Oct/Nov 2002 Miscellaneous

Fallen From Grace: The Unreal Ideal

by Amanda Millay

Many distinct images are found in the various mythologies of the world, but many of these tales present a recurrent focus on the gracefulness of women. Although the reasons for the creation of these myths is still debated, they have survived so long that the characters of the stories are ingrained as archetypes in both our collective and personal unconscious's, setting a standard which many feel women today should mirror. A closer examination of the workings of the unconscious mind, however, reveals that the expectations created by these images are simply part of a vast and complex circle of interaction between the sexes.

Many mythological images portray women as possessing "apparently effortless charm or beauty of movement, form, or proportion," the first definition Websters gives for grace. Aphrodite possesses effortless beauty, and the Virgin Mary is essentially graceful and flawless in both action and thought. Even the hunter Artemis is portrayed as graceful in her sport. In Greek mythology, the Three Graces are almost always portrayed together, as if they were one entity. They grace festivals with their charm and beauty, and as Hesiod wrote:

...With their sweet voice
They praise the laws and courteous ways of all
The immortals, uttering lovely sounds.

These mythological images, according to Carl G. Jung, play a large role in creating a man's anima, "an inherited collective image of woman [that] exists in a man's unconscious" (2). Although certain elements of the anima are gained from a man's perception of his mother, significant women throughout his life, and images of woman as the seductress and sorceress, the image of woman from mythology as the graceful maiden is a significant part of the anima which a man projects on to women in his life. Jung says, "This image of a woman, because it is an archetype of the collective unconscious, has attributes that appear and reappear through the ages, whenever men are describing the women who are significant to them. In different eras the image may be slightly changed or modified, but some characteristics seem to remain almost constant; the anima has a timeless quality--she often looks young, though there is always the suggestion of years of experience behind her" (3). Some of the most recurrent characteristics of the anima imply an inherent grace. M. Esther Harding describes several stages of psychological development for women who seem to naturally receive a man's anima projection. In the first stage she is naive and instinctive, displaying the effortlessly graceful aspects of the Kore without knowing she does so. In the second stage of development, however, a woman manipulates (though mostly unconsciously) her actions in order to reflect a man's anima (4). It is this aspect of the anima that is most closely related to the image of the Three Graces and other myths portraying graceful women. These representations are usually, as is this particular projection of the anima, innocent, pretty, essentially good, and inherently graceful.

A man's anima is unconsciously "projected on to any woman who offers the slightest hook on which her picture may be hung" (5). As Jung states, "so long as the anima is unconscious she is always projected, for everything unconscious is projected" (6). A man will usually project his anima when with a woman, which causes many misunderstandings between them, for the woman receiving the projection is likely very different from the man's anima. In speaking of the anima, Jung states, "the man has before him, in clear outlines, the alluring form of a Circe or a Calypso" (7). Thus, a woman hears from the men in her life that she should be similar to the images in a man's unconscious. Regrettably, a man does not consciously make these projections, so it is not something which he can control. As Fordham writes, "a man does not make projections, they happen to him" (8). Although a man may not directly say to a woman that she must be a certain way, he treats her as if she were the image of his anima, and inevitably, she will learn that the man expects certain actions from her.

Although the woman has an equivalent to the anima, it is not a collective image of man. Rather, a woman's animus is expressed "in the form of opinionated views, interpretations, insinuations, and misconstructions" (9). As such, it is the opinions and statements of men which form the animus in women. Frieda Fordham writes, "this combination seems to exercise a profound and fascination over her mind, so that instead of thinking and acting for herself she continually quotes father and does things in father's way, even late into life" (10). Of course, the things her father and other men in her life say about women will possibly be projections of their own animas. Fordham says that "an intelligent and educated woman is just as much a victim of this animus power as her less-educated sister. The latter will quote the daily paper or some vague body called 'They' to support her convictions--?They say it's so' or 'I saw it in the paper'--while the former will rely on some authoritative body; the university, the Church, the State, or perhaps some book or historical document" (11).

The cycle of the development and reinforcement of the anima and animus is perpetual. The man, projecting his anima on to a woman, says something; for example, that he loves how graceful she is. Since an important man in her life has said this, she will mold herself to fit the projection. It will also become part of her animus, in the form of 'men love graceful women,' and she will believe it as if it were her own thought. She will strive to fit this ideal because the ambiguous 'they' said so. When the woman conforms to this image, it exacerbates the man's image that woman should be naturally graceful. As Jung states, "no man can converse with an animus for five minutes without becoming the victim of his own anima" (12).

