وجهه زنانه و مردانه درونت را دوباره بهم متصل کنکتاب: قوانین طبیعت انسان / درس 13
وجهه زنانه و مردانه درونت را دوباره بهم متصل کن
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12 Reconnect to the Masculine or Feminine Within You
The Law of Gender Rigidity
All of us have masculine and feminine qualities—some of this is genetic, and some of it comes from the profound influence of the parent of the opposite sex. But in the need to present a consistent identity in society, we tend to repress these qualities, overidentifying with the masculine or feminine role expected of us. And we pay a price for this. We lose valuable dimensions to our character. Our thinking and ways of acting become rigid. Our relationships with members of the opposite sex suffer as we project onto them our own fantasies and hostilities. You must become aware of these lost masculine or feminine traits and slowly reconnect to them, unleashing creative powers in the process. You will become more fluid in your thinking. In bringing out the masculine or feminine undertone to your character, you will fascinate people by being authentically yourself. Do not play the expected gender role, but rather create the one that suits you.
The Authentic Gender
As a young girl, Caterina Sforza dreamed of great deeds that she would be a part of as a member of the illustrious Sforza family of Milan. Born in 1463, Caterina was the daughter out of wedlock of a beautiful Milanese noblewoman and Galeazzo Maria Sforza, who became Duke of Milan upon the death of his father in 1466. As duke, Galeazzo ordered that his daughter be brought into the castle, Porta Giovia, where he lived with his new wife, and that she be raised like any legitimate member of the Sforza family. His wife, Caterina’s stepmother, treated her as one of her own. The girl was to have the finest education. The man who had served as Galeazzo’s tutor, the famous humanist Francesco Filelfo, would now serve as Caterina’s tutor. He taught her Latin, Greek, philosophy, the sciences, and even military history.
Often alone, Caterina would wander almost daily into the vast castle library, one of the largest in Europe. She had her favorite books that she would read over and over. One of these was a history of the Sforza family, written by Filelfo himself in the style of Homer. There, in this enormous volume with its elaborate illustrations, she would read about the remarkable rise to power of the Sforza family, from condottiere (captains in mercenary armies) to ruling the duchy of Milan itself. The Sforzas were renowned for their cleverness and bravery in battle. Along with this, she loved to read books that recounted the chivalric tales of real-life knights in armor, and the stories of great leaders in the past; among these, one of her favorites was Illustrious Women by Boccaccio, which related the deeds of the most celebrated women in history. And as she whiled away her time in the library, all of these books converging in her mind, she would daydream about the future glory of the family, somehow herself in the midst of it all. And at the center of these fantasies was the image of her father, a man who to her was as great and legendary as anyone she had read about.
Although the encounters with her father were often brief, to Caterina they were intense. He treated her as an equal, marveling at her intelligence and encouraging her in her studies. From early on, she identified with her father—experiencing his traumas and triumphs as if they were her own. As were all the Sforza children, girls included, Caterina was taught sword fighting and underwent rigorous physical training. As part of this side of her education, she would go on hunting expeditions with the family in the nearby woods of Pavia. She was trained to hunt and kill wild boars, stags, and other animals. On these excursions she would watch her father with awe. He was a superior horseman, riding with such impetuosity, as if nothing could harm him. In the hunt, taking on the largest animals, he showed no signs of fear. At court, he was the consummate diplomat yet always maintained the upper hand. He confided in her his methods—think ahead, plot several moves in advance, always with the goal of seizing the initiative in any situation.
There was another side to her father, however, that deepened her identification with him. He loved spectacle; he was like an artist. She would never forget the time the family toured the region and visited Florence. They brought with them various theater troupes, the actors wearing outlandish costumes. They dined in the country inside the most beautifully colored tents. On the march, the brightly caparisoned horses and the accompanying soldiers—all decked in the Sforza colors, scarlet and white—would fill the landscape. It was a hypnotic and thrilling sight, all orchestrated by her father. He delighted in always wearing the latest in Milanese fashions, with his elaborate and bejeweled silk gowns. She came to share this interest, clothes and jewels becoming her passion. He might seem so virile in battle, but she would see him crying like a baby as he listened to his favorite choral music. He had an endless appetite for all aspects of life, and her love and admiration for him knew no bounds.
And so in 1473, when her father informed the ten-year-old Caterina of the marriage he had arranged for her, her only thought was to fulfill her duty as a Sforza and please her father. The man Galeazzo had chosen for her was Girolamo Riario, the thirty-year-old nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, a marriage that would forge a valuable alliance between Rome and Milan. As part of the arrangement, the pope purchased the city of Imola, in Romagna, which the Sforzas had taken decades before, christening the new couple the Count and Countess of Imola. Later the pope would add the nearby town of Forlì to their possessions, giving them control of a very strategically located part of northeastern Italy, just south of Venice.
In her initial encounters with him, Caterina’s husband seemed a most unpleasant man. He was moody, self-absorbed, and high-strung. He appeared interested in her only for sex and could not wait for her to come of age. Fortunately, he continued to live in Rome and she stayed in Milan. But a few years later some disgruntled noblemen in Milan murdered her beloved father, and the power of the Sforzas seemed in jeopardy. Her position as the marriage pawn solidifying the partnership with Rome was now more important than ever. She quickly installed herself in Rome. There she would have to play the exemplary wife and keep on the good side of her husband. But the more she saw of Girolamo, the less she respected him. He was a hothead, making enemies wherever he turned. She had not imagined that a man could be so weak, and compared with her father he failed by every measure.
She turned her attention to the pope. She worked hard to gain his favor and that of his courtiers. Caterina was now a beautiful young woman with blond hair, a novelty in Rome. She ordered the most elaborate gowns to be sent from Milan. She made sure to never be seen wearing the same outfit twice. If she sported a turban with a long veil, it suddenly became the latest craze. She reveled in the attention she received as the most fashionable woman in Rome, Botticelli using her as a model for some of his greatest paintings. Being so well read and cultivated, she was the delight of the artists and writers in town, and the Romans began to warm up to her.
Within a few years, however, everything unraveled. Her husband instigated a feud with one of the leading families in Italy, the Colonnas. Then in 1484 the pope suddenly died, and without his protection Caterina and her husband were in grave danger. The Colonnas were plotting their revenge. The Romans hated Girolamo. And it was almost a certainty that the new pope would be a friend of the Colonnas, in which case Caterina and her husband would lose everything, including the towns of Forlì and Imola. Considering the weak position of her own family in Milan, the situation began to look desperate.
Until a new pope was elected, Girolamo was still the captain of the papal armies, now stationed just outside Rome. For days Caterina watched her husband, who was paralyzed with fear and unable to make a decision. He dared not enter Rome, fearing battle with the Colonnas and their many allies in the crowded streets. He would wait it out, but with time their options seemed to narrow, and the news kept getting worse—mobs had sacked the palace they lived in; what few allies they had in Rome had now deserted them; the cardinals were congregating to elect the new pope.
It was August and the sweltering heat made Caterina—seven months pregnant with her fourth child—feel faint and continually nauseated. But as she contemplated the impending doom, the thought of her father began to occupy her mind; it was as if she could feel his spirit inhabiting her. Thinking as he would think about the predicament she faced, she felt a rush of excitement as she formulated an audacious plan. Without telling a soul of her intentions, in the dark of night she mounted a horse and snuck out of camp, riding as fast as she could to Rome.
As she had expected, in her condition no one recognized her and she was allowed to enter the city. She headed straight for the Castel Sant’Angelo, the most strategic point in Rome—just across the Tiber River from the city center and close to the Vatican. With its impregnable walls and its cannons that could be aimed at all parts of Rome, the person who controlled the castle controlled the city. Rome was in tumult, mobs filling the streets everywhere. The castle was still held by a lieutenant loyal to Girolamo. Identifying herself, Caterina was let into Sant’Angelo.
Once inside, in the name of her husband she took possession of the castle, throwing out the lieutenant, whom she did not trust. Sending word out through the castle to soldiers who swore loyalty to her, she managed to smuggle in more troops. With the cannons of Sant’Angelo now pointing at all roads leading to the Vatican, she made it impossible for the cardinals to meet in one location and elect the new pope. To make her threats real, she had her soldiers fire the cannons as a warning. She meant business. Her terms for surrendering the castle were simple—that all of the property of the Riarios be guaranteed to remain in their hands, including Forlì and Imola.
