Carl Jung, suggested that our personalities were shaped by what he termed ‘archetypes’; the ‘building blocks’ derived from our shared human history.
These archetypes form the core unconscious and emotional ideas around which we make associations and shape both our personalities and norms of our societies.
Two particularly powerful archetypes are the ideas of masculine and feminine, the animus and anima. They represent a polarity of behaviour which may be associated with the sexes, but which may be present in both men and women in different ways and to a different degree. Human beings of both sexes carry the images of male or female to some degree.
In myths and fairy tales we see these archetypes represented in both positive and negative forms. We may see the archetypal male as bringing direction and heroic results, or as an overbearing tyrant, who murders the young hero or heroine and destroys all possibility for growth and creativity. We may see the archetypal female as the source of all creativity and relationship, or as the witch working poisonous magic in the darkness.
Jung also suggested that every man and woman contained the potential for the opposite gender within them; the anima and animus. Our capacity to acknowledge this possibility and bring it to consciousness, is the key to our development.
If we are able to integrate both archetypes into our lives, we will be more fully adult, and make choices which better suit the challenges we face. We may value and incorporate both rationality and intuition; both force and care.
If we repress the possibility for integration, we may become dominated by them, in their conscious or unconscious forms, and their negative aspects may possess us. We may become caricatures of gender, and over emphasise archetypally male or female attributes and may oppose different expressions of gender in others.
A man may overly identify with his maleness, becoming macho and opinionated, and failing to acknowledge, or worse dismissing, his capacity for sensitivity or intuition.
The projections of others in our societies may provide an additional challenge. We may behave according to gender stereotypes without questioning our given roles, or try to develop a personality based on these gender caricatures at the extreme. We may decide that to be successful in business we need to overly emphasise the patriarchal forms that seem to dominate many industries, and become a cartoon ‘tough guy’, ‘leaning in’ assertively when listening and compassion may be a more appropriate response.
In her book ‘The Way of All Women’, Emma Harding described the importance of the idea of these archetypes to the women’s emancipation movement of the first part of the last century. She suggested that men projected their repressed anima onto women, seeing this as something that was to be despised and not valued, and that women then received those projections and behaved accordingly.
Harding believed that only in freeing herself from that projection and valuing the female archetype on equal terms, would she be able to take responsibility for herself and become truly confident.
Given the value that many of our businesses seem to place upon targets and performance at any cost, it may be that this challenge is still relevant.
If animus and anima are however allowed to become conscious, and we are not dominated by them, we will experience a sense of balance and a wider range of psychological experiences.
Our relationships will have less illusions and we will be better able to appreciate expressions of gender in others.
As adults, we may begin to appreciate that our physical sex does not limit our experience of gender. We may be able to transcend social norms and make choices about our personalities that we truly own.
Harding, E. (1932) The Way of All Women. New York: Longmans, Green