The Reunion of Men and Women
Carolyn Baker, Ph.D.
In the fairy tale Rapunzel, the prince climbs Rapunzel’s locks to gain access
to her in the tower and, eventually, to marry her. When the sorceress discovered
this, she cut off Rapunzel’s locks and took her to a desolate land. The
prince climbs the shorn locks, to encounter the sorceress. He jumps off
the tower and the sorceress’ curse comes to pass. He is blindedby thorns,
never to see his wife again. He wanders into the desolate land and finds
Rapunzel and twins, a boy and a girl, to whom she had given birth. Her tears
of grief restore his vision.
In fairytales, behavior and events are timeless. It is impossible to know
how long Rapunzel remained alone in the desert, nor is it possible to know
how long the prince wandered blindly. What we do know is that by the time
Rapunzel and the prince found each other, the prince had lost all hope.
We can only imagine how it was for Rapunzel after being cast out of the
tower, carrying the princes child. The desert in mythology, sometimes referred
to as "the wilderness," is not a place of fertility, nor is it conducive
to giving birth. Few climates could pose more challenges for a pregnant
woman. The desert is a hostile environment where survival is an incessantly
grueling dilemma. Biblical prophets and ascetics often went to the desert
in fasting and prayer--a situation lending itself much more to blazing revelatory
visions than the dreamy, cozy comfort of pre-natal existence. The desert
is, symbolically speaking, a much more masculine than feminine environment.
Hence the story reminds us again that the feminine gives birth not only
as a result of penentration by the masculine, but in close proximity to
it. Separated from the shady forest, Rapunzel dwells in the domain of masculine,
solar energy and not only survives, but gives birth. Apparently her throat
does not become so dry that she cannot sing-- indicating that she still
has her own voice, and it still has the power in it to draw the prince to
her. As a child, Rapunzel grew strong and graceful, and now as a pregnant
woman in the desert, she continues to develop. The feminine principle endures.
In the barren, arid, steaming wilderness, we imagine the primal, instinctual,
animal aspect of Rapunzel guiding her to water, shade and the hidden treasures
of lush nutrients that deserts hold if one knows where to look for them.
Unlike the state of incarceration in the tower, the desert forces Rapunzel
to explore, for her life and the life of her child depend on it. In other
words, she had to learn the masculine mode of functioning in the world.
She had to learn about doing as well as being.
The story implies that Rapunzel is not a long distance from the forest because
the prince "coming out of the forest into a barren land," began to hear
her song. Perhaps there was even the opportunity to return to the shelter
of the forest, yet she remained in the desert. Could Rapunzel have actually
chosen to stay in the wilderness? Could she have come to believe that her
inner world was even more important than her external world? Could it be
that because Rapunzel was transformed by the desert, she cherished the very
place that had pushed her to the limits of her strength and endurance?
The feminine principle needs the desert places in order to develop balanced
integration with the masculine. Total immersion in feminine energy may feel
safe and comforting, but without the balancing influence of the masculine,
the shadow feminine, within an individual woman and in the external world,
will manifest as the helpless Princess/Victim or the beseiging hag. The
"wilderness" for a woman might take the form of a serious illness, a divorce,
the loss of a child, flailing about in the throes of an addictive process,
menopause, aging, even physical death.
The desert places offer an opportunity for initiation which in all cases
involves at the very least, a symbolic death.
In her poignant and personal book, The Alchemy Of Illness Kat Duff describes
illness as an initiation rite in which "one is chopped or torn to pieces
by monstrous spirits who then strip the flesh from the bones." She emphasizes
that illness serves to compensate for one-sidedness and offers the possibility
of re-establishing equilibrium. Thus if there is an imbalance of feminine
or masculine energy in any situation, the psyche quite naturally moves toward
homeostatic realignment. For Rapunzel in the desert, and for the prince
wandering blindly, initiation was taking place. And says Duff, "In the long
dark night that is the fulcrum of any true experience of initiation, one
cannot be assured of return; one must be still, and wait without hope."
