Dismantling The Animus

I started writing this in 1993, expanding on a lecture I had given to several Jung Societies in the United States. I finished the monograph in 1994, intending to publish it, but, for reasons which are now irrelevant, it went into a drawer instead.

October, 1994

September, 2000

I started writing this in 1993, expanding on a lecture I had given to several Jung Societies in the United States. I finished the monograph in 1994, intending to publish it, but, for reasons which are now irrelevant, it went into a drawer instead.

Between then and now, the manuscript has kept breathing in spite of my neglect, circulating around by occasional requests for copies. And happily, in the nearly eight years that have passed, much interesting work has appeared in the field that deals with some of the questions raised in this paper and continues the effort to re-think and re-shape some of the most fundamental conceptions in the Jungian canon. More than three years ago, Don Williams, webmaster of the C.G.Jung Page, invited me to publish the piece on the Internet. Again I let it slip out of mind. Several weeks ago, in August, 2000, through a series of synchronistic circumstances, the monograph brought itself back to my attention, and the time seemed right to take a different perspective concerning its fate.

I have not attempted to update the work, relying on readers to remember the now-dated examples and forgive the omissions. The ideas put forth in it were never intended to be conclusive but to invite, and sometimes provoke, debate; thus, in keeping with the subject, the style is deliberately polemical.

With acknowledgement to those who have kept this piece alive, even when I was unwilling to give it any more oxygen, I hope their confidence is justified. Special thanks to my friend and colleague, Claudette Kulkarni. Off it goes now into cyberspace, answering an invitation some years late and maybe too old for a new dance, but glad for the chance to finally step out.

Trudy the Bag Lady:

After all, what is reality anyway? Nothin' but a
collective hunch. My space chums think reality was once a
primitive method of
crowd control that got out of hand.
In my view, it's absurdity dressed up
in a three-piece business suit.

—Lily Tomlin, in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,
by Jane Wagner




Problem One: Genderism

Problem Two: Principles and Persons

Problem Three: Moralism

Problem Four: The "Ego"

Problem Five: Contrasexuality

Problem Six: Locus


No Re-Dressing of Grievances



A few years ago I had occasion to do a news interview with an Israeli woman, then in her early 50s, an ardent feminist and political activist. I was struck by her quiet intensity, sharp intelligence, and self-containment. During our interview she remarked that her twenty-five-year marriage to a university professor had always been very troubled. "Why?" I asked, surprised. "Because," she said, "we both thought we were him."

Then, a few months ago, as I sat listening to a new analysand, I remembered the Israeli woman, and how the unhappy woman in the chair facing me was saying, in effect, the same thing. Her misery, however, was palpable, just beginning to find its way out in tears and words. She spoke a litany of sacrifice: nine years of dutiful marriage, two children (for whom she "gave up" a career in architecture), a disinterested husband who seems to require more than he returns, a father who took pride in, yet humiliated her, and a mother whose love for her has been expressed for years in a vague on-going wish that her daughter would soon "join a good church."

Her husband, a prosperous attorney, has unlimited freedom in this marriage to do as he wishes, spend (his) money as he pleases, arrange his work and home schedules to his convenience. He initiates, decides, announces, directs; she takes care of, responds, accommodates, reacts. "He knows what's best for me," she says through tears, believing this to be true and at the same time knowing it is not.

I comment on her obvious intelligence, her artistic talent, her natural curiosity, her good health at age 34, and I wonder how her life could have slid into such mindless misery.

She tells me it was not always like this. She had been a "headstrong" little girl, right into adolescence. "I had a mind of my own," she says, her wet eyes looking directly at me. "I was ridiculed for it — but I was proud of it. I had a mind of my own."

"What happened to your mind?" I ask. "Where did it go?"

"I don't know," she says, her gaze drifting away. "My husband thinks for both of us."

I remember the Israeli woman: They both have been thinking they are him.

My analysand's chronic condition is not hers alone, but is, at the very deepest level, the condition of all women. If there is such a thing as a root complex that all women share, in the furthest reaches of the psyche, it is probably this: we all think we are him, or should be. After my patient and I do our analytic work of sorting out her own personality traits, her one-sided perceptions and neurotic complaints, her desperate longings and real talents, her mother's influence, her father's double messages, and her husband's privileged dominance — after we restore what is truly her own to her — then what? The world, the culture, the social environment, the church, the neighborhood, the very air she breathes, will not have changed much. The world, comprising all these people and institutions, will look at her and see, first, that she is a woman, a female — this is the chronic condition from which she can never "recover."

