A few years ago, a teaching colleague told me that I was the most feminized man he had ever known. I don’t know whether he meant that as a compliment or not, but I took it as such. While being solidly a hetreosexual male, I treasure the feminine, in myself and in my friends.
I find Carl Jung’s investigations of the anima/animus archetypes incredibly insightful. He charts the flow of these archetypes from the collective unconscious through the personal unconscious and into the personality’s interaction with the environment. The role they play in each individual’s psyche has a profound impact on our most intimate relationships. For the few moments of this essay, however, I would simply like to reflect upon the subjective experience of embracing the feminine in a heavily masculinized culture. This is a culture, as Jung notes, in which “a man counts it a virtue to repress his feminine traits as much as possible.” He is well aware that the macho values of hunting, boxing, and sports–in a word, competitiveness–are so impressed upon the souls of little boys that “the relation with the anima is again a test of courage, an ordeal by fire for the spiritual and moral forces of man.” I sometimes feel marginalized, even inadequate, when I am forced to admit that I have little interest in sports, or barroom camaraderie, and that I prefer reading poetry or sharing with my wife on an emotional level.
Until recently, I think the repression of masculinity was also seen as a virtue for women, but it seems to me that the women’s movement of the last 30 years has opened the door for women to escape the “feminine mystique.” My woman friends seem well on the way to combining the feminine traits of kindness and gentleness with expressing their intelligence and self-confidence. Jung says that ‘what woman has to overcome in respect to the animus is not pride but inertia and lack of self-confidence. The animus accent is on knowledge – particularly understanding.” The predominant interest of women in spirituality is a clear example, I think, of the contemporary blending of archetypes that many women have accomplished. As a man, however, I am aware that I am just guessing about the experience of women, and I would love to hear from female readers about their experiences of the blending of anima/animus in their heart of hearts.
At any rate, this holy blending is what Jung calls “Syzygy (Latin syzygia (“conjunction”), from the Ancient Greek σύζυγος súzugos, (“yoked together”). He says “If the encounter with the shadow is the ‘apprentice-piece‘ in the individual’s development, then that with the anima (and animus) is the ‘master-piece‘.” My life would feel immeasurably impoverished without my love of poetry, my willingness to cry, my need for relatedness, and the spiritual depth of empathic connection. I experience my feminine eros as the source of creativity, as Lao Tzu says in verse 6 of the Tao Te Ching: “The Spirit of the valley never dies. They call it the wondrous female. Through the portal of her mystery, creation ever wells forth. It lingers like gossamer and seems not to be. Yet when summoned, ever freely flows.” Finally, feminine empathy opens my ears to hear the music-sometimes sad, more often joyful– flowing from the souls of the women and men who cross my life’s path. As Sappho reminds us,
That man is peer of the gods, who
face to face sits listening
to your sweet speech and lovely laughter.