Status of women and matriarchy throughout the history of humanity <br> by Francesca Perone

“Three Women”- Umberto Boccioni (1909)

Status of women and matriarchy throughout the history of humanity
by Francesca Perone

Key words: matriarchy, female, history, Big Mother, condition, autonomization


The long and articulated human journey through the centuries, as described by historians and researchers, appears marked, at least until the first half of the twentieth century, by a noticeable domination of patriarchal culture, a male supremacy never explicitly hindered or questioned, with very painful repercussions for women.

E. De Conciliis[1], quoting Bourdieu theorizes that at the basis of this historical configuration there is an assumption of “habitual”: ‘in modern Western society the symbolic violence of the dominant towards the dominated, and in a paradigmatic form that of men towards women, is exercised through the incorporation of patterns of perception and evaluation of self and others, or with the complicity of subconscious mental structures learned early through bodily injunctions that he defines with the Latin word habitus, participle passive past of habeo, have: something received or acquired through learning, first through family education and then through school, and yet it is experienced by the individual who wears it as a natural disposition contributing to constitute the meaning and value of his social identity’.

In this perspective the patriarchy, prevailing in its phallic extremism, has maintained for centuries the female figure relegated to marginal roles, as described by various authors, as Cavina (2017) and as documented already in the time of Bachofen, author of the work “Das Mutterrecht” (Mother Right – 1861). Women, on the other hand, have often been discriminated against in many cultures of the world who recognized their abilities and tasks limited to procreation and care of children and the family in many world populations.

However, if on one hand historical data always bring us back to very long periods of patriarchal domination, on the other hand the long chain of events, from the vicissitudes of early man to this day, if read in depth, between the lines, reveals us a silent intense activity of “matriarchal” mechanisms, which have acted almost as a “shadow” aspect of humanity. These are elements of the feminine characterized by conservation, care, nourishment and maintenance of stability that in their extreme can obscure the evolutionary aspects of the individual (man or woman) and the collective. An intrapsychic configuration marked by the excess of these characteristics is revealed in behavioral manifestations of man and woman, often contradictory and self-destructive, even if apparently generated by loving intentions.

Grassi and Berivi[2], in addressing the issue of the harmful consequences of such mechanisms, point out in the note that ‘Talking about matriarchy does not mean talking about the power of women as such, but of a system of matriarchal values that can be acted by women as by men[3].

The Origins of Psychic Life

As already described elsewhere[4], in order to understand the different ways in which the action of matriarchy is carried out, it is necessary to deepen the knowledge of the subject, as it is treated by eminent authors, such as Eric Neumann (1956). This one, dealing with the theme of the archetype of the “Great Mother”, remarks as the elemental character of the feminine in its exacerbation or absence, comes to take shape, in the psychic life of the subject and in the collective, as the presence of the “Great Terrible Mother“; just like, according to Fornari[5], for the newborn child hunger is not the absence of food in the stomach, but the presence of a “monster” devouring the guts.

In principle what constitutes the tragedy of the state of discomfort of the newborn does not lie in its content (hunger, dirty diaper, need to cuddle), but in its incapability to imagine that soon the mother will intervene to remedy it. It is a moment that lasts a “forever“; the mother is intimately aware of it and that is why, if she is not disturbed by particularly deep discomforts, she cannot resist the baby crying and comes running. After the first experience of union with the mother, for example the sucking, whenever the newborn feels the sense of hunger he resorts to the notion of breast imagining the satisfaction of the need even before it even comes. Of course it is a gradual process, not an immediate one: the little individual becomes more and more able in the tasks: think, imagine, wait; but this requires a sort of training, a continuous repetition of the experience.

Neumann defines as primary nature the aspect of the feminine that tends, as a huge circle, large containing, to keep firm what rises from it and to surround it as an eternal substance; it is also expressed in offering protection, nourishing and heating. The conservative, steady and immutable aspect of this character of the feminine is predominant in the maternal and becomes evident in all cases where the Ego is still immature, the consciousness not yet developed the maternal subconscious has the supremacy in the psychic configuration of the subject.

The child initially lives himself as included in the maternal personality as still “imprisoned” in the subconscious. For that are necessary, as mentioned, the first unpleasant experiences (feeling the bite of hunger, for example) so that the child can imagine the presence of the mother next to him, which in the moment of despair is absent. It is at that moment, in fact, that he experiences the phenomenon of separateness and begins to understand that he and his mother are two different entities and not a single one. In this way the child’s small Ego begins to take shape, emerging from the unconsciousness amalgam in which it was like “enveloped“. In the relationship between the Ego and the unconsciousness we see a sort of psychic gravitation: it is as if the unconscious were a huge planet endowed with a powerful force of gravity from which the child’s Ego, just outlined, as a small rocket cannot take off. In this perspective the matriarchy is only the result of a form of prolonged imprisonment of consciousness given by some elements of the feminine that potentially block the evolution and the acquisition of autonomy by the individual. By an excess (of presence or absence) or a distortion of some aspects of the primary nature, consciousness is trapped and cannot make an adequate process towards “light“. This phenomenon occurs from birth which, for the newborn, is the first step of the process of identification, and is repeated along the ontogenetic path of man in history. So that the baby’s nascent Ego does not remain eternally trapped in the uroboric amalgam of maternal unconsciousness, it is necessary that the mother is skilled in activating the second character of the feminine: the transforming one, which presides over the essential ability of the individual to be autonomous. The action of this character is catalyzed and assisted by the ‘paternal’, who in the planetary metaphor above, acts as a counter-gravitational force compared to that of the large maternal planet, from which the child’s small Ego must take off. According to Neumann, regardless of whether a male or female being is involved in the process, consciousness is perceived as masculine. The release of the Ego from the maternal-feminine subconscious is a struggle of the male hero against the Great Mother. The transformer character is expressed in this process and facilitates it where the negative primary nature is not exacerbated. In fact, if the transforming character is too weak, the liberation process is perceived as a very harsh struggle against the Great Terrible Mother, that is, the darkest, deadliest and devouring aspect of the archetypal images of the maternal.

