Alice, the Anima, and Anorexia


I was pondering two questions this morning as we drove to the airport after a long family weekend away: What should I write about for this post? and How should I answer a recent e-mail from an Iranian student? She’s writing a thesis about the anima and animus archetypes in two of Virginia Woolfe’s books and wonders how to approach her task. Should she just look for images represented by the writer or should she study the characters or events as a Jungian analyst would?
When the pilot said we’d reached 10,000 feet, all five grandchildren, plus a few parents and one grandparent, whipped out their “electronic devices.” Having solved the airline magazine’s sudoku on the way up, I whipped out my kindle and settled in to enjoy Adventure in Archetype: Depth Psychology and the Humanities, by Jungian mythologist Mark Greene. And guess what!
You guessed it: Synchronicity was in action once again. Chapter 1 is about how Alice of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland can be seen as a projection of Charles Lutwidge Dodgeson’s (Lewis Carroll’s) anima complex. And Greene approaches this topic like a Jungian analyst! This was my answer for Maryam, the student, and now it is the topic for this post. This is especially fitting since my last post was also about the anima, even though I didn’t identify it as such. (Oh, how I love my job!)

For those who need a reminder, anima is Jung’s term for the unconscious feminine and animus is the unconscious masculine. When Jung was developing these theories privileged European men and women were still under enormous pressure to conform to strict gender stereotypes. Thus, Jung thought bringing the anima into conscious awareness was a task for men (because men had long been taught to repress their feeling function which was associated with women) and integrating the animus was for women (taught to repress their thinking function because intellectual matters were for men). But as role stereotypes began to crumble in the West during the 1960’s and both genders acquired more freedom to express the truths of their souls, it became apparent that this rule no longer held. Thus neo-Jungians (of which I am one) operate under the assumption that both genders contain both archetypes which need to be consciously accepted and integrated.
So I’d like to share a few of Greene’s conclusions here and in my next post, and tie them in with my last post about feminism. In Chapter 1 Greene notes that Alice is very uneasy throughout the story and most of her anxieties are connected with changes in her body and the problems she has whenever she wants to eat. Remember the empty jar of marmalade she seizes when falling down the rabbit hole? How she eats things that make her grow too big or too small? Or gets so frustrated at the Mad Hatter’s tea party? Greene suggests that Alice’s problems can be seen to reflect the state of  Dodgson’s undernourished and frustrated anima. Then Greene concludes with this remarkable statement:”His visceral treatment of the act of eating…may also be foreshadowing from the 19th century some of the contemporary angst surrounding the integration of food, in general, and anorexia and other eating disorders among teenage girls, in particular.”
Here are some questions I’m asking myself: What if repressing the anima is, indeed, the underlying reason for the dramatic increases in diabetes, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, and stress-related health problems? Could there be a connection with breast cancer? Autism? I don’t know, but wouldn’t it be wiser to spend our money educating the general populace to think psychologically than on knee-jerk band-aid solutions? Wouldn’t it be healthier to accept our feminine sides?

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0 Responses

  1. I’m interested Jean in what you describe as your “Neo Jungian” approach to these two primary archetypes. Noteably that the Self, regardless of gender, contains both anima and animus. This raises some questions that I hope you will have occasion to address:
    1. How important are the anima in women, and the animus in males?
    2. I understand that part of the Jungian “Journey” for a woman is to actually meet her animus; and for a man to meet his anima. Not sure how one does this??? But is it then also part of the “Journey” to meet one’s same gender archetype?
    Lovely image of a dysmorphic Alice but I understand that most idealised pictures of little girls during the Victorian era were on the chubby side (as were their Mums) Perhaps a few extra pounds was seen as a safeguard against the weakening effects of TB and other deadly plagues of the time.
    Lovely post — as ever, and many thanks,