A few evenings after she had taken over Sant’Angelo, wearing some armor over her gown, she marched along the ramparts of the castle. It gave her a feeling of great power, so far above the city, looking down at the frantic men below, helpless to fight against her, a single woman hobbled by pregnancy. When an envoy of the cardinal who was organizing the conclave to elect the new pope was sent to negotiate with her and seemed reluctant to agree to her conditions of surrender, she shouted down from the ramparts, so all could hear, “So [the cardinal] wants a battle of wits with me, does he? What he doesn’t understand is that I have the brains of Duke Galeazzo and I am as brilliant as he!” As she waited for their response, she knew she controlled the situation. Her only fear was that her husband would surrender and betray her, or that the August heat would make her too ill to wait it out. Finally, sensing her resolve, a group of cardinals came to the castle to negotiate, and they acceded to her demands. The following morning, as the drawbridge was lowered to let the countess leave the castle, she noticed an enormous crowd pushing close to her. Romans of all classes had come to catch a glimpse of the woman who had controlled Rome for eleven days. They had taken the countess for a rather frivolous young woman addicted to clothes, the pope’s little pet. Now they stared at her in astonishment—she was wearing one of her silk gowns, with a heavy sword dangling from a man’s belt, her pregnancy more than evident. They had never seen such a sight.
Their titles now secure, the count and countess moved to Forlì to rule their domain. With no more funds coming from the papacy, Girolamo’s main concern was how to get more money. And so he increased the taxes on his subjects, stirring up much discontent in the process. He quickly made enemies of the powerful Orsi family in the region. Fearing plots against his life, the count holed himself up in their palace. Slowly Caterina took over much of the day-to-day ruling of their realm. Thinking ahead, she installed a trusted ally as the new commander of the castle Ravaldino, which dominated the area. She did everything she could to ingratiate herself with the locals, but in a few short years her husband had done too much damage.
On April 14, 1488, a group of men, clad in armor and led by Ludovico Orsi, stormed into the palace and stabbed the count to death, throwing his body out the window and into the city square. The countess, dining with her family in a nearby room, heard the shouts and quickly shuffled her six children into a safer room in the palace’s tower. She bolted the door and from a window, under which several of her most trusted allies had gathered, she shouted instructions to them: they were to notify the Sforzas in Milan and her other allies in the region and urge them to send armies to rescue her; under no circumstances should the keeper of Ravaldino ever surrender the castle. Within minutes the assassins had broken into her room, taking her and her children captive.
Several days later, Ludovico Orsi and his fellow conspirator Giacomo del Ronche marched Caterina up to Ravaldino—she was to order the castle’s commander to surrender it to the assassins. As the commander she had installed, Tommaso Feo, looked down from the ramparts, Caterina seemed to fear for her life. Her voice breaking with emotion, she begged Feo to give up the fortress, but he refused.
As the two of them continued their dialogue, Ronche and Orsi sensed the countess and Feo were playing some sort of game, talking in code. Ronche had had enough of this. Pressing the sharp edge of his lance tight against her chest, he threatened to run her through unless she got Feo to surrender, and he gave her the sternest glare. Suddenly the countess’s expression changed. She leaned further into the blade, her face inches from Ronche, and with a voice dripping with disdain, she told him, “Oh, Giacomo del Ronche, don’t you try to frighten me. . . . You can hurt me, but you can’t scare me, because I am the daughter of a man who knew no fear. Do what you want: you have killed my lord, you can certainly kill me. After all, I’m just a woman!” Confounded by her words and demeanor, Ronche and Orsi decided they had to find other means to pressure her.
Several days later Feo communicated with the assassins that he would indeed hand over the fortress, but only if the countess would pay him his back wages and sign a letter absolving him of any guilt for such surrender. Once again, Orsi and Ronche led her to the castle and watched her closely as she seemed to negotiate with Feo. Finally Feo insisted that the countess enter the fortress to sign the document. He feared the assassins were trying to trick him and he insisted she enter alone. Once the letter was signed, he would do as he had promised.
The conspirators, feeling they had no choice, granted his request but gave the countess a brief time frame to conclude the business. For a fleeting moment, just as she disappeared over the drawbridge into Ravaldino, she turned with a sneer and gave the Italian equivalent of “the finger” to Ronche and Orsi. The entire drama of the past few days had been planned and staged by her and Feo, with whom she had communicated through various messengers. She knew that the Milanese had sent an army to rescue her and she only had to play for time. A few hours later Feo stood on the ramparts and yelled down that he was holding the countess hostage and that was that.
The enraged assassins had had enough. The next day they returned to the castle with her six children and called Caterina to the ramparts. With daggers and spears pointed at them in the most menacing fashion, and with the children wailing and begging for mercy, they ordered Caterina to surrender the fortress or they would kill them all. Surely they had already proven they were more than willing to shed blood. She might be fearless and the daughter of a Sforza, but no mother could possibly watch her children die before her eyes. Caterina wasted no time. She shouted down: “Do it then, you fools! I am already pregnant with another child by Count Riario and I have the means to make more!” at which she lifted her skirts, as if to emphasize her meaning.
Caterina had foreseen the maneuver with the children and had calculated that the assassins were weak and indecisive—they should have killed her and her family on that first day, amid the mayhem. Now they would not dare to kill them in cold blood: the assassins knew that the Sforzas, on their way to Forlì, would take terrible revenge on them if they ever did such a deed. And if she surrendered now, she and her children would all be imprisoned, and some poison would find its way into their food. She didn’t care what they thought of her as a mother. She had to keep stalling. To emphasize her resolve, after refusing to surrender, she had the cannons of the castle fire at the Orsi palace.
Ten days later a Milanese army arrived to rescue her, and the assassins scattered. The countess was quickly restored to power, the new pope himself confirming her rule as regent until her eldest son, Ottaviano, came of age. And as word of all that she had done—and what she had yelled down to the assassins from the ramparts of Ravaldino—spread throughout Italy, the legend of Caterina Sforza, the beautiful warrior countess of Forlì, began to take on a life of its own.
Within a year after the death of her husband, the countess had taken a lover, Giacomo Feo, the brother of the commander she had installed in Ravaldino. Giacomo was seven years younger than Caterina, and he was the polar opposite of Girolamo—handsome and virile, he had come from the lower classes, having served as the stable boy to the Riario family. Most important, he not only loved Caterina, he worshipped her and showered her with attention. The countess had spent her whole life mastering her emotions and subordinating her personal interests to practical matters. Suddenly feeling herself overwhelmed by Giacomo’s affection, she lost her habitual self-control and fell hopelessly in love.
She made Giacomo the new commander of Ravaldino. As he now had to live in the castle, she built a palace for herself inside it and soon barely left its confines. Giacomo was decidedly insecure about his status. Caterina had him knighted, and in a secret ceremony they married. To allay his self-doubts, she increasingly handed over to him governing powers of Forlì and Imola, and began to retire from public affairs. She ignored the warnings of courtiers and diplomats that Giacomo was out for himself and was in over his head. She did not listen to her sons, who feared Giacomo had plans to get rid of them. In her eyes, her husband could do no wrong. Then one day in 1495, as she and Giacomo left the castle for a picnic, a group of assassins surrounded her husband and killed him before her eyes.
Caught off guard by this action, Caterina reacted with fury. She rounded up the conspirators and had them executed and their families imprisoned. In the months after this, she fell into a deep depression, even contemplating suicide. What had happened to her over the past few years? How had she lost her way and given up her power? What had happened to her girlhood dreams and the spirit of her father that was her own? Something had clouded her mind. She turned to religion and she returned to ruling her realm. Slowly she recovered.
Then one day she received a visit from Giovanni de’ Medici, a thirty-year-old member of the famous family and one of Florence’s leading businessmen. He had come to forge commercial ties between the cities. More than anyone else, he reminded her of her father. He was handsome, clever, extremely well read, and yet there was a softness to his character. Finally here was a man who was her equal in knowledge, power, and refinement. The admiration was mutual. Soon they were inseparable, and in 1498 they married, uniting two of the most illustrious families in Italy.
Now she could finally dream of creating a great regional power, but events beyond her control would spoil her plans. That same year Giovanni died from illness. And before she had time to grieve for him, she had to deal with the latest and most dangerous threat of all to her realm: The new pope, Alexander VI (formerly known as Roderigo Borgia), had his eye on Forlì. He wanted to extend the papal domains through conquest, his son Cesare Borgia serving as the commander of the papal forces. Forlì would be a key acquisition for the pope, and he began to maneuver to politically isolate Caterina from her allies.
To prepare for the imminent invasion, Caterina forged a new alliance with the Venetians and built an elaborate series of defenses within Ravaldino. The pope tried to pressure her to surrender her domain, making her all kinds of promises in return. She knew better than to trust a Borgia. But by the fall of 1499, it seemed that the end had finally come. The pope had allied himself with France, and Cesare Borgia had appeared in the region with an army of twelve thousand, fortified by the addition of two thousand experienced French soldiers. They quickly took Imola and easily entered the city of Forlì itself. All that remained was Ravaldino, which by late December was surrounded by Borgia’s troops.
On December 26, Cesare Borgia himself rode up to the castle on his white horse, dressed all in black—quite a sight. As Caterina looked down from the ramparts and contemplated the scene, she thought of her father. It was the anniversary of his assassination. He represented everything she valued, and she would not disappoint him. She was the most like him of all his children. As he would have done, she had thought ahead—her plan was to play for time until her remaining allies could come to her defense. She had cleverly fortified Ravaldino in a way that would allow her to keep retreating behind barricades if the walls were breached. In the end, they would have to take the castle from her by force, and she was more than prepared to die in defense of it, sword in hand.
