Jung and Gender: Masculine and Feminine Revisited

Last December I was invited by our local Jung Society to participate in a panel discussion on Jung and gender. I was specifically asked to discuss how I saw Jung's ideas about masculine and feminine as relevant or out-dated in my analytic work.

Last December I was invited by our local Jung Society to participate in a panel discussion on Jung and gender. I was specifically asked to discuss how I saw Jung's ideas about masculine and feminine as relevant or out-dated in my analytic work. After giving it some thought, I concluded that my experience over the past 20 years was that Jung's ideas were both relevant and out-dated.

It is difficult to discuss this topic generally. Some of my clients find Jung's concepts regarding masculine and feminine extremely useful and enlightening. For example, the notion of an inner man or inner woman is helpful to many of them. This Jungian construct seems to fit their experience and assists them in understanding their dreams. But to others, these ideas about gender are foreign and unacceptable—especially when it comes to the narrower definitions Jung gave to concepts such as the anima and animus.

Clearly, some of Jung's ideas are objectionable to modern ways of thinking. Women, in particular, have pointed to Jung's sexism, his turn-of-the-century Swiss-German patriarchal perspective on women and men. My wife, an avowed feminist, has been most valuable in keeping me watchful of sexism in Jungian theory and practice. Nevertheless, I have tried not to throw the baby out with the bath water, but to weigh what is useful to each and every one of my clients. It is important to me to respect my analysands' own process of awakening to gender issues in the language and images that make sense to them.

If I allow myself to generalize, however, I am able identify six areas I find relevant and six areas I feel are outdated in Jung's ideas about gender. So let me share with you a sort of balance sheet I've constructed.

Relevant Ideas on Gender

First, I will briefly describe six well-known aspects of Jungian thought I find relevant and useful:

  1. In the course of Jungian analysis, I often assist female clients to discover traditionally masculine qualities in their psyche. Likewise, I frequently assist male clients to recognize traditionally feminine qualities in their psyche. This process frees each gender from the straight-jacket of stereotyped sex roles and expands my clients' identities. The process also mirrors and furthers the breakdown of male-female polarization in our culture, and the cultural shift towards androgyny.

  2. By recognizing an inner image of female in men and an inner image of male in women, many of my clients are able to withdraw their projections onto the opposite sex, enabling them to see and accept members of the opposite gender more as they really are. Each gender learns how it perceives the other through lenses colored by personal, archetypal, and collective images.

  3. Identifying masculine and feminine images residing within their own psyche—not just "out there"—allows my clients access to positive and negative qualities thought to belong to the other sex. Working with projections and with the images in their dreams and fantasies helps many analysands integrate and take responsibility for the qualities they disown, including characteristics they find in the opposite sex.

  4. The goal of uniting inner opposites to create wholeness is central to the analytic work I provide. Many times this process depicts itself in my clients' dreams and fantasies as the union of male and female, or masculine and feminine.

  5. I have found that the Jungian emphasis on valuing and integrating "the Feminine" helps many of my clients—both men and women—accept and value qualities in themselves and others that have often been lacking, undervalued, misunderstood, and feared in the Western world. I see this as correcting the damaging one-sidedness of patriarchal consciousness.

  6. Perhaps most importantly, my practice of Jungian analysis places the greatest emphasis on facilitating my clients' individuation process. This means that I try to assist clients, male or female, to search for their authentic self-definition, distinct from society's gender expectations.

Areas of Concern

Now, here are the six areas that concern me as being irrelevant or outdated:

  1. Many classical Jungian definitions of masculine and feminine are narrow, outdated, and sexist. For example, some Jungian theorists identify consciousness as masculine, the unconscious as feminine. Masculine energy is frequently described as penetrating and creative, related to activity and rational thinking. Feminine energy is often defined as indirect and receptive, related to passivity and irrationality.

