This blog, Matrignosis, (Mother Knowing) is based on my profound need to understand and empower the wounded feminine in myself and society. The same theme is explored in my three psychologically-oriented books. Although the most recent one is about creating equal partnership between the healthy masculine and feminine, in this book too I emphasized the feminine side of the equation. That seemed the most pressing need.
But recent dreams and outer events are making strong statements about certain masculine wounds. Robert Bly, one of our most eloquent voices for healthy masculinity has written, “By the time a man is 35 he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man, the true man which he received in high school do not work in life.”
Women know this too, but immersion in a culture whose institutions are based on distorted images of masculinity blinds both genders to healthier images. Knowing in our hearts that something is wrong is one thing. Acting on this knowledge when no one around us appears to see this elephant in the room is quite another.
A boy is filled with excited anticipation about his first hunting trip. If he misses (deliberately) the graceful doe he’s told to kill, he’s taunted and shamed for being “a girl.” If he cries, the adults are disgusted. If he dutifully kills her he earns their respect and praise. They’ve been through this themselves and see it as a rite of passage that will toughen the boy up and prepare him for “real life.” It may do that, but at what cost? Of what value is a hardened heart that cannot feel its pain or empathize with the pain of those who have no voice?
A young athlete succumbs to the temptation to take illegal performance-enhancing drugs. When he wins he enjoys his success and ignores the shame of his pricking conscience. Is being victorious over others truly the only valid definition of success? Sure, when human rights are in the balance, only the worst among us would argue that victory over oppression is not a successful outcome. But how about when greedy, fearful masculine-oriented egos conquer conscience, compassion and consciousness? Is this a successful win?
Catholic theologian Richard Rohr says a basic difference between the feminine and masculine psyches is that for the masculine it’s either win or lose. But the feminine, the Mother, can’t choose between winning and losing. All her children have to win! For her, win-win is the only justice. Psychologically, everyone has a masculine (animus) and feminine (anima) side; but only our masculine side is vulnerable to obsessing over winning at all cost. This happens when he mindlessly aligns his natural love for winning with patriarchy’s five-milliennia-old obsession with subjugating our inner feminine and the outer women who remind us of her! At all cost!
How do we bridge the seemingly irreconcilable divide between our inner masculine and feminine? Our egos must invite the disowned Feminine Spirit Warrior, the Mother, into our awareness. She’s strong enough to feel the shame of our pricking conscience. Brave enough to suffer when we’ve caused others pain. Tough enough to admit our fallibility. Caring enough to love and serve all our children. Becoming an undivided Spirit Warrior who lives with compassion and balance while causing the least amount of harm to others is the true meaning of winning.
How might your life have been different if you’d been taught to respect the feminine instead of how to win the respect of a wounded, dysfunctional culture?
My newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at this Amazon link or at Larson Publications, Inc.
Ego and God-Image: Part VI
[T]he most important relationship of childhood, the relation to the mother, will be compensated by the mother archetype as soon as detachment from the childhood
the obsession with winning is not gender-specific
Yes, I agree. That’s what I mean when I say that, “Psychologically, everyone has a masculine (animus) and feminine (anima) side; but only our masculine side is vulnerable to obsessing over winning at all cost.” I’m not saying only men are vulnerable to this: I’m saying that this is a quality that’s universally associated with our masculine “side,” the psychological animus in all of us. A woman has a masculine side too, and this is what drives her to compete and succeed. Likewise a man has a feminine side that compels him to feel and care. Biologically, the animus is our drive for self-preservation; the anima, our drive for species-preservation. Everyone contains both drives. Nature gives us a gender with a certain mixture of hormones that influences much of our behavior, but it also gives us a psyche with a full range of psychological potential. It’s society that imposes stereotypes on us.
nice, thanks …
personally, i am fed up with bodily gender thinking, and very much interested in the multi-dimensional qualities of consciousness that are common to all humans
Thanks, Gregory. You and I are on the same page about this! It’s long past time we “woke up” and started celebrating our commonalities instead of persecuting each other for our differences! Both genders suffer from oppressive stereotypes imposed by dualistic thinking.
One of your best yet, my friend!
Very much enjoying your insights. I think gender is a huge elephant in the room, and nobody wants to talk about it, possibly because it requires a major shift in our thinking. With men accountable for over 90% of the world’s violence, it’s too easy to point fingers and lay blame. Yet we nurture a collective conscience, inclusive of both genders. I think we need to recognize the different chemicals (hormones) at work within each gender, and perhaps be more aware of them as our children are introduced to life’s challenges. If we are to achieve gender balance and equality, it will happen best with strong self-awareness of our differences.
