Dismantling The Animus



"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,'" Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"
"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,'" Alice objected.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things?"
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "who is to be master — that's all."

—Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass


My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

—- Adrienne Rich, Natural Resources

There have been two aspects to dismantling the animus in this monograph. First, there is the obvious meaning of taking "the animus" apart and not putting it back together again; second, the less obvious meaning of trying to cut through the mantle that has acted as a cloaking device: the fabric of prejudices and bad logic that have convinced women to wear this ill-fitting, badly woven, old-fashioned whalebone-corseted image of themselves. We should do with Jung's notion of "animus" what Sir Walter Raleigh did with his mantle when he threw it down as a puddle-cover for Queen Elizabeth I to step on: leave it in the mud.

There are a lot of people who feel strongly that while the meaning of "animus" must change, the word itself should be kept. Keep the word, they say, just change the "negative" associations. One woman suggested to me, in a rather strange choice of cliche, that "we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water." This is an argument that imagines that certain sanctified words can be cleansed of their soiled associations. After scrubbing up the word "animus," the "positive" qualities will shine forth — that is, women will have something "positive" to show for being women. For many women who find Jung's work valuable and admirable, there is a reluctance to contradict or oppose him on such a basic matter; he is, to use his own term, an "animus figure" par excellence. His authority and prestige intimidate, and his animus theory in particular forestalls a direct attack from women, an attack easily dismissed as an example of the very sort of animosity that proves the theory.

But it is not so easy to alter associations and implications of loaded words. If it were, the attempts of recent years to refine, reform, update, and fix Jung's concept of "animus" would have been successful. The fact that such attempts have been increasing suggests that the concept still doesn't work, and still performs the same disservice to both women and men in the greater body of Jung's invaluable work.

The first move toward changing the way we think is to change the way we speak. "Animus" has become a word that impairs the psychological perception of both women and men, and is a psychic health hazard. The first step, then, toward resolving the problem of "the animus" is not to think in terms of a "problem," but to stop calling it "the animus." It is impossible to keep Jung's term and not also keep all the old Jungian associations, definitions, and expectations, which cling to it the way the smell of one's body clings to old clothes no longer worn. A "second-rate man" by any other name is still second-rate.

The "animus" can be dismantled in three undressings. The naked reality is that the emperor has no clothes.


The word "animus" is a generic term and keeps us thinking in generalizations instead of specifics, and thus works against consciousness. Consciousnes comes in and through specifics, details, particulars, individuals; generalizations keep us defensive and unconscious, avoiding the precise, the exact, the idiosyncratic, the individual. Like other concept-words (individuation, transcendent function, ego), "animus" obliterates the particulars of experience.54 "Animus" refers not to a woman's own individual perception or experience but to someone else's judgment about her perception or experience. Father knows best, speaks best, thinks best, is best.

Gender is little enough understood as it is; we cannot afford to continue the assumption that one word, like one size, fits all. The word "animus" has become perjorative and so broad in content as to be clinically damaging and theoretically useless — and this beside the far more serious fact that it is frequently a fraudulent representation of a woman's experience of her life.

It is not only "the Great Mother" who enjoys the "natural" state of unconsciousness; so too does a patriarchy whose archetypal power depends on the unconsciousness of its subjects. The notion of animus has not challenged the patriarchy's consciousness because its male-assigned meaning serves to perpetuate it: "animus" assumes a gender-specific lack of consciousness, a deficit. It has always been to the advantage of masculinist culture to keep women believing that their capacity, or at least discipline, for thought is limited. So, while a woman theoretically must "need the animus" as a sort of intellectual escort in the world of thinking and logic, she must not appropriate too much of his gift as her own, lest she become like him, a second-rate pseudo-man instead of a first-rate "real woman." The animus that comes to her from the male world is both the "function" she supposedly needs and the spirit of intellectual clarity she is not truly permitted to have,55 and there is hardly a woman, dead or alive, who has not felt caught in this double bind. The term "animus" keeps us in the double bind and unconscious of it at the same time.

