was both factually incorrect and lacked full contextual and intentional information.

Social Media Misogyny:

  • A twitter post I wrote whilst attending a conference (which I also placed on my FB page and is still there) provoked a surprising conversation. In response to me pointing out that in posting his thoughts this person was ‘Mansplaining’ away an experience I had written about, and while trying to explain the need for women and men to accept that their lived experience is different, a male poster asked me: “why are you using hate speech?”
  • And then, in a later post on the same feed, he made a statement that my argument was nothing but the “weak war cry of those who have failed to meet their goals.”

On other professionals under or de-valuing my time and expertise:

  • I am repeatedly asked to come and teach, in the UK, the US and Europe. I am asked to submit abstracts and to travel away from my family and clinic – and almost each time this request has been for little or no money, and sometimes I am even asked to pay for the privilege!  When I state my daily rate, I am more often than not met by disbelief and incredulity that I am not so overwhelmed by the honour they do me by asking that I immediately consent to the excellent deal they are offering. I have to be away from my clinic and therefore my income, and most importantly be away from my family when I teach. And, that’s not even mentioning the often over a hundred hours it takes me to research and write a weekend’s lecture. To ask me to do this without recognising these facts is not OK.  To ask me to do it only to find out my male counterparts are being paid or being paid more when we are on-par in terms of experience (which also happens frequently) is doubly not OK.

These conversations – I confess, they make me angry. And it makes me understand further and deeper what my Doula colleague said to me about her lived experience as a woman of colour: why must I as the recipient of ignorance take responsibility for educating you? I know that it is not right to ask the abused to educate the abuser.  But, yet, here we are. As women, I believe we have to continue to have this dialogue in order to create change, as by default the ignorant cannot educate themselves. They simply don’t know that they need to do the reading, the learning, the listening, and most of all, the accepting.  The only way to change these conversations in the future is to speak, to signpost, to reflect back and to be brave about not continue to accept and reward with continuing engagement these words directed at us by those who can’t listen or accept, and won’t learn.

I’ve started speaking up not only on my own Facebook page, but in some of the myriad Acupuncture groups of which I am part. I have begun to point out when men are talking down to me, or making presumptions in their comments. I have begun to speak about why we as women second-guess ourselves too much. Why we are lacking in confidence. Why we have to do the work to unpick our attitudes around money and boundaries so we can be profitable and successful on our own terms. Why we need to stop feeling like we must apologise when we make strong statements. Why we need to look externally to validate our instincts when their very presence alone should be enough.

Two main things have astonished me about speaking up:

  1. That since I have been speaking up, so have others. Sometimes my female colleagues follow me in posting thoughts of their own. But mostly, they write to me. My email and instant messenger have housed communications from women sharing their experience of being patronised, dismissed, mansplained, and subtly disempowered. One of the most common phrases is: ‘it didn’t feel right, but I didn’t know why,’ or ‘I didn’t have the words to explain why what he said to me wasn’t right, and now I do.’
  2. Almost universally, when reflecting my lived experience back to the man who posted or emailed or with whom I am conversing, I am met with, at best, dismissal. Most often though, almost inevitably in fact, I am met with aggression and a fundamental lack of ability to accept that there may be something out there beyond their experience worth learning about (even when signpost to articles or books which explain in a more academic way my points).

I’ve begun to think about how much this dismissal, coupled with a lack of female power has impacted my clarity of thought, and my decision-making, as a woman. And, if it affects me, I think it must be affecting us all. In fact, from the conversations I’ve had this year, I know it does. I have to work each time I have a situation like this to keep hold of my reality, although this is getting easier. This subtle behaviour on the part of men has been expressed for so long and so consistently, that as a group, I believe women have been worn down. It sucks. And it is tiring.

Retiring Superwoman

Earlier this year I came across the concept of ‘Retiring Superwoman‘ which I found very helpful.  It was introduced to me by Dr Joanna Martin as part of a course I took on female time management. In it, she discusses the fact that men have an abundance of testosterone to draw upon in their life. Women, in an attempt to equalise the playing field, have for all too many years worked ‘just like a man,’ drawing upon our adrenalin and cortisol to replicate the testosterone of men. We end up ignoring our female power, which lead us to inhabiting the bitch/martyr/exhaustion triangle, and being overweight, depressed and in burnout. I believe we cannot afford to do this any longer; we simply don’t have the hormonal reserves to do so.  I learned a lot from this course, and one huge part of it was how much easier it is to use the flow of my female nature to speak powerfully, but non-aggressively.  It is an ongoing challenge, but one which I try to perfect each day.

In conclusion, I’d like to share with you my New Year’s Resolution: I want to be one of those woman of intelligence, drive, purpose, vision, committed to family, client and financial abundance. I want to raise my voice and stick my head above the parapet. I want to start and continue a dialogue about this in my beloved world of Chinese Medicine, and I want to see change. I want to be part of the change. Change in the way women view themselves and what they are capable of professionally, and change in the professional conversations I and my female colleagues have with men in our profession both in the real world, and online.


