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One of the old interpretations of the story of Adam and Eve was that Adam was hermaphroditic before his ribbed got pulled out to make Eve. The Original Man was either genderless, or was both genders at once.
In many creation stories, one can easily see a parallel to the development of human consciousness. In the womb and with newborn infants, the sex differences are barely present in the personality.
Gender is one of nature’s most important distinctions. Most species reproduce sexually, and therefore require division of the species into males and females. Carl Jung’s psychology is very focused on what might be called the “Archetype of Wholeness”. This archetype does not distinguish between Male and Female, but like the Original Man contains both. By declaring that individuals have access to the Archetype of Wholeness, it is implicit that this archetype supersedes Masculinity and Femininity both.
I heard a joke which ran: A man finds a bottle on the beach and rubs it and a Genie pops out. The Genie says he can grant the man one wish in return for setting him free. The man says he has always wanted to be able to drive to Hawaii from California and asks for a road between the two to be built. The Genie complains about the technical difficulties of such a project, and asks the man if he could wish for something else. The man says okay, that he has never really understood women, and that if he could just understand women his wish would be satisfied. The Genie says, “Do you want that highway with two lanes, or four?”
The implication of this joke is that the nature of femininity is utterly inaccessible to a man. This works pretty well so long as the gender roles in a society are rather clearly defined. But in the modern world that couldn’t be further from the case. Our society is running along the motto started by Thomas Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal.”
If our society is moving towards the equality of all people, men and women alike, the joke above about the Genie will start to seem out of place.
In trying to understand gender roles, there are two sources of information, Nature and Society. Both Nature and Society play critical roles in creating what we think of as a “Man” or “Woman”. The modern world has discovered a distaste for any sort of legal separation between what men and women are allowed to do. Thus, our Society is rebelling against its own traditional ideas of men and women. Nature does not give in to fads so easily, and the chemical hormones which nature pours into the genders continue to affect their behavior in well-known ways. However, modern science’s newfound mastery of those chemicals allows people who don’t identify with the genders nature gave them to switch according to their individual feelings of what gender they “really” are. The process isn’t perfect, though, especially when it comes to anatomical changes. But the psychological results of hormone treatments are pretty effective.
Still, it is very common for someone invest a huge part of their identity into their gender. They do this both at the bidding of Nature – by means of her powerful hormones and the way she constructs the physical body – and of Society, which despite the modern tendency to neutralize the sex differences, still has many ideas about what is right and wrong for Men and Women.
Since the pull of gender identity is so strong, a conflict arises when the Archetype of Wholeness comes into play. For some people, the development of only a few parts of their personality becomes a source of great depression. Society tends to encourage a person to develop his areas of strength but to ignore his areas of weakness. One’s areas of strength are more quickly noticed and more quickly rewarded. In order to survive, a person will normally abandon the development of her areas of weakness. These take longer to develop and tend to go unnoticed or, being noticed, are bullied into submission by people who are jealous of competition in their areas of strength.
The more parts of a person which are bullied into submission, the more work it will take later on when the person’s attention turns toward the Archetype of Wholeness instead of toward the specific field(s) they have mastered in their early years.
The Jungian concepts of the Anima and the Animus – in Latin, the “Soul” and the “Spirit” respectively – are descriptions of natural tendencies Carl Jung noticed in people’s dreams, fantasies, and visions. For men, he noticed that the Archetype of Wholeness was often associated with the figure of a woman or women – which he called the Anima, and vice versa in the case of the Animus. In a man’s dream, a woman may show the way to a new destination, or represent a missing piece of a larger puzzle. This indicates that the man’s ego is very attached to his idea of “Manhood”, and that the Archetype of Wholeness has run into a conflict with that idea.
It’s important to remember that gender roles are reinforced not just by an individual’s idea of himself, but by those around him as well. Thus, the role of “Man” may be thrust upon someone by his wife, his children, his work partners, etc. Thus, it’s not easy to instantly divest oneself of one’s gender identity even if one has some understanding of the phenomenon.
In order to access the less developed parts of the man or woman in question, the Archetype of Wholeness will assume the form of the opposite gender, in his or her dreams, for example. When it does, Jung called it the Anima or Animus. In order to grow and adapt, the person must increase his or her conscious awareness of the nature of the identities he or she has unconsciously assumed. The relationship he or she has to both sexes is usually a very powerful influence on his or her expectations, but in order to grow, those expectations need to change.
The power of the Anima and Animus speaks to the power of the gender identities given to us by Nature and Society both. Sometimes gender becomes the primary point of difficulty, at which point the figures in one’s dreams will have pronounced gender roles. In the end, the Archetype of Wholeness is really more powerful than the “Archetype of the Genders”, and the symbol of Wholeness can appear in many more forms besides simply Men and Women – Crystals, Snakes, Rocks, Cities, Circles, Rainbows, Butterflies. But when the Archetypes of Gender appear, they must be encountered with full seriousness. All the archetypes are like Gods and one must treat them as such, or face the consequences.