The following chapter is from the book Passions, persons, psychotherapy, politics: the selected works of Andrew Samuels. It provides a critique of what the author refers to as ‘gender essentialism in the Jungian community and in its theorizing.’
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Beyond The Feminine Principle
By Andrew Samuels
I hope this chapter from The Plural Psyche of 1989 will still be of interest. It is, on one level, a critique of gender essentialism in the Jungian community and in its theorizing. As such, students of analytical psychology and Jungian Studies could well be interested. They should note that the chapter was very controversial in its time and led to attempts to claim that I was not a real Jungian because I had abandoned the interior perspective in which ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ were exclusively metaphorical matters.
In addition, the chapter was my first attempt to sketch out a contemporary variant of animus-anima theory that led to a subsequent suggestion that the theory was useful in underpinning an approach to gendered behaviour that greatly extends what we understand as male/masculine or female/feminine behavior for men and women. In this sense, Jung’s antiquated gender theory gets given new legs.
(Written in September 2013.)
In this chapter, I look at developments in analytical psychology concerning gender identity, gender characteristics, and gender role. This is set against the background of a general debate about the psychology of sex and gender and the question of sex-based psychology. As in all my work, the linkage between gender certainty and gender confusion is a central concern, as is the tracking of fluidity, flexibility, and a pluralistic ethos in connection with gender.
THE GENDER DEBATE
Some questions: are men innately more aggressive than women? Does that explain their social and political dominance? Is there such a thing as innately ‘masculine’ or innately ‘feminine’ psychology?
In his book Archetype: a Natural History of the Self, Anthony Stevens drew on the work of the sociobiologists Wilson and Goldberg to reach the conclusion that ‘male dominance is a manifestation of the “psychophysiological reality” of our species. In addition there is genetic and neurophysiological evidence relating to the biology of sexual differentiation. . . . Patriarchy, it seems is the natural condition of mankind’ (Stevens 1982: 188–92).
In Jung and the Post-Jungians, I drew on the work of Janet Sayers to critique Stevens’s position (Samuels 1985a: 220–2). Sayers felt that those opposed to changes in women’s role had appropriated biology to their cause and she demolished the sociobiological case in a witty and learned way. For instance, Wilson quoted studies that showed that boys were consistently more able than girls at mathematics but that girls have a higher degree of verbal ability. And boys are, in Wilson’s view, more aggressive in social play. From these bases, Wilson concluded that ‘even with identical education and equal access to all professions men are likely to continue to play a disproportionate role in political life, business and science’ (quoted in Sayers 1982: 77). She wryly remarks that it is hard to see how males’ lesser verbal ability leads to their being better fitted for political life. Surely, if biology really does determine social role, it should be the other way round?
Recently I came across the work of another academic psychologist, Gerda Siann (1985). She comprehensively surveyed the various research findings that purport to link aggression to the male hormones. She concluded that ‘no specific areas in the brain or nervous system have been pinpointed as controlling aggression’ and that an overview of the repeated studies shows that androgenized girls do not seem more aggressive than their peers, siblings, or mothers. Overandrogenized males do not display noteworthy dominance, assertion, or aggression in spite of the fact that their greater size would guarantee victory (they seem to be rather gentle people). What is more, Siann’s careful reading of the research findings shows that castration has no effect on the overall aggressive behaviour of sex offenders, save in relation to actual sexual behaviour. Finally, plasma testosterone levels do not seem to relate directly to aggressive behaviour. Siann’s overall conclusion was:
the evidence does not show any clear and unambiguous relationship between male hormones and the propensity to display violent behaviour or feel aggressive emotion. Indeed the likelihood of such a simple unidirectional relationship has been thrown into doubt by two additional lines of investigation. The first shows that the secretion of male hormones is itself directly affected by environmental and social variables, and the second is concerned with the speculation that female hormones may also be implicated in violent behaviour and aggressive emotion.