Rapunzel and the prince both had to die. In mythology killing or death is
a signal that some kind of integration is occurring. For Rapunzel, compliance
and naivete had to be killed. Obedience to and dependence on the negative
mother needed to die. Illusions about her ability to survive the blistering
desert and keep her unborn child alive were destroyed. Gone were the days
of placid dissociations fed by the boredom of sitting comfortably at the
window of the the hags tower. Eventually in the desert Rapunzel must surely
have realized how little she had settled for. Like the prince, Rapunzels
vision was in need of transformation. She had seen such a small part of
the world, and in the tower, remained essentially disembodied. Initiations
always bring us "down to earth" which in mythology symbolizes becoming more
present in the physical body. Frequently modern women, like the mythological
Persephone, are grabbed by the ankle, symbolically speaking, and abducted
to the underworld through illness, eating disorders, chemical dependency,
hot flashes, insomnia or whatever piercing screams the body must discharge
in order to compel a woman to finally take up residence in her physical
In a culture which ostensibly values political correctness, men and women
frequently engage in competition for the "worst" victim status. A polarizing
patriarchy seduces us into comparing our wounds. Therefore, in making sense
of the Rapunzel story, it may be tempting to wonder whether it is worse
to be a pregnant woman alone in the desert with absolutely no survival skills,
or to be a blind prince, wandering alone in the dark for a period of years.
The answer is: Both predicaments are equally horrible.
The prince in the Rapunzel story is reminiscent of Parsifal in the Grail
Legend. In his youth, Parsifal blunders into the Grail Castle, ill-prepared
to ask the question which would have healed the fisher king. As Robert Johnson
reminds us, Parsifal could do this because he had not yet shed the homespun
garment of his mother complex. Like the prince in the Rapunzel fairytale,
Parsifal wandered about for twenty years before he asked the right question.
The moment that Parsifal asked the right question, the fisher king was healed.
Like the prince wandering blindly and like Parsifal, twentieth-century men
are confronted with the fisher king wound in midlife. Robert Johnson refers
to this wound as "the mislocation of the meaning of life." He also describes
the fisher king wound as a mans disconnection from his feeling function.
In order to ask the right question, Johnson says, a man must differentiate
between his personal mother, his mother complex, the mother archetype, his
anima, his female companion (spouse or lover) and the feminine aspect of
the divine which Jung called The Wise Old Woman.
Making these distinctions is an enormous task, even if one has 20/20 vision.
But when a man is blind, as was the prince, when a man has been catapaulted
out of his favorite heroic tower by the terrifying rage of some treacherous
hag, when he has fallen to earth and lost his vision, how can he sort out
these six aspects of the feminine? Like Parsifal, says Johnson, he must
necessarily wander. We should not take this word for granted. It is enormously
significant. Wandering is the antithesis of what patriarchy teaches men,
or women for that matter, about being a competent, responsible adult. Wandering
is essentially a feminine activity, diametrically opposed to the shadow
masculine values of power and control. Only by losing patriarchal vision,
only by wandering in the dark without it, can anyone, male or female, reclaim
the feminine within and without. What is more, a necessary aspect of wandering
is a willingness to follow, rather than try to fix, ones wounds.
Whether it be Persephone casually and unconsciously picking flowers in a
garden from which she is snatched into the underworld by Pluto, whether
it be the prince in the Rapunzel story or the tragedy of O.J. Simpson, initiation
happens whether we are open to it or not. As a Latin proverb goes, "He who
goes willingly the fates will lead; he who does not go willingly, the fates
will drag." The door to the initiatory process is opened only through defeat.
Since twentieth-century women, aspiring toward gender equity, have been
forced to adopt patriarchal methods to win their freedom, the defeat of
an animus-possessed woman and the defeat of a man can look very similar,
especially in midlife. This "coming down to earth" and following the wounds,
this ability to endure the merciless heat of a sizzling desert when one
is "with child," is the path of initiation which enables one to reclaim
the inner masculine and feminine selves. The prince in a woman, as well
as a man, must lose its former vision and wander in the void of not knowing
so that it can truly cherish the feminine principle. The Rapunzel in a man,
as well as a woman, must endure the scorching heat of the alchemical fires
of initiation where something is trying to be born--where gold is trying
to emerge from baser metals.
In the external world, it is also the initiatory process which allows women
and men to unpretentiously join with each other to co-create new inner and
outer worlds. The feminine is always found in the dark, and the feminine
principle is the principle of relatedness. Without encountering the hag,
without going into the dark, without the transformation of a maiden into
a wise woman, without conscious suffering, men and women cannot join as
allies in the struggle for survival in which the species and the planet
is engaged at this eleventh hour of the twentieth century.
