Simone de Beauvoir once said, in French of course, something like the following: One is born female, but becoming a woman is a personal accomplishment.
It was the first time I had ever been made aware that one doesn't become a woman just because one ages, though I had, of course, noticed that most of the women in the retirement home which my own mother had settled into were still immature, girlish even, at 75 and more.
It was shortly after that that I became interested in Jungian psychology and began to read about psychological development and its stages. The classic book on this topic is Erich Neumann's THE ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS in which he outlines the development of male consciousness -- which is sometimes taken to mean human consciousness. That a woman's psychological development might be different from a man's is something many people don't ever take into consideration.
Women's psychological development is, however, different from men's psychological development, and in this essay, I will review the stages as described by Erich Neumann in his essay, "The Stages of Women's Psychological Development."
Stage One: The Great Mother
All children, whether male or female, being born of a woman, float in the amnionic fluid for the nine months preceeding birth, and most are nurtured and fed in the first months of life by a woman/mother. In this first stage of development, both males and females are unconscious of the fact that they are, in fact, separate from the mother. Babies, until a certain age, we are told, feel themselves to be one with the mother.
We all, then, come into life and, for some months thereafter, are nurtured and sustained by the Great Mother. Irrespective of who our own personal mother's are, the archetype of the all encompassing, all nurturing Great Mother is the first archetype that we meet. Without this archetypal care, we would all perish in those early months of life. However, sometime in the first year or so of life, it becomes obvious to boy babies, because of their bodies, that they are somehow different from their mothers. Because of this early realization, the development of the male takes a different path than the development of the female.
Girls, realizing that they are similar to and not different from their mothers, can stay in this early stage of unconsciousness far longer than boys can without becoming neurotic. The female's sense of "self" stays in tact; whereas, the male must break away from the mother in order to develop a masculine sense of "self." This fact, as I have discussed in an earlier hub on the difference in the Great Mother and a Mother Complex plays a significant role in the development of the male psyche.
Because in his first relationship, that with his mother, the male discovers not his likeness, but his difference, his future preference in relationships will be to stand apart. He prefers relating at a distance, logically, through the "logos" (the word). He is more comfortable in "face to face" relationships, rather than in the "unity" of the "participation mystique" which is typical of the mother and, because of her sameness to the mother, most women.
The advantage of such face to face relationship is that it pushes the male to become conscious. It is confrontational and challenging; it makes him separate himself from "the other." Isolation is the price that males pay for development of this consciousness.
A female, on the otherhand, can remain in this comfortable sense of "oneness" for many years without becoming estranged from herself, although the price she must pay is that she becomes childish, immature as far as her conscious development is concerned. She feels herself still to be a part of the "whole."
Stage Two: Self-Conservation or Motherhood
Once a female becomes the mother of her own children and enters into the second stage of her psychological development, the archetype shifts to that of Demeter and Kore -- the mother and the daughter. The woman, as mother, is still apt to remain in "women's groups," segregated and to some exten alienated from men and the masculine who cannot be allowed to enter into this circle.
The woman may even relate to men only as the father of her children, because maleness and masculinity pose a threat at this stage of development. At this stage, the masculine can be experienced "only in its diminished form." It is Demeter, the Great Mother, who still rules and the little girl, who was once the daughter, is now learning to integrate the role that she is destined to play, as mother, so that the continuation of the species can be assured.
While for society, this is a positive, even a crucial, role, for the female who is participating now as the mother, this means another delay in her conscious development. The atmosphere of security, of warm, nourishing certainty must be maintained in order for the new life to flourish. In the early months, this means that the masculine must be kept at bay.
The masculine, not the father of the child, must be restricted. The father can participate as many young men are learning to their own benefit, but only in his role as "the nurturing one." Not yet, as "the father."
Stage Three: Self-Surrender
Now enters the archetype of the Great Father -- the Patriarchy. The masculine role now becomes paramount in the development of a female into a woman. It is interesting that it is in this stage and not in stage two, in her role as a mother, that women must confront the overwhelming power of the masculine. Here the archetypes range from Dionysus to Hades, because this energy is perceived as an invasion by the female's ego.
Whenever a new archetype enters into our psyche, our ego's first reaction is one of being overwhelmed, thus afraid, and this is most often a woman's first response to this archetype. It "sweeps her away, seizes, and pierces her, and transports her beyond herself," in the words of Neumann. And it is because of this feeling of being overpowered, of being "too small" to deal with this powerful archetype, that the female learns to surrender, to accept.
For the woman who wants to become conscious, and not remain forever childish, the entrance into her psyche of this Masculine Archetype is of vital importance, but it is not without its negative aspects. Our society, in fact, encourages females to develop the masculine parts of their psyche, because without this male energy "cultural achievement is not possible" for a female. To take her place as a contributing member of society and play her role not just as a mother, the energy of the masculine must be integrated into a woman's psyche.
The danger to the individual woman is that, feeling unable to encounter this powerful force, she will settle for playing a subservient role. She may play "muse" to a more talented man. She may forfeit her own individual life and choose to "serve" a human man or the patriarchal society's view of who she should be. Instead of developing her own ideas, she may " parrot" those of the patriarchal society in order to be allowed to play some role, even a lesser one than she is capable of. Because in our society patriarchal values are the dominant values, both men and women must adhere to them to a certain extent in order to be allowed to "play" at all.
If a woman gets stuck in this male archetype, she may even develop an Oedipus Complex and become her "father's daughter," held as a captive, as it were, and not go on to the next stage of her development.
Stage Four: Individuation and Discovery of the Feminine Self
These last stages in woman's psychological development cannot be entered into without having successfully integrated the Great Father archetype in Stage Three. A woman must both surrender to and thus transcent the patriarchy successfully before she can become "an individual" and thus a true carrier of the Feminine. The archetypes of this stage are elaborately described in the myth of "Amor and Psyche," dealt with in another of Neumann's books by the same name.
At this stage, the woman must give up not only her image of "the ideal masculine," but she must also form her own value system which in many cases will be in direct conflict with the values of the patriarchal society. She must find her own unique and individual essence and in so doing, she can engage in true relationship, as a whole person, with a man who has done enough work to integrate his feminine energy. Thus according to Jung there are really four psyches involved in every relationship: the woman, her animus (her masculine side), the man, and his anima (his feminine side). And more often than not, it gets really confusing as to "who" is dealing with "whom."
It is only then that the real work of individuation can begin in earnest, for in Neumann's words: "One experiences what is one's own in and through the other."
If all goes well, the "woman's center of gravity in the second half of life shifts from the external world to the world within," because encountering her own inner masculine transports her to a higher plane, and the birth of her own creative ability.
Reference and Disclaimer
The information in this article comes from an essay by Erich Neumann called "The Psychological Stages of Woman's Development," in a book entitled THE FEAR OF THE FEMININE AND OTHER ESSAYS ON FEMININE PSYCHOLOGY, published by Princeton University Press in the UK and sponsored by the Bollingen Foundation, in 1994.
I have tried to use language that is accessible to people who have no knowledge of or even interest in the psychology of Carl Jung because I believe that the understanding of some of these concepts will go a long way toward relieving us of some of the neurotic ideas about marriage and relationship that are still very much a part of our culture.