In descriptive terms, the first, fundamental parenting operations designed to facilitate the beginning of one’s own identification process is the rêverie to which Bion (1967) refers. With regard to the rêverie function of the parent, who constructs in the newborn the very apparatus “to think thoughts“, through the support and containment of the anguish of death that the child lives, Grassi (2010) suggests that the function of maternage is in reality a paternage component of the rêverie, not recognized by Bion himself. It consists in the ability to accept within itself the anguish of the newborn, make them own and metabolize them in order to transform them from concrete things in psychological experiences (thoughts and images). Understanding the sense of neonatal anguish and thus responding to that specific meaning adequately is a typically masculine function; this function of the animus, the highest (in its fourth manifestation, the Animus is the embodiment of the sense[6] ), can be exercised by both parents, but it is part of the anthropological baggage of the “paternal”.

The matriarchy throughout history

     1. Prehistory

In prehistoric societies, which based their livelihood on hunting and agriculture, man played the role of supplying game: he often moved away from camps and villages together with other men and returned after long hunting trips. The woman, instead, looked after the children and procured edible products by sowing and then devoting herself to harvesting. Later, in the Mesopotamian civilizations (Egypt, Persia, Assyria, Babylon), the female figure gained a prestige never had in the past, conquering a very high position within society. In these places the real presence of matriarchal social organizations in which the circle of women administered wealth, coordinated social life and largely determined the orientation of political life was documented; but then, with the rise of military monarchies, women, and with them the modus vivendi of their own, lost prestige. At that time the gynoecia were created, places located inside the dwellings from which women could not go out and where they could not see any man except the eunuchs and their husband.

     2. Greece

As analyzed by S. Blundell (1995), in Homeric Greece the woman was respected, but there were also numerous contradictions: in the age of Pericles, for example, the rich woman was kept at home, while poor women were forced to work leaving home and therefore enjoyed a certain degree of freedom.

The status of women in Greece seems variable, like any other historical reality, according to the different places and times included in the very extensive span of Greek history. However, some elements are considered constant of the female condition:

  • The widespread legal submission of women to men (with substantial exclusion from the right of citizenship);
  • The foreclosure of certain activities deemed monopoly of the male world;
  • On the other hand, the monopoly granted to women on certain activities that are prohibited (or otherwise dishonorable) for a man;
  • The consequent hatching of a feminine character considered “natural”, inverse and symmetrical with respect to the corresponding virile character, rather than ascribed to precise social, economic and cultural conditions. Women had no political rights (therefore they could not vote or be elected members of the assembly, during the age of the polis) and were not subject to legal legislation (a woman was not guilty, for example, of the crime of adultery, unlike the man, because she is considered “object of the crime“).

The woman spent time exclusively with other women in a circle of only women, often in contact with her husband’s mother, in the gynaeceum, so the latter had a primary role on her education[7].

Thus there were, in ancient Greece, two forms of matriarchal organization: the domestic gynaeceum, of which in fact the man was the “master” of the circle of women; and the brothel, managed by a woman (an hetaera) which, unlike his wife, enjoyed real economic independence and established a relationship with man based on forms of intellectual and commercial exchange. Even in this case, however, female freedom had a price: it excluded, in fact, the erotic relationship based on emotional/ sentimental involvement. Moreover, probably just because of the lack of submission of the hetaera, this one was however judged in a negative sense by the male community.

     3. Ancient Rome

As documented by Cenerini (2002), in the Roman legislation relating to marriage there was a very significant differentiating factor with respect to Greece: the Roman woman (the filia familias) was in fact endowed with economic rights that allowed her to inherit from the pater familias and to dispose (albeit within very narrow limits) of the ancestral heritage. However, this faculty was largely compensated by the widespread prejudice, soon ratified in law, so that women, as a consequence of a natural infirmitas or imbecillitas mentis (intellectual weakness) could not make decisions without being supported by a legal guardian (male, adult and citizen), for this reason they did not have ius suffragii and ius honorum. Apart from civil rights, matrons played actually the same role held in Greece by the γυνή: taking care of the domus within the Roman family, under the protection and support of the pater familias, be it the father or the husband.

Despite the apparent favor enjoyed by Roman women, compared to the Greek, the elaboration of secular stereotypes on the character of women (think only of Juvenal) owes to Roman culture even more than it owes to Greek culture: The Christians will inherit those stereotypes from the Romans, who, despite the egalitarianism animating primitive Christianism, will not be long to make their own and even to increase the sexist prejudices of pagan culture.

    4. Christianity

As Valerius documents (2016), Christianity considered the submission of women to men to be natural, but women, however, were considered important because they had to raise their children spiritually. In the spread of Christian culture, which penetrated and integrated the pre-existing Celtic culture, through various passages, women, considered because they were attributed great powers (the fairies and witches), were eventually considered representatives of the Devil on Earth, able to mislead man by pushing him to sin in any way.

In Christianity, God was defined in typically masculine terms, such as father, lord, king, judge, also confirmed, where possible, in artistic iconography. This was also confirmed by the formulation of the Trinitarian dogma, which associated the idea of a “God father” that of a “God son”, while the third person of the Trinity (neutral in the Greek expression of pneuma and feminine in the Jewish expression of ruah) is likewise translated into European languages with the masculine term “Spirit“.