As she listened to Borgia address her, it was clear he had come to flatter and flirt—everyone knew his reputation as a devilish seducer, and many in Italy thought Caterina had rather loose morals. She listened and smiled, occasionally reminding him of her past deeds and her reputation as a Sforza—if he wanted her to surrender, he would have to do better. He persisted in his courtship and asked to parley with her personally.
She appeared to finally succumb to his charm; she was a woman, after all. She ordered the drawbridge to be lowered and started walking toward him. He continued to press his case, and she gave him certain looks and smiles that indicated she was falling under his spell. Now only inches away, he reached for her arm, and she playfully withdrew it. They should discuss matters in the castle, she said with a coy expression, and began to walk back, inviting him to follow. As he stepped onto the drawbridge to catch up with her, it began to rise, and he leaped back to the other side just in time. Enraged and embarrassed by the trick she had tried to play, he swore revenge.
During the next few days he unleashed a torrent of cannon fire at the castle walls, finally opening a breach. Borgia’s troops flooded in, led by the more experienced French. It was now hand-to-hand combat, and at the front of her remaining troops was Caterina. The head of the French troops, Yves d’Allegre, stared at her in amazement as the beautiful countess—her ornamented cuirass over her dress—charged at his men from the front line, handling her sword deftly, without a trace of fear.
She and her men were about to withdraw further into the castle, hoping to prolong the battle for days, as she had planned, when one of her own soldiers grabbed her from behind and, his sword at her throat, marched her over to the other side. Borgia had put a price on her head, and the soldier had betrayed her for the reward. The siege was over, and Borgia himself took possession of his great prize. That night he raped her and kept her confined in his rooms, trying to make it seem to the world that the infamous warrior countess had willingly succumbed to his charms.
Even under duress she refused to sign away her domain, and so she was brought to Rome and soon thrown into the dreaded prison at Castel Sant’Angelo. For one long year, in a small and windowless cell, she endured her loneliness and the endless tortures devised by the Borgias. Her health deteriorated and she seemed destined to die in prison, defiant to the end, but the chivalric French captain Yves d’Allegre had fallen under her spell. He persisted in demanding, in the name of the French king, to have her freed, and he finally succeeded, getting her safe passage to Florence.
In retirement from public life, Caterina began to receive letters from men from all parts of Europe. Some had seen her over the years; most had only heard of her. They obsessed over her story, confessed their love, and begged for some memento, some relic to worship. One man who had caught a glimpse of her when she had first come to Rome wrote to her, “If I sleep, it seems that I am with you; if I eat, I leave my food and talk to you. . . . You are engraved in my heart.”
Weakened by her year in prison, the countess died in 1509.
• • •
Interpretation: In Caterina Sforza’s time, the roles that a woman could play were severely restricted. Her primary role was to be the good mother and wife, but if unmarried, she could devote her life to religion, or in rare cases she could become a courtesan. It was as if a circle had been drawn around each and every woman, and she dared not explore beyond that circle. It was in a woman’s earliest years and education that she internalized these restrictions. If she studied only a limited number of subjects and practiced only certain skills, she couldn’t expand her role even if she wanted to. Knowledge was power.
Caterina stands out as a remarkable exception, and it was because she benefited from a unique confluence of circumstances. The Sforzas were new to power. They had discovered in their rise to the top that a strong and capable wife could be of great assistance. They developed the practice of training their daughters in hunting and sword fighting as a way to toughen them up and make them fearless—important qualities to have as marriage pawns. Caterina’s father, however, took this further. Perhaps he saw in his daughter a female reflection of himself. Giving her his own tutor signaled some sort of identification he felt between them.
And so a unique experiment began in the castle at Porta Giovia. Isolated from the outside world and allowed a tremendous degree of freedom, Caterina could develop herself in any direction she desired. Intellectually she could explore all forms of knowledge. She could indulge herself in all of her natural interests—in her case, fashion and the arts. In her physical training, she could give free rein to her own bold and adventurous spirit. In this early education, she could bring out the many different sides of her character.
And so when she entered public life at the age of ten, she naturally drifted beyond that restricted circle imposed on women. She could play many roles. As a dutiful Sforza, she could be the loyal wife. Naturally empathetic and caring, she could be the devoted mother. She felt great pleasure in being the most fashionable and beautiful young woman at the papal court. But when the actions of her husband appeared to doom her and her family, she felt herself called to play another role. Trained to think for herself and inspired by her father, she could turn into the daring soldier, bringing an entire city under her control. She could become the keen strategist, plotting several moves ahead in a crisis. She could lead her troops, sword in hand. As a young girl she had fantasized about playing these various roles, and it felt natural and deeply satisfying to do so in real life.
We could say of Caterina that she had a feminine spirit with a pronounced masculine undertone, the reverse of her father. And these feminine and masculine traits were blended together, giving her a unique style of thinking and acting. When it came to ruling, she displayed a high degree of empathy, something quite unusual for the time. When plague struck Forlì, she comforted the sick, at great risk to her own life. She was willing to suffer the worst conditions in prison to safeguard the inheritance for her children, a rare act of self-sacrifice for a person of power. But at the same time she was a shrewd and tough negotiator, and she had no tolerance for the incompetent or the weak. She was ambitious and proud of it.
In conflicts, she always strategized to outwit her aggressive male opponents and avoid bloodshed. With Cesare Borgia, she tried to lure him onto the drawbridge using her feminine wiles; later, she tried to lure him deeper and deeper into the castle, trapping him in a protracted battle, giving her allies plenty of time to rescue her. She nearly succeeded in both efforts.
This ability to play many different roles, to blend the masculine with the feminine, was the source of her power. The only time she relinquished this was in her marriage to Giacomo Feo. When she fell in love with Feo, she was in a highly vulnerable position. The pressures on her had been immense—dealing with a hopeless and abusive husband, surviving the numerous pregnancies that had worn her down, holding together the tenuous political alliances she had built up. And so suddenly experiencing Feo’s adoring attention, it was natural for her to seek a respite from her burdens, to relinquish power and control for love. But in narrowing herself down to the role of the devoted wife, she had to repress her naturally expansive character. She had to expend her energy in placating her husband’s insecurities. In the process she lost all initiative and paid the price, experiencing a deep depression that nearly killed her. She learned her lesson and afterward would remain true to herself for the rest of her life.
Perhaps what is most surprising about the story of Caterina Sforza is the effect she had on the men and women of her time. We would expect that people would have condemned her as a witch or virago and shunned her for all her flouting of gender conventions. Instead, she fascinated almost everyone who came in contact with her. Women admired her strength. Isabella d’Este, the ruler of Mantua and her contemporary, found her inspiring and wrote after her capture by Borgia, “If the French criticize the cowardliness of our men, at least they should praise the daring and valor of the Italian woman.” Men of all types—artists, soldiers, priests, nobility, servants—obsessed over her. Even those who wanted to destroy her, like Cesare Borgia, felt an initial attraction and the desire to possess her.
Men could talk battle and strategy with her and feel like they were talking to an equal, not like the other women in their lives, with whom they could barely converse. But more important, they sensed a freedom in her that was exciting. They also had to play a gender role, one that was not as constricting as a woman’s role but had its disadvantages. They were expected to be always in control, tough and indomitable. Secretly they were drawn to this dangerous woman with whom they could lose control. She was not a feminine doll, all passive and existing only to please men. She was unrepressed and authentic, which inspired in them the desire to let go as well, to move past their own constricted roles.
Understand: You might like to imagine that much has changed when it comes to gender roles, that the world of Caterina Sforza is too distant from our own to be relevant. But in thinking so you would be greatly mistaken. The specific details of gender roles might fluctuate according to culture and time period, but the pattern is essentially the same and is as follows: We are all born as complete beings, with many sides to us. We have qualities of the opposite sex, both genetically and from the influence of the parent of the other gender. Our character has natural depths and dimensions to it. When it comes to boys, studies have shown that an early age they are actually more emotionally reactive than girls. They have high degrees of empathy and sensitivity. Girls have an adventurous and exploratory spirit that is natural to them. They have powerful wills, which they like to exert in transforming their environment.
As we get older, however, we have to present to the world a consistent identity. We have to play certain roles and live up to certain expectations. We have to trim and lop off natural qualities. Boys lose their rich range of emotions and, in the struggle to get ahead, repress their natural empathy. Girls have to sacrifice their assertive sides. They are supposed to be nice, smiling, deferential, always considering other people’s feelings before their own. A woman can be a boss, but she must be tender and pliant, never too aggressive.
In this process, we become less and less dimensional; we conform to the expected roles of our culture and time period. We lose valuable and rich parts to our character. Sometimes we can realize this only when we encounter those who are less repressed and we feel fascination with them. Certainly Caterina Sforza had such an effect. There are also many male counterparts to this in history—the nineteenth-century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, Duke Ellington, John F. Kennedy, David Bowie, all men who displayed an unmistakable feminine undertone and intrigued people all the more for this.
