A few weeks ago a woman who is a friend of mine from church called me a “girly-girl”. Now, I am sure she meant it as a compliment, but it’s quite possible I have never felt more insulted in my life. You would think she called me a horrible expletive or something. A girly-GIRL? A GIRLY-girl? ME? The girl who ran 23 miles last weekend? ME? The girl who loves to go rock climbing? ME? The girl who kills her own spiders, changes her own light-bulbs, and assembles her own bookshelves? Certainly not. I am no GIRLY-GIRL.
As I was raving over this with my friend and supervisor, Ben, he quite pointedly brought attention to the fact that I see being a girl as a bad thing. No, I’m a feminist! I fight for empowering women! I lead groups helping women relate authentically, use their voices, and share their talents. I love being a woman…as long as I’m as good as a man…
But there it is. After all the work I had thought I’d done to embrace my femininity, I still harbor angst toward my inner woman. Women are weak. Women are whiny. Women are…not men. I am constantly trying to prove I am as tough as a man, as smart as a man, as powerful as a man.
So, I’m reading a book called The Strong Woman’s Desire for a Strong Man (I’ll wait until you’re finished laughing at me…). There was a time when I would have denied that I want a man, but that time has passed. I would still argue that I do not need a man – any more than I need anything in my life besides Jesus Christ – but I do want one.
The book is premised on Jungian psychology and the idea that every strong woman has a weak woman as her shadow and a misogynist as her animus. In short, your shadow is the part of your self you have squelched because it was unacceptable growing up, but still exists in your unconscious. The animus is a woman’s inner male (men have an anima, inner female). A strong woman has learned to despise the “weak” woman (her shadow), and has an animus (the woman-hater) that has been created from the men she has known in her life. This is not to say that all the men in a strong woman’s life are women haters, but rather that they value what is “masculine” and devalue what is “feminine.” Hopefully I haven’t lost you in the terms.
The weak woman shadow was not a surprise to me. I know I despise any weaknesses in myself and push myself past healthy challenges just to prove to myself I’m not weak. But the animus I would have scoffed at had I not had the “girly-girl” experience and conversation with Ben a few weeks ago.
According to the book, the way to be in healthy relationships is to make peace with and integrate my shadow and animus. This can happen in imagery exercises, art work, or even my dreams. The idea is that if you do this work, you will no longer go after the “bad boys” who are really a projection of the misogynist in your unconscious.
After reading this chapter I had a dream that I was driving a car. I came to a herd of does, but as I got closer, a HUGE stag emerged from the pack. The stag started attacking me in my car so violently that I could not drive away. I tried going forward and in reverse, but I could not get away.
I looked up the meaning of “stag” in a Jungian Dream Dictionary. (If you’re scoffing at the idea of interpreting dreams, stay with me. If you’re a Christian and you’re scoffing at the idea of interpreting dreams, I might remind you that dream interpretation is Biblical). A stag is an obviously male and highly territorial creature. As a counselor, I know that whenever we attempt to bring change in our lives or bring secrets into the light it is met with resistance. Whether you believe that resistance is psychological, relational, spiritual, or all of the above; it’s inevitable. So I took this dream to mean that my animus was fighting my efforts to make peace with it in order to embrace my femininity. The woman-hater in me was saying, I hate women and I will always hate women. Women are weak. You cannot change. You cannot get away. Nothing you ever do will be as good as a man, and I am here to stay.
But it doesn’t matter. I will make peace with my animus. I will embrace my femininity and believe that I am good and whole and healthy and strong as a woman.
I will fight that stag when I allow myself to cook and clean and enjoy domestic activities. I will fight that stag when I play basketball or climb mountains as a woman. I will fight that stag as I learn to enjoy my emotional side. I will fight that stag as I believe that I as a woman have something to offer by speaking up. I will fight that stag as I let myself cry over what makes me sad. I will fight that stag as I let men open doors for me without feeling indignant. I will fight that stag as I learn to ask for help when I cannot do something on my own. I will fight that stag when I use my God-given intelligence as a woman.
And I will fight that stag by saying thank you to the next person who calls me a girly-girl.