     5. Gnosticism

In the same historical period, as described by Moraldi (1982), however, there existed a Christian-Gnostic tradition[8] that described God in terms of sexed duality: a Gnostic prayer recited: ‘From you, Father, and through you, Mother, the two immortal names, parents of the divine being‘. According to the gnostic Valentine, although in reality indescribable, God could be expressed as “Father and Mother of the All“, or “Father Silence” (alogia, feminine) where the “Silence” was conceived as the womb receiving the seed from the “Ineffable source”, generating pairs of male and female energy.

It was, perhaps for the first time in the history of religions, approached the feminine-receptive principle to the masculine-penetrating one, and both, in union, recognized as bases of the universal generativity[9]. The great importance assumed in Gnosis by the female element corresponded to an important role represented by women in the Gnostic communities, even in those in which a less radical theology under the “feminist” aspect had developed, like the Marcionism, which recognized women the right to become priests and bishops, as with the Valentinians; the Montanism, which seems to have been founded by two women, Prisca and Massimilla and Carpocratian.

In the second half of the second century, the controversy against the Gnostic doctrines, already underway, assumed greater impetus, especially because of the invectives of Bishop Irenaeus. The controversy, of course, concerned the equal role of men taken on by women in the Gnostic Christian communities.

     6. The Middle Age

The Middle Ages represents a long historical period full of contradictions and characterized, in Italy and in Europe, by the importance of the Catholic Church in different wars, in culture and, more generally, in society.

From the 5th century onward, Christian convents allowed women to escape the established role of wife and mother, allowing them to acquire literacy and even higher levels of education, as well as playing a more active religious role. Even in this case, therefore, as for vestals in ancient Rome, the woman had the opportunity to acquire a dignified social status outside the narrow domestic landscape, only through religion, which even guaranteed an education.

     7. The Renaissance

As described by Archangels and Peyronel (2008), with the Renaissance the position of women changed radically, both in political and historical events, and in society. The female figure no longer existed as a passive object of exchanges decided by men, guardians or family members, based on alliance strategies. Although marriage was still the central point that linked the destinies of the most important families and sometimes that of entire states, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries women began to occupy different spaces, becoming protagonists of historical events and in some cases of wars. Thanks to the dynamics of blood descent, Renaissance women (duchesses, marquises, princesses or queens) entered politics. Their role was still often marginal and female education was more modest than that of men, but female figures often dominated the complex political and cultural landscape of this period.

Even not famous women held different roles than in the past: many, in fact, had access to disciplines previously closed to them, such as medicine; previously they could only practice, and in a purely empirical way, certainly not scientific, the art of midwifery, traditionally considered the prerogative of women, as narrated by Worth (2002). As described by De Col (2008) and others (1975, 1984), healers and herbariae were clearly skilled to administer treatments that were no less effective and safe than medication and doctors. On the other hand, the population, essentially rural, had no other possibility of treatment than to use their remedies, less expensive than those coming from official medicine. This fact probably made “envious” the experienced men who saw themselves defrauded of a role considered almost sacred, therefore, often with false arguments (crime, satanic rites, heresy), sustained only to justify a real persecution, these women were accused of witchcraft, heresy or black magic. Many of them, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, were burned at the stake. The ghost of a matriarchy based on black magic loomed, augmented by prejudice, therefore different methods of torture (also coded) were devised and implemented to extort confessions of questionable credibility from these women and then have material on which to base the fatal outcome of the inquisition: the stake.

The magnitude of the “witch hunt” phenomenon (which also included magicians and sorcerers) has assumed, in the three waves since the 1400, the proportions of a real holocaust. The estimates that are most widely accepted speak of about 110,000 trials, held in several countries and often culminated in death sentences.

    8. The eighteenth century

In the 18th century the social condition of women underwent important changes, but only in the upper classes. Salons spread, especially in France: meetings of intellectuals, artists and philosophers in private salons (and for men also in cafés) where social, cultural and political issues were discussed. Many women were allowed to meet and converse, thus began the precursors of what would later become the process of self-consciousness that led women to be aware of their state of subordination to the male sex. The increasingly widespread of the known cultural current called “The Age of Enlightenment“, because of which a matrix of thought founded on prejudice and tradition, now obsolete, was replaced by a new way of interpreting reality, based on reason, made men and women aware of the fact that the woman should also be entitled to rights until then denied. Therefore, at the salons, women began to talk about their status as wives, mothers and women, coming to formulate independence hypotheses’ and creating the preconditions for the generation of that movement that has proposed (and is still proposing today) the precise purpose of achieving the equality of women to men, both in the civil and in the socio-political field, with the right of women to freely realize their personality and that is called today Feminism.

     9. Birth of Feminism

As can be inferred from Fraire’s contribution (1978), there are different dates to which the start of this movement is attributed. It is generally traced back to the period of the French Revolution, when in 1792 Olympe de Gouges presented to the revolutionary government a “Déclaration des Droits des Femmes” in which all civil and political rights were required for women. The term “feminism” came into use in the current meaning thanks to Hubertine Auclair since 1882. Before that it designated a male disease (“feminine type“, sissy). The first feminists fought in France for the right to divorce (1872-81): Dumas son will call them “feminists“, but in a pejorative meaning. About a year after the release of the “Déclaration des Droits des Femmes“, a book titled “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” by Mary Wollstonecraft was published, marking the beginning of the feminist movement in England. The first country in the world to obtain women’s suffrage was New Zealand, in 1893.

Later in England, thanks to the text of the English writer John Stuart Mill, “The Subjection of Woman” of 1869 English women obtained the right to vote, but only limited to municipal councils and then, in 1880, to county councils. In 1903, a feminist political movement was born that fought, with rallies and public demonstrations, to obtain the right to vote for women: the militants were called suffragettes. In 1918 the long-awaited right to vote was obtained.

In the United States, feminists fought just as tenaciously, without resorting to violent actions: their typical demonstrations were parades, processions with torches and banners, rallies and protest marches aimed at raising public awareness. Just in the United States, however, there was, at the beginning of the century, a terrible episode that Women’s Day still remembers: on March 8th 1908, inside the building of the textile company in New York they worked in, 129 workers gathered on strike died during a sudden fire.