(Siann 1985: 37)
To sustain Stevens’s sociobiological viewpoint, female aggression has to be overlooked or minimized. What is more, there is a confusion between ‘aggression’ and ‘dominance’. Not all human dominance depends on aggression. We have to explain phenomena such as altruistic or self-sacrificing behaviour, conscience, the checks placed on the power of a leader, human capacity for collective decision-making, and so forth.
What follows is a discussion of the third question with which we started this section: are there such things as innate ‘masculine’ and, more pertinently perhaps, innate ‘feminine’ psychologies? If there are, then there could be a noncorporeal innate factor in aggression.
BEYOND THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE
It is hard to write flexibly and fluidly about what is flexible and fluid. The danger when trying to reflect on our current preoccupation with gender is that we might become too clear and too organized – a reaction formation to the inevitable anxiety (and guilt) we experience at finding that what we thought was solid and fixed is perforated and shifting. Humanity is not just divided into women and men but also into those who are certain about gender and those who are confused about gender. As we have seen, getting the balance between gender certainty and gender confusion is a hard task. Clinically, we see the negative effects of an excess of either position and working with individual patients in the area of gender identity is a kind of research work before moving on to the collective stage and a wider scale.
For gender confusions have as important a role to play as gender certainties. They contribute something imaginative to social and political reform and change. I refer to ‘confusion’ and not to something that sounds more laudable like ‘flexibility’ because, experientially, that is precisely what it is, no bones about it. Not for the first time in psychology, we can fashion the strengths out of an apparent weakness. To do this, I have found that I have had to learn from women about what they have been through.
Does use of the word confusion not imply the possibility of definition and clarity concerning gender? The way I use the word ‘certainty’ in relation to gender is intended to suggest that, while clear definition is theoretically possible, it is, for the most part, illusory and/or problematic.
In order to discuss the subject at all, the distinction between sex and gender should be noted, allowing for some overlap as well. Sex (male and female) refers to anatomy and the biological substrate to behaviour, to the extent that there is one. Gender (masculine and feminine) is a cultural or psychological term, arising in part from observations and identifications within the family, hence relative and flexible, and capable of sustaining change. Now, in some approaches, particularly in analytical psychology, what can happen is that a form of determinism creeps in and the invariant nature of gender is assumed, just as if gender characteristics and qualities were as fixed as sexual ones. The history of women shows that change is possible just because the social meaning of womanhood is malleable. But when this is ignored, as by Stevens, the possibilities of change, other than as part of ordinary maturation and individuation, are lost.
Is there such a thing as a ‘feminine psychology’? I’ll begin with a general discussion, then consider whether there is a feminine psychology that applies to women. In a moment, I’ll look at the ‘feminine’ in relation to men, and, after that, at femininity and masculinity as metaphors.
Males and females do have experiences that vary markedly. But it is a huge step from that to a claim that they actually function sufficiently discrepantly psychologically for us to speak of two distinct psychologies. The evidence concerning this is muddled and hard to assess. For instance, the discovery that boys build towers and girls build enclosures when they are given bricks can be taken to show a similarity of functioning rather than difference (which is what is usually claimed). Both sexes are interested in their bodies and, possibly, in the differences between male and female bodies. Both sexes express that interest in the same way – symbolically, in play with bricks. Or, put in another form, both sexes approach the difference between the sexes in the same way. The differences that we see in gender role and gender identity can then be looked at as having arisen in the same manner. The psychological processes by which a male becomes an aggressive businessman and a female a nurturing and submissive housewife are the same and one should not be deceived by the dissimilarity in the end product.
What I have been describing is not a woman’s relation to an innate femininity or to an innate masculinity. Rather I am talking of her relation to the phenomenon of difference. Then we can consider the social or cultural structures erected on the basis of that difference. Each woman lives her life in interplay with such difference. This leads at once to questions of gender role (for example, how a woman can best express her aggression in our culture) but these questions need not be couched in terms of innate femininity or innate masculinity, nor in terms of a feminine-masculine spectrum. Rather, they might be expressed in terms of difference. In the example, the difference between aggression and submission needs to be seen as different from the difference between men and women! Or, put another way, whatever differences there might be between women and men are not illuminated or signified by the difference between submission and aggression. In the previous two chapters, we have been exploring how gender difference is formed in relations between parents and children and by cultural and social organization.