Your task is to let go of the rigidity that takes hold of you as you overidentify with the expected gender role. Power lies in exploring that middle range between the masculine and the feminine, in playing against people’s expectations. Return to the harder or softer sides of your character that you have lost or repressed. In relating to people, expand your repertoire by developing greater empathy, or by learning to be less deferential. When confronting a problem or resistance from others, train yourself to respond in different ways—attacking when you normally defend, or vice versa. In your thinking, learn to blend the analytical with the intuitive in order to become more creative (see the final section of this chapter for more on this).
Do not be afraid to bring out the more sensitive or ambitious sides to your character. These repressed parts of you are yearning to be let out. In the theater of life, expand the roles that you play. Don’t worry about people’s reactions to any changes in you they sense. You are not so easy to categorize, which will fascinate them and give you the power to play with their perceptions of you, altering them at will.
It is the terrible deception of love that it begins by engaging us in play not with a woman of the external world but with a doll fashioned in our brain—the only woman moreover that we have always at our disposal, the only one we shall ever possess.
Keys to Human Nature
We humans like to believe that we are consistent and mature, and that we have reasonable control over our lives. We make decisions based on rational considerations, on what will benefit us the most. We have free will. We know who we are, more or less. But in one particular aspect of life these self-opinions are all easily shattered—when we fall in love.
When in love, we become prey to emotions we cannot control. We make choices of partners we cannot rationally explain, and often these choices end up being unfortunate. Many of us will have at least one successful relationship in our lives, but we will tend to have many more that were decidedly unsuccessful, that ended unhappily. And often we repeat the same types of bad choices of partners, as if compelled by some inner demon.
We like to tell ourselves in retrospect that when we were in love, a type of temporary madness overcame us. We think of such moments as representing the exception, not the rule, to our character. But let us entertain for the moment the opposite possibility—in our conscious day-to-day life, we are sleepwalking, unaware of who we really are; we present a front of reasonableness to the world, and we mistake the mask for reality. When we fall in love, we are actually being more ourselves. The mask slips off. We realize then how deeply unconscious forces determine many of our actions. We are more connected to the reality of the essential irrationality in our nature.
Let us look at some of the common changes that occur when we are in love.
Normally our minds are in a state of distraction. The deeper we fall in love, however, the more our attention is completely absorbed in one person. We become obsessive.
We like to present a particular appearance to the world, one that highlights our strengths. When in love, however, opposite traits often come to the fore. A person who is normally strong and independent can suddenly become rather helpless, dependent, and hysterical. A nurturing, empathetic person can suddenly become tyrannical, demanding, and self-absorbed.
As adults we feel relatively mature and practical, but in love we can suddenly regress to behavior that can only be seen as childish. We experience fears and insecurities that are greatly exaggerated. We feel terror at the thought of being abandoned, like a baby who has been left alone for a few minutes. We have wild mood swings—from love to hate, from trust to paranoia.
Normally we like to imagine that we are good judges of other people’s character. Once infatuated or in love, however, we mistake the narcissist for a genius, the suffocator for a nurturer, the slacker for the exciting rebel, the control freak for the protector. Others can often see the truth and try to disabuse us of our fantasies, but we won’t listen. And what is worse, we will often continue to make the same types of mistaken judgments again and again.
In looking at these altered states, we might be tempted to describe them as forms of possession. We are normally rational person A, but under the influence of an infatuation, irrational person B begins to emerge. At first, A and B can fluctuate and even blend into each other, but the deeper we fall in love, the more it is person B who dominates. Person B sees qualities in people that are not there, acts in ways that are counterproductive and even self-destructive, is quite immature, with unrealistic expectations, and makes decisions that are often mysterious later on to person A.
When it comes to our behavior in these situations, we never really completely understand what is happening. Too much of our unconscious is at play, and we have no rational access to its processes. But the eminent psychologist Carl Jung—who analyzed over the course of his very long career thousands of men and women with stories of painful love affairs—offered perhaps the most profound explanation for what happens to us when we fall in love. According to Jung, we are actually possessed in such moments. He gave the entity (person B) that takes hold of us the name anima (for the male) and animus (for the female). This entity exists in our unconscious but comes to the surface when a person of the opposite sex fascinates us. The following is the origin of the anima and the animus, and how they operate.
We all possess hormones and genes of the opposite sex. These contrasexual traits are in the minority (to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the individual), but they are within us all and they form a part of our character. Equally significant is the influence on our psyche of the parent of the opposite sex, from whom we absorb feminine or masculine traits.
In our earliest years we were completely open and susceptible to the influence of others. The parent of the opposite sex was our first encounter with someone dramatically different from us. As we related to their alien nature, much of our personality was formed in response, becoming more dimensional and multifaceted. (With the parent of the same sex there is often a level of comfort and immediate identification that does not require the same adaptive energy).
For instance, small boys are often comfortable expressing emotions and traits that they’ve learned from the mother, such as overt affection, empathy, and sensitivity. Small girls, conversely, are often comfortable expressing traits they’ve learned from the father, such as aggression, boldness, intellectual rigor, and physical prowess. Each child may also naturally possess these opposite-gender traits in him- or herself. In addition, each parent will also have a shadow side that the child must assimilate or deal with. For instance, a mother may be narcissistic rather than empathetic, and a father may be domineering or weak rather than protective and strong.
Children must adapt to this. In any event, the boy and the girl will internalize the positive and the negative qualities of the parent of the opposite sex in ways that are unconscious and profound. And the association with the parent of the opposite sex will be charged with all kinds of emotions—physical and sensual connections, tremendous feelings of excitement, fascination, or disappointment at what one was not given.
Soon, however, comes a critical period in our early lives in which we must separate from our parents and forge our identity. And the simplest and most powerful way to create this identity is around gender roles, the masculine and the feminine. The boy will tend to have an ambivalent relationship to his mother that will mark him for life. On the one hand he craves the security and adoring attention she gives him; on the other hand he feels threatened by her, as if she might suffocate him in her femininity and he would lose himself. He fears her authority and her power over his life. From a certain age forward, he feels the need to differentiate himself. He needs to establish his own sense of masculine identity. Certainly the physical changes that occur as he gets older will fuel this identity with the masculine, but in the process he will tend to overidentify with the role (unless he identifies with the feminine role instead), playing up his toughness and independence to emphasize his separation from the mother. The other sides to his character—the empathy, the gentleness, the need for connection, which he absorbed from the mother or were naturally a part of him—will tend to become repressed and sink into the unconscious.
The girl may have an adventurous spirit and may incorporate the willpower and determination of her father into her own personality. But as she gets older, she will most likely feel pressure to conform to certain cultural norms and to forge her identity around what is considered feminine. Girls are supposed to be nice, sweet, and deferential. They are supposed to put the interests of others before their own. They are supposed to tame any wild streaks, to look pretty and to be objects of desire. For the individual girl, these expectations turn into voices she hears in her head, continually judging her and making her doubt her self-worth. These pressures may be subtler in our day and age, but they still exert a powerful influence. The more exploratory, aggressive, and darker sides of her character—both naturally occurring and absorbed from the father—will tend to become repressed and sink into the unconscious, if she adopts a more traditionally feminine role.
The unconscious feminine part of the boy and the man is what Jung calls the anima. The unconscious masculine part of the girl and woman are the animus. Because they are parts of ourselves that are deeply buried, we are never really aware of them in our daily life. But once we become fascinated with a person of the opposite sex, the anima and animus stir to life. The attraction we feel toward another might be purely physical, but more often the person who draws our attention unconsciously bears some resemblance—physical or psychological—to our mother or father. Remember that this primal relationship is full of charged energy, excitement, and obsessions that are repressed but yearning to come out. A person who triggers these associations in us will be a magnet for our attention, even though we are not aware of the source of our attraction.
If the relationship to the mother or father was mostly positive, we will tend to project onto the other person the desirable qualities that our parent had, in the hope of reexperiencing that early paradise. Take, for instance, a young man whose mother nurtured and adored him. He may have been a sweet, loving little boy, devoted to his mother and reflecting her nurturing energy, but he repressed these traits in himself as he grew into an independent man with a masculine image to uphold. In the woman who triggers an association with his mother he will see the capacity to adore him that he secretly craves. This feeling of getting what he wants will intensify his excitement and physical attraction. She will supply him the qualities he never developed in himself. He is falling in love with his own anima, in the form of the desired woman.
If the feelings toward the mother or father were mostly ambivalent (their attention inconsistent), we will often try to fix the original relationship by falling in love with someone who reminds us of our imperfect parent figure, in the hope that we can subtract their negative qualities and get what we never quite got in our earliest years. If the relationship was mostly negative, we may go in search of someone with the opposite qualities to that parent, often of a dark, shadowy nature. For instance, a girl who had a father who was too strict, distant, and critical perhaps had the secret desire to rebel but didn’t dare to. As a young woman she might be drawn to a rebellious, unconventional young man who represents the wild side she was never able to express, and is the polar opposite of her father. The rebel is her animus, now externalized in the form of the young man.
