Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion

pp 961-965

Jung, Carl Gustav, and Feminism

Carl Gustav Jung’s analytical psychology was important in valuing the feminine in counterbalance to what he saw as an excessive shift towards “masculine” logos, rationality, and science in Western society. But, infused with patriarchal assumptions, Jung’s work on gender is flawed and lacks awareness of the issues raised by later feminist psychologists such as Crawford and Unger (2000). Jung’s work is however an important catalyst. Jung’s critique of religion has inspired some women and men to challenge the absence of the divine feminine and women leaders in their religions of birth and others to turn to goddess spirituality to find empowering religious images and roles.

Women in Switzerland

Carl Jung’s attitudes to women were formed in the conservative patriarchal culture of late nineteenth-century Switzerland. It was an era that saw the beginning of first-wave feminism; but women did not gain the vote in Swiss federal elections until 1971 (CFQF 2009b), and equality in education was not written into the Swiss constitution until 1981 (CFQF 2009a).

Women’s Role

The Swiss women’s movement was divided between those seeking equal rights and political representation and “dualists.” Dualists predominated and pursued an “equal but different” agenda that saw women’s role as primarily to assure the well-being of the family (CFQF 2009c). Jung supported the idea of women’s suffrage (Adler 1975, pp. 475–478), but his theories reflected a “dualist” viewpoint that stereotyped women.

The conscious attitude of a woman is in general far more exclusively personal than that of man. Her world is made up of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, husbands and children. … the man’s world is the nation, the state, business concerns, etc. (Jung 1953/1979, Vol. 7, para. 338).

Jung saw Eros (feeling, relatedness, and love) and logos (reason, spirit, and differentiation) as present in both sexes but women as oriented primarily towards Eros (Jung 1953/1979, Vol. 9ii, para. 28). He spoke disparagingly of women who tried to make the sexes equal, rather than valuing difference. Attempting to follow a “masculine” profession might injure women’s “feminine nature”; for while women could “do anything for the love of a man,” only the exceptional could do something important for the “love of a thing” (Jung 1953/1979, Vol. 10, para. 243).

Anima: The Female Within the Male

Douglas points out that Jung’s work synthesizes the positivism of his medical studies with romantic philosophy that endowed women with the unconsciousness, irrationality, depth, and emotions forbidden to the “masculine” rational self (Douglas 1997, p. 19). Jung considered the unconscious a source of knowledge and insight, and through his relationship with a woman, a man could access his inner feminine, the anima, which is

… fundamentally unconscious … an imprint or ‘archetype’ of all the ancestral experiences of the female, a deposit, as it were, of all the impressions ever made by woman …    . (Jung 1953/1979, Vol. 17, para. 338).

Jung comments that “Every mother and every beloved is forced to become the carrier and embodiment of this omnipresent and ageless image …” (Jung 1953/1979, Vol. 9ii, para. 24). Jung’s thinking often appears to confuse women’s psychology with the male projection of the anima.

Women Analysts and Jungian Psychology

Feminist theologian Mary Daly has commented that few women analysts trained by Jung questioned his ideas on gender, and she criticizes women for promoting “Jung’s garbled gospel” as feminist (Daly 1978, p. 280). David Tacey believes that there was even a “secret payoff” for women in identifying with Jung’s Eros model:

… Jung was inviting them to step outside their limited humanness and to become archetypal. Women were secretly to view themselves as living incarnations of the Goddess …     . (Tacey 1997, p. 28).

Jungian psychology had in any event more practical attractions. The profession of analyst had much to offer in an era when it was difficult for educated women to make a career. Whatever Jung’s gender biases were, he saw women as excellent potential therapists and was willing to train them.

Many of those who trained were far from Jung’s Eros-dominated stereotype. Dr. M. Esther Harding was a strong-minded lesbian whose books were important for the development of goddess spirituality. Together with Drs. Eleanor Bertine and Kristine Mann, she founded the powerful New York C. G. Jung Institute. Dr. Jolande Jacobi drew up the original plan for the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich. Dr. Marie-Louise von Franz was Jung’s valued collaborator on his alchemical works.

A careful reading of women analysts’ work reveals a more proactive engagement with Jung’s ideas than Daly depicts. Jung was aware of his limitations:

The elementary fact that a person always thinks that another’s psychology is identical with his own effectively prevents a correct understanding of feminine psychology (Jung 1953/1979, Vol. 10, para. 240).

It was women analysts who developed Jungian thinking on women. Toni Wolff argued that Eros is not the leading mode of conscious functioning of all women and that Judaism and Christianity, with their lack of the divine feminine, damage women. Drawing on sources including Bachofen on prehistoric matriarchy, Wolff created a typology that categorized women as mother, hetaira (in ancient Greece, an educated female courtesan), medial woman, or Amazon. Earlier generations might be limited to only one of the archetypal roles; but contemporary women should aim to move beyond this “one-sidedness” (Wolff 1941). Jung considered that the anima in men was mirrored in women by the animus, but his ideas were vague (Jung 1953/1979, Vol. 9ii, para. 28). It was Emma Jung who developed the idea that as women matured psychologically, so too would their animus figures and that rather than projecting these qualities onto a man, women must reclaim what the animus symbolizes – word, power, meaning, and deed (Jung 1957, p. 20).

