The Importance of Women and the Law of the Retarding Lead

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.


The Importance of Women and the Law of the Retarding Lead


“The woman of today is faced with a tremendous cultural task–perhaps it will be the dawn of a new era.”

Jung (1927)[1]


“… woman appears as the true carrier of the longed-for wholeness and redemption.”

Jung (1955)[2]


“Most men are afraid of something and are full of prejudices–which are not there in the case of most women. Men are inclined to resent any interference with their way of thinking and their hidebound convictions. … Men almost invariably are not honest, either with themselves or with me…. Women are much tougher than men underneath. To call women the weaker sex is sheer nonsense.”

Jung (1955)[3]


“The so-called objective judgment of many men is influenced to a large extent by unconscious resentments, prejudices, and resistances, so much so that the crucial factor in this referendum is: how many men will look into themselves and seriously reflect whether their vote is an objective one or is swayed by their mood? Since self-knowledge is one of the more difficult arts, it is scarcely to be hoped that many men will take the trouble to search their conscience and consider how much their decision depends on their subjective relations with women. Male prestige… is a sensitive thing,…”

Jung (1959)[4]


“My experience has impressed the tenacity and toughness of the female nature, which nothing has changed for thousands of year, far too deeply upon me …”

Jung (1959)[5]


“…men’s lives are essentially governed by fear.”

James Hollis (1994)[6]



Like so many of the essays produced for our Jungian Center web site, the subject and title for this essay came to me in a dream, and the connection between the two parts–the importance of women, and this Law–were very clear to me. But probably this is not the case for most readers (unless you happen to be an ethologist).[7] So I will begin by defining the law of the retarding lead, and will then relate it to women, and, in a final section, I’ll explain the relevance of both to our contemporary reality.


The Law of the Retarding Lead


In the last 200 years of field research, ethologists have discovered some interesting facts about animal behavior. One such fact is the distinction between dominant and marginalized species.[8] Those animals which have become very well suited to their environment dominate and marginalize those species which are not as well adapted.

Another key fact was recognized more than two thousand years ago by the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, whose mantra was panta rhei–all things change.[9] Heraclitus is the fellow who noted that we cannot step into the same river twice, and like rivers, the flow of history–natural and human–is a story of constant change. How does this fact relate to the more recent discoveries about animal behavior?

Ethologists’ term for change in Nature is “evolution,” and it is like a river, in that its flow is constant and unstoppable.[10] All of the components in natural systems are impacted by evolutionary change (as climate change is showing us), but the dominant species tend to be slower to perceive and adapt to these changes than the marginalized species. Why? Because they have adapted so well to the old reality that they have little incentive to adapt some more.[11] They are, in a word, “retarded.”

The corollary is important to note: If the dominant species are resistant to changes, the marginalized–those species who are just managing to survive–have every incentive to notice shifts in the environment, and to seize whatever advantage or edge the changes may offer. They adapt far more readily to the new conditions, move more readily into new niches in the environment, and gain any competitive edge they can against the old dominants.[12]

Ethologists study animals. But their scientific discoveries are applicable to the species homo sapiens, i.e. us humans. We see the operation of the Law of the Retarding Lead in many aspects of our world.

In economics, the Law explains why General Motors eventually lost market share to the Japanese. Back in the early 1960s GM was dismissive of the little Japanese cars, assuming Toyota and Honda offered no threat to them. Whose cars are now among the top-rated automobiles in the world?[13] Likewise, Kodak, which had almost a monopoly on photography, but, in their dominance in the old film environment, failed to spot the threat posed by the new digital cameras.[14] And consider IBM, which had a formidable role in the early days of computers–mainframes–and regarded the news of some guys in California tinkering around with the idea of computers small enough to sit on a desk.[15] Ridiculous! The dominant species (company) failed to spot how the environment (market) was shifting and so became retarded in its efforts to adapt to the new reality. Result? Major loss of market share.