In any case, whether the association is positive, negative, or ambivalent, powerful emotions are triggered, and feeling ourselves transported to the primal relationship in our childhood, we act in ways that are often contrary to the persona we present. We become hysterical, needy, obsessive, controlling. The anima and animus have their own personalities, and so when they come to life we act like person B. Because we are not really relating to women and men as they are, but rather to our projections, we will eventually feel disappointed in them, as if they are to blame for not being what we had imagined. The relationship will often tend to fall apart from the misreading and miscommunications on both sides, and not aware of the source of this, we will go through precisely the same cycle with the next person.
There are infinite variations on these patterns, because everyone has very particular circumstances and mixes of the masculine and feminine. For instance, there are men who are more psychologically feminine than women and women who are more psychologically masculine than men. If they are heterosexual, the man will be drawn to masculine women who have the qualities he never developed in himself. He has more of an animus than an anima. The woman will be drawn to feminine men. There are many such contrasexual couples, some more overt than others, and they can be successful if both sides get what they want—a famous historical example would be the composer Frédéric Chopin and the writer George Sand, Sand being more like the husband and Chopin like the wife. If they are homosexual, the man or woman will still be in search of the contrasexual qualities undeveloped from within. In general, people are imbalanced, overidentifying with the masculine or feminine and drawn to the polar opposite.
Your task as a student of human nature is threefold: First you must try to observe the anima and the animus as they manifest themselves in others, particularly in their intimate relationships. By paying attention to their behavior and patterns in these situations, you will have access to their unconscious that is normally denied to you. You will see the parts of themselves they have repressed, and you can use such knowledge to great effect. Pay special attention to those who are hypermasculine or hyperfeminine. You can be sure that below the surface lurks a very feminine anima for the man and a very masculine animus for the woman. When people go extra far in repressing their feminine or masculine qualities, these will tend to leak out in a caricatured form.
The hypermasculine man, for instance, will be secretly obsessed with clothes and his looks. He will display an unusual interest in people’s appearances, including other men, and make rather snippy judgments about them. Richard Nixon desperately tried to project a macho image to those who worked for him as president, but he was constantly commenting on and fussing over the color of the suits they wore and the drapes in his office. The hypermasculine man will express strong opinions about cars, technology, or politics that are not based on real knowledge, and when called on this, he will become rather hysterical in his defense, throw a tantrum, or pout. He is always trying to contain his emotions, but they can often have a life of their own. For instance, without wanting to, he will suddenly become quite sentimental.
The hyperfeminine woman will often be concealing a great deal of repressed anger and resentment at the role she has been forced to play. Her seductive, girlish behavior with men is actually a ploy for power, to tease, entrap, and hurt the target. Her masculine side will leak out in passive-aggressive behavior, attempts to dominate people in relationships in underhanded ways. Underneath the sweet, deferential façade, she can be quite willful and highly judgmental of others. Her willfulness, always under the surface, will come out in rather irrational stubbornness in petty matters.
Your second task is to become aware of the projecting mechanism within yourself. (See the next section for common types of projections.) Projections have a positive role to play in your life, and you could not stop them even if you wanted to, because they are so automatic and unconscious. Without them, you would not find yourself paying deep attention to a person, becoming fascinated with him or her, idealizing, and falling in love. But once the relationship develops, you need to have the power and awareness to withdraw the projections, so that you can begin to see women and men as they really are. In doing so, perhaps you will realize how truly incompatible you are, or the opposite. Once connected to the real person, you can continue to idealize him or her, but this will be based on actual positive qualities he or she possesses. Perhaps you can find his or her faults charming. You can accomplish all of this by becoming aware of your own patterns and the types of qualities you tend to project onto others.
This also has relevance to relationships with the opposite sex that are not intimate. Imagine that in an office situation a colleague criticizes your work or postpones a meeting you asked for. If that person happens to be of the opposite sex, all kinds of emotions—resentments, fears, disappointments, hostility—will be stirred up, along with various projections, whereas with someone of your own gender there would be much less of a reaction. Seeing this dynamic in everyday life, you will be better able to control it and have smoother relationships with those of the opposite sex.
Your third task is to look inward, to see those feminine or masculine qualities that are repressed and undeveloped within you. You will catch glimpses of your anima or animus in your relationships with the opposite sex. That assertiveness you desire to see in a man, or empathy in a woman, is something you need to develop within yourself, bringing out that feminine or masculine undertone. What you are doing in essence is integrating into your everyday personality the traits that are within you but are repressed. They will no longer operate independently and automatically, in the form of possession. They will become part of your everyday self, and people will be drawn to the authenticity they sense in you. (For more on this, see the final section of this chapter.) —
Finally, when it comes to gender roles, we like to imagine a continual line of progress leading to perfect equality, and to believe that we are not far from reaching this ideal. But this is hardly the truth. Although on one level we can see definite progress, on another level, one that is deeper, we can see increasing tension and polarization between the sexes, as if the old patterns of inequality between men and women exert an unconscious influence upon us.
This tension can sometimes feel like a war, and it stems from a growing psychological distance between the genders, in which people of the opposite sex seem like alien creatures, with habits and patterns of behavior we cannot begin to fathom. This distance can turn into hostility among some. Although we can see this in both men and women, the hostility is stronger among men. Perhaps this is related to the latent hostility many men feel toward the mother figure, and the feeling of dependency and weakness she unconsciously triggers. The male sense of masculinity often has a defensive edge that reveals underlying insecurities. Such insecurity has only become more acute with shifting gender roles, and it increases the suspiciousness and hostility between men and women.
This outer conflict between the genders, however, is merely a reflection of an unresolved inner conflict. As long as the inner feminine or masculine is denied, the outer distance will only grow. When we bridge this distance from within, our attitude toward the opposite sex changes as well. We feel a deeper connection. We can talk and relate to them as if relating to parts of ourselves. The polarity between the sexes still exists and still causes us to be attracted and fall in love, but now it includes the desire to get closer to the feminine or the masculine. This is much different from the polarization between the genders, in which distance and hostility eventually come to the fore in the relationship and push people further away. The inner connection will vastly improve the outer connection and should be the ideal we aim for.
Although there are infinite variations, below you will find six of the more common types of gender projections. You must use this knowledge in three ways: First, you must recognize in yourself any tendency toward one of these forms of projection. This will help you understand something profound about your earliest years and make it much easier for you to withdraw your projections on other people. Second, you must use this as an invaluable tool for gaining access to the unconscious of other people, to seeing their anima and animus in action.
And finally, you must be attentive to how others will project onto you their needs and fantasies. Keep in mind that when you are the target of other people’s projections, the temptation is to want to live up to their idealization of you, to be their fantasy. You get caught up in their excitement and you want to believe you are as great, strong, or empathetic as they imagine. Without realizing it, you begin to play the role they want you to play. You become the mother or father figure they crave. Inevitably, however, you will come to resent this—you cannot be yourself; you are not appreciated for your true qualities. Better to be aware of this dynamic before it entraps you.
The Devilish Romantic: For the woman in this scenario, the man who fascinates her—often older and successful—might seem like a rake, the type who cannot help but chase after young women. But he is also romantic. When he’s in love, he showers the woman with attention. She decides she will seduce him and become the target of his attention. She will play to his fantasies. How can he not want to settle down with her and reform himself? She will bask in his love. But somehow he is not as strong, masculine, or romantic as she had imagined. He is a bit self-absorbed. She does not get the desired attention, or it does not last very long. He cannot be reformed, and leaves her.
This is often the projection of women who had rather intense, even flirtatious relationships with the father. Such fathers often find their wives boring, and the young daughter more charming and playful. They turn to the daughter for inspiration; the daughter becomes addicted to their attention and adept at playing the kind of girl that daddy wants. It gives her a sense of power. It becomes her lifelong goal to recapture this attention and the power that goes with it. Any association with the father figure will spark the projecting mechanism, and she will invent or exaggerate the man’s romantic nature.
A prime example of this type would be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jack Bouvier, her father, adored his two daughters, but Jacqueline was his favorite. Jack was devilishly handsome and dashing. He was a narcissist obsessed with his body and the fine clothes that he wore. He considered himself macho, a real risk taker, but underneath the façade he was in fact quite feminine in his tastes and totally immature. He was also a notorious womanizer. He treated Jackie more like a playmate and lover than a daughter. For Jackie, he could do no wrong. She took perverse pride in his popularity with women. In the frequent fights between her mother and father, she always took his side. Compared to the fun-loving father, the mother was prudish and rigid.
