Monday, February 11, 2008

Catalyze a new partnership between women and men

The Divine Feminine, Unveiled
Will embracing woman-centered spirituality take us beyond patriarchy? by Elizabeth Debold
Jung was a Victorian...The Victorian era, like no time before or since, asserted that one’s gender and sexuality were the core of who we are. Thus when he was developing his theory, Jung, like Freud and other pioneers of psychoanalysis, would not have had the awareness that what he understood about women and men was located in his particular cultural context. While human civilization has always been patriarchal to one degree or another, you could easily say that in the Victorian era, modern patriarchy reached its height, bolstered by newly developing sciences that aimed to prove extreme differences between women and men. Victorians perfected the idea that men and women are opposites. As Jung himself said, “What can a man say about woman, his own opposite?” ...
The current feminine ideal is to be good, beautiful, sexy, all-compassionate, giving, and loving. The pallid Victorian ideal casts a shadow across our psyches, so we often see our liberation in terms of reclaiming and celebrating our sexuality, our emotions, and our biologically based roles that keep us in sync with nature. It’s uncanny how this latest incarnation of the Divine Feminine brings together the aspects of woman that are most valued within patriarchy—sexuality and mothering—and upholds this image as our evolutionary goal. Again, woman is body—now the pure, “natural,” and sexual body, as if we can ever step outside culture to find an unmediated self.
Even more important, there is an assumption in all of this that we women have been untouched by patriarchy and are innocent of the culture that we are steeped in. This only shows how wedded we still are to an image of ourselves as “good women” who are morally superior to the mess and conflict of the world. That very division—between men in the public sphere and women innocently at home in the private sphere—is Victorian patriarchy. And it corresponds to a division within ourselves that few women speak about with much depth or seriousness. It is here that the Jungian archetypes are particularly instructive, because they represent the sedimented layers of instinctive roles and responses women have had in patriarchy. “Patriarchy is . . . the marriage of the dark feminine and the negative masculine,” says Carolyn Baker, Jungian analyst and author of Reclaiming the Dark Feminine. “If we’re going to understand and dismantle patriarchy, we need to be talking about the dark side of the feminine, as well as the negative masculine.”
From what I see, most of the popular approaches to the Divine Feminine engage only superficially with the dark side—the unconscious, repressed, or denied aspects of self—if at all. While there is a recognition that patriarchy (particularly the Victorian version of it, I would add) created a context in which women repressed their sexuality, the response seems to be simply to urge women, as does, to “embody your ecstasy.” Sexy has become part of the image, and as such it doesn’t disrupt patriarchy at all. If anything, it only focuses our attention on being attractive, desirable, and obliging. But the dark feminine is anything but attractive, which is why, as the eminent Jungian analyst Irene Claremont de Castillejo suggests in her classic 1973 book Knowing Woman, few women want to get near these aspects of our psyches. Aphrodite, after all, is not just the goddess of love but is capable of ruthless vengeance and jealous destructiveness, particularly toward other women. But until we do recognize the whole of what we are made of, we will continue to project darkness onto men and thereby keep intact the polarizing divisions that hold patriarchy in place.

The Task of Modern Woman
We women can move culture forward and create a future beyond patriarchy. But it will neither be easy nor necessarily feel “natural” if we see our nature primarily in terms of the roles we have played in culture over most of historical time. Jung himself saw the potential in women for evolving consciousness, and as Castillejo explains, Jung came to believe “that man can go no further in the pursuit of consciousness until woman catches up with him.” This may be a bone in the throat for us postmodern women. But Jung is speaking of the enormity of the task that we women face to step beyond our biologically driven and culturally sanctioned roles.
In a talk that he gave between the two world wars entitled “Woman in Europe,” Jung said woman “is faced with a tremendous cultural task [that] perhaps . . . will be the dawn of a new era,” because women long “for greater consciousness . . . [to] escape the blind dynamism of nature” in which he saw her caught. In other words, Jung, too, saw how women’s existence within patriarchy was focused on our capacity to reproduce (or not)—virgin, wife, mother, crone—which has left us lagging far behind in our capacity for the kind of creative thought that the privileged males in our species have developed through trial and error over the past several millennia. “So long as a woman lives the life of the past she can never come in conflict with history,” he says. “But no sooner does she begin to deviate, however slightly, from a cultural trend that has dominated the past then she encounters the full weight of historical inertia.”
Taking on this inertia in order to free our souls and spirits from that which we have been embedded in through the ages would be heroic. It’s a new kind of heroism that demands the creation of the new within us. The goal would be to develop a consciousness that both includes our biological and cultural inheritance and also transcends it, so that a new, free space of relationship is created in culture in which to catalyze a new partnership between women and men. This would be a new expression of the feminine, and given how essential it is for transforming our world, such an endeavor is nothing less than sacred. [ back to table of contents ] 1 2

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