In religion, the Law explains the increasing number of empty pews and closed church buildings.[16] Jung warned of this, when he noted the shift of aeon, from the Age of the Son (Christianity) to the new Age of the Spirit[17]–an evolutionary shift in consciousness that has led many to refer to themselves as “spiritual,” without any adherence to an organized “creed.”[18] The “dominants” in this context are the religious leaders–priests, ministers, divinity schools[19] etc.–wedded to the old dogmas and rituals, going through the motions while the souls of younger people are now unchurched. These leaders decry the trend toward “secularization”[20] without the slightest awareness that times have changed, the zeitgeist has shifted, and they are becoming more and more out of sync.

In social and cultural venues, we see the Law at work in the activism of the marginalized. Who is marginalized in American society? The federal government took a stab at defining the marginalized back in the 1960’s and ’70s, with the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission[21] and in 1990, expanded inclusion in the Americans with Disabilities Act.[22] Five groups which have historically experienced discrimination were to receive “affirmative action:” women, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans, as well as veterans.[23] The ADA later added the disabled to the list of marginalized, but there are additional groups who live on the margins of our society, e.g. the elderly, the sick, children, and immigrants. A variety of organizations like NOW,[24] the ACLU,[25] the Southern Poverty Law Center[26] and the NAACP[27] have been active for decades in advocating for equality, opportunities and advancement of the marginalized.

One sphere of activity in modern America reflects the Law most seriously: politics. How many of our political leaders are from the marginalized groups? Not many. Which group is dominant in our systems of government (especially at the federal level)? Which group is actively resisting the changing social, ethnic, and demographic shifts that are occurring in 21st-century America?[28]

Jung identified this group more than 60 years ago, in an interview with a foreign correspondent:

“Most men are afraid of something and are full of prejudices–which are not there in the case of most women. Men are inclined to resent any interference with their way of thinking and their hidebound convictions. …”[29]

Jungian analyst James Hollis concurs with Jung’s assessment that men are the group whose lives “are essentially governed by fear,”[30] a fact that may be due, in part, to the changing nature of our world. In addition to the transition from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius,[31] which Jung wrote about in 1952, we see a host of other changes now afoot, like climate change, the off-shoring of well-paying manufacturing jobs,[32] and the growing diversity of our American population, which is increasing the numbers of people in the marginalized groups.[33]

Thanks to the patriarchy, men grow up fearful–fearful of falling short of expectations,[34] fearful they may fail to provide for their families,[35] and fearful of competition.[36] Men, of course, will deny this, for, as Jung noted, they “are not honest… with themselves or with me…..”[37] James Hollis also noted men’s tendency to lie; they have not been honest with Hollis either.[38]

Actions speak louder than words. The widespread efforts in many states to disenfranchise marginalized groups (e.g. Blacks and people of color),[39] and to control women’s bodies[40] reflect white males’ fear that they might not maintain their dominance in the future. Unfortunately, such desperate fear-driven efforts by white males are powerless to stop the flow of evolution.


What the Law of the Retarding Lead Means for Women


Highly intuitive as he was,[41] Carl Jung recognized that women were likely to be the “carriers” of change and harbingers of the “new era.”[42] Jung’s lifetime (1875-1961) saw many changes, as women in many countries got the right to vote,[43] stepped up to take over jobs as men went off to fight in World Wars I and II, and got higher education in greater numbers.[44] Women made great strides toward equality in Jung’s day.

These and other similar facts reflect the operation of the Law: As one of the marginalized groups, women would likely be quicker to recognize evolutionary trends, to be open and ready to adapt to new conditions, and to seize the opportunities these conditions presented. Because women tend to identify with (Mother) Nature more than men do,[45] they are quicker to recognize the futility of trying to control Nature’s operations, e.g. by trying to thwart the movement for equality by all the marginalized groups.

As Jung reminds us, “Women are much tougher than men underneath. To call women the weaker sex is sheer nonsense.”[46] Being tough, resilient and adaptable, women have been stepping up as the family breadwinners as the factory jobs have moved to other countries, while many men, given their “hidebound convictions,”[47] have resisted taking well-paying “pink” jobs like nursing.[48] Besides their fear of failure and fear of competition, men also fear their perceived loss of status.

What does this mean for us now?