Spending so much time in his company, even after her parents divorced, and thinking of him constantly, Jackie deeply absorbed his energy and spirit. As a young woman, she turned all of her attention to older, powerful, and unconventional men, with whom she could re-create the role she had played with her father—always the little girl in need of his love, but also quite flirtatious. And she was continually disappointed in the men she had chosen. John F. Kennedy was the closest to her ideal, for in so many ways he was just like her father in looks and in spirit. Kennedy, however, would never give her the attention she craved. He was too self-absorbed. He was too busy having affairs with other women. He was not really the romantic type. She was continually frustrated in this relationship, but she was trapped in this pattern, later marrying Aristotle Onassis, an older, unconventional man of great power who seemed so dashing and romantic but who would treat her horribly and cheat on her continually.
Women in this scenario have become trapped by the early attention paid to them by the father. They have to be continually charming, inspiring, and flirtatious to elicit that attention later on. Their animus is seductive, but with an aggressive, masculine edge, having absorbed so much of the father’s energy. But they are in a continual search for a man who does not exist. If the man were completely attentive and tirelessly romantic, they would grow bored with him. He would be seen as too weak. They are secretly drawn to the devilish side of their fantasy man and to the narcissism that comes with it. Women trapped in this projection will grow resentful over the years about how much energy they have to expend playing to men’s fantasies and how little they get in return. The only way out of the trap for such women is to see the pattern itself, to stop mythologizing the father, and to focus instead on the damage he has caused by the inappropriate attention he paid to them.
The Elusive Woman of Perfection: He thinks he has found the ideal woman. She will give him what he’s been missing in his prior relationships, whether that’s some wildness, some comfort and compassion, or a creative spark. Although he has had few actual encounters with the woman in question, he can imagine all kinds of positive experiences with her. The more he thinks of her, the more he’s certain he cannot live without her. When he talks of this perfect woman, you will notice there’s not a lot of concrete detail about what makes her so perfect. If he does manage to forge a relationship, he will quickly become disenchanted. She’s not who he thought she was; she misled him. He then moves on to the next woman to project his fantasy onto.
This is a common form of male projection. It contains all of the elements he thinks he never got from his mother, never got from the other women in his life. This ideal mate will haunt his dreams. She will not appear to him in the form of someone he knows; she is a woman fashioned in his imagination—often young, elusive, but promising something great. In real life, certain types of women will tend to trigger this projection. She is usually quite hard to pin down and conforms to what Freud called the narcissistic woman—self-contained, not really needing a man or anybody to complete her. She can be a bit cold at the core and a blank screen upon which men can project whatever they want. Alternatively, she can seem to be a free spirit, full of creative energy but without a clear sense of her own identity. For men she serves as a muse, a great spark to their imagination, a lure to loosen up their own rigid mind.
The men prone to this projection often had mothers who were not totally there for them. Perhaps such a mother expected the son to give her the attention and validation she was not getting from her husband. Because of this reversal, when the boy becomes a man, he feels a great emptiness inside that he constantly needs to fill. He cannot exactly verbalize what he wants or what he missed, hence the vagueness of his fantasy. He will spend his life searching for this elusive figure and never settle on a flesh-and-blood female. It’s always the next one who will be perfect. If he falls for the narcissistic type, he will repeat the problem he experienced with his mother, falling for a woman who cannot give him what he wants. His own anima is a bit dreamy, introspective, and moody, which is the behavior he will tend to exhibit when in love.
Men of this type must recognize the nature of their pattern. What they really need is to find and interact with a real woman, accept her inevitable flaws, and give more of themselves. They often prefer to chase their fantasy, because in such a scenario they are in control and have the freedom to leave when reality sets in. To break the pattern, such men will have to give up some of this control. When it comes to their need for a muse, they must learn to find such inspiration from within, to bring out more of the anima within themselves. They are too alienated from their own feminine spirit and need to loosen up their own thought processes. Not needing this wildness from their fantasy woman, they will better relate to the actual women in their life.
The Lovable Rebel: For the woman who is drawn to this type, the man who intrigues her has a noticeable disdain for authority. He is a nonconformist. Unlike the Devilish Romantic, this man will often be young and not so successful. He will also tend to be outside her usual circle of acquaintances. To have a relationship with him would be ever so slightly taboo—certainly her father would not approve, and perhaps not her friends or colleagues. If a relationship does ensue, however, she will see a totally different side to him. He can’t hold down a good job, not because he’s a rebel but because he’s lazy and ineffectual. Despite the tattoos and shaved head, he’s quite conventional, controlling, and domineering. The relationship will break apart, but the fantasy will remain.
The woman with this projection often had a strong, patriarchal father who was distant and strict. The father represents order, rules, and conventions. He was often quite critical of his daughter—she was never good or pretty or smart enough. She internalized this critical voice and hears it in her head all the time. As a girl she dreamed of rebelling and asserting herself against the father’s control, but too often she was reduced to obeying and playing the deferential daughter. Her desire to rebel was repressed and went into her animus, which is quite angry and resentful. Instead of developing the rebelliousness herself, she looks to externalize it in the form of the rebellious male. If she senses a man might be like this, based on his appearance, she will project fantasies that are charged and sexual. Oftentimes she chooses a man who is relatively young because this makes him less threatening, less of a patriarch. But his youth and immaturity make it almost impossible to form a stable relationship, and her angry side will come out as she grows disenchanted.
Once a woman recognizes she is prone to this projection, she must come to terms with a simple fact: what she really wants is to develop the independence, assertiveness, and power to disobey in herself. It is never too late to do so, but these qualities must be built up and developed in small steps, everyday challenges in which she practices saying no, breaking some rules, et cetera. Becoming more assertive, she can begin to have relationships that are more equal and satisfying.
The Fallen Woman: To the man in question, the woman who fascinates him seems so different from those he has known. Perhaps she comes from a different culture or social class. Perhaps she is not as educated as he is. There might be something dubious about her character and her past; she is certainly less physically restrained than most women. He thinks she’s earthy. She seems to be in need of protection, education, and money. He will be the one to rescue and elevate her. But somehow the closer he gets to her, the less it turns out as he had expected.
In Swann’s Way, volume 1 of the novel In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, the protagonist, Charles Swann—based on a real person—is an aesthete, a connoisseur of art. He is also a Don Juan who is deathly afraid of any relationship or form of commitment. He has seduced many women of his class. But then he meets a woman named Odette, who is from a decidedly different social circle. She is uneducated, a bit vulgar, and some would say she is a courtesan. She intrigues him. Then one day, while staring at a reproduction of a biblical scene from a Botticelli fresco, he decides she resembles a woman in the painting. Now he is fascinated and begins to idealize her. Odette must have had a hard life, and she deserves better. Despite his fear of commitment, he will marry her and educate her in the finer things of life. What he doesn’t realize is that she does not at all resemble the woman he fantasizes about. She is extremely clever and strong willed, much stronger than he is. She will end up making him her passive slave, as she continues to have affairs with other men and women.
Men of this type often had strong mother figures in their childhood. They became good, obedient boys, excellent students at school. Consciously they are attracted to well-educated women, to those who seem good and perfect. But unconsciously they are drawn to women who are imperfect, bad, of dubious character. They secretly crave what is the opposite of themselves. It is the classic split of the mother/whore—they want the mother figure for a wife but feel a much stronger physical attraction to the whore, the Fallen Woman, the type who likes to display her body. They have repressed the playful, sensual, and earthy sides of the character they had as boys. They are too rigid and civilized. The only way they can relate to these qualities is through women who appear to be so different from themselves. Like Swann, they find a way to idealize them with some highbrow reference that has no relation to reality. They project onto such women weakness and vulnerability. They tell themselves they want to help and protect them. But what really attracts them is the danger and naughty pleasures these women seem to promise. Underestimating the strength of such women, they often end up as their pawns. Their anima is passive and masochistic.
Men who engage in this kind of projection need to develop the less conventional sides of their character. They need to move outside their comfort zone and try new experiences on their own. They require more challenges, and even a bit of danger that will help loosen them up. Perhaps they need to take more risks at work. They also need to develop the more physical and sensual side of their character. Not having to get what they crave by looking for the Fallen Woman type, they can actually begin to satisfy their urges with any type of woman, not passively waiting for her to lead them astray but actively initiating the guilty pleasures.
The Superior Man: He seems brilliant, skilled, strong, and stable. He radiates confidence and power. He could be a high-powered businessman, a professor, an artist, a guru. Even though he may be older and not so physically attractive, his self-assurance gives him an attractive aura. For the woman attracted to this type, a relationship with him would give her an indirect feeling of strength and superiority.
In the novel Middlemarch (1872) by George Eliot, the main character, Dorothea Brooke, is a nineteen-year-old orphan raised by her wealthy uncle. Dorothea is quite beautiful and would be a desirable match for marriage. In fact, a local young man named Sir James Chettam is actively courting her. But one evening she meets the much older Edward Causabon, a wealthy landowner who has devoted his life to scholarly pursuits, and he intrigues her. She starts to pay him attention and he courts her, much to the horror of her sister and uncle. To them he is ugly, with moles on his face and a sallow complexion. He slurps his food and talks very little. But to Dorothea his face is full of a spiritual quality. He is too above people to care about etiquette. He talks little because no one would understand him. Being married to him would be like being married to Pascal or Kant. She’ll learn Greek and Latin and help him complete his great masterpiece, The Key to All Mythologies. And he will help educate and elevate her. He will be the father she has been unconsciously missing. Only after being married to him does she discover the truth—he’s dead inside, and very controlling. He sees her as a glorified secretary. She becomes trapped in a loveless marriage.