Consider, as another instance of unconsciousness, the assumption made about human spiritual life. The idea that women's spiritual life is somehow inaugurated or shaped by "the animus" is the assumption of a culture whose deity is male, a culture that can only imagine spirit in male forms, in the masculine gender. It is not self-evident that "the animus" is responsible for a woman's ability to find meaning. What of all the female figures who animate psyche and lead and move the soul to recognition? What of the stunning numinosity of female divinities, in whom femaleness is an essential quality of their "spirit?"

A woman's image of her soul is female; the "animus" is not the image of her soul the way the anima is a soul-image for men, as a number of writers have pointed out (Irene de Castillejo, Demaris Wehr, Claire Douglas, et al.). Downing notes:

Although Jung ends up discussing the Kore archetype mostly as an anima projection, he acknowledges the inadequacy, indeed the inappropriateness, of this approach. He perceives that the myth is clearly essentially a feminine one centered on a female-female relationship that is alien to men and shuts them out. Yet when trying to understand what the Kore archetype might mean to women, he considers Kore only in terms of her relation with Demeter, only in terms of mother-daughter bonding, as daughter not as maiden. Thus he misses the opportunity to explore what role the relation to the inner maiden might have in the psychology of women.56

The generic term "animus" invites generalization. Like negative mother or spirituality or ego-Self axis, "animus" is a technoterm, a shorthand concept-word that implies a whole world of value-judgments as well as an analytic attitude in "treating" it. The analytic stance itself is rooted in patriarchal thinking with its masculinist assumptions: that a woman's "animus" is "naturally" unconscious, that it is the image of the desired sexual partner, the source of her spiritual life, and that it needs integration (which will ensure that she will not seriously challenge the status quo). But inadvertent or not, "animus has come to mean mainly its derivative, animosity.

What would happen if we stopped using the word "animus?" How would we talk about what we now describe or attribute to the animus? It will not do to merely replace "animus" with another word; there is no other word. The whole point is to describe women in terms of what it is like to be female, not in terms of what masculinity they are imitating or lacking. There is nothing to be gained by pasting a new name on an old idea. The whole concept must go, and that means a thorough-going change of mind, not merely a change of word.

It is perhaps too much to expect the rapid demise of the archetype of gender as a dominant in our collective psyche. But for starters, we could omit the word "animus" from our psychological vocabulary and see what happens. After all, since "animus" more accurately describes women's experience of "man" or collective "men" better than it does the "unconscious as such" of woman's psyche, we could just as well refer to male images that appear in her dreams and fantasies and musings as "the Man." This recognizes that such dream and fantasy figures have a correlate in the "outer" world and draw much of their meaning from that world.

Why do we so often — almost automatically — interpret male figures in women's dreams as "animus" figures, thus emphasizing gender? Is the maleness of the figure of prime importance? Why? Is it not just as — or more — important to notice what the figure feels in her dream, how he acts, what he teaches or destroys, what he wants desperately or gives freely? What the figure means to the life of the dreamer's soul is more important than the figure's gender. And if the importance of gender is relativized, making it but one quality among many, it lessens the temptation to literalize the figure into an actual man. Women correctly object to carrying projections and literalizations solely on the basis of their anatomy; why would not a man also object?

Without the word "animus," we could get right to the style of consciousness we mean to describe. For example, we could refer individual modes of behavior back to specific, primary mythic structures (as in these examples from the Greeks), saying, "This person is very Apollonic-minded, clear-thinking and musically creative." Or we could say, "Ah, this person is Hermetic, quick-witted, glib, very clever, charming — and a shoplifter." Or we could say, "Now this person has a rather saturnine temperament, very disciplined but depressed, intellectually gifted but tormented by self-doubt."

This kind of specific, descriptive, metaphorical speech also begins to move us out of genderized thinking, because such descriptions may apply to a man or a woman: they are psychologically specific, but not gender-specific. Metaphorical language (as distinguished from concept-words) focuses consciousness on a way of speaking that recognizes with some depth who a person is, in their individuality, rather than what (gender) they are — or appear to be. And one need not be a classical mythologist or well-educated to speak precisely. In fact, knowledge of Greek or any other mythology is unnecessary; the god/desses are alive and present in imagistic descriptions in a way that they are not in conceptual definitions. What is needed is an eye and ear for metaphor, for finding the right word or phrase to convey one's meaning. If we could speak with the precision and specificity of poets and storytellers, we would not have to resort to general, "universal" words which sound learned but say little and mean less.