The feminist movement had come a long way and at that time Maria Montessori graduated in medicine. She was the third woman in Italy to graduate from that faculty. That basic assumption of matriarchal mold that later Friedan[10] will call “mysticism of femininity” shared by men and women (although the latter often lived it with resentment), according to which the woman was that being always devoted to the exclusive care of domestic affairs, began to be strongly questioned, but continuing to operate in the individual and collective subconscious. This fact resulted, from then on, as an oxymoronic trend in the history of women: to collective struggles in the square and in the workplace, we assisted to second thoughts in the private sphere. So many women, arrived at the goal of marriage, gave up what they had won until the day before. As documented by C. Saraceno (1980), although having children in the 70s was no longer a socially unavoidable stage, it was still a decisive yardstick on femininity. Even today, two thousand years of patriarchal history weigh on women’s mentality. As a reaction, they “avenge” their own submission by choosing power and competition with the opposite sex in place of the relationship.

     10. Between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

At the turn of the 20th century, the birth of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud threw a new light on female psychology and on individual pathologies that had a contributing factor in the social situation of subordination to man and lack of both sexual satisfaction and self-realization outside the home. The frustration generated in women specific disorders, identified especially on the side of hysteria (from histerëcus = uterus in late Latin)[11] . Initially the clinical picture, in interpreting such pathologies, had yielded to the prejudice according to which the hysteria was a sign of a little gifted, immature, suggestible and hyperemotional personality, but then, thanks to the studies of Freud and his colleague Breuer, reported in the four volumes Studies on hysteria[12], it was proved that this kind of patients was not at all characterized (women or men who were) by these recurring characteristics. The two scholars list several examples to prove this thesis: ‘Miss Anna O… is of remarkable intelligence, with an acute intuition and a surprising ability to grasp the relationships between things. This vigorous intellect would have had the opportunity to feed on a valid spiritual nourishment, which it would have needed, but that instead he no longer received after the end of school’[13]. In this description we can also see the aspect of bitter renunciation of aspirations that would have led her to a higher intellectual satisfaction than that which she was allowed to achieve.

     11. Since the 1960s

Of the composite movement known as “Feminism”, born in the sixties, the first important goal, as mentioned, was the achievement of the right to vote for which the suffragettes fought. As a result of the world wars, women, who had replaced in the workplace the many men sent to the front, gained more roles in society and opportunities for work outside the family. Other important stages were: the possibility of divorce, the legalization of abortion and economic independence. At the same time a flourishing current of studies on the condition of women was born; even classical studies have experienced a widespread awakening of interest in the history, sociology, anthropology of the female world in ancient times. The result was an independent line of research, the so-called “Women’s Studies”, documented by A. Taronna (2004), particularly fertile in English-speaking (especially in the US ) and French-speaking, and today fully canonized. The prevailing interest of Women’s Studies focused on male talks about women, on the social and cultural construction of stereotypes and prejudices related to the female world, on their frequent assumption of pseudo-scientific dogmas and on their constitution in a complete theory of sexual difference (the so-called “Gender Studies”, researches based on the differences between sexes).

Criticism of the “female role” began in 1963 with the release in the USA of Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique[14], in which the author analyzed the historical process that led the woman to self-lock up in domestic roles. With the term “Feminine Mystique” in fact she described woman’s mindset in the fifties that did not differ much from the nineteenth century Victorian one: the young woman of that period, in fact, in some cases studied, often found a job, but all this was meant to be an intermediate step in view of the moment to get married, have children and become the “hearth angel” that everyone expected from her. Betty Friedan lived the conflict, typical of many of her contemporaries, between what seemed natural and what she would have wanted (without however having a precise idea, knowing only the bitterness of the disappointment of knowing that everything stops in this very moment, and that no use will be made of everything learned) and interviewing a few years later several students she caught the thick spirit of resignation masked by a self-imposed, hypocritical form of joy, but subtly veined by that bitterness she perceived a few years before. In that dark, powerful, feeling hidden to consciousness lies that matriarchal spirit which threatens to deteriorate femininity rather than elevate it (the psychological situation in which, as Neumann says, the unconscious prevails along with some “conservative” feminine characteristics).

Even Italy can boast some eminent representatives of conscientization and subsequent testimony of women situation in the late fifties and sixties: for example Ada Prospero Marchesini Gobetti represented a point of reference for the young women of the 1950s, through her activity as a publicist and editor of columns published in “L’Unità” and “Paese Sera” newspapers. The author illustrated a new and different way of life that democratic thought could give to the existential path of man, woman and family, changing the entire society. Her writings warned women against the temptation, much more powerful and subtle than one could then imagine, to surrender to the masculinist precepts, expressed in a conservative way, still in vogue after the war, despite the fact that equal rights were now formally enshrined in the Italian Constitution. In 1951, she sarcastically commented[15] on André Maurois’s well-known Course of Domestic Happiness, which was published in several European countries and read on radio. The author used a fictional couple, Filippo and Marisa, whose happy union had to be based on a kind of “balance“, implying the loss of identity of the wife to please her husband. A striking example of this dynamic is the moment when Marisa “threatens” Filippo telling him that she will continue her studies to make an independent career and Filippo ‘feels his sovereign will soar and decides to prevent it by marrying her[16].