Unfortunately, not only are the majority of men in our culture unwilling
to come to terms with the feminine shadow in themselves and in the world,
but so are many women. In the evolution of any movement for human dignity
and against oppression, there comes a time for introspection and taking
an honest look at how the oppressed have internalized the values and methods
of the oppressor. Some feminists, including Susan Faludi, Gloria Steinem
and Catherine MacKinnon claim to support women owning the ways in which
they have internalized patriarchy, yet they remain entrenched in what another
feminist, Naomi Wolf, calls "victim feminism." Victim feminism holds that
patriarchy is the same as "male hegemony" or a "sex/gender system" in which
men work to keep women cowering in submission. Some feminists claim that
men ultimately seek to turn all women into "Stepford Wives" or as Margaret
Atwood suggests in The Handmaids Tale, the hidden agenda of the male hegemony
is to transform women into female servants or personal attendants for the
entire male gender.
As is often the case with liberation movements, revolutions in attitudes
and behavior burst forth in spite of centuries of suppression, crying out
to be embraced and understood by an archaic, stultifying hierarchy of power
and control. In the early days of the womens movement in America, it was
essential to target male domination and sexism in all of the institutions
of the culture, as well as in the attitudes and beliefs of both genders.
However, if the principles of equality and womens empowerment are not grounded
in soul, in the feminine principle, and if the feminine shadow is not owned
in the culture and in an individual woman, inevitably and invariably, the
quest for expression of positive feminine values becomes yet another arena
for the unholy marriage of the shadow feminine and the destructive animus.
Shadow feminism, as I prefer to name it, now exudes a plethora of qualities
which bear a frightening resemblance to the negative masculine principle.
One hears a righteous arrogance regarding the female gender. Female values
and methods are perceived as "superior," while the male mode of feeling
and expression are derided as "inferior." Understandably, when one has been
deeply wounded by aggressive, invasive masculine energy or the absence of
a positive masculine presence in ones childhood, and when one grows up
in a culture where the positive masculine is disowned as much as the feminine
principle, it is difficult to open oneself to the possibility that constructive,
worthwhile masculinity even exists. However, outside of the fertile garden
of symbolic imagination, apart from soul, the quest for equity subtly and
seductively deteriorates into an arid, austere polarization that harms women
as well as men.
One of the most popular themes in current gender-polarizing feminism is
that of transformationism. This is essentially a belief in the superiority
of womens ways of knowing. Christina Hoff Sommers, philosophy professor
at Clark University, Boston, writes in her book, Who Stole Feminism: How
Women Have Betrayed Women, that this belief allows women to segregate themselves
in their own culture and increases divisiveness along gender lines. What
is more, Sommers points out, this doctrine ironically allows insecure men
to patronize women once more, denouncing them as the irrational sex that
thinks with its heart and not its head.
When the shadow of anything is at work, we can be certain that soul will
be betrayed by skewed definitions and profaned themes. The very word transformation
is a case in point. The process of transformation has to do with the changing
of the essential nature of someone or something--the caterpillar-to-butterfly
metamorphosis that necessarily involves death, decomposition and rebirth
and that reverberates throughout body, mind and spirit. The negative masculines
forte is its ability to usurp some aspect of the feminine, such as transformation
, gut its internal organs and strip bare its complex accouterments, setting
it down coldly, firmly and rigidly in cerebral academic parlance in the
name of "womens ways of knowing." Furthermore, the negative masculine cannot
allow that both women and men have different and unique ways of knowing.
It cannot tolerate the possibility that both kinds of knowing can exist
side by side, complement each other and offer balance when a surplus of
one or the other develops. No, the negative masculine must be superior,
and usually with a great deal of righteous arrogance.
Yet another aspect of shadow feminism is its lack of soul. The absence of
humor, wit and beauty is palpable in its heady denouncements of the "sex/gender
system." In fact, gender-polarizing feminism attacks many forms of art and
advocates in the words of Catherine MacKinnon, an ability to "see through
art and create the uncompromised womens visual vocabulary." Unable to distinguish
any differences between misogyny and lightheartedness, the new feminism
leaves one cold with its barren lack of humor and its incessant suspicion
that every joke, every nude painting or sculpture of the female body is
a subtle form of sexism worming its way into our patriarchally-programmed
consciousness. In the name of honoring the feminine, the negative masculine
has turned many of these women into what Christina Sommers calls "gender
wardens," policing, patrolling and surveilling the culture for any and all
manifestations of misogyny.