What is most needed for consciousness and serviceable language is patience and a willingness to work. In our culture, which favors one-dimensional "pictures" and technical manuals to the living language of story and anecdote, it takes work to learn to speak in particulars and specifics, but we can't afford not to do it. Consciousness, and therefore survival, depends on it.


The second reason to stop using the word "animus" is to free ourselves from a chronic heterosexism that keeps us psychologically impoverished. In our culture heterosexist thinking is automatic, and to that extent we are unconscious of it. The heterosexism embedded in the animus concept is exclusive, relegating a vast territory of the sexual imagination to an impossibly cramped and airless corner of the psyche no bigger than a condom, and disallowing an expansive range of psychosexual and erotic possibilities to enter into cultural life.

The term "animus" does not help broaden consciousness any more than it deepens understanding of the phenomena it purports to explain. If we stopped using the word "animus" in Jungian psychology we may begin to change the pattern of our heterosexist thinking, and re-cut the pattern to a larger size, more appropriate to the breadth and range and depth of psychic life.

The contrasexual aspect of the animus is basic and essential to Jung's concept; so as long as we talk about animus, we force all sexuality that is not "contra" into a footnote, a secondary afterthought.

But all dimensions of sexual experience belong in the main body of our psychic text. Neither homosexuality nor bisexuality nor any other orientation can be considered "alternative" because, from psyche's perspective, there is no standard referent. Arguments that appeal to "nature" and/or "the biological imperative" to support and enforce the heterosexist bias are irrelevant here, since psyche is not derived from the physical body but corresponds to it. (As Jung said, psyche is not a mere "secretion.")

We have long mistaken conditioned response for normative instinct. The unreflectiveness of our heterosexist assumptions point to cultural conditioning, not necessarily to universal instinctive behavior. Assumptions about heterosexuality as "the norm," as a matter "of course," as "according to nature," are all assumptions made from a male-dominated culture which fears and devalues women — particularly those women who may find men lovable but at times simply unnecessary. Gay men are equally threatening because they have betrayed the brotherhood's rule of sexual dominance: men may not be "like women" but may not love other men sexually either.

Jung's own attitude toward sex, rooted no doubt in the christianism that pervades his psychology, appears to be avoidant, if not ambivalent. On one hand, he wisely and passionately calls for the unity of psychic life through recognition of the spiritual significance of human sexuality. He is comfortably at home with alchemical images of sublimation and conjunction, operations which provide both a symbology for sexual coupling and for the spiritualization of sexual union as an interior, psychological experience. On the other hand, he perpetuates the long-standing division between sex and spirit by implicitly giving greater value to the latter.

Jung's thinking about contrasexuality, then, so essential to his idea of the animus, has less to do with actual sex than it does with contraries: metaphysical oppositions, matter versus spirit, body versus soul, male versus female — and the old Christian problem of how to reconcile these opposites. At the same time, however, Jung's idea of "contrasexuality" is rooted in cultural assumptions about the essential "nature" of male and female sexuality, the respective characteristics of which are also posited as contraries.

Talking about sex in terms of the contrasexual animus keeps sex "contra," "against" and "in opposition to," with the attendent associatons and feelings of contrariness, hostility, violence, and anxiety. Contrasexuality is the language of the Western Christian Animus talking righteously about itself, its own paranoid insistence on One Way, This Way, Only. It is not the language of a polymorphously perverse psyche enjoying itself.


A third reason to stop using the word "animus" it that it forces us to think and talk wrongly about the anima, as if it is the exact counterpart of the animus. Contrary to Jung's idea and many Jungians following him, they are not counterparts, do not perform the same intrapsychic functions, are not projected and introjected in the same way, and do not, in fact and in life, have the same value in the psychic economy.