Ada Gobetti clearly noted how traces of late nineteenth-century morality continued in a contradictory reality characterized by hopes and fears, tradition and modernity in conflict with each other emphasizing how it was socially maintained a precarious balance of quiet ignorance, challenged by some scholars and pedagogists (such as Gramsci and Lombardo Radice in Italy; Dewey, Kilpatrick and Decroly in the Anglo-Saxon reality and Makarenko in Soviet Union) between resiliencies and oppositions, especially in matters of secularization of the school. Ada Gobetti inserted herself into this ideological line by pointing out to the public that the education rate in those years was still too low, especially for women, and that only at an adequate cultural level it was possible to achieve a process of conscientization of their own condition such as to put in place behavioral strategies capable of overcoming that obsolete false morality, yet still active, and generate a change in society. What has been noted by Gobetti is a typical matriarchal mechanism: women are still, to this day, partly subjugated by the “Feminine Mystique“. Because of this unconscious attraction they risk to self-destruct themselves by renouncing to any extra-domestic aspiration and subsequently they can also meet aggressive matrix acting outs towards the man for whom they sacrificed themselves projecting on him the responsibility (often effectively shared), of their own renunciations.

However the revolutionary female response to male sexist oppression if on one hand has served women to gain new social dignity, on the other hand in some of its manifestations it has tilted the balance in the opposite way, where, paradoxically, the feminine has darkened by conquering the phallicism of the previous patriarchy and turning the woman into a modern Amazon. The woman is a very efficient virago, but suffering, perpetually tired and deeply alone. The woman, in fact, falling into the misunderstanding that equal rights were identified with equal roles, has put herself in competition with the opposite sex trying to perform all possible functions, without any regard for some aspects of femininity that should be carefully preserved.

The voice of the Animus

In order to more accurately analyze this dynamic, it is helpful to refer to C. G. Jung’s formulations, which properly portrayed the features of the male and female subconscious, employing the concepts of “animus” and “anima”[17]. According to the author, the psychic life of each individual is host to contra-gender elements, with feminine features for men and masculine ones for women, similarly to the biological framework (women carry a small quantity of male hormones, just as men carry female hormones). This “quota”, not only allows us to be more complete humans, but allows each one of us to understand and approach the opposite gender. In men, the anima, is responsible for the feminine traits such as sensibility, receptivity, intuition and welcoming spirit, while the animus in women provides willpower, rationality, planning abilities and determination.

Jung defined “Animus” (Latin term for spirit) the personification of the male subconscious in women’s dreams. As for the Anima, the Animus develops in a four-stage process that was laid out by Marie Louise Von Franz in the following way: ‘Initially it reveals itself as the personification of physical power: as an athlete, a muscular man. In the subsequent phase it shows its initiative and capability to execute a planned activity. In the third phase the Animus evolves into “speech” […]. Finally, in its fourth and final stage, it embodies meaning. In this ultimate evolution (just as for the Anima) it mediates the religious experience, giving life a new meaning. It provides women with spiritual assertiveness, an invisible interior support that compensates for the external fragility.’[18] At this higher stage, the interior man provides a connection to the self. It embodies the capabilities of courage, spirit and truth of the woman and it connects it with the source of its inner creativity. However, just as for the “Vampire-Soul” in men, the negative side of the Animus presents itself as a parasite, it carries the brutality, detachment, stubbornness which hinders the growth and development of women. Consequently, many women “exceed” in some features of the Animus, at the expense of authentic femininity which is typical of the Anima: it’s an unconscious dynamic that Emma Jung[19] defined as “Animus take over”. To distinguish negative and positive features of the Animus, Von Franz states:

‘The positive animus is the deepest instinctive awareness of inner truth, a fundamental truth that guides the spiritual woman in its inner exploration process, towards the opportunity of self-accomplishment. It’s the opposite of the negative Animus which is a con artist. (…) The male side in women (…) misbehaves only when women can’t interact with it wisely. A woman without Animus carries no energy, resourcefulness, intelligence or initiative. A poor creature with only a womb to bear children and hands to cook. A woman without Animus is nothing. Hence, we can see how extremely beneficial the Animus is. It is intelligence and spiritual yearning. All the spiritual sense of woman is tied to the Animus. Consequently, we can state the Animus in women spans from the devil to the Holy Ghost.’[20] It’s due to the Animus that women can express capabilities beyond their household duties. The negative aspects are nothing but an extremization of the positive ones, that would emerge with excessive vigor, eroding femininity, namely sensibility and receptivity, that shouldn’t be drowned out but should “bond” with the Animus’ features. A trait of the Animus that is commonly extremized in women’s psyche is rationality, which evolves into unwavering certainty, even when based on an opinion built on unknown presumptions. “The Animus’ opinions often manifest as solid convictions which are hard to shake, or as unfathomable principles.[21]

Referring to the firmness with which women defend their opinions as if they were certain, while “entranced by the voice of the Animus”, Jung himself states that the Animus acts not like a man inside of the woman, but as a plurality of men, a choir: “The Animus manifests not as a unit, but as a group”. […] This plurality of sentencing judges doubles as the Animus’ personification.

Von Franz, while describing a woman energetically possessed by the negative Animus, states that it has a single goal: staging an argument and wanting to win it at any cost, without holding back. However, if the man reacts, the woman then turns into a hurt child. ‘The Animus driven woman loves enacting this double play with a man. It initially attacks them brutally, with great violence and verbal malice. Nonetheless, as soon as the man reacts, she transforms into a sweet innocent child that is being attacked by a monster, regardless of the fact that she cast the first stone. This is the behavior of what I define as Animus-gangster. It uses the child as a shield so that no one can take a hit at the gangster. The Animus-Gangster woman is on one hand an insecure and sensitive child, that no man would try to harm, and on the other hand a brutal beast that attacks with malice. She complains that the man won’t listen, while reprimanding him aggressively. The man faces and uneasy situation, since the tears of the woman make him feel guilty. It is in truth a trick. The woman aims at making him feel guilty, and the man, that feels like a monster for causing the tears of a woman, is fooled. He is cornered and uncomfortable, and reacts inadequately’[22]

In the Animus driven woman, the spiritualizing masculine part tries to emerge to be recognized, but in doing so it suffocates femininity, turning into exhibitionistic phallicism. The four main features of the Animus (willpower, initiative, speech and thought), are amplified to a point to eclipse the feminine aspects of the soul (restraint, patience, flexibility, receptivity, intuition for other’s malicious intentions) rendering incomplete the woman’s identity, despite her showcasing an apparent self confidence that often turns into arrogance. The conceitedness, pedanticism and carelessness of this type of woman often masks a deep insecurity caused by a lack of touch with some parts of the self.