Religion and the Feminine

From a feminist perspective, patriarchal religions can be a source of oppression for women. Jung raised radical questions about the God image of Christianity, which he considered deficient psychologically because the Trinity did not include a female aspect (Jung 1953/1979, Vol. 11, para. 251). When in 1950 Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Catholic dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, Jung saw this as an important event that left Protestantism as

… nothing but a man's religion … Protestantism has obviously not given sufficient attention to the signs of the times which point to the equality of women. But this equality requires to be metaphysically anchored in the figure of a ‘divine’ woman … The feminine, like the masculine, demands an equally personal representation (Jung 1953/1979, Vol. 11, para. 753).

The impact of Jung’s psychology can be seen in the work of goddess-oriented women, such as Adler (1986), Crowley (1989), and Starhawk. Indeed, Adler comments that

Much of the theoretical basis for a modern defense of polytheism comes from Jungian psychologists, who have long argued that the gods and goddesses of myth, legend, and fairy tale represent archetypes, real potencies and potentialities deep within the psyche, which, when allowed to flower, permit us to be more fully human (Adler 1986, p. 28).

From a Christian perspective, analyst Ulanov accepts the idea of female identification with Eros but views Eros as of equal value to logos and criticizes the exclusion of feminine imagery from religious symbolism as psychologically and socially damaging.

Goddess as Role Model

Other Jungians found in ancient goddesses models for women’s psychological growth that go beyond Jung’s stereotyped thinking. Esther Harding sees in myths of a virgin Moon Goddess, who is virgin in the sense of being “one-in-her-self” yet also goddess of love and mother goddess, an archetypal pattern helpful for modern women.

In the same way the woman who is virgin, one-in-her-self, does what she does – not because of any desire to please, not to be liked, or to be approved, even by herself; not because of desire to gain power over another, to catch his interest or love, but because what she does is true (Harding 1971b, p. 125).

Turning to ancient myth, Sylvia Brinton Perera interprets the voluntarily descent of the Sumerian goddess Inanna into the underworld as a heroic quest and an empowering approach for women in overcoming depression. Jean Shinoda Bolen in Goddesses in Everywoman and Jennifer and Roger Woolger in The Goddess Within find in goddesses such as Artemis, Athena, and Hera powerful female archetypes that can help women negotiate the complexities of contemporary life. A goddess is seen not a supernatural being but

… a complex female character type that we intuitively recognize both in ourselves and in the women around us (Woolger and Woolger 1990, pp. 7–8).

Such psychological reductionism may offend the religious who worship ancient deities but points to how powerful deity symbols can help overcome sexual stereotyping.

Feminist Critique

Until the mid-1970s, Jung’s work was widely seen as valuing the feminine. This changed with second-wave feminism, which sprang from the realization by women that

… male-authored systems of knowledge … had either omitted or distorted the representation of women (Rowland 2000, p. 73).

Naomi Goldenberg accused Jungian psychology of being itself a form of patriarchal religion, in which Jungians failed to question the “prophet’s” premises about archetypes and women. Demaris S. Wehr (1988) evaluates Jungian ideas of “the feminine” as essentialist, conservative, contradictory to feminism (p. 10), and distorted by androcentrism and misogyny (p. 99). She acknowledges, however, Jung’s contribution in highlighting the negative effects for women of masculine deity symbols which

… lead people to feel comfortable with or to accept social and political arrangements that correspond to the symbol system (Wehr 1988, p. 22).

Postmodernism and third-wave feminism, in which

… the very dichotomy man/woman as an opposition between two rival entities may be understood as belonging to metaphysics (Kristeva 1979/1986, p. 209),

has seen a reinterpretation of Jung’s concepts. Estella Lauter, a pioneer of feminist archetypal theory, argues that the animus is not reflected in women’s artwork and may not be numinous for women, as is the anima for men (Lauter 1985, p. 72). James Hillman considers that anima cannot be “contained by the notion of contrasexuality” and is relevant to women and men (Hillman 1985, pp. 53–55). Tacey comments that Hillman’s work has value in removing,

… the patriarchal assumptions and conservative biases of Jung’s psychology, adopting his androgynous understanding of the psyche without his moral imperatives ….(Tacey 1997, p. 31).

Susan Rowland argues that, from a postmodern feminist perspective, Jungian archetypal theory may overcome the influence of patriarchy because, not being culturally derived, the unconscious should “compensate for and combat cultural stereotyping” (Rowland 2000, p. 42).

Contemporary thinking that sexual orientation falls along a continuum rather than being an absolute has drawn upon Jung’s ideas that

Either sex is inhabited by the opposite sex up to a point… (Jung 1953/1979, Vol. 9i, para. 58)


As civilization develops, the bisexual primordial being turns into a symbol of the unity of personality, a symbol of the self, where the opposites find peace (Jung 1953/1979, Vol. 9i, para. 294).

Analyst Susan McKenzie argues that Jung’s psychology can be read as supportive to postmodern queer theory and that contemporary Jungians should

… engage in a revision of Jungian gender theory … to offer a Jungian contribution to gender thinking in the spirit of the other Jung: the Jung of the symbolic, the mythic, and the subtle body.

Despite its flaws, Jung’s work inspired many pioneering women in the field of psychotherapy, and it continues to be a fruitful resource for new generations of feminist women and men seeking to address some of the fundamental questions of the psychological meaning of religion for individuals and society.

See Also

Analytical Psychology

Anima and Animus

Archetypal Cultural Psychology


Female God Images


Goddess Spirituality

Ulanov, Ann Belford

Virgin Mary

Von Franz, Marie-Louise

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014
Show all