I am aware that men are said to have access to the ‘feminine’, or to the ‘feminine principle’ and I used to think that such an unremittingly interior view was the jewel in the Jungian crown. Now I am not so sure. If we’re attempting to describe psychological performance, we have to be sure why terms with gendered associations and appellations are being used at all. Otherwise we end up with statements such as that ‘masculine’ aggression is available to women via their relation to the animus, or ‘feminine’ reflection in the man via his anima. But aggression is part of woman and reflection is part of man. What is more, there are so many kinds of aggression open to women that even current attempts to speak of a woman’s aggression as ‘feminine’ rather than ‘masculine’ still bind her as tightly as ever. Let us begin to speak merely of aggression. Gender engenders confusion – and this is made worse when gender terms are used exclusively in an inner way. When we speak of ‘inner’ femininity in a man, we bring in all the unnecessary problems of reification and substantive abstraction that I have been describing. We still cannot assume that psychological functioning is different in men and women, though we know that the creatures ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are different.
The question of ‘difference’ brings us to a point where we can play back these ideas into analytical psychology. From Jung’s overall theory of opposites, which hamstrings us by its insistence on contrasexuality (‘masculine’ assertion via the animus, etc.), we can extract the theme of difference. The notion of difference, I suggest, can help us in the discussion about gender. Not innate ‘opposites’, which lead us to create an unjustified psychological division expressed in lists of antithetical qualities, each list yearning for the other list so as to become ‘whole’. A marriage made on paper. No, I am referring to the fact, image, and social reality of difference itself. Not what differences between women and men there are, or have always been; if we pursue that, we end up captured by our captivation and obsession with myth and with the eternal, part of the legacy from Jung. I am interested in what difference is like, what the experience of difference is like (and how that experience is distorted in the borderline disorders). Not what a woman is, but what being a woman is like. Not the archetypal structuring of woman’s world but woman’s personal experience in today’s world. Not the meaning of a woman’s life but her experience of her life. Each person remains a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’, but what that means to each becomes immediate and relative, and hence capable of generational expansion and cultural challenge. My suggestion has been that paternal deficits constrict the expansion and truncate the challenge.
In both the collective, external debate about gender characteristics and the personal, internal debate about gender identity, the question of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ is best left in suspension – even, and the word is used advisedly, in some confusion. ‘Gender confusion’ is a necessary antidote to gender certainty and has its own creative contribution to make. This is particularly true in the treatment of borderline disorders, as we shall see in the next chapter. For, when we consider gender and the borderline we will see how gender confusion and gender certainty can operate in isolation from each other. Inadvertently, those who propound a ‘feminine principle’ play into and replicate the dynamics of unconscious gender certainty, denying gender confusion.
It is probably fair to say that post-Jungian analytical psychology has become preoccupied with gender certainty and gender confusion in its concern with the ‘feminine principle’. Here, I am not referring to the writings on women and ‘feminine psychology’ by Jung and his early circle of followers. The problems with that body of work are well known and often repeated. But in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly in the United States, women writers in analytical psychology have set out to revise, or revolutionize, the early work. Such writers are struggling to be ‘post-Jungian’ in their attempt to critique those of Jung’s ideas that seem unsatisfactory or just plain wrong without dismissing Jung altogether.
The reason why there has been a concentration on the ‘feminine principle’ in recent Jungian writing is that it has provided a means to celebrate the specificity of women’s identity, life, and experience. In addition, having the notion of a ‘feminine principle’ in mind helps to make a critique of culture out of personal confrontations with it. The basic desire of feminists who are involved in Jungian psychology has been to refuse and refute the denigration of women that is perceived in analytical psychology, to bring the feminine gender in from the condescending margins, and to promote an alternative philosophy of life to that expressed in the power institutions of a male-dominated society.