I believe efforts to rehabilitate or reform Jung's animus concept to make it conform to women's experience are not efficacious. Usually such attempts take the moralistic form of accentuating the "positive" and eliminating the "negative," which only makes the inherent flaws all the more obvious. A woman does not need to refer to "animus" at all to help her claim her own authority, to act as mediator to her feminine psyche, or to lead her on a spiritual journey. Educational and therapeutic applications that assist individual women to become and appreciate themselves as women generally are successful not because animus theory has been modified, but because anima has been realized.

Re-fashioning the animus theory to make it wearable for modern women would require the injection of "feminine values" into the idea, and emphasis on the importance of "feminine qualities" for wholeness. Though this emphasis may be helpful in a limited way, I am convinced such an approach cannot redeem the animus concept, still less make it worthy of redemption. Proper valuation of "the feminine" cannot correct the fundamental unworkability of Jung's animus concept, which is itself a symptom of the deeper problem of entrenched, chronic, one-sided masculinism which afflicts all of us. Treating the symptom will not cure the disease; rehabilitating, reforming, modifying, positivizing the animus will not challenge the pathology that engenders it.

By envisaging animus and anima as direct counterparts, Jung imagined them ideally as "separate but equal." But we know from the Supreme Court — that perfect embodiment of the collective masculinist mind and every woman's image of ultimate Judgment — that separate is inherently unequal.57 In Jung's view, a woman's "differentiated, integrated animus" is not, and can never be, equal in value to a man's "differentiated, integrated anima," because while her masculinity is at best derivative, his femininity is his true soul.

When we think of animus/anima as Jung thought of them, as ideally co-equal, symmetrical in the model psyche, we fall romantically into the recent trend toward "returning to the goddess" and "restoring the goddess" and "descending to the goddess." I have no question about the seriousness of anyone's intent in engaging in this pursuit. I do, however, question its effectiveness in altering the collective psyche. Attempts to give equal time and place to "the feminine" are more valuable for showing us the appalling depth of the problem than they are for providing a substantial solution.

Theoretical attempts to "value the feminine" or "restore the goddess image" are attempts to compensate for what is missing, the way one balances credits and debits in an account. But no amount of restoration can make a flawed foundation sound; theorizing about equal value for the feminine does not change the fact that those collective bodies of men that rule the world still determine how much, what kind, and to what extent such restoration may take place. Jung inadvertently but accurately pointed to the entrenched power concentrated in male institutions and modes of thought when he described the animus as a "collection of condemnatory judges...an assembly of fathers or dignitaries who lay down incontestable...judgments."58

Imagine the horror of a thinking woman (who, as Adrienne Rich wrote, "sleeps with monsters") waking from a disturbing dream of just such an image of supremely condemnatory black-robed men on July third, 1989. She picks up her morning newspaper with a headline about abortion, and finds that the prelude to her "independence day" is the Supreme Court ruling (Webster vs. State of Missouri) which, by limiting the scope of a federal constitutional amendment (Roe vs. Wade, 1973), has returned her body to the state as an area of reproductive jurisdiction. Asleep or awake, she is subject to the will of the Judges; in her dream and in their court, they have laid down "incontestable judgments" governing even the most intimate, private expression of herself, her body, regardless of her personal views and feelings about abortion. When she protests their tampering or questions their qualificatioins to judge, as Anita Hill did, she falls into the nightmare of dismissal, disparagement, superfluity.

The "masculine principle" does not and will not yield its position of privilege easily if at all — and certainly not to the feminine principle, which it has judged to be inferior, lesser, and not to be taken too seriously. Given men's legacy of assumed male superiority, and women's legacy of introjected belief in male superiority, I have trouble believing that more than a few in our masculinist culture can recognize the inherent equality of a goddess. No feminine figure, however divine, can be regarded as equal in power when placed next to the supreme God of the western world, the Father — who has no mother, no wife, no daughter, no sister, and no consort, and whose most visible body is a mother-wife church run by men.