The consequences of matriarchal domain

Which could be the consequences of the prevalence of maternal elementary features in the psychic life of the individual and this dominion by the Animus that we can summarize, out of comfort, as “matriarchy”? The causes of what has been described so far are easily traced in current times, in our parenting style and in many mental disorders: The combination of a motherly mindset of trying to keep the psychic life of the child in a state of warmth and comfort (which in turn castrates it), and a negative fatherly figure, can generate ‘identity confusion and relevant forms of mental disorders, such as substance abuse and personality disorders in the worst cases, or as school problems, peer interaction difficulty up to promiscuity, automation difficulty, problems with authority in lighter cases, but which are also the most common in our society.’[23]

1 – Hyper-care

We refer to a parent as the person that provides the parenting, namely the set of behaviors regarding the capability to protect the child and support its development. Parenting hence is the ability to play the part of parent, employing actions aimed at nourishing, looking after, protecting, providing affection and support, educating, encouraging autonomy and independence of the offspring. “Analyzing the existing literature, it emerges that there are numerous risk factors linked to the development of internalizing pathologies (of the child): depressive or anxious traits in parents, the lack of affection, excessive punishment or psychological control”[24]. To be a proper parent, the individual shouldn’t be affected by deep psychological pathologies, it should be able to feel and manifest affection, should be capable of balancing punishment and reward, and shouldn’t overdo in managing the psychological aspects of the child, in order to favor a healthy self-discovery process.  Ada Gobetti (p. 16) states that to be a good mother, a woman should also be able to live outside the household environment; a woman that spends all her time exclusively looking after children will insert her emotivity in this environment, without having the chance of expressing it in other contexts, while a woman that has also professional duties can do so. That’s why she will probably fall into the paradigm of hyper-care, not only in a material sense, but also and especially in psycho-emotive sense; this escalation of “elementary character” (see p. 3) correlates to a feeling of need of children and need of the children to be in a constant state of need, always young, otherwise the mother risks losing the only thing she can do (i.e. taking care of them) and alongside her own identity (which is solely based on her being a mother). This risk isn’t exclusively found in the “housewife”: although women have taken conscience of their subordinate position to men and fought for equal rights, often mistaken as equal roles, the mechanism by which recently women were and still partly fall prey to “myth of femininity” has been analyzed, which brings them to neglect everything unrelated to being the queen of the household and mother, exasperating the role of caregiver at any cost, with consequences in the relationships and social spheres of her life.

Berivi and Grassi[25] have analyzed the matriarchal follies, meant as the distortion of the care-giver role embodied by the mother that suffers repercussions on personal, familiar and social level. The field of developmental psychology counts many studies that focus on this phenomenon. The authors, alongside clarifying that in patriarchal society women are often victims which are marginalized or put in a state of submission, examine the consequences of hyper-care, as defined by Patrizi et al: ‘Hyper-care/overprotection is an intrusive and anxious parenting style that doesn’t allow the child to face the life’s natural challenges and blocks the development of challenge management abilities’ (2010). In this analysis we can identify the underlying phenomenon referenced throughout this whole work, entangled with the ‘countless feral coils that mothers secretly weave around their children, in our world that, beyond disclaiming the inherent violence found in these behaviors, ignores the madness and furthermore encourages it in all of its aspects: psychological, cultural, social, juridical and economic. This contributes to maintain a status quo in which men are allowed to react violently, children develop mental disorders and women are increasingly relegated to a victim role, which on the one hand faces them with hideous misdeeds and on the other hand sentences them to existential solitude, in exchange of a minor perk: always being daughters in need of help.’

Hence, if caring for someone, as mothers normally do, includes a set of morally irreproachable activities, when done out of need it takes on suffocating features. Nooddings (1984) states that there’s no reciprocity to be expected in the ethics of care, since caring for someone requires disinterest, it is carried out without receiving anything back and implies making space in one’s life for the other. However, caring for someone could also be performed out of self-referential narcissism, pleasing a personal need of self-validation that oversteps the act of taking care or donating oneself to the other, and gives meaning to one’s existence: “I exist because I am the center of your universe”, or, “Since I’m taking care of you, I expect you will never leave me”. In these cases, hyper-care is the passivation of the other, undermining their autonomy and offering in one go both the reward that constraints the child, which could be of material nature (like undeserved expensive gifts) or the emotional appeasement stemming from being always serviced by someone else and at the same time the self-directed feeling of being needed in the life of the other. In this framework, even the natural sexuality catalyzer, that usually emerges during adolescence, is insufficient to detach from this relationship; it might develop regardless, but with predatorial and not reciprocal features. The concerning increase of episodes of violence and harassment towards women are probably a result of this subconscious pattern: stripping the other of value and objectifying them. An “object” can be hit, damaged up to destruction, since it’s merely an object; this intrapsychic phenomenon is called “dehumanization”. The only true “person” is the mother, of which an immaculate internalized image is preserved; the perception of maternity as “terrible” since it results into imprisonment has to be kept afar and hidden in the subconscious. Bergeret[26] states that the result of this removal is a depression, it’s the result of the action of a dark and negative unconscious parental image which results in living without an aim; which is what Galimberti[27] defines as “nihilism”: a lack of perspectives, future planning, irresolution that forces a withdrawal in the past and in the golden years of infancy.