Taken as a whole, and I realize I am generalizing, feminism which draws on Jung’s ideas stands out from other varieties, with which I feel more in sympathy, in two main ways. Both of these stem from Jung’s approach, resist eradication, and cause great difficulties. It is assumed that there is something eternal about femininity and, hence, about women; that women therefore, display certain essential transcultural and ahistorical characteristics; and that these can be described in psychological terms. What is omitted is the on-going role of the prevailing culture in the construction of the ‘feminine’ and a confusion develops between what is claimed to be eternal and what is currently observed to be the case. It is here that the deadweight of the heritage of archetypal theory is felt, but as the mirror image of Jung’s problem. He assumed that there is something eternal about women and, hence, about femininity. As Young-Eisendrath (1987: 47) writes, ‘certain beliefs about difference – for example, about gender and racial differences – have influenced our thinking about the meaning of symbolic representations, behaviours, style, and manner of people who are alien to the roots of our psychology in Switzerland’. She goes on to say that we need ‘something more than maps and charts of our own design’.
I would like to say what I find problematic in the many attempts to locate eternal models or maps for the psychological activity of women in mythology and goddess imagery. When such imagery is used as a kind of role model or resource for a woman in her here-and-now pain and struggle, that is one thing. But when it is claimed that such endeavour is a reclamation of qualities and characteristics that once prevailed in human society only to be smashed by the patriarchy, then that is altogether more suspect. For it is a highly disputed point, to put it mildly, that such an era ever existed. Could this be a case of taking myth too literally? And isn’t there a hidden danger here? For if men were to claim that they are in the direct line of psychic inheritance of the characteristics and qualities of gods and heroes, then we’d end up with the status quo, with things just as they are, for they couldn’t be any other way. As far as role-modelling and resource provision goes, surely any woman, even or especially an analyst, can perform this task for another woman.
It could be argued that referring to a goddess as a role model or resource is to miss the point about what is special in a divine figure – the numinosity that attaches to such a figure and hence provides a special form of authority. I am not convinced by this argument, for any figure can constellate the kind of venerating transference that is exemplified in the mortal-divine relation. This is something well known to any and every analyst who has experienced an idealizing transference. If the numinosity is not what is specific to the goddess, then, as I suggested, it is her a-temporality, that which is claimed as eternal and absolute in her.
The search for hidden sources of authority is a project constellated by what is seen as a flawed cultural tradition. But there may also be a ‘flaw’ in the project itself, for such a search demonstrates the very sense of weakness and lack of authority which it seeks to overcome. Engaging in a rivalrous search for female archetypes could lead to a new set of restrictions on female experience, as several writers have observed (Lauter and Rupprecht 1985: 9 discuss this point in detail).
Could we try to play the feminine principle in a pragmatic and not an eternal or absolute key? If so, then its truth would be measured, in William James’s words, ‘by the extent to which it brings us into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience’ (1911: 157). We would have to start assembling material on the experience of difference as well as on the experience of womanhood and manhood. Sociologists and academic psychologists may have done this but depth psychologists have not – or not yet. Then, in Shorter’s words, we would become less concerned with the ‘image’ of woman and more with ‘likeness’ to that image. She says: ‘Likeness is consciousness of image and its embodiment. . . . It is not a question of imitation; each person becomes in part and to the measure that he (sic) is able “like to” the image’ (Shorter 1987: 40). Or in Caroline Stevens’s words: ‘as a woman, anything I do is feminine’ (personal communication, 1987).
The second point of disagreement between feminism in analytical psychology and feminism generally has to do with the impression that much Jungian discourse on the ‘feminine’ seems directed away from political and social action. Dwelling upon interiority and feeling becomes an end in itself. So, just as middle-class Victorian women were believed to be the repository of sensibility and confined to hearth and home, in the Jungian manner of it, women in the nuclear age are meant to be mainly private creatures.