    While it is valuable to differentiate such varying qualities of the psyche, it is problematic to tie them to gender terms such as masculine and feminine. Is consciousness actually masculine? Is the unconscious feminine? It is obvious that many of the qualities Jungians consider feminine are tied to inferiority, while the masculine qualities are more highly regarded, at least in the eyes of our culture. This seems clearly misogynistic to me.

    On a practical level it does not make sense, in fact is potentially harmful, to identify women who are powerful thinkers or who are active and creative as masculine, animus-possessed, or unfeminine, as classical Jungian definitions would suggest. Likewise, men who display a great deal of receptivity, passivity, or irrationality should not automatically have their masculinity questioned. Continued use of such classical Jungian definitions seems nowadays to actually muddy analytic work and create more problems than it solves.

  2. I have found that generalizing about what is masculine and what is feminine is dangerous, often perpetuating gender myths that are discriminatory and damaging. While there is some research supporting biological roots to personality differences, the majority of studies suggest that much of what is considered masculine or feminine is culture-determined.

    If most gender-typed qualities are cultural stereotypes, the Jungian goal of individuation—to discover and actualize one's unique essence— is not served by utilizing such gender stereotypes in analysis. For example, if I say that thinking and intellect are masculine, I reinforce our culture's stereotypic belief. In analysis, I am working with a distinct individual. It damages self-esteem and distorts the quest for self-identity to equate being a man or woman with a slew of culturally-determined, gender-connected qualities. My analysand can be a biological male and be emotional and affiliative without defining these as feminine qualities.

    In order not to perpetuate gender stereotyping, Jungian analyst Katherine Bradway suggests using other non-gender terms to define the polarities we are considering, such as left-brain or right-brain, or the Eastern polarity of yang and yin. In my own practice, I am attempting to avoid gender stereotyping by focusing on the specific qualities or polarities I have in mind without tying them to gender. That is, I can refer to active or passive, thinking or feeling, competitive or affiliative without putting them in terms of being masculine or feminine.

  3. Viewing masculine and feminine as complementary opposites, while useful at times, is problematic. As my gay, lesbian, and transsexual clients have taught me, gender is more accurately viewed as encompassing a wide-ranging continuum.

    Likewise, the more people I see in my practice, the more I am impressed at the great diversity in human nature. I have seen men of all types and varieties, women of all kinds. I am hard-pressed to come up with very many generalizations based on gender. I know there are some statistical patterns, but how useful are they when I work with individuals and in a rapidly changing society? If each person is unique, no statistical norm or average will be able to define who my client is.

    From a psychological perspective, men and women are not, in fact, opposite. My clinical experience is that they are much more psychologically alike than different, and the differences that exist are not necessarily opposing. However, my Jungian training seems to have gotten me into the habit of looking at everything in terms of opposites, including gender. Of course, this is not just a Jungian tendency. In fact, it is probably human nature. Patricia Berry points out that there is an archetypal "pull" to see masculine and feminine as opposites. As I pointed out earlier, I recognize the value of this archetypal image, but it can cause problems if I identify with it rigidly and unconsciously. When viewing gender as a pair of opposites, I miss the fact that maleness and femaleness are complex concepts, and that men and women are similar in many ways.

  4. Using Jungian jargon and focusing too much on Jungian theory and pre-established definitions gets in the way of analysands exploring their own experience of being a woman or a man. I would rather set theory aside and operate from each person's experience. In my practice, I try to work phenomenologically and experientially with each of my clients, bringing in Jungian theory only when it seems to help us understand something better.

    If a man, for example, brings in a dream of a woman, I do not jump to the conclusion that this is his feeling side, or anima. Instead, I am more interested in what this man tells me about this particular dream woman and what she might symbolize for him. Perhaps she is a physicist and represents not my client's feelings but his unconscious scientific genius—or any number of other aspects of his psyche unrelated to gender. Similarly, when a woman brings in a dream of a male professor, it might represent a logos function, but it seems to me more important to ask my client about the image and encourage her to explore it through self-reflection and active imagination.