Call to Action: next time you feel it, say it. Call it out. Use the hashtag #TCMisogyny and let’s highlight just how often this happens so we can be part of changing the dialogue for the next generation of women.

Reading List: here is a short reading list for those who are interested in a new dialogue and an authentic and respectful way of hearing and being heard:

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25 Responses to “Misogyny, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Female Power.”

  1. Lorri

    This is long overdue. Thank you for your courage.

    • Naava Carman

      Your words are hugely appreciated Lorri, thank you.

  2. Heather

    Take it back when I started in college 40+ years ago . .(nursing a 6 week old baby no less!), and then writing/teaching courses
    As a long time feminist – it is good to see someone younger paying attention – as all see is men writing the tomes – yet they have not bled, birthed or breastfed .
    And their way is what is assumed – all that forcing and ignoring nature – and the women who choose to play that game rise to the top of the men’s way . .

    We are all there – just doing it our way .
    Quietly moving mountains, mentoring, role modeling with grace and usually humour – as we have been that way before you

    • Naava Carman

      Thank you for your valuable contribution to this dialogue Heather.

  3. Marlene

    Great article! You spelled organization wrong. It’s a z not an s. Good luck in all your future endeavors! The more we notice ignorance in men, the more we need to accept their bad behavior is coming from bad upbringing and making up for being the weaker sex!

    • Naava Carman

      Hi Marlene, thank you for your comments and good wishes. Just to note that in the UK we replace z with s in our spelling. For example, strategise not strategize. A whole new spelling world! Best wishes.

  4. Stephanie McGuirk

    Thank you for your candor. It seems to me, the only area women are really thriving in Chinese medicine is pediatrics and obstetrics. I agree most of the rest of the field is dominated by men. And the misogyny in the Chinese culture of TCM is never mentioned. It’s although we must revere the forefathers of this medicine in order to follow in their footsteps. And we implicitly agree not to speak about the outdated misogyny in it.
    I agree there’s something strange about the way Asian men,especially in Chinese medicine and martial arts, are not called out on their behavior by women that would have no problem calling out western men on the same shit. WTF?
    Most of the women I know that are acupuncturists are liberal and thoughtful. But many of us are working out a living and trying to raise a family.Maybe this is just a lot to unpack, and the time it would take to disseminate it we are using to do other things. I don’t know?
    This conversation has definitely touched a nerve for me. I had an experience with a Qi Gong “so called” master in my Midwestern city. A man that I had over for dinner with my extended family, referred patients to and Introduced other practitioners to. I would be interested in hearing the stories of other women. And am curious about exactly how widespread the incidence of this kind of behavior is.

    • Naava Carman

      Thank you very much for talking about your experience Stephanie. My follow-up blog is going to be speaking about some of the stories that have been shared with me and their amazing commonalities.

  5. Alicia

    I experience what you are speaking of but mostly from other women, school peers or instructors. I can only assume that this will happen with men as I hold my practice.
    I have always wondered why other women have talked to me this way.

    • Naava Carman

      It’s a good question. I wonder if it is something about the Superwoman I wrote about. About being brought up thinking that to get ahead, we had to adopt a very ‘male’ attitude to life. About speaking to others as you have been spoken to. Change comes when we model a different way of being. Wishing you all the best of luck in your practice.

  6. Peter Deadman

    Interesting blog and if backed by other women’s experiences this is something we should talk about and try to change. I do have a few comments to add. I can confidently assert that in 35-odd years of publishing and editing the Journal of Chinese Medicine, the gender of our authors has been immaterial. We consider each article entirely on its merits. It may also well be true that there is predominance of male authorities in Chinese medicine and related fields, but it’s also true there’s some important women out there. Off the top of my head, I can think of Claudia Citkovitz, Debra Betts, Yi-Li Wu, Charlotte Furth, Martha Hanson, Suzanne Robidoux, Sabine Wilms, Zita West, Jennie Longbottom and Kiiko Matsumoto. As far as teachers’ fees are concerned, I would be astonished if it were true that conferences, for example, offered different pay to men and women. As for private ‘come and teach a day or a weekend’ setups, my experience is that they usually ask me what I want and either agree or disagree. Do you have evidence that different fees relate to your gender or to things like how much you ask? I’m not disagreeing here, just wanting to know.