My concern is that much thinking and writing around the ‘feminine principle’ has opened a secret door into analytical psychology for the return of what is, paradoxically and ironically, an overstructured approach to psyche, heavily dependent upon abstraction and decidedly moralistic. What I’m suggesting is that much contemporary Jungian work on feminine psychology may be seen as far more of an ‘imitation of Jung’ than was consciously intended. The intention of rectifying Jung’s mistakes and prejudices has been perverted.
Trawling the recent literature, I have been struck by the massiveness of the feminine problematic, signified in numerous phrases such as: feminine elements of being, feminine modality of being, femininity of self, feminine ways of knowing, feminine authority, feminine assertion, feminine reflection, feminine dimensions of the soul, primal feminine energy pattern, feminine power, feminine response, feminine creativity, feminine mysteries, feminine body, feminine subjectivity, feminine transformation. I could have quadrupled the list; for ease of reference, I have subsumed all these terms under the general heading of the ‘feminine principle’.
Something oppressive has come into being – not, repeat not, because what is claimed as the content of the ‘feminine principle’ is oppressive but because celebrating the feminine has raised it to the status of an ego-ideal, leading to a simple and pointless reversal of power positions. Further, perhaps it is the shadow of feminism generally to make women feel inadequate when they don’t come up to its mark – or cannot emulate notable feminist figures.
GENDER, METAPHOR AND THE BODY
I would like to say a few words now about the literal and metaphoric relationships between anatomy and psychology to draw together the psychological and scientific aspects of the gender debate, and because I will be talking again about this towards the end of the chapter. A literal determinism has seduced those who seek to make a simple equation between body and psyche. We do not really know what the relationship between them is but it is probably indirect. The fact that a penis penetrates and a womb contains tells us absolutely nothing about the psychological qualities of those who actually possess such organs. One does not have to be a clinician to recognize penetrative women and receptive men – nor to conclude that psychology has projected its fantasies onto the body.
A claim is often made that a female’s body contains in it certain qualities and characteristics that lead to there being a quite specific and innate female psychology, based on the female body and quite divorced from male psychology, based on the male body. Now, as I just mentioned, there seems to be no problem with the idea that males and females have experiences of their bodies as different from the other sex’s body. But the argument that innate psychological differences between the sexes are based on the body has serious and insidious difficulties in it. It sounds so grounded, so reasonable, so common-sensical, so different from social or ideological styles of exploring gender issues. However, if psychological activity is body-based then, as body is more or less a constant over the entire history of humanity, body-based psychological theory can only support the horrendous gender situation with which we are faced just now. For, if it is body-based, how can it be altered? It must be an inevitability and we would have to agree with Stevens when he argues that ‘patriarchy is the natural condition of mankind’ (Stevens 1982: 188).
Of course, psychology cannot be split off from the body. But the link is on a deeper level even than that of anatomical or endocrinological distinctiveness. The link between psyche and body surely refers to the body as a whole – its moods and movements, its pride and shame, its rigour and its messiness. On this level, the body in question is already a psychological body, a psychesoma, an imaginal body even – providing a whole range of experiences. Sometimes, this imaginal body provides crossover experiences, ‘masculine’ for women and ‘feminine’ for men. When the link between psyche and body is envisioned in terms of the body as a whole, then whether that body is anatomically male or anatomically female is less significant. But I am not attempting to deny anyone’s experience of their body, nor to dispute the value of paying attention to the body. Indeed, the descriptions in this book of the father’s relations with his children are markedly oriented towards physical experience and activity.
