The Transformative Power of the Anima

•May 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been thinking about Danny’s comment lately, and LindaBeth’s, too, and trying to come to an understanding of male sexual vulnerability.  I’ve talked a bit about the difference in sexual power between males and females, and a fair amount about the male role in childbirth, and the way in which these differences make sexual equality difficult for me to believe at times.  But there’s another aspect to these sorts of sexual vulnerabilities, and that’s the way emotional needs propel at least some men to expose our vulnerability to women.  As psychotherapist James Hollis says in Under Saturn’s Shadow:

Most men consider the conditions of their working life a daily battering.  No perks, no car, no key to the executive washroom and especially no raise will assuage his daily loss of soul.  A man understands, deep down, that he is selling his soul, and no paycheck is large enough to compensate.  Thus, upon the fragile, tactile connection with a woman…he places his soul’s burden.  “Take care of it, reassure it, bring it home, if only for awhile.”  Then, post coitum triste, he is disconnected again, adrift, at the mercy of the world and its battering.

In order to break out of this emotional dependency, to learn to bear the burden of their souls themselves, men must face their anima. 


The anima is a key part of C. G. Jung’s psychoanalytical theory.  Jung believed that men had a feminine side he called the anima (the feminine form of the Latin word for soul or spirit).  This anima appears as female figures in dreams, and in most men, who strongly repress their anima, the anima gets projected onto women.  That is, men seek to become whole through the agency of women onto whom their feminine side is projected.  Barbara McManus describes this projection in this way:

The unindividuated man identifies with those personal qualities that are symbolically masculine; he develops these potentialities and to some extent integrates their unconcious [sic] influences into his conscious personality. However, he does not recognize qualities that are symbolically feminine as part of his own personality but rather projects them onto women. He will project his anima—those particular characteristics and potentialities that are significant components of his personal unconscious and therefore carry a special emotional charge—onto a few women for whom he will then feel a strong and compelling emotion (usually positive but occasionally negative). Infatuation (an instant, powerful attraction for a woman about whom he knows little) is one of the signs of anima projection, as is a compulsive possessiveness.

And Hollis again:

To the extent men are unaware that the anima is within, they search for Her in other women, flee Her, oppress Her, ask Her to be Beatrice in their underworld, anaesthetize Her pain through work or drugs.  They overlook the presence of Her in their dreams, in their soul’s flight, in the company of other men, in camaderie with women, in art and music and sport, and in their fantasies and transient madness.

Regular readers will recognize this sort of projection – and the results of its ending – as a bit of a theme in my posts. 


Jung considered the integration of the anima – the process of moving the man’s feminine qualities from the unconscious into the conscious personality – “the masterpiece” of a man’s psychological development.  He identified four principal stages of this development which he identified with archetypal female figures – Eve, Helen (of Troy), Mary and Sophia (an excellent summary of these stages can be found in this post at The Third Eve for interested readers).  According to Jung, it is only at the third stage, which he associated with Mary, that anima projection ends, and consequently, that is the first stage where a man can have a true relationship with a woman.   


Eve notes, speaking of the first stage, that “[t]he man with an anima of this type cannot function well without a vital connection to a woman and is easy prey to being controlled by her.”  This parallels my own experience with neediness and envy and jealousy, with feeling as though being alone was a failure and the way the pain and anger came to the surface every time I saw a couple in public.  It’s an ugly trait, but one that I’ve finally moved past by accepting that what I was seeking is within me.  A hard won peace, to be sure, but a peace that lets me tend to my own needs. 


And that peace allows me to turn to the question of sexual vulnerability from a new perspective, one in which my emotional foundation is not shaken by fears that my emotional needs will fail to be met.  In fact, taking responsibility for my own pleasure and sexual desires brings a light to transforming my fears.  One of the things self-pleasuring teaches is that our bodies belong to us.  I don’t need to surrender in a woman’s arms to receive pleasure or satisfy my desires; I can do that myself.   


The power to choose, to withhold or offer as one sees fit, transforms vulnerability into a gift to be offered.  If I don’t need to offer that vulnerability to feel whole, then and only then do I have a true choice.  And that choice allows me to set conditions, to insist that I can trust being held in love and respect before I consent to intercourse.  


Does that mean that men should only have sex in committed relationships?  I don’t think that’s generally necessary, but we do need to have a broader view of sex than what our culture provides us.  There are a thousand and one ways to be sexual with a woman that have no possibility of conception – and tomorrow, doubtless, there will be a thousand and two, as someone somewhere brings forth from their creativity a new way to express their sexual nature.  Understanding our vulnerability, and treating it as something to be offered only in the context of a loving relationship need not bar men from being sexual in other types of situations and relationships, but it does demand that both men and women let go of intercourse as “the main event”.  I’m coming to be believe that intercourse should not be taken for granted, but seen as something special, a sign, inter alia, of love and trust. 


