Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members. Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.
Jane Wheelwright on Women
“Women need to know that their instinctive connectedness is a positive strength that must never be belittled. If women’s instinctive connectedness found its way into government and religious circles, much of our world ills could be mitigated.”
“Woman’s natural female strengths – her affinity with animals, her acceptance of life and death, her ability to identify with nature – make woman the answer to our present planetary crisis. When will she realized her importance?”
“How to make a success of both life and work is currently the biggest question for a woman as we near the end of the twentieth century. In my experience, because the work world is so new to many creative women, they work so intensely with the help of their willpower that they find themselves centered not in their female egos, but in the archetypal animus complex. They are called and function out of the animus before they realize it. They become pseudo-men, at worst, and they can “think like a man” at best. I believe women will not be completely free to be themselves until they understand the problem of identifying with the animus.”
“Woman, then, is the answer because she has her roots firmly planted in nature, and now women can also think. Women can balance nature and mind, body and soul. ”
“Only the genius of a woman in cahoots with nature can save us.”
“I am now reminded of Jo’s constant declaration that women are the hope of the future.”
As the above quotes indicate, the Wheelwrights–Jane and her husband Jo(seph)–were ardent feminists. In addition, as Jungian analysts, they had keen insights into the personalities, strengths, challenges and tasks of women. With her decades of life on her family’s California cattle ranch, Jane was a staunch environmentalist and thought women would play a major role in the healing of our natural world. This essay draws from Jane’s journal, A High Sacred Place, to offer a taste of Jane’s views on women, Nature and the relationship between them.
Jane saw women as “qualitatively and creatively different from men.” Women are “closer than men to nature. Women are also closer to the unconscious that evolves from nature.”–an assessment not unique to Jane: She notes that “Jung makes this statement constantly throughout his writings.” With their “instinctive connectedness,” women are “psychically in tune with other people” and their “adaptability seems to function when other people are involved.” Thanks to their “diversified attention,” women are able to juggle the complexities of life (e.g. children, household tasks, work demands).
Reflecting her Jungian orientation, Jane wrote often about women’s animus, the contrasexual side of the female that Jane regarded as so important
“to a woman’s whole life. Her will to live, her efforts to create beyond childbirth, her discrimination, her religious experiences, her association with nature – all rely on the animus as much as on her feminine qualities.”
Jane felt that women “need to live the animus for their own self-esteem and health.” Why? Because the animus is “spirit,” the “life-giving quality” in a woman that provides her with spontaneity and creativity.
Like all archetypes, the animus has these positive qualities, but it also has its negative side, especially if/when it combines with the shadow. For example, in settings where male values and expectations dominate (e.g. in college and the world of work), the animus/shadow combination can cause a woman to “use too much willpower” or become driven, “lopsided in favor of the intellect.” Such women Jane described as “pseudo-men,” women “not centered in their female egoes but in the archetypal animus complex.” The result, Jane felt was that “Many professional women seem to know less than ever what being female means.” Jane also felt the negative animus could be the cause for some of the problems she often found between mothers and daughters in her Jungian practice.
Jane wanted women to “be allowed to be personalities,” and for this to happen, men needed to change. Men need to respect the feminine within themselves (i.e. the anima), and give up the old view of “women as wooly-headed and unable to concentrate.” Jane recognized how “male authorities undercut women’s ability to record their unconscious messages,” and how they pull women away from “their own observations and hunches.” Women need “time and space to do their own thing,” Jane felt, and they “need to stand up to the kind of thinking that has been the planet’s undoing,” i.e. coldly objective, profit-oriented rationality laden with “the patriarchal ideals of the Christian era.”
The Features and Talents of Women
The kind of thinking that could be the planet’s salvation is what women can provide, thanks to their “natural affinity with nature,” their “affinity with animals,” their closeness to nature and to “the unconscious that evolves from nature.” To Jane women were “by nature the keepers of the heart,” “psychically in tune with other people,” and so they provide a subjectivity that can counter the cold objectivity of the male perspective.
Jane felt women are able to approach life with flexibility and adaptability thanks to their “diversified attention.” This feature allows women to juggle “intrusions, people, kids, and men’s work without going nuts.” As a working wife and mother for decades, Jane knew whereof she wrote here.
Women possess “female strengths” like practicality, discrimination, balance, spontaneity and “an earthly, life-giving, renewable, creative center.” To these features of all women, Jane added others found in older women, like “matured humanity,” independence, the awareness of opposites, and consciousness of the shadow. With decades of life experience under their belts, older women become familiar with the “needless bitching, vanity, competitiveness, ignorance and other traits” that are elements of the female shadow.
“Because of their concern with relationships” women have a talent for ‘being on the side of the irrational,” and are able to depend “on their own observations and hunches in their relationships. Jane recognized how women often are caregivers, and, as such, are “interested in what makes people tick” and are aware of “what has happened to nature.” So Jane felt women, with their caregiving talents, could “rescue nature and themselves” from the exploitation of both the natural world and women’s bodies that she witnessed in our modern world.
Jane was an Introvert, so she found “the inner life fascinating,” but she did not consider this fascination a talent only of Introverts: All women, by the nature of their bodies, have an interiority that allows them to “internalize the animus” which, Jane felt, could foster getting along with other women. Such an animus would make it possible for women to draw “on the animus to lead and assert the values that come from their nature,” e.g. their “talent for relationship,” their emotional strength, and their instinct for “protecting nature, life and children.”