And yet, from the testimonies of countless women analysands past and present, and from those now engaged on the same trek, and from my own slips and slides into and around gender pitfalls, we demonstrate once again that not only "the personal" but also "the psychological" is political.There is yet a fundament of real, incontrovertible change: When my patient no longer wishes to "recover" from "femaleness" but instead falls in love with it, the therapeutic process will be complete for the time, and she will be, in the most profound sense possible, a changed person.

And I suppose the world will have changed just that much, too.


There is a feminist rule-of-thumb: If something works well for and makes sense to men, it probably is not good for women. "The animus" is an idea that has worked too well and made too much sense.

Why haven't women Jungian analysts protested being smothered with this male mantle sooner? Louder? With great urgency? Why has it been so difficult for most of us to see through the imposing ermine-lined purple mantle to the non-magnificence hidden within? Why have we not, like Dorothy in her desperation to leave Oz, followed Toto's lead and pulled the curtain on the fraudulent Wizard?

Why is it that with only a few years left in the millenium there is no great apocalyptic fervor to throw out the petrified skeletons in the Jungian closet? (Oppositional thinking, "positive/negative" moralisms, repetitions about masculine/feminine "principles," unnatural polarizations like "ego-Self axis," to name a few.) Why is it that after more than half a century of exaltation in the pantheon of Jungian archetypal god-figures, "the animus" remains sacrosanct: tended like a folk icon from medieval times, kept polished and in good repair, even by heretics who doubt its validity and plot secretly, like mad Reformers, to replace it with another creed.

Sometimes women Jungians treat the animus idea as if it were an unwanted child to whose care they are morally committed because the father has abandoned it at their doorstep. Sometimes they convey an uneasy mix of proud maternal affection and painful uneasiness when speaking or writing about the animus, the affection of a mother for an unruly child, the uneasiness of a mother who feels forced to hide the reality that her son is a drug-pushing teenage delinquent, as if neighbors are watching to see how she treats this criminally-inclined boy-man. As often in the "real" world, whenever "he" turns out bad — as by definition he must, ninety-five percent of the time — it's the woman who gets the blame: for neglecting, rejecting. smothering, working outside the home, not working outside the home, not having a home.

And sometimes women analysts write about animus with the detachment and cool objectivity we have been taught is a hallmark of good scholarship, and some men analysts then write about "the animus" using these women as examples of the "positive" and "creative" animus at work.

I don't know why this has been so, even less why it is still so. But women analysts, like their male counterparts, are just as much products of their culture and time, and are as sorely wounded by that culture as by their male and female colleagues. No one of us is immune to the weight of collective sanction. Most of us are introverts who would all but perish under the notoriety that is reserved for heretics. Many of us suffer narcissistic wounds which fatefully brought us into the analytic profession to begin with, and do not wish to re-open those wounds by attacking the benevolent father. And finally, I think it has been especially difficult for women analysts to challenge this pivotal animus theory of Jung's because he is the father, and Jungian psychology has no mother. Like a Catholic priest who no longer believes in the God to whose priesthood he is ordained but still celebrates Mass for the faithful, there are growing numbers in the analytic ranks who use the word, keep the concept, explain its usefulness, make minor annotations to give an impression of independent thought, but are coming to realize ever more fully that the god-emperor has no clothes. Not even a mantle.


One of the root fears of women is of men, and this fear is neither totally irrational nor unrealistic. Women are afraid of men's fear of women, of male violence toward women in all forms, and of men's power to make the world in their own image, a mirror of his face but not of her's. The lies about women on which much of this world is built have been told so well and so often that even she believes them. And she believes the world is as it is because he has said it, God has spoken, and no other belief has been allowed to be spoken, or even imagined. Jung's animus theory originates in this belief.

Any woman who seeks to transform the world into a place more hospitable to her, or enlarge the mirror to reflect her own image as well as his, risks exclusion from that world. She risks being perceived by both men and other women as a traitor to the order of things which we still, deep down, believe is the very will of God. A woman who wants to overturn traditional modes of thinking, who tries to dismantle institutions which have excluded or demeaned her, who challenges the most cherished and revered social assumptions expressed in hallowed customs and proprieties, becomes a target of accusations that are quite different from those thrown at men who seek revolution. When a man tries to effect change, even radical change, he is still likely to be praised for his heroism, admired for his courage, repsected for his ideas — even by those who think his ideas misguided. (No one, for example, was publicly willing to call recent presidential candidate Ross Perot a narrow-minded dictatorial simpleton.) When a woman steps out as an overturner, a dismantler, or a challenger, she is likely to hear one of these variations on the theme:

— "You don't understand the complexity of the problem." — "It's been this way for centuries. What makes you think you can change it?"
— "It's been this way for centuries. Who do you think you are to say it's wrong?"
— "It's been this way for centuries. Obviously, this is the way it's supposed to be."
— "It's been this way for centuries. It needs a little fixing here and there, but it works, doesn't it?"
— "It's been this way for centuries. If it's supposed to change it will have to come very slowly through evolution. Not in our lifetimes."
— "What are you, a lesbian?"