Although the relationship details might be quite different now, this type of projection is all too common among women. It stems from feelings of inferiority. The woman in this case has internalized the voices of the father and others who have been so critical of her, who have lowered her self-esteem by telling her who she is and how she should behave. Not having ever developed her own strength or confidence, she will tend to search for these qualities in men and exaggerate any traces of them. Many of the men who respond to her sense her low self-esteem and find this alluring. They like the adoring attention of a woman, often younger, whom they can lord over and control. This would be the classic professor seducing the student. Because such men are rarely as brilliant, clever, and self-assured as she imagines, the woman either is disappointed and leaves or is trapped in her low self-esteem, bending to his manipulations and blaming herself for any problems.
What such a woman needs to do is first realize that the source of her insecurity is the critical opinions of others, which she has accepted and internalized. It does not stem from her inherent lack of intelligence or worthiness. She must actively work at developing her assertiveness and self-confidence through her actions—taking on projects, starting a business, mastering a craft. With men, she must see herself as their natural equal, as potentially strong and creative as they are, or even more so. With genuine self-confidence she will then be able to gauge the true worth and character of the men she meets.
The Woman to Worship Him: He’s driven and ambitious, but his life is hard. It’s a harsh, unforgiving world out there, and it’s not easy to find any comfort. He feels something missing in his life. Then along comes a woman who is attentive to him, warm, and engaging. She seems to admire him. He feels overwhelmingly drawn to her and her energy. This is the woman to complete him, to help comfort him. But then, as the relationship develops, she no longer seems quite so nice and attentive. She certainly has stopped admiring him. He concludes that she has deceived him or has changed. Such a betrayal makes him angry.
This male projection generally stems from a particular type of relationship with the mother—she adores her son and showers him with attention. Perhaps this is to compensate for never quite getting what she wants from her husband. She fills the boy with confidence; he becomes addicted to her attention and craves her warm, enveloping presence, which is what she wants.
When he grows up, he is often quite ambitious, always trying to live up to the expectations of his mother. He pushes himself hard. He chooses a certain type of woman to pursue and then subtly positions her to play the mother role—to comfort, adore, and pump up his ego. In many instances, the woman will come to understand how he has manipulated her into this role, and she will resent it. She will stop being so soothing and reverential. He will blame her for changing, but in fact he is the one projecting qualities that were never exactly there and trying to make her conform to his expectations. The ensuing breakup will be very painful for the man, because he has invested energy from his earliest years and will feel this as abandonment from the mother figure. Even if he is successful in getting the woman to play the role, he himself will feel resentment at his dependency on her, the same dependency and ambivalence he had toward his mother. He may sabotage the relationship or withdraw. His anima has a sharp, recriminating edge, always ready to complain and blame.
The man in this case must see the pattern of these relationships in his life. What this should signal to him is that he needs to develop from within more of the mothering qualities that he projects onto women. He must see the nature of his ambition as stemming from his desire to please his mother and live up to her expectations. He tends to drive himself too hard. He must learn to comfort and soothe himself, to withdraw from time to time and be satisfied with his accomplishments. He needs to be able to care for himself. This will drastically improve his relationships. He will give more, instead of waiting to be adored and taken care of. He will relate to women as they are, and in the end they will perhaps feel unconsciously impelled to provide more of the comfort he needs, without being pushed into this.
The Original Man/Woman
A common experience for us humans is that at a certain point in life—often near the age of forty—we go through what is known as a midlife crisis. Our work has become mechanical and soulless. Our intimate relationships have lost their excitement and spirit. We crave change, and we look for it through a new career or relationship, some new experiences, even some danger. Such changes may give us a short-term therapeutic jolt, but they leave the real source of the problem untouched, and the malaise will return.
Let us look at this phenomenon from a different angle—as a crisis of identity. As children, we had a rather fluid sense of self. We absorbed the energy of everyone and everything around us. We felt a very wide range of emotions and were open to experience. But in our youth we had to shape a social self, one that was cohesive and would allow us to fit into a group. To do so we had to trim and tighten up our freer-flowing spirit. And much of this tightening revolved around gender roles. We had to repress masculine or feminine aspects of ourselves, in order to feel and present a more consistent self.
In our late teens and into our twenties, we continually adjust this identity in order to fit in—it is still a work in progress, and we derive some pleasure in forging this identity. We feel our lives can go in many directions, and the many possibilities enchant us. But as the years go by, the gender role we play gets more and more fixed, and we begin to sense that we have lost something essential, that we are almost strangers to who we were in our youth. Our creative energies have dried up. Naturally we look outward for the source of this crisis, but it comes from within. We have become imbalanced, too rigidly identified with our role and the mask we present to others. Our original nature incorporated more of the qualities that we absorbed from the mother or father, and of the traits of the opposite sex that are biologically a part of us. At a certain point, we inwardly rebel at the loss of what is so essentially a part of us.
In primitive cultures around the world, the wisest man or woman in the tribe was the shaman, the healer who could communicate with the spirit world. The male shaman had an inner woman or wife whom he listened to closely and who guided him. The female shaman had the inner husband. The shamans’ power came from the depth of their communication with this inner figure, which was experienced as a real woman or man from within. The shaman figure reflects a profound psychological truth that our most primitive ancestors had access to. In fact, in the myths of many ancient cultures—Persian, Hebrew, Greek, Egyptian—original humans were believed to be both male and female; this made them so powerful that the gods feared them and split them in half.
Understand: The return to your original nature contains elemental power. By relating more to the natural feminine or masculine parts within you, you will unleash energy that has been repressed; your mind will recover its natural fluidity; you will understand and relate better to those of the opposite sex; and by ridding yourself of the defensiveness you have in relation to your gender role, you will feel secure in who you are. This return requires that you play with styles of thinking and acting that are more masculine or feminine, depending on your imbalance. But before describing such a process, we must first come to terms with a deeply ingrained human prejudice about the masculine and the feminine.
For millennia, it has been men who largely defined masculine and feminine roles and who imposed value judgments on them. Feminine styles of thinking were associated with irrationality, and feminine ways of acting seen as weak and inferior. We may have outwardly progressed in terms of inequality between the genders, but inwardly these judgments still have profound roots in us. The masculine style of thinking is still esteemed as superior, and femininity is still experienced as soft and weak. Many women have internalized these judgments. They feel that being equal means being able to be as tough and aggressive as men. But what is truly needed in the modern world is to see the masculine and the feminine as completely equal in potential reasoning power and strength of action, but in different ways.
Let us say there are feminine and masculine styles when it comes to thinking, taking action, learning from experience, and relating to other people. These styles have been reflected in the behavior of men and women for thousands of years. Some are related to physiological differences, some stem mostly from culture. Certainly there are men who have more feminine styles and women more masculine styles, but almost all of us are imbalanced to one side or the other. Our task is to open ourselves up to the opposite. We have only our rigidity to lose.
Masculine and feminine styles of thinking: Masculine thinking tends toward focusing on what separates phenomena from one another and categorizing them. It looks for contrasts between things to better label them. It wants to take things apart, like a machine, and analyze the separate parts that go into the whole. Its thought process is linear, figuring out the sequence of steps that goes into an event. It prefers to look at things from the outside, with emotional detachment. The masculine way of thinking tends to prefer specialization, to dig deep into something specific. It feels pleasure in uncovering the order in phenomena. It likes to build elaborate structures, whether in a book or a business.
Feminine thinking orients itself differently. It likes to focus on the whole, how the parts connect to one another, the overall gestalt. In looking at a group of people, it wants to see how they relate to one another. Instead of freezing phenomena in time in order to examine them, it focuses on the organic process itself, how one thing grows into another. In trying to solve a puzzle, the feminine style will prefer to meditate on several aspects, absorb the patterns, and let answers or solutions come to the individual over time, as if they needed to be cooked. This form of thinking leads to insights when the hidden connections between things suddenly become visible in intuitive flashes. As opposed to specialization, it is more interested in how different fields or forms of knowledge can connect to one another. In studying another culture, for instance, it will want to get closer to it, to understand how it is experienced from within. It is more sensitive to information from the senses, not merely from abstract reasoning.
For too long the masculine style has been seen as more rational and scientific, but this does not reflect the reality. All of the greatest scientists in history have displayed a powerful mix of the masculine and feminine styles. The biologist Louis Pasteur’s greatest discoveries came from his ability to open his mind to as many explanations as possible, to let them cook in his mind, in order to see the connections between wide-ranging phenomena. Einstein attributed all of his greatest discoveries to intuitions, in which long hours of thinking gave way to sudden insights about the interconnection of certain facts. The anthropologist Margaret Mead used the latest abstract models from her time to rigorously analyze indigenous cultures, but she combined this with months of living within it and gaining a feel from the inside position.