    1. Hi Questra,
      I’m very happy to address your questions! First let me say that I have no sense that every neo-Jungian sees things the same way, just as no two people have the exact same God-image! So I do not speak for anyone else here. What I say comes strictly from me and the way I’ve worked out Jungian theory in my own life. Others might see things differently, and that’s perfectly fine, of course. Neither Jung, nor anyone else has all the “right” answers by any means! There’s a vast realm of unknown territory in the inner universe!!!
      I believe the anima and animus are equally important to females and males. Most of us have issues with certain qualities associated with our own gender as well as their opposites. Jung handled this by calling all the unconscious same-gender qualities our shadow, and all the opposite gender qualities either our anima (for men) or animus (for women). Of course we know now that the ego of every person does not always identify with his/her physical gender, so that’s not always helpful. In working with my dreams I’ve solved this problem by simply seeing all the female characters, liked or unliked by my ego, as representing unconscious aspects of my feminine side, and male characters as my masculine side. Because they are unconscious, they are aspects of my shadow that I associate with gender. Of course, the shadow has many non-gender related qualities too, and our dreams will show us those things with a variety of images that we do not associate with either gender. Moreover, some of our gender-related shadow qualities belong to our individual personalities, and some belong to the archetypal feminine and masculine, or anima and animus.
      The first part of the Jungian journey is to meet and integrate one’s shadow. Jung saw this as accepting all the disliked aspects of ourselves, including those things we associate with our own gender. We do this by seeing and withdrawing our negative projections from others of the same gender, and by observing disliked people of the same gender in our dreams and coming to accept that they are part of us. But, unlike Jung, I see disliked aspects of men in my dreams as also being part of my shadow, because I see my shadow as having qualities of both genders. Like Jung, I think it is necessary to come to terms with our personal shadows (i.e. qualities deemed “negative” by our egos that are associated with our individual personalities) before we can hope to come to terms with the archetypal anima and animus.
      We meet these as they are reflected in other people (both in waking life and dreams) who we find unusually fascinating, so much so that we have a powerful emotional response to them, often a “falling in love” feeling, as if they are almost god-like. This strong numinous feeling is the tip-off that we’ve met an image of our own anima or animus. Then the task is to withdraw our projections and own the presence of this archetype—with all the qualities humanity associates with it, whether “good” or “bad” — in ourselves without identifying it. In other words, I contain an Aphrodite archetype and need to come to terms with that aspect of myself, but by no means do I have the power and invulnerability and amorality of the goddess, nor should I try to claim it. Essentially, the gods and goddesses of every religion (it might help to think of Greek mythology) are projections of the animus and anima, so it can help us recognize the anima or animus in ourselves by seeing which gods or goddesses have the same qualities that we’ve projected onto others. I hope this clarifies it for you.
      Thank you for writing, and for your fascinating observation about pictures of little girls in the Victorian era!

      1. Many, many thanks for your comprehensive answer to my questions — you have helped me clarify important but confusing areas. Learning about, and trying to apply Jung’s teachings, feels a lot like hunting around in your darkest, murkiest closets for dusty bits of an old jigsaw puzzle.
        It is as you have pointed out in your other posts, an experience that delights, chastises and humiliates — and not necessarily in that order. experience. I cannot believe I’ve waited so long to discover it.
        Thank you.

        1. You are so welcome! I’m delighted to have been of help. I love the jigsaw image. I always feel like I’m looking for my puzzle pieces beneath the mud at the bottom of a very deep ocean!! Yes, it is an amazing experience to bring one’s dark places into the light! Jeanie

  2. Very interesting indeed, Jean. I think you have hit on something here.
    Anorexia seems to fossilise girls at a pre-pubescent stage, before they become women, too.
    On another note, as a teenager(and indeed, sometimes even now) I look very like Alice myself, and sometimes refer to myself as a superannuated Alice, in terms of feeling completely lost through a world down the rabbit hole or through the mirror.

    1. Yes! Great point about the fossilization! It’s like for whatever reason they have a powerful unconscious aversion to the 2nd and 3rd stages of feminine development (Maiden being the first, Mother the second, and Crone the third)….like the negative aspects of the Disney Princesses who are always sweet and charming and utterly innocent of any wrongdoing. I suspect this is a completely unconscious response on the parts of girls to the patriarchal pressure to conform to a collective ideal anima. Patriarchy can control little girls far easier than it can women and crones!! I see another blog post here…… I like your “superannuated Alice.” I’ve felt like her myself at certain times of my life, although never in a million years would anyone say I look like her! I was always too tall and too scrawny at a time when that was not fashionable! Not to mention that I once had dark hair….

      1. Being blonde (white blonde at birth and taken to be albino for some days) is a handicap rather than a help. The blondes are stupid jokes are no joke: they run through the whole of society and while they are funny, I do find that what they represent is actually rather sinister.
        I’m working on my cronedom. I have asked my daughter that when I finally go through menopause she buy me a small crown and then crown me as crone. I want to grow old disgracefully, my way, wearing purple or whatever I choose.

        1. I know. I can’t see any benefits whatsoever to blonde jokes. About cronedom: I find it to be by far the very best, happiest, most wonderfully freeing and creative time of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It makes every other experience I’ve ever had, every struggle, every trauma, mistake, doubt or wound, utterly worth it!!! It makes me so sad to see how so many women dread it and go to extremes to fight it. And frankly I sometimes get angry at all the advertising devoted to perpetuating the feminine ideal of eternal youth. I despair over how many women innocently buy into it instead of spending their precious time and money and energy discovering and empowering their truer, wiser selves. Women could make such a difference in this world if they could wake up to their inherent worth and beauty.

    1. Thank you. I appreciate the mention. I’ve read your post on anima/animus and highly recommend it to anyone wishing to gain more information! Best, Jeanie

  3. Dear Jeanie,
    What fascinating stuff. I love this connection and your comprehensive answer along with intriguing questions at the end. Thanks so much for your wisdom.

