Tuesday, May 31, 2011

we're all goddesses around here

I can't think of a dang thing to blog about today, so how about the archetypal feminine?  why sure, that's just what I was thinking about as I sat here drinking my pero.  Which is lousy without honey, I might add, but we are out.

One of the things I really miss in grad school this time around that we had back in the olden days is archetypal criticism.  I think there are still people who do it, but it seems to have fallen in to disrepute.  You can find the occasional reference to Northrup Frye, but Jung?  Have not heard one word about him since I started school again two years ago.

Strange, yes?  Because in the mid-80s, archetypal criticism was huge.  Or maybe I just thought so because I liked it. I read a lot of it.  Granted, most of what I read was popular stuff, not academic criticism, but it wasn't uncommon to reference Jung in the classroom.  There were Women who Run with the Wolves, The Heroine's Journey, Goddesses in Everywoman, a book-length archetypal interpretation of Sleeping Beauty (can't remember the title or author), and another book of several interpretations of Grimm's fairy tales.  It was so much fun.  I was involved in at least two or three women's groups where we read the books and then tried to retell our own lives as archetypal tales based on the underlying themes of women in western culture.

To understand it, you have to let go of the idea that masculine and feminine are about individual men and women.  According to Jung, we all have masculine and feminine elements in our psyches.  In my mind, the masculine archetype is about going out into the world and achieving something-- conquering, inventing, building, doing.  The feminine archetype is about creating community, promoting compromise and tolerance, connecting with others in a way that honors our differences, and developing an inward focus that leads to contentment with the self.  The idea is that although each of us has varying amounts of masculine and feminine within, you have to develop both to become a whole human being.

Again, this isn't about you or me or anyone in particular, and it certainly isn't about biological destiny (i.e., if you're a woman, you must find fulfillment in being a mother).  Many women achieve great things, many men value community or contemplation.  It's about learning to find the balance between the two, both within ourselves and in our culture.  Obviously our culture values the masculine over the feminine.  Even many women value achievement over all that emotional crap.  I have to admit that I do, too.  But I'm learning about this.  To value achievement only by the patriarchal standards of our culture is to discount a part of myself.  Oh, good grief.  I had no idea this was where I was going when I started this. I thought it was going to end up being a movie review (I may still get there).  damn.

One of the hardest things for me about my adult life has been my lack of achievement.  It makes me angry that I haven't had the opportunity to have the kind of career I would have liked to have had if we'd lived somewhere where I could have a legitimate job.  Sometimes it makes me very angry.  But I was ventilating about this to my younger sister about a year ago, and she reminded me that to say I haven't done anything in my adult life is to discount the very real things I have done.  the kind of things that don't count in the patriarchal mindset, that are more in line with the feminine archetype.

So indulging in this particular whine is a way to beat up my inner feminine self.  Which is unfair, because she has accomplished a lot.  I've created an environment (I hope) where my kids can thrive.  I've read and written and learned and explored my own psyche.  And there's other stuff, too, things that would sound silly written out.  These are not things that I valued in the past.  Not one time in the first 25 years of my life did I think, gee, I hope someday I will grow up to be a mother and a homemaker.

This is a tough one.  I'm having a hard time writing it even now.  Maybe I will switch tracks to the movie review.  One of my all-time favorite movies is Howl's Moving Castle, a kids' movie based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones (which I also love).  I've watched the movie at least six or eight times.  It's about a young woman, Sophie, 18-ish, who works in her family's hat shop.  Her father is dead, and the shop is run by her mother, who is the polar opposite of Sophie—flashy, gossipy, flagrantly emotional.  One night the Witch of the Waste comes in and puts a spell on Sophie, turning her into an old woman.  So Sophie leaves the shop and the life she knows, and goes off on her own adventure to find her own magic.

I watched it again last week, and it occurred to me that the reason why I love it so much is that it is about the archetypal feminine journey.  How many gazillion books and movies have there been about the archetypal male journey?  But this is the only one I can think of that manages the feminine perspective so beautifully-- the other ones that come to mind have to end in disaster or cynicism because in a patriarchal culture, what hope is there for a successful feminine journey?