    In my experience, overusing Jungian concepts causes analysis to become intellectualized, dry, and reductionistic. Sometimes when I do that it feels like I am serving Jungian theory rather than the actual experience of my analysand. Furthermore, I am aware at times of how my client and I cling to pat definitions and concepts rather than face the anxiety of exploring the unknown. If, on the other hand, I am open, receptive, and encouraging of deep reflection and exploration into gender images and experiences, I allow the psyche room to say what it wants to say, not what Jungian theory has pre-determined.

  5. Focusing too intensely on my clients' inner masculine-feminine dynamics may obscure their and my ability to identify and respond appropriately to outer socio-political realities affecting them as men and women. Women's dreams about men attacking them may not only point out a tragic inner imbalance, but can also be viewed as reflecting their actual experience of violation by men and by the patriarchy in which they live. This is not just an inner problem, then, but a societal one. The same is true for men. Their dreams about male-female relations may reflect outer social problems in addition to inner ones.

    Jungian psychology's emphasis on identifying symbolic dynamics between masculine and feminine energies within the psyche must be balanced by cogent reflection on the community and culture in which we live and the concrete events of our lives. My analysands and I have to walk a narrow tightrope, balancing our investigations between subjective and objective, inner and outer, and individual and collective points of view. I feel similarly to James Hillman that analysis must not only assist the expansion of self-awareness, but political consciousness as well.

  6. I am cautious of psychological theories about women created by males, which is the case with Jung. I believe that to some extent Jung's ideas about gender came from his own experience as a sexist patriarchal man.

    It is unlikely that a man can objectively perceive the psychology of women, viewing it, as he is, through his own male psyche. While there seems to be no way out from the subjectivity of perception, we must at least recognize that subjectivity and be careful of projecting male concepts onto women (and vice versa, of course). It is now generally recognized that women have been misrepresented by men's distorted—either negative or overidealized—views of them, including some of the personality theories developed by male psychoanalysts.

    It is encouraging that subsequent generations of Jungians have been able to critique Jung's thinking about women. In particular, I have learned a great deal from female Jungian analysts who have challenged Jung's ideas and proposed alternative models for women. One of these is Jean Shinoda Bolen. In her book, Goddesses in Everywoman, Bolen describes archetypal female images for a complete range of human characteristics, totally eliminating the need to identify any women's qualities or experience as masculine. A number of my female clients have found this approach more affirming to them as women.

    Since I do not have the experience of being a woman, it is essential that I look to my female colleagues for guidance in understanding women's psychology. Even more importantly, I must allow my female clients to teach me what it is for them to be female, certainly not vice-versa. I must admit that after over 20 years I am still learning.

Conclusion

To sum up, I explained at the beginning that generalizations about my analytic practice are difficult, as every client I see is individual and the work we do particularly suited to that person. Nevertheless, based on two decades of clinical experience, I identified six ways I find Jung's ideas about gender useful in my analytic practice. I also described six areas where I feel Jungian concepts are problematic or outdated, and therefore should be used with caution or eliminated altogether.

REFERENCES

Berry, P. (1982). Echo's subtle body. Dallas: Spring Publications.

Bolen, J. S. (1984). Goddesses in everywoman. New York: Harper & Row.

Bradway, K. (1982). Gender identity and gender roles: Their place in analytic practice. In Jungian analysis (M. Stein, Ed.). Boulder, CO: Shambhala.

Hillman, J. & Ventura, M. (1992). We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy-And the World's Getting Worse. San Francisco: HarperCollins.


© Gary S. Toub 1999.

Dr. Toub is a licensed psychologist and diplomate Jungian analyst in private practice in Denver, Colorado. He is also Director of Training at the C. G. Jung Institute of Colorado. For more information, see Dr. Toub's website at http://www.jungindex.net/toub/. This article was originally published in 1997 in The Round Table Review. It was based on a paper presented as part of a panel discussion, "Jung and Gender: Masculine and Feminine Revisited," for the C. G. Jung Society of Colorado, December 6, 1996.

Direct e-mail to Gary Toub at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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