  4. This was a beautiful post, I must say. Your comments were a joy to read as well! I have been fascinated by this topic for some time now, and relate to it thoroughly. It has troubled me that most recent essays on the topic refuted the theory entirely because of perceived offense to feminism, but I like your neo-Jung stance. I always felt the theory actually resonated with my feminism, despite the dated language and concepts. Concepts, at least good ones, evolve.
    If you ever have time to reply, I’d like to pick your brain a wee bit. I have a fishy feeling that this imbalance or immaturity in our anima/animus/shadow is much to do with our floundering global culture. That’s a lot to say, I know, but I do ponder at the basis of the universal strife. This immaturity seems ingrained and nutured by our increasingly commercialized world, marketed and vacuum-sealed for the masses to squabble over. As a young and strange, offbeat twenty-something woman I find myself often exasperated with trying to make sense of people, especially the parent and peer generations. Generally speaking, women seem trapped in the anima of men, and stunt their personal evolution with shallow goals and thoughts. Extreme vanity, competitive with other women, horrified of becoming old, possessive, valuing themselves entirely and literally at face value… instead of embracing the true anima and animus of herself, she absorbs her shadow and replaces her animus with the man’s anima. We don’t just accept, we encourage this mentality. We plaster it everywhere, so a girl can barely escape with her wits if she tries hard and long enough.
    And for men, it is still devastating. Society shames a thoughtful, emotional man that accepts his partner as an equal. We still shame transgendered biological men and inflict violence or hatred upon him for “degrading” his original sex; it seems so unnatural to most for a man to embrace his anima as a part of himself, so afflicted men become emotionally unstable and reject valid feelings for fear of being “less a man.”
    What are your thoughts? I am curious because I’ve found these archetypes to be constant in my creative work, long before I completely understood them. My experiences being ostracized or shamed in social situations has made this concept a very poignant one for me. I have been researching and pondering on this for years, since developing a personal body of work and finding many unconcious correlations upon reflection. Reading of the animus development in women, it was eerily similar to my development as a child after making conscious rejections of rigid feminine standards. I still do not wear make up, and I have always looked forward to wrinkles of wisdom. I had moments of gender confusion in those awkward pre/teenaged years, and sought logic and knowledge that often only made me more estranged to the female aspects of myself. I feared her limitations and qualifiers, because I did not know I was facing the collective, stunted anima.
    I still credit nature to be my savior, the divine feminine that embodies birth and death, spiritual intuition and sensitivities, and the like. I did not feel a woman, truly, until I reawakened a feminine consciousness much like my early childhood, a sort of magical time for me. From there on it’s been a balancing of that essence empowering and the animus tempering, but it sure is an abnormal way to be. I rarely meet others who aren’t stuck in one inferior identity or another, and those I meet with a greater conscious awareness/balance are fleeting friends and leave me heavy with nostalgia.
    Do you see these concepts as essential to human evolution? I find that patriarchal systems foster brutality, greed, submissive women/feminine, ignorance, etc… and leading us aggressively into a polluted future sold for immediate gratification. I feel the post-modern collective anima/animus is a spoiled, erratic thing, unfeeling and irresponsible. Do you find the answer in the anima, the animus, both, the shadows, all? I suppose that is the elephant in my room, the climax in my own art and one of many answers I hope to express to the world. Thank you for your beautifully articulated thoughts, and for allowing me to wax and wane in your comments. I do appreciate such fine food for thought.

    1. Hi Ashley,
      I do, indeed, believe that our ignorance about our shadows and anima/animus energies is a major, if not the major reason for universal strife. The problem of coming to terms with the opposites (which are everywhere symbolized by the metaphors of “masculine” and “feminine”) is a universal problem and the greatest challenge facing humanity today. We are still in the stage of ego development where the collective ego is still trapped in dualisting thinking. While it may be impossibe to ever completely overcome this as long as we are physical bodies in a physical world, it is possible to grow more conscious of how this way of perceiving everything impacts us in ways that are antithetical to everyone’s basic need for self-preservation and species-preservation.
      I do see becoming more conscious of our archetypal roots as essential to human evolution. Part of the challenge is to see the correlations between our outer behavior (and the behavior of others) and our unrecognized inner compulsions. Part is to see the masculine and feminine drives (animus and anima) as fundamental aspects of everyone regardless of gender. And part is to see that both genders and principles have what we think of as positive and negative qualities without stereotypically assigning more negativity to one gender/principle than the other. Certainly the patriarchal systems of dominance have created monstrous situations worldwide, but we must get beyond blaming men for this and recognize that the underlying psychological reason is every ego’s obsessive need to empower its masculine side and repress the feminine. Those who can see and act on this truth are the ones with the power to make a difference.
      Here I find I can’t resist some shameless self-promotion. Your question, and my response above is the exact theme of my new book, “Healing the Sacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World.” It will be coming out from http://www.Larson in June, and as of a few days ago can be pre-ordered on Amazon!
      Thank you for your profoundly thoughtful and important question! I hope I’ve answered it adequately for you.
      My best,

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