A social consequence of this internal configuration is the transition from a rule-oriented family to the current affection driven one, enacted by our generations, which might have the dangerous drawbacks of overvaluing personal needs and the extremization of individual freedom, which is common in the inbred framework. But won’t this lack of rules and clear boundaries, the undifferentiation of roles and generational levels, break down the natural barriers to incestuous desires of children and parents? Won’t this extend unnaturally the narcissistic seduction? Recamier, regarding incest, states the following:

   2- Seduction

Immediately after birth, a reciprocal seduction mechanism is established between mother and child which is physiological and necessary to generate a peaceful union between the two. ‘The prenatal bodily union is replaced by another sort of conjunction: the narcissistic seduction will embody its fuel and building material. The mother and child will seduce one another… as if both needed to be part of one another… The newborn will have to seduce the mother, who is disappointed by the fact that it (the child) isn’t as wonderful as she envisioned and in her expectations for future motherhood… the mother has to seduce the newborn, disappointed by its birth since he has to fight for air and food.’[28] The author then points out how this narcissistic seduction is taken down by two main forces:

  • Force of growth, that naturally encourages the individual towards autonomy and differentiation;
  • Sexual Forces, which push the individual to detach from the narcissistical niche of the exclusive relationship, enclosed in the motherly aura, and drive it towards the world.

These two forces challenge the self-referential narcissistic seduction, which only include the mother in the child’s interests. The result of this decline is similar to the aftermath of the flood of a river which can be as positive as it can be devastating. In the first case, as for the river Nile, the flood will leave behind a silt, a fertile substance that will enrich the personality of the individual, recognizable in interpersonal skills and a generic “concept of the self”. This feature makes the person well adjusted to the world, able to recognize reality and able to “be with” someone, through empathy and reciprocated recognition. In the second case, however, the result will be ominous since the narcissistic relationship will tend to be extended indefinitely, due to the mother rejecting the idea of breaking this magic dyad, which clashes with any sort of intrusion (including paternal intrusion) and will cling to the child, keeping it in a golden cage. She will do so overplaying the naturality of the narcissistic seduction and its role in teaching how to build relationships, hence rendering asymmetrical the relationship and manipulating the child into non-rebellion. She will do so by following her need of narcissistic validation using the child as a mirror that will always reflect a flattering and reassuring self-image. She will use the child as a complement, a guarantee of her identity, a way to validate her existence. In this colourful yet truthful scheme, the child will lose autonomy or might end up never acquiring it. Three dogmas are the groundwork for this distorted[29] form of the natural and beneficial primary narcissism:

Together we are enough and we don’t need anyone

Together and united we will prevail on everything

If you leave me, I will die

According to Recamier, the rise of sexual drive during a forced reiteration of the narcissistic seduction, results in incest. Not necessarily the standard, violent, traumatic and degrading form of incest. In many cases, in fact, what emerges in the mother-son couple driven by a secondary motherly narcissism, is an “incestual” behaviour in which victim and perpetrator trade roles in a conflict which is, in truth, a love skirmish; the relationship is symmetrical since the generational barrier is broken and “friendly” familiar configurations emerge, in which the child would, for example, behave as a husband, the mother as a needy daughter, brother and sister as lovers. The groundwork for this is the same as for actual incest: incest serves an abusive narcissistic seduction; sexual abuse is the extension and completion of narcissistic abuse. Also, the incestuous setting presents this feature and acts similarly on a psychic level, even without the violent invasion of the body of the other. A defining trait of the incestuous setting is “adulation: no son or daughter can resist the idea of being necessary not only for the happiness, but the parent’s life itself. Another fundamental feature is “exclusivity”: the incestuous setting is a couple setting; the other (the father, in the mother-son scenario) doesn’t exist, and, if present, is relegated to the edge of familiar life. It’s worth mentioning Grassi and Berivi in this context: ‘If the father is marginalized, either actively from the mother or due to his own will, the incestuous barrier is removed to give space to the central masturbatory fantasy well laid out by the Laufer spouses (1984), easy to envision in the setting in which mothers end up actually alone with their children, as it goes in single parent families’[30]

    3- Violence and Dependence

Analyzing the relational possibilities of a child subject to hyper-care, one wonders how it can be the woman outside the family, chosen after pre-teen years to the eruption of sexuality. Probably she will always appear disappointing for this kind of child, because she will never be caring, warm and fulfilling like her mother; and she will be even more so when and if she decides to leave her partner, then she “will deserve” even to die, a bit for the serious betrayal set in place (a mother would have never left him), a bit because it is an object, a thing guilty of having disappointed his expectations in every respect. Among the most harmful consequences of this inner situation are violent personalities (also with variations of perversion that lead to the behavior of sex offenders). This hypothesis appears in line with the formulations of A. M. Cooper, according to which ‘the traumatic nucleus of many, if not all, perversions is the experience of frightening passivity towards the pre-Oedipal mother, perceived as dangerously malignant, harmful and omnipotent’[31] The development of a perversion, based on the principle of dehumanization of the body, would be a sort of reparation to this offense. Dehumanization is a strategy against the fear of human qualities, it protects from the sense of vulnerability that follows the feeling of love, from human unpredictability and from the sense of powerlessness that is unleashed in comparison with other human beings. This mechanism could be the basis of the concept of “anesthesia”, elaborated by F. Mele[32]. According to the author we all have at least two personalities: a daytime one and a night one, characterized by all those aspects that during the day, at work and in the family, cannot be revealed. When the individual reveals this aspect, he is capable to do everything that gives him the illusion to redeem daytime frustrations. The grandiose Self, thus, triumphs in a competition often facilitated by the intake of some narcotic substance and the subject gets to beat, rape and sometimes even kill without anyone, before, never even imagined that he could commit such acts. The subject is able to engage in a brutal sadistic action thanks to a kind of “moral anesthesia“, without which he could never commit it. The next day, in the newspapers, we will read that everyone, especially family members, swear that this was “a decent person“. If the crime is committed in a group, then, the anesthesia is made even more powerful by the dispersion of responsibility and the victim becomes the enemy. The underlying purpose of these actions is precisely to challenge, through an unprecedented physical power, the inner enemy, that terrible mother accompanied by a self-assessment that is intended to circumvent or win through the violent acting-out. The victim is the white screen on which the enemy’s image is projected; so it is not seen in its concrete reality, it is not even recognized as a person, it is canceled in the urgency of giving vent to the load of anger. In the mind of the sadist there is not an absence of moral conscience that follows the crime, on the contrary the conscience exists, but it is asleep in order to commit that act that makes the subject vent releasing a large share of frustration and aggression accumulated. The relationship is bypassed: according to S. Bach[33], exploiting a person is much easier than enter into relation to him, because while a relationship requires dialogue and exchange, very sophisticated mechanisms requiring emotional and cognitive effort, exploitation is unilateral and requires nothing but force, intimidation or cunning. Of course, in this context, the anguish of castration plays an important role, shaping itself as a natural outcome of the action of an evil and omnipotent maternal imago because imprisoning his son. Women experience this anxiety with less intensity and this perhaps partially explains why there are very few “sex offenders“. The fact that women appear in fewer numbers in statistics does not mean, however, that they are not subject to perversion, but simply that their way of experiencing the same psychological issues and acting them is different, smarter; always according to Cooper the game of cuckoo made by women with décolleté is an opportunity to put in place a female version of the man in raincoat.

