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Can Jungian Psychology Lead Us Towards Gender Equality? by Patricia Silbert, M.F.A.

Thursday, February 15, 2018 9:00 AM | Jung Society of Washington

I am a long-term board member of the Washington Jung Society, a student of Jung with Irene Gad, and a working artist in DC for fifty years. I have seen some big changes in this time and ready for more and better changes to come. The recent developments in the world of imbalanced relations between women and men make it hard for me to remain silent.

At this time of heightened sensitivity to the silencing and abuses of women in our culture, we at the Jung society have a pressing need to explore this subject matter. My work-history goes back fifty years and I feel gives me a unique perspective.

At age twenty I had lived for a year in Athens, Greece, working at a Greek advertizing agency. I walked to work, half an hour, back and forth each day. I often said to Athenian friends at the time, “If I ever want to know how an outfit looks on me, I just walk down the street in Athens.” And by the amount of “yia sou Koukla” (hey baby) from guys working construction I knew from these complimentary soundings how well turned out I was. Then I moved back to the US and worked as a graphic designer in D.C. Again I walked to work from Georgetown to around 19th and M streets. I was young, in a fashionable short skirt and heels and I had the same number of comments from construction guys as in Athens. The puzzlement I had was this: in Athens all the comments felt complimentary to me, they felt admiring. In D.C. all the comments felt predatory to me. The US comments were not so much friendly as threatening. I was made to feel uneasy. And I had no way of addressing this issue, no way of articulating my feelings. I thought I was alone in this. Recently, I have asked friends who spend time in Europe about this difference in street comments and they too can relate to the same experience.

By 1962 -1964 I was a graphic designer in the largest Ad agency in DC yet I was paid one third less for the same work than the three men I worked with. I was told that this was because I was a single girl and the guys had families. I was 23 and accepted this though it bothered me in a way I could not articulate at the time. When I left the agency to work for the Federal government in 1964 I tripled my salary. At that time the only work-place a woman was not discriminated against and received equal pay for equal work was the Federal Government.

The women’s movement came to life for me around 1971. I was astounded, awakened, enthralled. I felt validated and my life took on new meaning. By then I had my own graphic design business, a two-year-old daughter, and a husband who as a trial attorney worked “all the time”. I couldn’t dive into being a political activist…there was no time. I did work for the McGovern/Shriver presidential campaign. They had great day-care. Shortly after that election I began to have serious anxiety attacks. I entered the world of therapy, psychology and Jung. For over twenty years off and on I worked with a series of therapists, culminating with Irene Gad and Jung.

The concerns I had 50 years ago are still relevant today to women here and abroad. They relate to the questions we have regarding the French women and their criticism of the US “me too” campaign. Those experiences of mine illustrate how long-lasting and complicated this subject matter is for all of us…both men and women. How in the Jung Society can we explore this?

How can Jung, who was a product of his very patriarchal culture, help us now?

In the Jungian work with Irene Gad and in the study and writing I did for a BA in Women’s Psychology and an MFA in writing, I was enormously helped by two Jungian writers: Marion Woodman and Robert Johnson among others. Johnson’s small book, The Fisher King and The Handless Maiden, two archetypal stories from the Middle Ages, began to give me language for my feelings, old and new. I learned to articulate what I had silently felt for many years. I wrote a thesis on the origin of the Grail Stories of which The Fisher King is one. In that story the tired and battle-weary Parsifal returns to the castle and at the sight of the ailing King he feels compassion and spontaneously asks the King “Sire, what ails thee?” And by asking that question the king is healed and so is the land. Johnson quotes Jung, “The meaning of life is to relocate the center of gravity of the personality from the ego to the Self.” Johnson explains how Parsifal illustrates “The revelation of the Grail Castle (story) is that life serves something greater than one’s self.”

Marion Woodman in the Pregnant Virgin taught me to ask, “What was my feeling in that situation, not my emotions, my feeling?” She explains the difference between The Negative Mother complex and Mother Archetype who urges a women to go into the forest alone to listen to her inner self and find healing in nature. This echoes the Handless Maiden’s story when she flees alone into the forest and finds healing. Later in the story she heals her helplessness due to her silver hands with the spontaneous act of plunging her helpless hands into the water and saving her son who had fallen and would have drowned. Holding her son her hands come out of the water totally healed, teaching us how the spontaneous act of compassion can heal, “life serving something greater than one’s self.”

I think Jung created and opened a door for us to walk through by his work that includes psychology, fairy tales, myth, art and religion. Jung weaves these subjects together to explore human consciousness. I believe this provides a bridge or a series of avenues for us to explore that we did not have before him. 

One of these avenues has to be a way to rethink, retool, rewrite, and to explore how women have been silenced and disempowered though the ages. By exploring this we can then take off the blindfolds we have all been wearing for some 3000 years and begin to see how we might create a world where women and men, not threatened by each other, can work together, complementing each other. There is too much work for all of us to do at this time to preserve peace, the ecology of earth (Gaia: earth as a living organism), and to begin to seriously help the impoverished people of the earth. 

We only waste time upholding the patriarchal mind-set we have inherited. On the contrary, we must read people like Mary Beard, Cambridge classics scholar and author whose latest book, Women and Power writes, “we need to look a lot more carefully at our cultural assumptions about women’s relationship to power.” And “If there is a cultural template, which works to disempower women, what exactly is it and where do we get it from?” And we must listen to Marion Woodman, “In an age addicted to power and the acquisition of material possessions, the creative purpose must have something to do with the one thing that can save us – love for the earth, love for each other.”

 So, this is a small start. A new beginning for me to address this subject matter and I think the Jung Society is one place for us to begin.

Pat Silbert, M.F.A. has lived and worked in the Washington area for more than forty years. As a graphic designer, she was assistant Art Director at the Office of Economic Opportunity, then turned to painting full time. She still is painting, currently a partner at Waverly Street Gallery in Bethesda, her paintings evoking the natural world, the river, trees, and Buddhist iconography. Along the way Silbert earned a degree in women’s psychology and an M.F.A. in writing. She facilitated a healing-clay workshop for five years at a women’s shelter in Washington, D.C., and also gave this workshop in numerous healing centers in the U.S. and in Findhorn, Scotland. Silbert also has taught basic nutrition at the Washington School for Girls in S.E., D.C. She has been married for over forty years and is close to her two daughters and three grandchildren.


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The Jung Society of Washington is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, a nonprofit educational institution. Our IRS form 990 is available upon request. Although many of the Jung Society's programs involve analytical psychology and allied subjects, these offerings are intended, and should be viewed, as a source of information and education, and not as therapy. The Jung Society does not offer psychoanalytical or other mental health services.
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