The animus theory, with a few mild revisions, has been held by Jungians for more than half a century, during which time much has changed on the surface, but just as much has stayed the same in the shadow of the collective psyche. Women have been voting now for more than seventy years, but usually for male politicians, and never for a female presidential candidate. In 1973 women won a constitutional right to bodily integrity (which men already had from the early days of creation) in Roe v. Wade, but twenty years later it is the only constitutional right vulnerable to abridgment by individual states. More than half the total population of the United States are women, and nearly half the number of law students in the United States are women; yet only a handful serve in the Senate and only one woman, at this writing, sits on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Even in the most modern of writings about women and the animus, a faint suggestion that an "individuated" woman still resembles a sort of alpine Persephone: a serene "feminine ego" (whatever that is) who has made a conjunction and settled down with a good "inner man," and is being "creative" through "his" benevolence.

Nor Hall has written with beauty and insight of some of "those women"1 who were the first generation of women analysts to practice what became known as Jungian psychology: Marie-Louise von Franz, Esther Harding, Frances Wickes, Eleanor Bertine, Barbara Hannah, Linda Fierz-David, Hilde Binswanger. And there were many others: Liliane Frey-Rohn, Jolande Jacobi, Mary Ann Mattoon, June Singer, et al., et al. The list is long and impressive. These women certainly do not conform to the ideal: most of them married work instead of men, none of them set standards for fashionable dress, few of them seemed to be more than academically interested in sex. Why are they are not accused of being "animus possessed?"

Because Emma was "his wife?" Because Toni Wolff was both brilliant and "his lover?" Or was it because they supported the animus theory in public lectures and classes and writing, and thus forestalled such attacks? How odd it is to read in Frieda Fordham's book, An Introduction to Jung's Psychology (1953; last reprint, 1973), that a woman's "normal" place and function is in the domestic sphere while she herself followed quite a different path.

The masculine principle—that is, the masculine element in women—found very positive expression in women's activities during the war years, when it was made clear that they could fill adequately most positions previously reserved for men. But only an abnormal situation brings out such manifestations; there is a contemporary movement towards a wider range of activity for women, but generally this activity is better expressed in a domestic milieu, or in one that bears some relationship to it, e.g., teaching, nursing, social work, &c.2

Did Dr. Fordham see no conflict? Feel no tension? Did she decide deliberately not to speak about the discrepancy between what she wrote and how she lived? Did she make her contribution less in her own eyes so as not to compete with male colleagues? One could ask the same of Marie-Louise von Franz, whose articulation of Jung's animus theory is cogent, deep, clear — and remains Jung's, not challenging the premises about women on which the theory rests.

As for contradicting Jung's theories, especially the animus theory, "those women" appear to have avoided what Jung disdainfully called the animus of "critical disputatiousness"3 — at least in their public and professional spheres. The "first generation" of authors — including Barbara Hannah, Jolande Jacobi, Frieda Fordham, Liliane Frey-Rohn, et al., do not go beyond amplifications of Jung's animus idea.

In all her published writings, Von Franz's encyclopaedic mind and dry wit does not take Jung or his animus notion to task for assuming women are, "by nature," irrational in thinking, domestic by inclination, maternal by instinct, and whose "heroism" is expected to be manifested primarily, if not exclusively, in literal relationship with a man.

Following von Franz, Marion Woodman's writings have also amplified Jungian ideas about women and men. Woodman's great contribution to the field is her clarity of thought combined with the passion of felt experience. At the same time, however, she does nto challenge the formula of gender that underlies Jungian thinking about both "animus" and "anima." Woodman places great importance on actual man-woman relationships as the arena in which both come to consciousness, and also, more subtlely, as the yardstick by which individuation is measured.

In a forward-looking attempt to push theoretical boundaries, Mary Ann Mattoon and Jennette Jones applied a feminist critique to Jung's animus concept by raising the question of whether the animus is obsolete, or still useful in some way. They found that the idea of "animus," as Jung conceived it, was seriously flawed and harmful when misapplied as a perjorative to women. But in the end, they argued for retention of both the term and the concept, finding it "useful" in helping many women recognize within themselves those qualities they value but attribute exclusively to men: creativity, assertiveness, coping ability. Mattoon and Jones advocate "taming" the animus rather than "obliterating" it, making the "positive animus" more conscious and thus "more under control of the ego."