Even on a literal, bodily level, recent advances in anatomical research show that things are not what they seem to be. This renders attempts to link bodily and psychological characteristics, even of a subtle and metaphorical kind, highly relative, mutable, and conditioned by the state of knowledge and belief at any one time. In her book Eve’s Secrets (1987), Lowndes engages in a comparative study of women’s and men’s sex organs. It turns out that the results of such studies depend completely upon what is compared. For instance, we usually compare penis and vagina, or penis and clitoris. But what if we compare the penis to the sum of clitoris, urethra, and vagina (the so-called CUV)? Then, according to Lowndes, the fact that the clitoris does have a much longer and deeper structure under the skin that merely culminates in the visible crown means that the female possesses an organ equal in size to the penis and composed of the same erectile material. What is more, a woman has a glans – this is not to be found on her clitoris but close by the opening of her urethra, a raised area as yet possessing no consensual medical name. Looking at the man, Lowndes points out how little is known about the inside of the penis and suggests that in the corpora cavernosa there is an area, or spot, that is as sensitive as the clitoris and performs the same functions: a male clitoris.
Lowndes has also found that men and women both have erections, though the charging with blood is visible more markedly in the male. She has also established, by means of careful test measurement, that there is a female ejaculation, composed of fluid that is neither urine nor vaginal secretion.
Anatomical differences between sex organs of men and women are, on the basis of Lowndes’s work, quite literally skin-deep. However, the point is not whether she is right or wrong about it but rather to underline the problems with regarding the body as a fixed element in a body-psyche linkage. Again, this is not to deny such a link, merely to point out the impossibility of dismissing fantasy and/or changing knowledge from our eventual conclusions.
A further instance of the psychological significance of such work is that it is not at all new. In 400 BC Hippocrates said that men and women both ejaculate. In AD 150 Galen said that the vagina and ovaries are penis and testicles ‘inside out’. In 1561 Fallopio discovered, as well as his tubes, that the clitoris has deep structures. In 1672 Regnier de Graaf looked for and found evidence of female ejaculation. It seems that what we say is the case about the body is already psychological (e.g. Freud or, indeed, Kinsey).
Why is this issue of the body as a possible base for sex-specific psychology so critical? I can give two suggestions about this. First, the whole cultural versus innate gender debate is, or has become numinous. If I have taken one side rather than advancing a multifactorial theory, this is partly because it is what I think, partly because that’s my personal style, and partly because a clash of doctrines is where the life in psychology is to be found. Again, though I think I’m right, it does not matter so much whether I am right or wrong, but whether what I am talking about can be recognized.
The second reason why the gender debate stirs us has to do with our ambivalence about our constitution, the psychological make-up that we bring into the world. On the one hand, how secure and fulfilling to know that one is quite definitely a man or a woman! I certainly feel a need for certainty and at no time do I suggest that there are no such entities as men or women. On the other hand, I am sure that anatomy is not destiny and am trying to work my resentment at the idea that it might be into a critique of those who tell me it is. There are no direct messages from the body.
Which leads back to the great problem with an overdependence in theory-making on the body’s impact on psychology. If anatomy is destiny, then nothing can be done to change the position of women. So women who base their quest for a new and positive meaning for femininity on the body inadvertently undermine their own cause. On the contrary, we know how definitions of women and men change over time. Up until the end of the eighteenth century, for instance, representations of men in literature and drama quite often had them as crying – so different from this century, in which big boys don’t cry. The body is not an icon in a vacuum.
It follows that animus and anima images are not of men and women because animus and anima qualities are ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. No – here, for the individual woman or man, anatomy is a metaphor for the richness and potential of the ‘other’. A man will imagine what is ‘other’ to him in the symbolic form of a woman – a being with another anatomy. A woman will symbolize what is foreign to her in terms of the kind of body she does not herself have. The so-called contrasexuality is more something ‘contra-psychological’; anatomy is a metaphor for that. But anatomy is absolutely not a metaphor for any particular emotional characteristic or set of characteristics. That depends on the individual and on whatever is presently outside her or his conscious grasp and hence in need of being represented by a personification of the opposite sex. The difference between you and your animus or anima is very different from the difference between you and a man or woman. (I do realize that I am discussing animus and anima in their personified forms but I am bringing them in as illustrative of the indirect nature of the relation between body and psyche.)
