Venus and Mars symbols
The Venus symbol with a circle and a cross beneath represents the female. This is said to have been derived from the image of a mirror that belongs to the Roman goddess Venus, who is the goddess of love, beauty and fertility.
Women from the very roots of civilisation have been defined by their role in giving birth and the carrying on of the family line or species. This confines them to the domestic space as men go out of the home to support their wives. Symbols such as these reinforce our stereotypical notions and this explains how it took feminists centuries to push the boundaries and for women to gain access to the public arena.
Other than the fertility association, women are said to represent love and beauty. This shows how the purpose of women's existence is for men's admiration. Objectification of women as sex symbols have been a practice for centuries, and seeing how such objectification is reinforced by tacit symbols that are taken for granted by the world today, it is indeed difficult for women to break down the stereotypes associated with them.
The Mars symbol on the other hand, with a circle and a spear, represents the male. The symbol is said to be derived from the god Mars' spear and shield. Mars is the Roman god of war. This is also a phallic symbol as the spear can be seen to represent the male penis.
Being linked to the god of war, males are often associated with aggression and physical strength. Such stereotypes of males grounded in symbols act to prevent males from breaking away from them. This is why social expectations of males include the tough image of how males should not shed tears. This also explains why more feminine males branded as 'sissies' may still not be accepted into the mainstream.
The Blade and the Chalice
One of the most traditional and oldest symbols of men and women are the blade and the chalice respectively. The blade points upwards, representing the fiery male force and is once again a phallic symbol such as the spear in the Mars symbol. The chalice however resembles a cup that epitomises the womb of a woman, symbolising water as it points or flows downwards and is traditionally used to represent the genitalia of goddesses.
The blade once again emphasises the male force and men's physical strength while the chalice represents the woman in association with her fertility.
The blade and the chalice are therefore the perfect union, as they come together to form the hexagram in the Seal of Solomon as is known in western tradition. The blade pointing up into the chalice represents sexual intercourse, a natural union where the male and female elements complement each other. Known in Buddhism and Hinduism as well, the union of both symbols can be said to be the meeting of fire and water, showing perfect balance and completeness. The union of the blade and chalice shows how men and women cannot live without each other and they need each other to make up for parts of themselves that they lack.
Chinese Yin Yang symbol
The yin yang symbol is representative of many Chinese values and determines the Chinese manner of living. It symbolises the perfect balance, union and completeness that is the desired state of harmony.
The yin aspect of the symbol exhibits qualities such as dark, earthly, feminine, passive, receptive, and is associated with water and valleys. In direct contrast, the yang element possesses traits such as light, the sky, masculine, active, creative and is associated with fire and mountains. As with the Venus and Mars symbols and the blade and the chalice, there is a very distinct maleness and femaleness attributed to the yang and yin respectively.
Once again, the yin is earthly, grounded, at home while the yang represents the sky, which goes upwards and outwards. This complements the notion of how the chalice points downwards while the blade points upwards. Also, yin is passive as opposed to yang being active, taking control. Yang acts while yin allows yang to act. Yang has space to create, actively explores the boundaries while yin stays put and is open to reception. At the same time, yin is again linked with water, which flows and accommodates, taking the shape of what contains it while yang is again linked with fire, which attacks, burns and dominates the space it holds. The notion of valleys as opposed to mountains is very similar to the idea of the chalice and the blade as well, one pointing downwards while the other points upwards.
These qualities of yin and yang perfectly describe the female and the male and structure a framework that contains the stereotypical female and male.