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The Feminine in Fairy Tales Paperback – May 1, 2001
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About the Author
Marie-Louise von Franz (19151998) was the foremost student of C. G. Jung, with whom she worked closely from 1934 until his death in 1961. A founder of the C. G. Jung Institute of Zurich, she published widely on subjects including alchemy, dreams, fairy tales, personality types, and psychotherapy.
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Von Franz believes that folk and fairy tales tell us what is going on in the "compensatory function" of the collective unconscious. If that is so, we should expect the repressed anima to feature largely in the hero-based folk tales, but not in the folk tales for and about women. By definition, women do not have a repressed anima. But von Franz avers that when men forget or repress the anima, women don't know who they are--that a woman's sense of self is entirely dependent upon how men regard her.
Von Franz seems to blame women themselves for this problem. Either they are "women who do not take the trouble to think," or it's the fault of their mothers--"the negative mother complex or perhaps the mother's animus." Women are wrong to blame society for their problems, because "the source of evil and of things going wrong in women's lives is often a failure to deal with and get over hurt feelings." Women who have been "properly attended to by their mothers" have enough self-esteem not to get hurt feelings. If a woman's mother has failed her in this regard, she runs the risk of being "overpowered by the animus," which is bad because men will find her annoying. Even loving feelings are okay only if women don't let them get out of hand:
"If their eros--which means genuine interest in the other person and in establishing relationship, being there for the other person--gets the least bit too dependent, clinging to and needing the other, it is already on the downwards grade into the devouring aspect of the female."
It's okay for women to be nurturing, but not to expect anything in return. Is this really von Franz's opinion?
There are several other instances where von Franz says something that validates women, and then the second voice interrupts. For example, she argues that girls should be allowed to develop a sense of self before being forced to deal with the attitudes of the patriarchy. But then she adds that this separation should not go on too long, because "an only feminine world lacks the breath of horizon" of the masculine and "everybody knows what happens if you have flocks of women together." (She doesn't say what.) In another lecture she says that men are right to be suspicious when women are knitting or weaving, like Penelope: "one can guess that the woman is making plots." But Penelope's plotting was good!
Von Franz also harps on hurt feelings in fairy tales where the men are missing altogether. In these stories the heroines must contend with jealous stepmothers and stepsisters. The stepmothers and stepsisters feel hurt and neglected by the father who loves his own daughter more. The father is always offstage in these stories, dead or lost at sea or on a long business trip. In his absence the other women do become vindictive, yet the heroine does not. But von Franz quotes Jung as saying "her greatest task is to overcome her resentful anger."
I suspect that Marie-Louise von Franz was so deeply in thrall to Carl Jung that she often transmitted what he said without questioning it even when she herself did not completely agree. As a result, in "The Feminine in Fairy Tales" she frequently speaks with two voices, one her own and one Jung's. When she is at her most judgmental, opinionated, and harsh towards other women, I think we can assume it is Jung who speaks. When she speaks for herself, she has much wisdom to share.
Feminine in Fairytales' revolves much around the moral problem. In our
civilization we have deviated from the original Christian "morality of
the heart" and have gone over to an ethics by decree. This tells us
Europeans, for instance, that we must take responsibility for all
peoples of the earth, and also allow them shelter and free provision
in our countries. But there is no feeling adaptation in this, it is a
mere ethics of the intellect, wholly lacking in instinct. The
intellectually moralistic aspiration that all suffering must be
eradicated, is a form of inflation. It will have dire repercussions on
society in the future. It is high time to change our moral outlook. We
ought to look closer at the natural morality of Chuang Tzu, and the
original teachings of Jesus. The latter taught us *not to resist
evil*. But this is exactly what we are doing today, on a
megalomaniacal scale. This will rebound and give rise to an evil on an
equally grand scale. M-L von Franz says:
"...But such Themis revengefulness in nature brings us to a very
serious situation, one of the greatest present-day problems of our
world: namely, that created by the great improvement in medicine due
to the rational and technical development of the white man's
civilization. This is basically due to the domination of the white
races. Pretty soon the world will be hopelessly overpopulated; in a
couple of hundred years the situation will be absolutely hopeless, but
the United Nations and other organizations continue to improve
hygienic conditions in India and other Eastern countries and to help
overpopulate the earth. Possibly nature will invent a new virus - and
a virus is capable of fantastic mutations - or bring about such a
state of irritation that Russia or the United States or some other
country will use the atom bomb, because somehow humanity has to be
All the well-meaning charitable enterprises in the world are built up
on a 'Weltanschauung' that does not take the dark side of Mother
Nature into consideration. They are based on Christian ideas. But if
one ignores a goddess, she manifests herself again. At one time nature
and her dark side were in harmony, but from the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries onward - as can be seen for instance in mythology, in
poetry, and in religious movements - natural compensation was no
longer on the lines of the one-sided light attitude. From that time
onward, there was a wrong persistence in an attitude that had hitherto
been right. There was no realization that a further evolution was
necessary, that an alteration was required and an awareness of the
dark side. Instead there was a stiffening on a general scale
throughout Europe; what had been right developed into a neurotic
attitude, and defense mechanisms were set up against the unconscious