The return-to-the-goddess movement, popular among some Jungians and New Age people and feminist theologians and others, makes me uneasy. (And it is possible that some of my uneasiness originates in my own frustration that change comes so slowly.) The idea of restoration of the devalued feminine springs from the still-frustrated hopes of women for an accommodation with the male world, a hope that men will make room for women, that the Father God will share power with the Mother Goddess. And yet: the restoration of powerful female figures, like Artemis or Gaia or Isis, seems more like rectification of an unintentional error than deep recognition of how grievous and destructive to the human soul has been the effect of their absence. And since goddesses have no cathedrals or conventions or synods or scriptures, and no congregations clamoring for a constitutional amendment forcing prayer to them in school, it is hard for any goddess to compete in a male culture for deity space. However great she is, she is no match for Him, whose pronoun is always capitalized and whose reign has long eclipsed the memory of Her glory, Her power, Her great passion for life.


I see no value in coining a new word for an old concept, nor a re-styled concept to wear the old word. The ideas I present here speak to and for a different model entirely, and are intended as rough cuts only, yet to be tailored to serve as workclothes for collective realities and individual experiences. They are partial moves toward a possible new consciousness that may help us pack away the outworn nineteenth-century mantle of "the animus."

Perhaps, when we see that the old emperor has no clothes, we will be free to dress our realities in new imaginal designs, more varieties of fabric with more texture of thought, ideas of bold and subtle colors, sharply defined lines and daring weaves of thought, descriptions whose drapes and intriguing folds express the individual body even more than they conceal it.

If we can be more specific and precise and less general and automatic in our thinking, if we can stop relegating much of our sexual possibilities to footnote status, and if we can face the world's realities and our own stunning complexities without too much fluffy idealism, we might begin to throw some reflective light on our profound psychological dilemmas.

But if we cannot extricate ourselves from the labyrinthine patterns of genderism, sexism, heterosexism, and all other confining isms, our entire species must remain psychologically imprisoned and physically on the brink of disaster. It will take many minds, and every contribution, every milligram of consciousness, counts. And there is probably more than one way out of the labyrinth; I suspect Ariadne did not tell Theseus she had more than one thread in her sewing basket.


1.Nor Hall, Those Women. Dallas: Spring Publications, Inc., 1988.

2.Frieda Fordham, An Introduction to Jung's Psychology (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1973 ed.), p. 55.

3.C.G. Jung, Collected Works (New Jersey: Princeton University Press), Vol 7, para. 335. (The Collected Works are hereafter referred to as CW.)

4.Emma Jung, Animus and Anima. Dallas: Spring Publications, Inc., 1985. The English translation of these essays appeared in Spring 1941.

5.Irene Clarement de Castillejo, Knowing Woman: A Feminine Psychology (New York: Putnam's, 1973), p. 73.

6.Claire Douglas, The Woman in the Mirror: Analytical Psychology and the Feminine (Boston: Sigo Press, 1990), p. 63.

7.Ad by Martin/Williams Agency, Minneapolis. Story appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 20, 1992.

8.Patricia Berry, "The Dogma of Gender," in Echo's Subtle Body (Dallas: Spring Publications, Inc., 1982), p. 40.

9.Andrew Samuels, The Plural Psyche (New York: Routledge, 1989), p. 101.

10.James Hillman, Anima: An Anatomy of a Personified Notion (Dallas: Spring Publications, 1985), p. 179.

11.Demaris Wehr, Jung and Feminism: Liberating Archetypes (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987), p. 103.

12.Angelyn Spignesi, book review in Quadrant: Journal of Contemporary Jungian Thought, Fall 1984, p. 97.

13.Douglas, p. 60.

14.Jung, CW 7, para. 309.

15.Marion Woodman, Addiction to Perfection (Toronto: Inner City Books, 1982), p. 14.

16.Ibid., p. 121.

17.Edward Whitmont, Return of the Goddess (New York: Crossroad, 1982), p. 127.

18.Ibid., p. 143.

19.Ibid., p. 138.

20.Samuels, p. 97.


22.Ibid. Author's italics.

23.Vivian Gornick, "Woman as Outsider," in Woman in Sexist Society, V. Gornick & B.K. Moran, eds. (New York: Basic Books, 1971), p. 137-144.