Simone de Beauvoir wrote, "each of the myths built up around the subject of woman is intended to sum her up in toto; each aspires to be unique" (13). The anima aspires to project these myths on to a woman, although no woman could possibly fit at all times all the variations of a man's anima. It must be understood by men that real women possess all aspects of their anima (both mother and maiden, saint and seductress). Women must understand that they should not strive to live up to only a certain aspect of a man's anima, but accept that they contain possibly all of the myths surrounding women. Perhaps this is why there are so many stories; one myth could not explain even one woman, let alone all women. Therefore a woman may wear the armor of Athena during the day, feel the love of the Virgin Mother as she holds her child, and transform into Aphrodite in the evening. The grace she possesses may be of effortless beauty and charm in itself, but it can be more rightly seen as the grace with which she changes the many aspects of herself throughout the day, first identifying with one goddess, then another, following the course of her feelings and perceptions.

Many women today have developed their own image of what women should be, and have learned to decide for themselves what images, if any, they will allow to help determine their personalities. There is a certain kind of woman, however, defined by M. Esther Harding as an 'anima woman,' that is "not really prepared to give up the advantage she gains by carrying [a man's] anima projection, although she may also want greater liberty in order to develop her own personality" (14). Perhaps only when a woman stops believing her animus will she be able to break free from projections she no longer wants to assume herself. However, it is hard for a woman to make a distinction between her own thoughts and the words of her animus. "Because of this animus activity it is really difficult for a woman to think in an unprejudiced way. She needs to be always on her guard against the inner voice which is continually telling her that 'it should be this way' or 'they ought to do that,' and which makes it impossible for her to see things as they really are" (15). Jung offers some advice for learning to distinguish between the animus and real thoughts: "the woman must learn to criticize and hold her opinions at a distance; not in order to repress them, but, by investigating their origins, to penetrate more deeply into the background, where she will then discover the primordial images, just as the man does in his dealings with the anima." (16). M. Esther Harding writes that a woman should seek to find her intrinsic value, "not through an intellectually accepted ideal but through a deeper experience of her own nature which leads her into relation to the woman's spirituality, the feminine principle itself" (17).

It is also important to remember that, just as a man projects his anima on to women, he may also have projected it into the stories he created (or retold). The answer to Rilke's question, "Is it possible that we have lived, with perfect accuracy, a history which never existed?" (18) could possibly be yes. The myths that we refer to, rather than being divine truths that have existed throughout all time, might be more accurately understood as projections of the anima and animus. Viewing myths in this light allows us to receive benefits by studying myths, as they are a sort of written map of our unconscious. Interpreting myths in this way, however, takes off the expectation that these stories were recorded as examples that we must live up to. In order to free ourselves from images we have outgrown, we may need to take Jung's advice and "see these thoughts above all others as objective occurrences, just as we see dreams, which nobody supposes to be deliberate or arbitrary inventions" (19).


1. Hesiod, Hesiod: Theogony and Works and Days and Theognis: Elegies, translated by Dorothea Wender (Middlesex: Penguin, 1985), p. 25.
2. Jung, C. G. Aspects of the Feminine, translated by R.F.C. Hull (Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1982), p. 79.
3. C. G. Jung, quoted in Frieda Fordham, An Introduction to Jung's Psychology (Middlesex: Penguin, 1966), p. 53-54.
4. The Way of All Women, M. Esther Harding (Boston: Shambhala, 1990), p. 9-10.
5. Frieda Fordham, op. cit., p. 54.
6. C.G Jung, op. cit., p. 86.
7. C. G. Jung, op. cit., p. 99.
8. Frieda Fordham, op. cit., p. 53.
9. Ibid., p. 173.
10. Frieda Fordham, op. cit., p. 56.
11. Ibid., p. 57.
12. C. G. Jung, op. cit., p. 72.
13. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, translated and edited by H. M. Parshley (New York: Vintage, 1989), p. 254.
14. M. Esther Harding, op. cit., p. 21.
15. Frieda Fordham, op. cit., p. 57-58.
16. C. G. Jung, op. cit., p. 98.
17. M. Esther Harding, op. cit., p. 25.
18. Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, translated by Stephen Mitchell (New York: Vintage, 1990), p. 23.
19. C.G. Jung, op. cit., p. 91.


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