Anyway.  Sophie has to leave behind her biological family—who don't understand her at all—and her boring job, which she does only out of loyalty to her dead father.  She heads out into the Waste and meets up with the Wizard Howl.  Her journey is about creating a new community with herself at the center in the role of lover, surrogate mother, and creator of order out of chaos.  And the movie does all this without turning her into Ma Ingalls, either.  Along the way, she has to come to terms with her own attractiveness/sexuality (it's a kid's movie, so this is only indirectly addressed, but I think her fear of her own sexuality is what the curse is all about).  And she has to learn to stand up to and refute inappropriate feminine archetypes, like the misuse of feminine power in the service of patriarchy (Madame Suliman), and the lecherous older woman who just wants to steal the power of younger men (the Witch of the Waste).

Her successful completion of the journey results not only in happiness for herself, but also the community she's created and even the entire nation in which she lives. (It's a fairy tale. It could happen).  And although she gets her man at the end, there's another man waiting in the wings.  She isn't necessarily going to spend her life as Howl's consort.  It's really brilliantly done.  I could go on and on, because there's more, but I think I'm starting to gush.

It's also beautifully made.  The artwork is stunning.  I wish I could have seen it in the theater, but I'm not sure it ever came to our town, since it is a Foreign Film.  We don't hold with any of that furrin nonsense around here.  But it's so well dubbed in English that you'd never know.

And while I'm on the subject of the feminine archetype in films, I will also mention Prince of Persia.  It was one of the big summer blockbusters last summer.  The plot is kind of dumb--the whole thing is about learning who you can trust, but then at the end, time is turned back to the start of the movie, so all that stuff they learned about trust is gone, and they end up gazing into each other's eyes and saying, You'll just have to TRUST me.  It's almost comical.

But the stunts and special effects are cool (of course) and it has Jake Gyllenhaal, which I'm not going to complain about.  But the best thing about it is that it's the only blockbuster male action hero movie I can think of ever that takes the female sidekick seriously--at the end, the Jake Gyllenhaal character even pays homage to her as ruler of her people.  I can't exactly recommend it or you might come after me for two hours of a plot that is just plain lame, but if you don't mind that, it's worth a watch.


  1. For having no topic you did damn well. (And you didn't even reference poo once.) I may need to take lessons from you.

  2. hey, but I got the poo covered on one last week. Or maybe I should say "polished."

  3. There's probably more hero movies that are about women's journeys than we maybe realize.

    Star Wars:
    The feminine archetype is about creating community: OB1, Han, Leia, C3PO, R2, centered on Luke

    promoting compromise and tolerance - enacted through the romance between Han and Leia

    connecting with others in a way that honors our differences: the contributions made by each character, such as Chewie, the droids

    developing an inward focus that leads to contentment with the self: the lesson Luke has to learn from Yoda, that saves his life when fighting Vader, and when fighting the Emperor


    After all, Joseph Campbell's work was based on Jung.

    I have to admit, though I'm not very emotionally, I have less and less lurv for the "going out and doing things" the older I get. The Bush administration was full of super smart, extremely accomplished, do-things people, and they went and did it all over the Iraqis. I have similar feelings about the CEO of my former workplace--extremely accomplished woman, visionary etc., has *done more* with her life than I have or probably will, but... a wise person? A humble person? To quote Rorschack from Watchmen: "Hrm."

  4. Wow, London Mabel, I missed this when you posted it. Thanks for the Star Wars connection, I'm always happy when I can connect anything to Star Wars. We re-watched them (the original three) about a month ago and it was so much fun.

    I know what you mean about becoming suspicious of "do-ers" as you get older. I feel some of that, too. But I have to balance it for myself, because I'm so introverted, I can become completely self-involved if I don't push myself to "do" sometimes.

    You may never see this, sorry it too me so long to reply. Also wanted to reply to Julie-- I didn't plan to write about this when I sat down, but it had been knocking around in my head for several months, so it wasn't completely from scratch. :-) MadMax watched Prince of Persia last week and it reminded me.