Looking inward was a female talent that made possible women’s experience of “every nuance of their creative life.” Jane recognized that, since women tend to live longer than men, women are more likely to be widowed and experience solitude in their later years. For older women, the female talent for looking inward would allow them to enjoy “solitude and look for it and indulge in it positively, creatively, until they live themselves “out of life.”
The Roles and Tasks of Women
Jane saw women in the role of the “pioneer in our modern society,” with the responsibility to “go beyond the man.” To do this, women must “no longer hang onto a man’s every word,” but rather they must “recognize the importance of the female perspective” and “assert themselves aggressively and learn how to be heard by men as well as women.” Because women have their “roots firmly planted in nature,” they can think and “balance nature and mind, body and soul,” and, in this way, women hold the answer to many of our contemporary problems, especially with regard to Nature and the environment.
To fulfill the role of the outspoken pioneer, women have some important tasks to undertake. These include learning:
“…women have a lot more to learn before they can hold the enormous power of the pure female. They are still too contaminated by the way men have used power….”
Men deal with power as if it is a zero-sum game (if I have power, you don’t), but women recognize power is like love: the more we share power by empowering others, the more power there is in the world.
Another task for women is to draw on the animus so as to become independent and self-supporting:
If women are to have enough political, economic, and spiritual authority to counterbalance the overly masculine influences which have persisted unchecked for millennia, women must cultivate their independence. Doing so means that women must recognize the deepest values and attributes of the animus and view those qualities as separate from their relationships with men. The archetypal animus is fundamental to women’s freedom to act, speak, and understand.
While fundamental, the animus “must not take over women and push them back into old patriarchal attitudes.” So women must not identify with the animus.
One way to avoid such identification is to remain connected to feelings and bring “female insight into our current problems:”
“If women could only grasp how their evolution has been sabotaged along with that of the planet, they would fight for their lives and for the life of the planet. Women could turn things around. They could provide the heart that has been badly suppressed by the mind run amok.”
By “the mind run amok,” Jane is referring to the hyper-rational approaches common now in technological and political realms which “allow the world to be plundered in the name of egomania and greed.”
A repeated theme in Jane’s journal is the parallel between how we have treated Nature and how women have been abused:
“If women want to understand what has happened to them, they need only to look at what has happened to nature. They need only to open their eyes and see the devastation around them. What they will see is a story about them. This realization alone could give them the energy necessary to use their talents and to rescue Nature and themselves.”
Women using their talents implies women “standing up to the kind of thinking that has been the planet’s undoing.”
Jane wanted to see women “come into their own,” and part of this task implies women beginning “to discover their subjectivity,” as they find “the inner life fascinating” and make “introversion respectable.” Like most Jungian analysts, Jane was an Introvert and recognized how the strong preference of American society for Extraversion tends to downplay, even denigrate Introversion. Jane felt that women can play an important role in this situation. First, women can counterbalance for Extraversion if they
“look inward and experience every nuance of their inner life before they move outward to experience their impact on the outer world.”
And second, women can counter our culture’s Extraverted orientation toward objectivity (e.g. in law courts, science etc.) but since women “have been the leaders in the subjective field. They are ahead of men, not only subjectively, but also in relationships.”
Women and Nature
Jane was a big supporter of a slew of environmental organizations, and an avid reader. One book she mentions in her journal is Buffy Johnson’s Lady of the Beasts, which gave Jane a “lovely, small piece of information:”
“…the artists who décorated the caves of Crowe-Magnon times in France and Spain were women. This has been proved by aligning handprints and footprints with skeletal remains. What a bonanza for our side! The art was universally admired before it was discovered that the artists were women. In fact, women have far more affinity with wild animals than the average man – if women only knew it! And these cave-painting artists were celebrating the interior of their caves where they worshipped the great earth mother. The cave represented her womb.”
By her reference to “our side” Jane is revealing her belief that “women are closer than men to nature,” and, if our planet “is to be brought back to life,” it will be by an “extreme effort from women.” “Women, not men, can identify with the planet.”
Thanks to this identification, Jane thought that “women…have a natural affinity with animals and life in general,” and this “may be an answer to our industrial machine age. Women may be able to counterbalanace the predominant male fascination with machinery.” Perhaps it was this association of men with inert machines which led Jane to state that “women as life have to offset men as death.”
From her decades of life on the ranch, Jane had a great love for wilderness, and she felt that “women can learn so much about female strengths in wilderness. What they learn could save our planet from over-masculinized forces of destruction.” Such women, who “revere nature… and… are wise to what is going on, who in their psychic depths are allied to nature, must be protected and supported.”
Jane called for women allies of Nature to be protected because she was aware of the repeated intervals of “the backlash against environmentalism” which was “no less fierce than the backlash against women.” In the face of such regressive reactions to environmentalists and women’s advancement, Jane urged people to “develop psychologically.” For men, this meant making a connection with the anima, while for women, this meant developing a conscious relation to the animus. Failure to make this conscious relation would result in women becoming “merely economic assets…. Such women are like the environment: exploitable.” Since
“the media, the movie industry, the cosmetic and beauty business, politics and some single, male entrepreneurs and pop psychologists are all lined up against the female population,”
such psychological development is not easily achieved. Not easy, but essential, because, Jane felt, women’s “sanity relies on contact with nature,” and saving the planet goes hand-in-glove with protecting women.
 Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from Jane’s journal, now available for sale, in hard copy and pdf form, on the Jungian Center web site.