In business, Warren Buffett is an example of someone who blends the two styles. When he considers buying a company, he breaks it down into its component parts and analyzes them in statistical depth, but he also tries to get a feel for the overall gestalt of the business, how the employees relate to one another, the spirit of the group as instilled by the man or woman at the top—a lot of the intangibles most businesspeople ignore. He looks at a company from both the outside and the inside.
Almost all people will lean more toward one style of thinking. What you want for yourself is to create balance by leaning more in the other direction. If you are more on the masculine side, you want to widen the fields you look at, finding connections between different forms of knowledge. In looking for solutions, you want to consider more possibilities, give greater time to the deliberative process, and allow for freer associations. You need to take seriously the intuitions that come to you after much deliberation, and not discount the value of emotions in thinking. Without a sense of excitement and inspiration, your thinking can become stale and lifeless.
If you lean more in the feminine direction, you need to be capable of focusing and digging into specific problems, tamping down the impulse to widen your search and multitask. You have to find pleasure in boring into one aspect of a problem. Reconstructing a causal chain and continually refining it will give depth to your thinking. You tend to see structure and order as dull affairs, giving greater emphasis to expressing an idea and feeling inspired by it. Instead, you need to derive pleasure in paying deep attention to the structure of a book, argument, or project. Being creative and clear with the structure will give your material its power to influence people. Sometimes you need to gain greater emotional distance to understand a problem, and you must force yourself to do so.
Masculine and feminine styles of action: When it comes to taking action, the masculine tendency is to move forward, explore the situation, attack, and vanquish. If there are obstacles in the way, it will try to push through them, this desire aptly expressed by the ancient military leader Hannibal—“I will either find a way or make a way.” It derives pleasure from staying on the offensive and taking risks. It prefers to maintain its independence and room to maneuver.
When confronted with a problem or the need to take action, the feminine style often prefers to first withdraw from the immediate situation and contemplate more deeply the options. It will often look for ways to avoid the conflict, to smooth out relations, to win without having to go to battle. Sometimes the best action is nonaction—let the dynamic play itself out to understand it better; let the enemy hang itself by its aggressive actions.
This was the style of Queen Elizabeth I, whose primary strategy was to wait and see: when confronted with an imminent invasion by Spain’s vast seafaring armada, she decided to not commit to a strategy until she knew exactly when the armada was launched and the weather conditions of the moment, working to slow down its advance and let the bad weather destroy it, with minimal loss of life. Instead of charging forward, the feminine style lays traps for the enemy. Independence is not an essential value in action; in fact, it is better to focus on interdependent relationships and how one move might harm an ally and cause ripple effects to an alliance.
In the West, this feminine style of strategizing and acting is instinctively judged as weak and timid. But in other cultures the style is viewed quite differently. To Chinese strategists, wu-wei, or nonaction, is often the height of wisdom and aggressive action a sign of stupidity because it narrows one’s options. There is in fact tremendous strength contained within the feminine style—patience, resilience, and flexibility. To the great samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi, the ability to stand back and wait, to let the opponent tire himself out mentally before counterattacking, was critical for success.
For those with the aggressive, masculine inclination, balance would come from training yourself to step back before taking any action. Consider the possibility that it is better to wait and see how things play out, or even to not respond at all. Taking action without proper consideration reveals weakness and a lack of self-control. For balance, always try to consider the interdependent relationships you are involved in and how each group or individual will be affected by any action. If you find yourself blocked in your career later in life, you must learn the power of withdrawing and reflecting on who you are, your needs, your strengths and weaknesses, your true interests before making any important decisions. This could require weeks or months of introspection. Some of the greatest leaders in history honed their best ideas while in prison. As the French would say, reculer pour mieux sauter (“step back in order to leap forward”).
For those with the feminine style, it is best to accustom yourself to various degrees of conflict and confrontation, so that any avoidance of it is strategic and not out of fear. This requires baby steps, confronting people in small ways in everyday situations before handling larger conflicts. Drop the need to always consider the other side’s feelings; sometimes there are bad people who need to be thwarted, and being empathetic only empowers them. You need to be comfortable saying no and turning people down. Sometimes when you try to smooth things out, it is not out of empathy or strategy but out of an aversion to displeasing people. You have been trained to be deferential, and you need to get rid of this impulse. You need to reconnect to the bold and adventurous spirit you once had and widen your strategic options to both offense and defense. Sometimes you can overthink things and come up with too many options. Action for its own sake can be therapeutic, and taking aggressive action can discomfit your opponents.
Masculine and feminine styles of self-assessment and learning: As studies have shown, when men make mistakes they tend to look outward and find other people or circumstances to blame. Men’s sense of self is deeply tied to their success, and they do not like to look inward if they fail. This makes it difficult to learn from failures. On the other hand, men will tend to feel that they are completely responsible for any success in life. This will make them blind to the element of luck and the help of others, which will feed their grandiose tendencies (see chapter 11 for more on this). Similarly, if there is a problem, the masculine style is to try to figure it out on one’s own—to ask for assistance would be an admission of weakness. In general, men will overestimate their abilities and display confidence in their skills that are often not warranted by circumstances.
For women, it is the opposite: When there is failure, they tend to blame themselves and look inward. If there is success, they are more prone to look at the role of others in helping them. They find it easy to ask for assistance; they do not see this as a sign of personal inadequacy. They tend to underestimate their skills and are less prone to the grandiose confidence that often fuels men.
For those with the masculine style, when it comes to learning and improving yourself, it is best to reverse the order—to look inward when you make mistakes and to look outward when you have success. You will be able to benefit from experience by dropping the feeling that your ego is so tied to the success of each action or decision you make. Develop this reversal as a habit. Don’t be afraid of asking for help or feedback; instead, make this a habit as well. Weakness comes from the inability to ask questions and to learn. Lower your self-opinion. You are not as great or skilled as you imagine. This will spur you to actually improve yourself.
For those with the feminine style, it is easy to beat yourself up after failures or mistakes. The introspection can go too far. The same can be said of ascribing success to others. Women more than men will suffer from low self-esteem, which is not natural but acquired. They often have internalized critical voices from others. Jung called these animus voices: all the men over the years who have judged women for their looks and intelligence. You want to catch these voices as they occur and rid yourself of them. Because failures or criticisms might affect you too deeply, you can become afraid to try something again, which narrows your learning possibilities. You need to adopt more of the masculine self-confidence, without the attendant stupidity. In your daily encounters, try to drop or minimize your emotional responses to events and see them from a greater distance. You are training yourself to not take things so personally.
Masculine and feminine styles of relating to people and leadership: As with male chimpanzees, in a group setting the masculine style is to require a leader, and to either aspire to that role or gain power by being the most loyal follower. Leaders will designate various deputies to do their bidding. Men form hierarchies and punish those who fall out of line. They are highly status conscious, hyperaware of their place in the group. Leaders will tend to use some element of fear to keep the group cohesive. The masculine style of leadership is to identify clear goals and reach them. It puts emphasis on results, however they are achieved.
The feminine style is more about maintaining the group spirit and keeping the relationships smoothed out, with fewer differences among individuals. It is more empathetic, considering the feelings of each member and trying to involve them more in the decision-making process. Results are important, but the way they are achieved, the process, is equally important.
For those with the masculine style, it is important to enlarge your concept of leadership. When you think more deeply about the individuals on the team and strategize to involve them more, you can have superior results, engaging the energy and creativity of the group. Studies have shown that boys are as empathetic as girls, highly attuned, for instance, to the emotions of the mother. But empathy is slowly drummed out of men as they come to develop their assertive style. Some of the greatest male leaders in history, however, managed to retain and develop their empathy. A leader such as Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (see chapter 2) was no less of a man for his constant consideration of the emotions of each of the men he was responsible for—he was simply a stronger and more effective leader. The same could be said of Abraham Lincoln.
For those of the feminine style, you must not be afraid of assuming a strong leadership role, particularly in times of crisis. Considering the feelings of everyone and incorporating the ideas of too many will weaken you and your plans. Although women are certainly better listeners, sometimes it is best to know when to stop listening and go with the plan you have opted for. Once you recognize the fools, the incompetents, and the hyperselfish in the group, it is best to fire them and to even find pleasure in getting rid of those who bring the whole group down. Instilling a touch of fear in your lieutenants is not always a bad thing.
Finally, look at it this way: We are compelled by nature to want to move closer to what is feminine or masculine, in the form of an attraction to another person. But if we are wise, we realize we are equally compelled to do so inwardly. For centuries men have looked to women as muses, sources of inspiration. The truth is that the muse, for both genders, lies within. Moving closer to your anima or animus will bring you closer to your unconscious, which contains untapped creative treasures. The fascination you feel in relation to the feminine or masculine in others you will now feel in relation to your work, to your own thought process, and to life in general. Just as with shamans, that inner wife or husband will become the source of uncanny powers.
What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.
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