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The Feminine, Repressed

Feminine is not used in these writings to imply the common notion of girlish, dainty, or effeminate characteristics (although one may choose to express their feminine in such ways). It is instead used in the Jungian sense to describe a universal element of human nature that is present in all genders.

Jung and the feminine

Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung defined the collective unconscious as a domain of one’s unconscious that is not individual but universal; “it has contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals,” establishing a common underlying psychic layer of suprapersonal nature which is present in every one of us.

Through the collective unconscious, human beings experience archetypes as “universal images that have existed since the remotest times” which give meaning to lived encounters and connect outer sense experiences to inner, psychic events.

In this context, the feminine and the masculine are not socially constructed characteristics of gender, or even biological characteristics fueled by estrogen and testosterone, but rather energies which exist in us all. The feminine qualities present in the unconscious of men is referred to in Jungian psychology as the anima, and the masculine qualities present in the unconscious of women, the animus.

The feminine in American culture

There are obvious ways in which the societal repression of the feminine occurs: the cultural obstructions to balancing career and motherhood, qualified female politicians only recently starting to balance the landscape of American politics (I mean... hello?), the mandates on physical beauty and the shaming that occurs when those mandates are not met, financial limitations made evident in gender-based pay gaps, and regular occurrences of physical and sexual assault, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination, which is more commonly than not followed up with a victim-blaming narrative.

This collective conduct unfolds as aggression against women not because women are the sole holders of feminine qualities, but rather because they are representative of them. When we discuss actions taken against women in American culture, we are talking about layers of unconscious activity playing out in the conscious world. Among those layers are people with primarily masculine qualities disowning their unwanted feminine qualities by projecting them onto women and oppressing them. This serves as an unconscious means of repressing their own internal feminine. Like so many psychological defenses, projections serve as quite the crafty tool, helping us see externally what is disowned internally, and making it safer for us to destroy.

In defense of men

This topic is complex, and I'd like to pause for clarity. When I suggest that those with primarily masculine qualities are projecting their disowned feminine qualities onto women in effort to oppress, repress, and destroy, I’m not necessarily talking about men. Likewise when I elude to the patriarchy.

In recent years, there has been a rise in confusion over how women could ever align with misogynistic ideologies. It commonly comes down to this. A woman who lives primarily in her animus and cannot tolerate her feminine qualities will be just as oppressive toward the feminine as a man who lives primarily in his masculine qualities and cannot tolerate his anima. The patriarchy serves as an indication that wholeness in this sense — our ability to integrate both masculine and feminine qualities peacefully — evades too many of us, leaving the incomplete and fearful masculine desperate to dominate the feminine.

The patriarchal gag order

Channeling again the wisdom of mythopoetic author and Jungian analyst Marion Woodman, from her 1985 offering The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation, we are reminded that the effects a patriarchal system has on its feminine citizens extends beyond aesthetic judgments and attempts at fiscal and political control. Innately feminine humans unconsciously give up pieces of their femininity to achieve what society has managed to convince them is worthwhile. Woodman stated that “a woman whose survival is thus tied to the masculine spirit has unconsciously sacrificed her femininity to what she believes is the best in life.”

The word “survival” is important here, and may lead us back to the point of the “misogynistic woman.” One reason a woman may be unconsciously disowning her feminine qualities is because she lives in a culture that has told her, both explicitly and implicitly, that those qualities are detrimental, sinful, and even criminal.

Jungian analyst Betty Meador expanded on the impact of the repressed feminine on modern women in her essay entitled “Light the Seven Fires — Seize the Seven Desires,” located in Singer and Kimbles’ The Cultural Complex: Contemporary Jungian Perspectives on Psyche and Society. There she notes:

I do not have to elaborate for you who also grew up in this culture, so repressive to woman and sexuality, the innate splitting of instinctual urges young women must accomplish in order to survive with any remnant of self-esteem.

Again, it's a matter of survival. And self-esteem which is not a social construct but rather a primal need to be included and respected within our culture and community.

Additionally, a young woman’s very development requires a severance from masculine power in order to progress. As Woodman noted in The Owl was a Baker’s Daughter, “For many women born and reared in a patriarchal culture, initiation into mature womanhood occurs through abandonment, actual or psychological. It is the identity-conferring experiences that frees them from the father.”

However, “in a society where so many mothers have lost touch with the rhythms of their own natures, it is not surprising that the fear of life is fundamental in so many personalities.” As young feminines may engage in a ritualistic abandonment from father in order to ascend into adult/womanhood, they look to mother, who has been culturally stripped of her feminine nature, thus perpetuating the cultural loss of the feminine.

Calling upon our third female Jungian analysts, Sylvia Brinton Perera added to this notion in Descent to the Goddess by describing the ways in which women must compensate for their collective loss of identity to remain socially successful:

The problem is that we who are badly wounded in our relation to the feminine usually have a fairly successful persona, a good public image. We have grown up as docile, often intellectual, daughters of the patriarchy, with what I call “animus-egos.” We strive to uphold the virtues and aesthetic ideals which the patriarchal superego has presented to us. But we are filled with self-loathing and a deep sense of personal ugliness and failure when we can neither meet nor mitigate the superego’s standards of perfection.

So it seems in the context of the patriarchy, feminine humans are trained to be culturally-approved versions of ourselves; contained, controllable, well-behaved. And not only do we still manage to fail to meet the impossible expectations placed upon us, we silently hate ourselves for trying.

Women are not the only victims of this cultural wonder. This also brings to mind the extreme negative reactions that effeminate men, gay, bisexual, or queer men, and transgender women can regularly face. Is it possible these populations are so often attacked because they tend to represent a proud embodiment of the feminine; a rising up against the repression of the qualities which American culture has collectively decided are unsafe if not contained and controlled by a more masculine element?



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