    • Naava Carman

      Dear Peter, with your response (and I know this wasn’t your intention), you have actually validated the points I was making in my blog. Further, I can see by it that you are not up to date with the current literature on feminism, on structural sexism, and on the importance of accepting the lived experience, just as I was not when something similar was pointed out to me. May I therefore reflect to you the best piece of advice I received: ‘listen, don’t speak. Educate yourself about the topic before you engage further in this conversation.’ Use my reading list to engage with the topic, the language and the concepts so you can see what I mean. Look at my Facebook page, and other acupuncture groups where this blog has been posted to see how others have received this piece, and the discussions which have ensued. How you receive my response will tell me whether you are indeed open to my experience, and to reflecting on how your way of being in the world and relating impacts women – and has indeed impacted me.

  7. Amrit Singh

    Absolutely spectacular !!!!

  8. Aimee

    I was just reflecting on this issue – how the field of Chinese medicine is made up of majority women and how all the authors of books, lecturers at conferences, directors of TCM schools, etc are majority men! What does this say in terms of styles of practice and ways of being in the treatment room? Like you, I want to speak out about the subtle and not-so subtle forms of power and privilege influencing our field and create platforms for sharing the depth of our knowledge as female practitioners. Thank you for writing this piece and please add me to your list of future publications. And a special thanks for the resources you listed – I appreciate it all!

    • Naava Carman

      Thank you Aimee for taking the time to leave your thoughts; they are much appreciated. I have added you to my mailing list with thanks, and hope to hear from you as a contributor to my follow-up blog, following my next mailout, Best wishes, Naava.

  9. Heather Bruce

    Hello Agian ..
    thank you agian.
    It is great to have mor ethan a few loe voices – as Peter Deadman ‘off the top of his head’ comment – where are the myriad others? get him to name all the men and he would need a day to finish off . . Women stand out BECAUSE they are there.
    We do not bother to publish often – as we pave way too much going in – without female helpers – as we ARE the wife/ mother/social family organiser/one who keeps all threads in life together – and then also the caring and does it all herself to make sure it is done with heat person who fronts up – and without the nameless/faceless ‘assistant’ women that help men over the line – we are up against it. Says I who had 4 children over 18 years – this is to be the ‘rabbits in our lap’ that the Mayan people speak of – we tend to take the mantle of healing OFF when rearing children – and quite often – lose our past place in the queue for good – yet have so much more to add into any life because of this.

  10. Julie Rose

    Thank you, Naava. I’ve seen your posts, but now I feel like I know you a little more. Of course it’s not just in the TCM world, but I had this come up a lot in acupuncture school with people I trusted as friends, and afterwards with people I trusted as colleagues, and now in my personal life (again), which you just helped me put in perspective. These massive stressors used to put me in hiding mode, but I can’t do that now. At least I can recognize it and call it for what it is, even if it’s just inside myself. Thank you again.

  11. Tracy

    What a great blog post!

  12. Leigh

    Dear Naava.
    I have just been led to this article after seeing your recent post about a latest blog (i am going to read that next). I just wanted to say thank you so much for taking the time to have written and published such an amazing article. It highlights lots of questions I had whilst fairly recently training in acupuncure, mainly to do with the number of women on my course, being taught predominantly by men. I have noticed how great the lack of balance or even an understanding of this lack from a male perspective is recognised, even when seemingly offering support. You have explored this wonderfully.
    Thank you.

    • Naava Carman

      Thank you Leigh, I’m really glad to hear this has resonated with you.

  13. Sabine Wilms

    Dear Naava, I just recently published a blog on misogyny myself and had such a hard time stating out loud what has been weighing me down for decades. I absolutely concur with your experiences, especially about being mansplained to, and especially in the field of classical scholarship, which is what I do, which is still so dominated by men. And I get grateful feedback after pretty much every weekend seminar I teach, especially when it is on gynecology or reproduction, from women who so appreciate my female perspective. We do have a different way of looking at the world, when we honor our femaleness. Far too often, contemporary male teachers, authors, professors read misogyny into the ancient material that just isn’t there, but is a reflection of their own misogynistic biases. Here’s my blog on the topic, if you are interested: https://www.happygoatproductions.com/blog/2019/3/4/misogyny-in-chinese-medicine-not-what-you-may-think. But I think the tide is shifting, slowly but surely. I have gotten the most wonderful comments and personal emails about it (in addition to some hate mail and trolling)…Thank you for putting yourself out there.

  14. Naava Carman

    Dear Sabine, its so wonderful to read your blog and see the convergence of our thoughts and experience on this subject. I have the utmost respect for your work, your scholarship and your own bravery in speaking up with your experience and facing the same rewarding and challenging balance of praise and castigation as I have over this last year. Thank you for sharing it here, and I hope that anyone reading my blog will take the time to also read yours.

  15. Coleman Marian

    Oh my goodness! an amazing article dude. Thank you However I am experiencing issue with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting identical rss problem? Anyone who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

    • Naava Carman

      Hi Coleman, if you pop onto the site again you’ll see a pop-up. You can use that to subscribe to if you’d like to be on our mailing list; just choose the category you fall into, either practitioner or patient. Thank you for your kind comments and interest.

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