In detail the role of the father, as analyzed above, should act as a counter-gravitational force in the subject’s psychic economy. Moreover, for the male it represents an important pole of emulation (even unconscious) because, it is useful to remember, that we become men and women identifying ourselves with the parent of the same sex. If the real father is extremely negative and violent, it is more probable that he marks, in the psychic life of the son, a brutal inner pattern, also because of the necessary identification between father and son, as described by Giulini and Xella (2011). Some adults have a history of a difficult childhood in which at least one parent, often the same sex one, makes the child particularly insecure and fragile with insults, mockery and beatings. The child, once became an adult, inevitably continues to carry inside the image of a devaluing father; this pattern can give rise to different outcomes, from the “lightest” one: a more or less constant and generalized basic insecurity, with continuous search for evidence of its value; to the “heaviest” one: to prove oneself value, the subject must choose small, harmless partners so to be able to overcome and dominate, as documented by Fogel and Myers (1994).


In this brief historical examination of women’s condition, some recurring themes at the base of the psychic and social functioning of humanity from its beginnings to the present are traced. This examination showed clearly that after that multifaceted historical-social event called “feminism” the woman managed to emancipate herself, retaining in herself, however, the matriarchal precepts of which she was traditionally the bearer.

Eminent scholars, mentioned throughout this work, in the field of historical, anthropological, philosophical and psychological research have come across to what appear to be the determinants of some matters still unsolved regarding these issues. This article aims to offer a modest contribution to the difficult task of putting together an articulated conceptual map composed of reflections, hypotheses and brilliant intuitions, useful for the understanding of some psychopathological mechanisms.


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Animus e anima in Jung

Dichiarazione dei diritti della donna e della cittadina (O. De Gouges)


Scritti di Ireneo contro le eresie


  1. De Conciliis E. (2012)
  2. Berivi S., Grassi A. (2018)
  3. There in page 11
  4. Perone (2014)
  5. In Carli R. (1987)
  6. See p. 35
  7. Such a configuration is still in fact present in some cultures, such as in the Rom ethnic group.
  8. Gnosticism present in the Greek-Roman Hellenistic world, has been a very articulated and complex philosophical, religious and exoteric movement. Its greatest spread occurred between the second and fourth centuries AD. The word Gnosticism derives from Greek gnósis (γνῶσις), i.e. knowledge which was the goal it set itself.
  9. Most of Christian-Gnostic religions theorized that from God First Eon had been generated several couples of Eons always formed by a masculine Eon and a feminine one. Both God and Eons together formed the Pleroma (πλήρωμα, literally “fullness”)
  10. Friedan B (1972)
  11. Hysterical symptoms were described by Hippocrates as signs of female fragility. In the 19th century J. Charcot, whose patients treated at the Salpêtrière in Paris became very well known, interpreted hysteria as a nosological entity, distinguishing episodic manifestations from those of a permanent nature and, even on the basis of the misconception of the affinity of hysteria with hypnotic states, he reiterated its relevance to neuropathology. His studies attracted the attention of S. Freud, who gave birth to psychoanalysis on this very foundation.
  12. Freud S (1888)
  13. Therein p. 189
  14. Friedan B. (1972)
  15. Marchesini Gobetti A. (1951) p.
  16. Leuzzi M.C. (2014) p. 25, footnote 6
  17. Jung C.G. (1928).
  18. Von Franz M.L. (1988) p. 146.
  19. Jung E. (1934).
  20. Von Franz M.L. (1988) p. 188.
  21. Jung E (1934), p 205.
  22. Von Franz M.L. pp. 164-5.
  23. Berivi S. Grassi A. (2018).
  24. Therein p. 63.
  25. Berivi S. Grassi A. (2018).
  26. Referenced in Coslin P.G. (2002).
  27. Galimberti U. (2007).
  28. Racamier P.C. (1995) P. 28.
  29. Freud and post-Freudian authors refer to this distorted form of narcissism as “Secondary narcissism”
  30. Grassi A. Berivi S. (2010) p. 7.
  31. Cooper A. M. in Fogel G.I., Myers W.A. (1994) p. 23
  32. Mele (2010)
  33. Bach S. in Fogel G.I., Myers W.A. ( 1994)