I find it ironic that we live in a culture that views women as the sexual gatekeepers – that men seek sex and woman consent to it – and yet the direction of my thoughts lead me to the opposite conclusion.  When it comes to conception, men are the gatekeepers.  Childbirth is something that is almost purely the province of women.  They produce the eggs, and they have the ability to transform those eggs into a human child.  But those two processes are not quite connected.  There is a gulf between them, a gulf that women cannot bridge.  That is the function of men, that is what we can offer.  And so I think it is by accepting that creating a child is something women do that men can reclaim their power as enablers of that process.  In a sense, we are the midwives of the women who struggle to bring their eggs into the process of development. 


Every man must decide for himself when he is willing to perform that role in the life of a woman.  But it needs to be a real choice, and that means abandoning cultural ideas of needing sex with another, and needing to have intercourse to fulfill that need.  No man should ever feel he must ejaculate inside a woman to be happy, and accepting that, learning that men don’t need women, is the first step towards achieving a true equality with them.


A Question For My Readers

•May 21, 2008 • 1 Comment

In Nina Hartley’s Guide to Total Sex, the authoress says, “I love how directly sex speaks to and from the hearts of men, compelling me to speak directly also.”  I’m curious what my readers, male and female alike, think of this statement.  Does sex speak to the hearts of men and women differently?

The Beauty of Strength

•May 13, 2008 • 2 Comments

One of the many poverties of our society is the failure to eroticize the male body.  The idea of men as beautiful, of our bodies as appropriate objects for adornment, is sadly missing in a society which sees the male body as an instrument to accomplish its aims.  The twin pressures of Work and War enslave men and turn their bodies into machines.


These pressures are bound up in one of the principal biological differences between males and females – strength, of the muscular variety.  On average, males possess half again the upper body strength of females, with a lesser but still significant advantage in lower body strength.  This is not a matter of being different so much as it is being bigger.  But this trait has become a wedge between the sexes, with male violence precipitating a fear among women of men’s strength.


Of course, it’s not just women who have cause to fear the strength of men.  I’m sure I’m not alone in remembering the way my father used his strength to hurt me as a child, from casual slaps to more involved forms of corporal punishment.  It’s been a long time since I could perceive his touch as untainted with the fear those memories evoke.  But I can remember a time when I was free of that fear.  I have memories of being lifted onto his shoulders, of experiencing his strength as something I loved about him.  It’s that feeling that we need to recapture.  We need to see male strength as something wonderful and loving.  We need to break the link between strength and violence.


We also need to break the link between strength and work.  My friend LindaBeth has written many posts arguing that female sexuality belongs to women, and of course this is at the core of many feminist arguments for reproductive rights.  In a similar vein, I believe we need to understand male strength as belonging to the individual man, and not to society.  We need to end the idea of the male provider, of the man as the engine of society.  Men should have the freedom to choose how they use their strength, whether for the good of society in the hard labor of the construction trades, or for their own pleasure in athletics, or, as it may be, not at all.


A conception of strength that is not inextricably linked to violence and labor could provide a starting point for a new aesthetic of male beauty.  Such a conception would understand strength apart from hardness, and see a new beauty in the proportions of men’s body, which possess a harmony of their own.  A more just, loving society would free men to be beautiful.

Stresses of New Gender Roles

•May 11, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Here is an interesting little article from the University of Florida’s Counseling Center, on the effects of changing ideas of masculinity for male students.  Note especially this bit:

Many males today are confused by the messages they get in relationships. “Be strong” … “Be vulnerable” … “Be the provider” … “I want equality” … “I want a ‘take charge’ man” … “Don’t try to dominate me”. All of these messages, though confusing at times, simply reflect the changing nature of sex roles. Put simply, we are in the process of redefining sex roles in our culture. This leads to confusing messages from partners who also struggle with want they want in a man.

This is something I’ve noticed in my last two relationships (and to a lesser extent, my marriage).  The key phrase both of those women used was, “I don’t need another girlfriend.”  At the same time, they wanted respect for not only their femininity, but their competence at stereotypically masculine activities.  But they weren’t ready to allow me the same freedom.  Women being strong and assertive?  Yes, of course.  Men being emotionally vulnerable?  Hell, no!


One of the things I tried to do in one of my previous posts was to suggest ways in which women participate in enforcing the masculine gender role.  I think it’s necessary and important for men to move past these old notions of what a man is, but I also think this is going to be a difficult process not just for men, but for women as well.  Old notions of what they can expect from a partner, from financial provider to emotional rock and support, are going to have to be given up so that both sexes can enjoy freedom.


I don’t want to overemphasize the role of women, though.  Men have a large task in front of us – one with, I think, great rewards, but one which, in any case, we cannot turn away from now.  The article referenced above is correct; like it or not, as a society, we are in the process of redefining gender roles.  We should be thankful for the strong and courageous women who made this process possible, even if it has resulted in a period of confusion and uncertainty in men’s lives.  And the best way to show that gratitude is to show that we’re up to the challenge that has been given to us – to be both strong and vulnerable, decisive and collaborative, assertive and passive, as the situation warrants.