24.Article in Time Magazine, August 14, 1989.

25.Annette Brandes, personal communication.

26.Reprinted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 26, 1989.


28.Jung, CW 9, ii, para. 29.

29.Hillman, p. 117.

30.Jung, CW 16, para. 434.

31.Jung, CW 7, para. 335.

32.Ibid., para. 336.

33.Ibid., para. 330.

34.When asked her impression of Vice President Dan Quayle, who had just visited her school, 14-year-old Vanessa Martinez said: "He seems like an average type of man. He's not, like, smart. I'm not trying to rag on him or anything, but he has the same mentality I have — and I'm in the eighth grade." (St. paul Pioneer Press, May 21, 1992).

35.Hillman, p. 117.

36.Wehr, p. 103.

37.Jung, The Visions Seminars (Zurich: Spring Publications, 1976), p. 216.

38.Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1954), p. 125.

39.Ibid., p. 126.

40.The intimidation and forestalling of challenge of "archetype" comes from its elevation to universal metaphysical truth — an elevation encouraged by much of the "religious" language Jung uses when writing about the "numinosity" and "transcendance" and "sovereign" nature of the archetype. If we look at any archetype from a system of belief rather than a psychological attitude, it cannot be challenged. I think of the archetype less as a universal or horizontal phenomenon than as a vertical, signifying psychic depth in individual and cultural life. I am not as concerned with the archetype per se (about which we can say little since we cannot apprehend it directly) as with the archetypal images that govern the psyche, embodying our emotions, resonating with significance. And it is clear the the images change, both reflecting and influencing cultural and social constructions, including those that govern "scientific definitions" of, and relations between, genders.

41.Jolande Jacobi, The Psychology of C.G. Jung (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1942), 7th ed. 1968), Plate 18 caption.

42.Ibid., Plate 19 caption.

43.Berry, p. 40.

44.Jacobi, p. 123.

45.Woodman, p. 182-3.

46.Charlotte Bunch, "Not for Lesbians Only," in Quest, 1975.

47.Christine Downing, Myths and Mysteries of Same-Sex Love (New York: The Continuum Publishing Co., 1989), p. 126-7.

48.Jung, CW 10, para. 220.

49.Ibid., para. 221.

50.Woodman, p. 122.

51.Woodman, The Pregnant Virgin (Toronto: Inner City Books), p. 59-60.

52.Whitmont, p. 250.

53.The most incisive essay I know of on this subject is Adrienne Rich's "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," which first appeared in the journal Signs, 1979.

54.As Berry noted, we fall back on generalities when we cannot or will not differentiate among particulars. "We draw upon generalities when we need the broadest possible conceptual organization. Yin/yang, lunar/solar, right/left brain, passive/active, matriarchy/patriarchy, provide large oppositional categories. Biological gender is usually clearly observable, universal, unambiguous, offering a point of view that need not be confused by the variety and ambivalence of phenomena." (Berry, "Dogma of Gender," op. cit., p. 46.)

55.The more successfully a woman "integrates" the "positive animus" the more she risks severe social penalty, usually carried out through social, economic, political, and psychological exclusion from the male-dominated collective life of the culture. However "positive" the animus in her may be, she is still collectively regarded as having "too much" animosity on one hand, and "too much" masculinity on the other — even though it is "good" masculinity: independence of thought, autonomy of action, mental and physical stamina, dexterity, acuity, and sexual vitality. Power and fame don't help: Geraldine Ferraro was practically tarred and feathered as a vice presidential candidate. Hillary Clinton was considered a possible liability (conservatives called her an "ultraradical feminist") to her husband's candidacy because she is an outspoken woman of strong ideas with a well-defined personality. Most telling was the perception of her as a potential liability to her husband rather than as a potential candidate in her own right.

56.Downing, Psyche's Sisters (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 138-9.

57.Supreme Court ruling, Brown vs. Board of Education, 1954.

58.Jung, CW 7, para. 332.

© Lyn Cowan 2000. All rights reserved.

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