I see a new generation of women in the wings of North American society who demonstrate a spit-fire energy both alarming and refreshing. It’s as if they have a new confidence of self, and in some it manifests as a superior smugness. This, alongside another subset of women still vying for attention with cleavage and stiletto heels, makes it very confusing for the opposite gender, I suspect. Is this what you mean by the walking wounded?
Thank you, Lorrie. Yes, a major shift in our thinking is exactly what is required! And you’re right: nobody wants to go there because of the huge effort it requires (acquiring self-awareness is painful and humbling), and the enormous resistance with which such efforts are met by those whose self-images are fully invested in maintaining the status quo.
I love your observations about the new generation of sassy women in the wings of North American society, and agree that this phenomenon carries both healthy and wounded attitudes. I think the superior smugness is a knee-jerk reaction against the condescension many women have received from many men. Like exaggerating one’s gender-specific physical traits in order to attract attention and admiration, or the rage felt by many women and African Americans in the 1970’s and 80’s, these are, indeed, symptoms of the walking wounded, and they are not exclusive to race or gender. They’re completely natural phases every ego goes through on its journey from unconsciousness to consciousness. Collective awareness has yet to fully understand this because such understanding is only gained through personal experience. But the fact that more of us are experiencing and talking about these realities means that our society has hope of growing more conscious!
I appreciate your thoughtful contributions to this discussion.
Excellent post, Jean! As someone with two boys involved in elite soccer, I am appalled at the lack of humanity that is sometimes exhibited in the competitive arena. Coaches, ambitious parents on the sidelines, and the athletes themselves often behave as if it is perfectly okay to beat others down psychologically in the pursuit of a cheap cup or medal. While sports offer a wonderful symbolic universe for young men to work out their aggression, they also reveal the shadow side of that universe–something which is then carried into other fields. I heard recently that the Ivy League Universities are thinking of offering sports scholarships to students because the most competitive athletes tend to do very well out there in the world and give back to their alma maters. It really reveals what society privileges and how it sometimes impoverishes us all.
Thanks for writing, Bea. You make an excellent point when you say “sports offer a wonderful symbolic universe for young men to work out their aggression.” Competitive sports, like television or emotions or political debates or religions or anything else, are neither good nor bad in themselves. They only become toxic when they further the desires of greedy egos and foster a lack of compassion. It seems to me that we do a pretty good job of talking about compassion, but a terrible one of actually feeling or acting from it. I see this disconnect between the head’s ideals and the heart’s realities as the real problem. Until each of us finds ways to connect the two we will continue to lead impoverished lives.
My God Jeanie, I apologize for somehow missing this whole string of posts you had in late January and February, which addressed some of the major issues I try to address. No real excuse, but an old adage comes to mind: “When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the original objective was to drain the swamp!” I’ll be acting on this oversight in the coming weeks. Perhaps this adage explains why things don’t change faster than they do in broader society.
As I read _The Red Book_, I’m gradually getting more and more understanding about what Jung meant when he spoke of “The Spirit of the Age.” Many “Jungians” seem to have taken it to mean that we might as well be fatalistic, because there is really little we can do to change the enormity of what is happening around us and in our psyches (or, if they’re therapists, one shouldn’t interfere with the emergence of the Self of the individual).
That is not my personal reading at all; it’s rather an observation, which may be somewhat flawed. There was nothing passive about what Jung did. He perceived something monumental, that others had not, and poured his prodigious scholarship and decades of writing into bringing it to consciousness for the rest of us. Thank God he lived in Switzerland! I see you as following in that great tradition of activism. Too many of us just want to be told things, without having to do the difficult work of analysis, synthesis, and adaptation.
The good news is that your work, and the various comments on Matrignosis, tell us symptomatically what we yearn for now. Here’s hoping the “Spirit of the Age” of the 21st Century is to allow the ideas you write about so eloquently to finally reach the consciousness of all humanity. There is also good news that ideas that seemed totally calcified in society, now seem to be changing in a rush.
No problem about the alligators, Skip! Living in Florida as I do, I’ve occasionally found myself in that situation too!
I totally agree that there was nothing passive about what Jung did. Only someone who has not studied and struggled on a regular basis for years to understand the workings of their psyche and to share what they know in ways that other people can understand could think such a thing!
Thank you for the deep honor you give me when you say that you see me following Jung’s great tradition of activism. Others may only associate activism with getting “out there” in the trenches, but in my experience, fighting it out in the inner trenches of the mind are no less daunting and noble.
I share your hope and trust in the good news of rapid societal change.
Again, thank you, my activist friend.