In other words, to be whole.

Prayer in the Public Square

•May 8, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Another interesting post at The Wild Hunt, which deals with, inter alia, public prayer.

“In just a few seconds’ time during the April Town Board meeting, Jennifer Zarpentine made Greece [here referring to a town in New York; not the nation] history. Zarpentine, a Wiccan, delivered the first-ever pagan prayer to open a meeting of the Greece Town Board. Her hands raised to the sky, she called upon Greek deities Athena and Apollo to ‘help the board make the right informed decisions for the benefit and greater good of the community.’ A small cadre of her friends and coven members in the audience chimed in ‘so mote it be.'”Americans United, who recently helped win the veteran Pentacle case, is suing the town board in order to force it to switch to nonsectarian prayer (or no prayer at all). A move Wiccan Jennifer Zarpentine disapproves of. 

“Zarpentine said she was pleased by the opportunity to pray at the meeting. ‘I thought the invocation went well,’ she said. ‘The board was respectful;, they all bowed their heads.’ As far as the lawsuit goes, Zarpentine said the town isn’t being discriminatory. ‘They are including everybody,’ she said. ‘They asked me.'”

Which illustrates a point where there is some divergence between groups like the ACLU and modern Pagans. Most modern Pagans are fine with religious expression so long as there is full and consistent inclusion. While the AU, and similar organizations, take a harder line of enforcing nonsectarian or nothing.

It’s an interesting question.  My tendency is to prefer an inclusive religiosity to public secularism, largely because I don’t believe in a bright line separating religious activity from nonreligious activity.  Consider, for example, a Christian who volunteers at a local homeless shelter from a sense of religious duty.  Or prayers for material needs.  Or the way people use religious markers to define their identity (cultural Catholics, for example).  That’s not to say religious questions aren’t often contested and difficult, but it does suggest that a clear idea of the society we’re working towards may be worth some thought.

Ultimately, I just find the idea of a society where people are free to acknowledge and discuss their beliefs, provided they are respectful of the beliefs of others, more appealing than one which requires its members to maintain an often-false pretense of functional irreligiosity.

Life as a Hunt

•May 8, 2008 • Leave a Comment

And now, to depart from my usual topics, a short post about religious matters.

I just found this delightful interview with Thista Minai via The Wild Hunt.  I especially loved this bit in her response to a question about Artemis and hunting:

I think it’s much easier for people to say “hunting is bad” or “hunting is good” because that escapes responsibility in a way. It’s much harder to say “I am good or bad depending on how I conduct my hunt” … and isn’t that a great analogy for the rest of our lives? How do we each conduct our hunt? How do we act when we pursue something we want? What means are we willing to go to to get it?

I think she’s right on the merits of hunting, but I’m also interested in how a deeper investigation of almost any activity can elucidate a general approach to life using that activity as a metaphor.  This is something the Japanese know well, of course; their penchant for making even serving tea a Way to Enlightenment (Do) is well known.  It’s as if human knowledge is a great tree, with one trunk but many brnaches.  You can look at just the branches if you like, but as soon as you go deeper, you start to see the connections between things.

Ending Projection

•May 7, 2008 • Leave a Comment

So, I’m thinking of this emotional pain I’ve been feeling, and these fears of feminine sexuality, and I think I’m beginning to understand.  I’m starting to realize how deeply I’ve suppressed so-called feminine traits.  I’ve been projecting that side of me onto women in general, and then seeking a woman to connect with in order to make myself whole again.


Somehow, changing the way I look at women interfered with that projection.  That’s why women look different now, and why this change brought on so much pain.  Thirty years of suppressed feelings came to the surface, no longer having anywhere else to go.


As I’ve struggled to accept this, and work through the pain, I’m finding that I’m becoming much more tender-hearted than I’ve ever felt before.  While I still can’t quite seem to cry, I find myself tearing up several times a day.  I hope my emotions settle down soon.  I don’t want to go back to repressing them, but it’s starting to get difficult to bear at work.


I had a dream the other night.  It was just a brief flash of a cute young woman, whom I understood to be my female version.  I think this was an image of my suppressed feminine side.  She seemed happy, which I think is a good sign.  I’m trying to nurture her now, in the hopes that one day she can be just another part of me again.


In the process of realizing these things, my fear of having sex with a woman has receded to a worry about unintended pregnancy, which I don’t expect is a very unusual worry for anyone who’s sexually active, or wishes to be.  I’m even able to acknowledge feelings of respect for women’s ability to create new life, without feeling inferior or defensive.  I still can’t see male and female sexuality as equal in an intellectual sense, but much of my fear seems to be draining away.