What I am saying is that ‘metaphor’ can be as seductively misleading and one-sided as ‘literalism’. Sometimes, it is claimed that ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are metaphors (you know, ‘just’ metaphors) for two distinct Weltanschauungen or the typical styles of operating of the two cerebral hemispheres. Why can’t we just talk of Weltanschauungen or just of hemispheres? When we bring in either masculinity and femininity or maleness and femaleness we are projecting a dichotomy that certainly exists in human ideation and functioning onto convenient receptors for the projections. Then the argument that masculinity and femininity should be understood nonliterally, as really having nothing to do with bodily men and bodily women in a social context, may be taken as a recognition that a projection has been made, but falling far short of a successful recollection of it, certainly as far as our culture is concerned. All the other divisions that we know about – rational/irrational, Apollonian/Dionysian, classical/romantic, digital/analogic, and so forth – all these exist in every human being. They cannot conveniently be assigned by gender (or sex), save by the kind of bifurcated projection I have depicted. Why do we make such a projection? Surely it is more than a question of language? It could be because we find difficulty in living with both sides of our murky human natures. In our borderline way, we import a degree of certainty and clarity, and hence reduce anxiety, by making the projection. Summarizing my view: it is in this projection that we find the origins of dualist ambitions to construct distinct psychologies for the two sexes and of the attempt to use ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ solely as metaphors.
The whole gender debate suggests that, as with the father’s relations to his children, we need to question whether heterosexuality itself should be taken as innate and therefore as something fundamental and beyond discussion, or whether it, too, has a nonbiological dimension. Freud’ s perception was of an innate bisexuality followed later by heterosexuality. Jung’s view was that man and woman are each incomplete without the other: heterosexuality is therefore a given. In this sense he differs from Freud’s emphasis on bisexuality as the natural state of mankind. In Freud’s approach, sexual identity arises from the enforced twin demands of reproduction and society. What I have been arguing shifts the concept of bisexuality from something undifferentiated (polymorphous or polyvalent) into a vision of there being available to all a variety of positions in relation to gender role – without recourse to the illusion of androgyny.
Feminist art critics have faced up to many of these problems concerning the body. In a critique of the relation between the biologic and the cultural, Parker and Pollock state that ‘acknowledging the importance of events of the body . . . is not reducible to biological essentialism, a facet of patriarchal ideology which supposes a primordial difference between the sexes determined by anatomical and specifically genital structures. How the body is lived and experienced is implicated at all levels in social or societally determined psychic processes’ (Parker and Pollock 1987: 29). Parker and Pollock go on to describe an art work entitled ‘Menstruation II’ by Cate Elwes. During her period, dressed in white and seated in a white, glass-fronted box, she could be watched bleeding. Questions and her answers could be written on the walls of the box. Elwes wrote, ‘The work reconstitutes menstruation as a metaphorical framework in which it becomes the medium for the expression of ideas and experience by giving it the authority of cultural form and placing it within an art context’ (quoted in Parker and Pollock 1987: 30).
If discriminations like these are not made, then those analytical psychologists who espouse the idea of innate, body-based, sex-specific psychologies, find themselves lined up with those groupings often referred to as the ‘New Right’. New Right assumptions about sex-specific psychology tend to be based on appeals to tradition and often have a romantic appeal but, as Di Statham has argued in her paper ‘Women, the new right and social work’ (1987), those working therapeutically need to be aware of the way in which the assumptions can be used to promote the notion of ‘order’ and of how women’s activities, in particular, are decisively limited.
The same point is made, with a good deal of passion, by Anne McManus in the August 1987 issue of the British feminist journal Spare Rib. She wrote:
Feminism is flowing with the rightward tide, its critical radical spirit diluted beyond recognition . . . A decisive shift came in the transformation of women’s liberation from oppression, to today’s confirmation of that oppression in a type of popular feminism which unashamedly embraces anything female. Never mind that this implies a conservative re-embracing of traditional women’s roles that the original movement was all about denouncing. Now any old gullible gush practised by women is feminist, especially if it’s emotive, and authentic (what isn’t authentic anyway at this level?), and anti-male rationality. A false dichotomy between thinking men and feeling women evacuates reason to men while women’s fates are sealed, trapped again in eternal emotionality which leaves male power safely intact. Thus women are immobilised and trivialised by their very softness and tenderness, voluntarily abdicating the dirty power struggle, and thereby the power, to those who have it.