In the middle of writing this, I happened to tune in to a local television
news broadcast in which the lead story featured a ghastly report of a young
mother who two weeks prior had intentionally dropped her fourteen month-old
male infant into a pan of scalding water. The child suffered severe burns
for which he received no treatment and then died. Several months before
this incident occurred, a woman in the San Francisco Bay area grabbed her
toddler foster son in a fit of rage, shoved a garden hose down his throat
to punish him for crying, and when his crying did not cease, she then tore
off his pants, forced the garden hose into his anus and severely lacerated
his colon. The toddler died within two days.
When I hear stories of women abusing children, I am not only horrified on
behalf of innocent, helpless children who are victims of such atrocities,
but I am also deeply shaken by the capacity among all human beings for committing
evil, heinous acts of violence. In the early days of my involvement with
feminist politics, I usually filtered stories of child abuse by females
through my feminist analysis. Of course, I deduced, women are burdened with
almost total responsibility for childcare, and when the burden becomes too
heavy, they snap. After all, women are an oppressed class--a victimized
minority. Were it not for the oppression women have received from men, according
to my worldview at that time, they would never commit violent acts.
Today as I approach the age of fifty, reflecting back on my own childhood
in which I was abused on many levels by females and witnessing the culture
around me which is now the most violent society in the history of the human
race, as I am doing my own "shadow work" and recognizing my own capacity
for violence and aggression, I have come to the painful and humbling awareness
that women do not behave violently merely because they have been oppressed
by men. The hag lurks in the shadows of every womans inner world, and if
a woman does not pay sufficient attention to her, and if a woman lacks sufficient
ego strength and psychic defense structures, the hag will inevitably erupt.
A woman will almost never grab an ouzi and walk into a public place spraying
people she doesnt even know with bullets. Typically, the hag overwhelms
a woman in the secluded drudgery of her home where children scream and fuss,
always wanting something, triggering an avalanche of terror and rage in
defense against being devoured by their needs. Or perhaps the hag is being
projected onto a woman by her emotionally and physically violent husband
or boyfriend. Unaware of her own hag, groomed from an abusive childhood
to unconsciously gravitate toward and remain in abusive relationships, and
caught in the web of her partners devouring anima, she sees no other options
than to kill or be killed.
Even more frightening is the reality that women, as well as men, are becoming
more violent. In the California county in which I reside, between l992 and
1993, a fifty-percent increase occurred in arrests of female spouses for
battering male partners. Arrests for males battering females increased by
only eighteen percent. An increase in female violence seems to be occurring
in a number of areas of the nation. The CBS television news program Sixty
Minutes recently featured a story about Paxton Quigley, author of Armed
And Female, a woman who a decade ago crusaded ardently for gun control.
Today, Ms. Quigley is teaching women how to arm themselves and develop impeccable
marksmanship skills. Sarah Brady, co-author of the Brady Bill challenges
Quigleys position that having a gun makes a woman safer. A woman may feel
safer with a gun, says Brady, but she isnt.
I cannot help but imagine that standing on the edge of a firing range full
of women clad with noise protectors and plastic goggles blasting bullets
into the center of a target is the hag, holding her sides with laughter.
Women, as well as men, are now doing her dirtywork, and once again, no one
sees the hag, who wants to be seen, yet does not want to be seen, at the
core of the volcano of violence spewing across the nation.
While victim feminism remains unwilling to look at the feminine shadow,
one would hope that the feminine spirituality or goddess-based aspects of
female culture would open itself to the full range of energies imbedded
in the archetypal feminine. For the most part, this has not been the case.
Female mythopoetic writers such as Jean Shinoda Bolen, Vicki Noble and Demetra
George explore the mysteries of the dark feminine, yet there seems to be
a consensus among them that, in Demetra Georges words, "...the malefic
nature of the Dark Goddess, as she is embodied in our psyches as personal
demons contained within the feminine shadow, is not by nature inherently
evil...The negativity and evil associated with the dark feminine is not
her true essence; it has only become distorted in this way through our personal
In a world where aggression, violence, betrayal and exploitation are epidemic
among both genders, we need to stop kidding ourselves: In both the feminine
shadow and the masculine shadow resides the potential to do unfathomable
harm to ourselves, other human beings and the earth. There are evil aspects
to the dark goddess. Ginette Paris, university professor and author of Pagan
Meditations and The Sacrament Of Abortion writes of the goddess, Artemis,
who had a reputation for making bloody sacrifices.
