Conceptualizing Gender (5)

Jung’s Anima/Animus, Adler’s Masculine Protest


Conceptualizing Gender (5)
by Azadeh Azad

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Key words: archetypes, anima, animus, masculine/feminine polarity, Inferiority complex, Masculine protest

Carl Jung’s Analytical Psychology

Carl Gustav Jung (1875 -1961), a disciple of Freud, broke with his teacher as a result of disagreement with many of Freud’s basic ideas, including too much emphasis on sexuality as a changing force. Jung, a Swiss Psychiatrist, developed the system of analytical psychology where gender issues were crucial. He devised the concepts of ‘anima’ and ‘animus’ as opposite psychic images in the human unconscious. Anima is the inner figure of woman at work in a man’s psyche, and ‘animus’, the figure of man present within the psyche of a woman (1). This was somewhat similar to Freud’s position.

However, unlike Freud who believed that the presence of masculine within a woman’s subconscious and feminine within a man’s subconscious were the result of the social process of repression of masculinity in women and femininity in men, Jung considered anima and animus mainly as configurations arising from a basic archetypal structure in the personal and collective unconscious. Further, he noted that the masculine/feminine polarity was at play whether a person was heterosexual or homosexual. For him, the ideal was a gender balance between a woman’s self (ego) and her animus, and a man’s self (ego) and his anima. In the 1920s, this was a progressive idea.

While Freud was slowly abandoning the masculine/feminine opposition, Jung reinforced this polarity theory, and further, he depicted it as engrained in universal and eternal collective unconscious. Such a concept left no space for historical change in males’ and females’ behaviours and actions. It also led to the idea that in a male-dominated society, it was not actually men who dominated women, but the abstract, eternal masculine that dominated the abstract, eternal feminine. The most that such a concept could offer was a transformation in the balance between masculine and feminine. No wonder the Jungian polarity theory is so valued by the anti-feminist backlash movement. Jung’s premise has generated a belief that today’s feminism is tipping the balance to the other extreme, and thus smothering the masculine.

By choosing to flesh out the collective unconscious, the site of the archetypes, as the main causal factor of gender, Jung renounced the clinical and applied psychoanalysis that was emphasized by Alfred Adler and Karen Horney.

Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology and Masculine Protest

Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937), another disciple of Freud and a socialist, opposed Freud’s beliefs regarding the dominance of the sex drive and the quality of ego drives being libidinal. He asserted that personality disorders derived from a feeling of inferiority due to limitations put on the individual's desire for self-assertion and self-actualization. Adler believed a human to be both connected with the surrounding world and an indivisible whole. He founded the system of individual psychology wherein each person was unique; where no single theory would be relevant to all.

Adler believed in the femininity/masculinity polarity, but emphasized that the feminine side was culturally degraded and coupled with weakness. As female and male children feel weak before a superior, they adopt a “feminine” attitude, doubting their self-worth. However, to obey an adult while desiring independence creates more internal conflict between “femininity” (weakness) and “masculinity” (independence), which, he described as, lasting until adulthood. Based on this analysis, Adler developed new interrelated concepts such as “inferiority complex,” “superiority complex” and “masculine protest”.

According to Adler, striving from feelings of inferiority to those of superiority is the central dynamic force in human activities. All individual developmental progress stems from the attempts to compensate for one's real or imagined inferiorities. “Inferiority complex” develops when the failure to suppress inferior feelings amplifies them. Consequently, the aim of superiority turns towards wanting to dominate others and bully them, or to escape from responsibilities in order not to undergo defeats.

Adler was certain that feelings of inferiority and superiority were gender-related and came across in specific feminine and masculine ways. Accordingly, he considered the inferior tendencies “feminine” and the superior tendencies “masculine” in both men and women. He believed that these tendencies or styles could become the source of emotional compensation and cause mental health problems.

Therefore, masculine protest is a concept that explains the shift of a male or female individual from passive (inferior and “feminine”) role to active (superior and “masculine”) role in the hope of escaping the counterparts. It is central to personality disorders.

For Adler, “masculine protest” in girls and women meant a rejection of their social condition, the result of belittling of girls in their family or social environment and the adoption of a masculine model in the development of their driving fantasy. In boys and men, “masculine protest” coveys as a superiority complex, which is synonymous of aggression and compulsion. Superiority complex is a psychological defense mechanism in which an individual’s feelings of superiority suppress or mask his /her feelings of inferiority. Evidently, in Adler’s view, the three concepts: ego-defensive tendencies, inferiority complex as the source of neurosis and overcompensation of the masculine protest were more valid than the oedipal complex and repression theory, because neurosis stems from an inferiority complex.

According to Adler, because society does not consider the “feminine role” as equal to the “masculine role”, there are girls who rebel against the view of women as eternally inferior and wish to become boys. This is the equivalent of the Freudian “penis envy” (2). Mothers who prefer their sons to their daughters and give them more attention could also trigger the rejection of the “feminine role” - as Adler puts it, and the wish to be a male (3).

A girl who is rejected by her mother could compensate against an inferiority complex by developing an ideal manly model, which causes a hostile attitude towards women or rivalry with men. If she becomes a mother, she can adopt an unconscious feeling and behaviour of rivalry towards her daughter, as she transfers to her daughter her own infantile desire to seize her brother’s superior position (4).

A boy who has been neglected or who has had authoritarian fathers or older brothers compensate against his inferiority complex by resorting to masculine protest through the rejection of human feelings which are considered a sign of “feminine weakness.” This could manifest itself, for instance, into choosing of the tenets of the superman cult. Masculine protest in man’s inferiority could cause preoccupation with masculinity and manly activities, aggression, restlessness, sexual difficulties, domineering and bullying behaviours, male chauvinism, bravado, swagger, narcissism and attention-seeking for toughness. These men usually lack social interest in their lives. Adler believed that masculinity, power and public violence were closely related.

Adler was quite aware of the destructive impact of patriarchal cultures’ out-dated ideas of women and men. He recognized that European women of his time (end of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century) were usually degraded, which caused them extreme feelings of inferiority. He observed that men, too, were traumatized in male-dominated cultures.

Patriarchal society’s over-estimation of men is usually accompanied by great expectations. When men realize that they are falling behind these expectations, their inferiority feelings build up and turn into an inferiority complex compensated by domineering behaviours towards others, especially women. And the vicious circle continues.

For Adler, the healthiest resolution between men and women was to establish and accept equality of merit between them, which would subsequently lead to the development of enhanced cooperation among them (5). He was indeed very much ahead of his time.

To be continued.


1. Jung, Carl Gustav.1981.The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious, in Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9, Part 1). Princeton University Press: New Jersey.

Jung. C.G. 1989. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Clara Winston & Richard Winston (Translators).Vintage Books” New York.

2. Adler, Alfred. 1964 (1933). Social interest: A challenge to mankind. Capricorn Books: New York.

3. Adler, Alfred.1926 (1912). The neurotic constitution; Outlines of a comparative individualistic psychology and psychotherapy. (Bernard Glueck and John E. Lind, Trans.) Dodd, Mead: New York.

4. Ibid.

5. Adler, Alfred. 1980. Cooperation between the Sexes: Writings on Women, Love and Marriage, Sexuality and its Disorders. Edited and translated by Heinz L. Ansbacher and Rowena R. Ansbacher. Jason Aronson: New York


~ Dr. A. Azad is a sociologist and an independent scholar.


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