James, W. (1911) Pragmatism. London: Longmans Green; Cambridhe, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Lowndes, J. (1987) Eve’s Secrets. London: Bloomsbury.
Parker, R. & Pollock, G. (1987) Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970-1984. London & New York: Pandora.
Samuels, A. (1985) Jung and the Post-Jungians. London & Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Sayers, J. (1986) Sexual Contradictions: Psychology, Psychoanalysis, and Feminism. London: Tavistock.
Shorter, B. (1987) An Image Darkly Forming: Women and Initiation. London & New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Siann, G. (1985) Accounting for Aggression: Perspectives on Aggression and Violence. London & Boston: Allen & Unwin.
Statham, D. (1987) ‘Women, the new right and social work’. J. Soc. Wr. Prac. 2:4.
Stevens, A. (1982) Archetype: A Natural History of the Self. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
The above chapter from: Samuels, A. (2014). Chapter 7. ‘Beyond The Feminine Principle’ in Passions, persons, psychotherapy, politics: the selected works of Andrew Samuels. Routledge.
Published with permission from the author.
2 thoughts on “Beyond The Feminine Principle”
Hey, I want to ask you this, what do you think about the following passage fram Nathaniel Branden?
“In Christianity, and not only among fundamentalists, it was held (and often it is still held) that woman’s relationship to man should be as man’s relationship to god. Obedience, in this view, is a woman’s cardinal virtue (after “purity”, no doubt). I once made the mistake, in therapy with a female client of associating this idea with “medieval Christianity”. She looked at me with astonishment and said sadly, “Are you kidding? I heard it from our ministry last Sunday–And from my husband on Monday.” When her husband learned of our discussion, he insisted that we discontinue therapy. Woman-as-inferior is not an idea that supports female self esteem. Can anyone doubt that it has had a tragic effect on most women’s views of themselves? Even among many modern American women who consider themselves thoroughly “emancipated,” it is not difficult to detect the pernicious influence of this view.
There is a corresponding widely held idea about men’s value that is detrimental to male self esteem.
In most cultures are socialized to identify worth with earning ability, with being “a good provider.” If, traditionally, women “owe” men obedience, men “owe” women financial support (and physical protection). If a woman loses her job and cannot find another, she has an economic problem, to be sure, but she does not feel diminished as a woman. Men often feel emasculated. In hard times, women do not commit suicide because they cannot find work; men often do – because men have been trained to identify self esteem with earning ability.
Now, it could be argued that there is rational justification for tying self esteem to earning ability. Does not self esteem have to do with being equal to the challenges of life? Then is not the ability to earn a living essential? There are at least two things to be said about this. First, if a person is unable to earn a living because of his (or her) own choices and policies – unconciousness, passivity, irresponsibility – then that inability is a reflection on self-esteem. But if the problem is the result of factors beyond the individual’s control, such as an economic depression, then it is wrong to make the problem the occasion of self-blame. Self-esteem properly pertains only issues open to our volitional choice. Second, note that the emphasis usually is not on earning ability as such, but on being a good provider. Men are judged, and are encouraged to judge themselves, by how well they can financially take care of others. Men are socialized to be “servants” fully as much as women; only the forms of culturally encouraged servitude are different. (Note: For an excellent discussion of “men’s story”, see Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power.) If a man cannot support a woman, he tends to lose stature in her eyes and in his own. It would take unusual independenci and self esteem to challenge this culturally induced attitude and to ask: “Why is this my gauge of value as a man?”
(In my kindle edition it is in the page 284-285 of The Six Pillars of Self Esteem.)
Several valid observations there, though a lot to unpack.