Though a most welcome and necessary initial step, the work of Mattoon and Jones was undermined by failure to pursue their own criticisms of the animus theory to the edge of logic and experience: they do not fundamentally challenge the implied moralism in "positive/negative" value judgments, do not adequately clarify the confusion between a woman's "ego" and "animus," do not argue the idea of the animus in women as the carrier of spirituality, and, while recognizing that ideas of "masculine" and "feminine" are culturally relative, they do not challenge our culture's crazy notions of gendered qualities.

Emma Jung, who wrote the first comprehensive statement on the animus from a female point of view,4 did much to rectify some of Jung's most blatantly unfounded generalizations. Her contribution is all the greater considering the times and context in which it appeared. She sees the "animus" as capable of progressive development in a woman. Her solution to the negativity of the animus (appearing in a woman as stridency, low self-esteem, opinionatedness, etc.), however, is to emphasize the positive qualities: spiritual strength, intellectual focus, creativity. In the same vein, Irene Claremont de Castillejo sees not only value but necessity in the "positive animus," insisting that the animus "is essential for any creativeness" in a woman.5

When Polly Young-Eisendrath and Florence Wiedemann published Female Authority: Empowering Women Through Psychotherapy in 1987, it was hailed as a breakthrough, "unique in its combination of feminist theory, social psychology, and Jungian psychology" (from the dust jacket). Young-Eisendrath and Wiedemann argued for a modified animus concept: accentuating the positive and reducing, if not eliminating, the negative. They took a developmental view, noting five "stages" they described as characterizing animus development in women. But their interest was in "deconstructing" the animus complex in the context of modern American culture, while retaining the essentials of Jung's animus theory; they do not address the problem of deconstructing the complex without deconstructing the theory that defines it. In effect, they took the old garment, added some new trim and buttons, gave it an updated look, and hung it back on the same dummy.

Demaris Wehr's Jung and Feminism, published in 1987, clearly elucidates the misogyny inherent in Jung's attitude toward women expressed in the animus concept. While her work is scholarly and careful, she stops short of calling for entirely abandoning the animus idea and dropping the word itself.

The most comprehensive and penetrating examination of the animus in Jungian psychology to date is by Claire Douglas, in her book, The Woman in the Mirror: Analytical Psychology and the Feminine. She gives us an illuminating history of the animus idea in both Jung and Jungians, and like Wehr, though in greater scope and depth, exposes the misogyny, implied and overt, in Jungian thinking about animus. Douglas found in Jung's work "only three descriptions of a positive animus:"

(1) The positive animus tries to discern and discriminate. (Jung, [CW 16], p. 304)

(2) [He] gives a woman's consciousness a capacity for reflection, deliberation and self-knowledge. (Jung, [CW 9,ii], p. 16)

(3) In his real form he is a hero, there is something divine about him. (Jung, [The Visions Seminars, Book One] p. 238.6

But just as Douglas takes us to the very edge of historical thought in her wonderfully thorough and sensitive study, she takes a step back, preserving the old categories of "principles," "masculine," "feminine."

Andrew Samuels most recently has given us some groundbreaking work on the "feminine principle," challenging, as James Hillman has done brilliantly over the years but particularly in Anima: An Anatomy of a Personified Notion, the whole Jungian enterprise of formulating gender principles on the basis of opposites. Some of his ideas will be noted in Problem 2, "Principles and Persons."

One can't help but be impressed by the sheer energy that has gone into salvaging the animus concept over the last 60 years or so. Those women of the early Jungian days, by establishing themselves as excellent scholars, insightful and empathic analysts, and persons of psychological integrity, have made it much easier for those of us women who follow to speak our minds.

But all this work by these exceptional women still raises the question this monograph is intended to address: If the concept of the animus isn't broken, why does it need so much fixing and patching and tinkering and adapting and defending and explaining and rehabilitating and modifying? When my toaster gets that bad, I junk it and get a new one.

I want to throw out the whole raggedy animus mantle. I don't like the style, the fabric is worn, the stitching is shabby, the buttons are missing, it doesn't fit. I want to throw it out even before I know what a new one will look like. Or, to use a different metaphor: I am a wrecker of uninhabitable buildings, clearing the ground for architects to use for new construction.

Jung's notion of the animus and sixty years of assorted repair work needs to be taken apart, disassembled, unraveled. It needs to be dismantled, in both senses of that word: to have the mantle of concealment removed from it, exposing it as a fantasy created by men about women that obscures and even denies women's actual experience of themselves. And the mantle of authority that cloaks the animus and confers divine right and status to "the masculine principle" needs to be removed. The imperative for this dismantling comes not only from women's right to have authentic lives of their own, but also from the need for men to responsibly realize their humanness, which is not possible as long as they are privileged to cast the mantle of divinity upon their sex.