Regarding the dark nature goddesses, Paris explains:
Nature Goddesses are sometimes linked to a bucolic sentimentality, the belief
in innate goodness championed by nineteenth-century romanticism and seen
today in the resurgence of interest in forgotten Goddesses. But there is
more than one type of nature Goddess....
The image of an ancient pre-patriarchal matriarchy, snug as grandmothers
house, does not jibe with the dark side of Artemis, symbolized by a crescent
moon. Nor does it jibe with another lunar Goddess, Hecate the terrible,
who is the dark side of the moon, symbol of sorcery and magic. Both Artemis
and Hecate, who is always clothed in black, have a harsh edge to them that
rules out pastoral romanticism and balances out the generous side of the
nourishing Goddesses. There is no such thing as a good Goddess and a less
good one. Each is an aspect of reality, and in every religion that recognizes
a maternal deity fostering life theres a complementary figure standing
for death, ending, rupture. Mother nature is both the giver of life and
the taker of life, for there is no life without death. It is therefore appropriate
to correct the too sweet and tender view of predominantly matriarchal religions
by remembering the fearsome aspect to womens fully developed powers.
Ultimately, shadow feminism serves the very patriarchy it purports to "transform."
Books about "shadow work" and gender reconciliation do not become bestsellers,
as I discovered in my attempts to promote Goodwill Toward Men. Patriarchy
thrives on perpetuating the gender war from the nuclear family to the White
House. A system that relies on gender wars for its existence does not take
kindly to a "partnership Presidency" such as the one Bill and Hillary Clinton
have created. The bumper sticker, "Impeach Clinton--And Her Husband Too,"
is not some anomaly theme unique to a reactionary, blue-collar subculture.
It lies, in my opinion, at the heart of the well-orchestrated, vicious attacks
on the Clinton administration issuing from individuals and groups profoundly
threatened by equal partnership between women and men.
Ironically, the new feminism which fails to distinguish between a patriarchal
system, the masculine principle and individual males, not only perpetuates
gender wars, but in the final analysis, does not serve to empower women.
While it is true that many women truly are victims of male violence, sexism
and an economic system that still discriminates against them, it is also
true that just as a developing human being does not truly become an adult
until that person can be accountable for his/her flaws, individual women
and the female gender cannot empower themselves unless they are willing
to confront the shadow feminine, as well as all of the lovely, glorious,
awesome, mysterious wonders of the positive feminine.
To disown the feminine shadow and project ones suffering onto the male
gender invariably demeans women. Expounding on this irony, Christina Sommers
That is the corrosive paradox of gender feminisms misandrist (male-bashing)
stance: no group of women can wage war on men without at the same time denigrating
the women who respect those men. It is just not possible to incriminate
men without implying that large numbers of women are fools or worse....Misandry
moves on to misogyny.
Just as men need to make the distinctions Robert Johnson speaks of regarding
the masculine principle, women need to distinguish between their personal
fathers, their father complex, the father archetype, the animus, the individual
males in their lives and the masculine aspects of spirit or the divine.
In order to make these distinctions, a woman must develop a relationship
with the hags, witches and ogres in the feminine psyche. If she can do so,
she may also be able to bridge the gap between the feminine and masculine
within herself, as well as the gender gap in the external world.
Slowly, yet increasingly, some women and men are following their hearts
in search of gender reconciliation in an attempt to form equal partnerships
where both genders can build a universal human culture. An essential aspect
of this endeavor is the willingness of women and men to be accountable for
their part in the gender wars--an openness to owning how both women and
men have harmed each other, their own gender and themselves. In so doing,
men and women necessarily listen to each others pain. Only in the telling
and hearing of each others pain do we recognize how remarkably similar
we really are.
Perseverance through horrendous suffering enabled Rapunzel and the prince
to be re- united. Only through pain can a woman and man, or the masculine
and feminine aspects within an individual, be joined. This heart connection
between the feminine and masculine or with a beloved must be watered with
tears. Of this Aeschylus wrote: "He who learns must suffer. And even in
our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and
in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace
Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. is the author of Reclaiming the Dark Feminine
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