The Relevance of the Law & the Importance of Women in Our Current Situation


In the early years of his career,[49] Jung worked as a psychiatrist in a mental health clinic, where he discovered that “patients are far more dangerous when suffering from fear than when moved by rage or hatred.”[50] Jung’s insight should serve as a warning to us, as we look to the future.

In the third decade of the 21st century, we Americans are dealing with a cohort of white men who are afraid–fearful of losing control, fearful of losing their political power, fearful of losing their dominant status–and fear can give rise to bizarre actions–actions like nominating to the highest office in the land a narcissitic grifter,[51] and then continuing to support him despite his manifest unfitness for the job;[52] actions like overturning centuries of established norms and precedents in legal rulings;[53] actions like condoning a deadly seditious riot.[54]

Many experts–political scientists,[55] economists,[56] sociologists[57]–are now calling our attention to the perilous state of our American “anocracy”[58]–the term for a political system that once was a democracy but has come to manifest signs of weakened democratic norms. That one of the world’s oldest democracies has come to this dire moment is a clarion call to the one group among the marginalized in our population that is not a minority percentage of the population: women.[59]

Carl Jung recognized our “tenacity and toughness,”[60] and he spoke bluntly about our “tremendous cultural task”[61] as women, which has political and social implications as well: To foster the shift to a more equal, just, honorable and honest environment and society. As caregivers to the sick, the young and the elderly, women have a huge stake in making our world a better and healthier world. We must each do our share to “go with the flow” by supporting the evolutionary changes that are underway.




Avolio, Meghan et al. (2019), “Demystifying dominant species,” The New Phytologist (August 2019), 223-236.

Boorstein, Michelle (2022), “American secularism is growing–and growing more complicated,” The Washington Post (January 14, 2022).

Botkin, Daniel & Edward Keller (1982), Environmental Studies. Columbus: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co.

Bryant, Jessica (2022), “Women Continue to Outnumber Men in College Completion,” Best Colleges (July 8, 2022).

Cohen, Adam (2020), Supreme Inequality. New York: Penguin.

Cruz, Leonard & Steven Buser eds. (2017), A Clear and Present Danger. Asheville NC: Chiron Publications.

Frommer, Frederic (2022), “The most important decisions the Supreme Court has overturned,” The Washington Post (June 24, 2022).

Gaskell, Adi (2022), “How to Attract Men into ‘Pink Collar’ Jobs,” Forbes (April 5, 2022).

Griffin, Susan (1978), Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. New York: Harper & Row.

Hannah, Barbara (1976), Jung: His Life and Work, A Biographical Memoir. New York: G.P. Putnam.

Hollis, James (1994), Under Saturn’s Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men. Toronto: Inner City Press.

Kuttner, Robert (2018), Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Levitsky, Steven & Daniel Ziblatt (2018), How Democracies Die. New York: Crown.

Lind, Michael (2020), The New Class War. New York: Penguin.

Mckenna, Barrie (2006), “While trouncing Big Three, Japanese automaker touts its American roots,” Toronto Globe & Mail (July 14, 2006).

Mills, D. Quinn (1996), “The Decline and Rise of IBM,” MITSloan Management Review (July 15, 1996).

Mui, Chunka (2012), “How Kodak Failed,” Forbes (Januarys 18, 2012).

Packer, George (2013), The Unwinding. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Piketty, Thomas (2014), Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Pilkington, Ed (2021), “Report shows the extent of Republican efforts to sabotage democracy,” The Guardian (24 December 2021).

Posner, Eric (2020), The Demagogue’s Playbook. New York: St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

Reich, Robert (2015), Saving Capitalism for the Many, Not the Few. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Steinberg, Warren (1990), Circle of Care: Clinical Issues in Jungian Therapy. Toronto: Inner City Press.

Twenge, Jean (2017), iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up…. New York:s Simon & Schuster.

Walter, Barbara (2022), How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them. New York: Crown.

Weisman, Jonathan & Reid Epstein (2022), “G.O.P. Declares Jan. 6 Attack “Legitimate Political Discourse’,” The New York Times (Feb. 4, 2022).

Wills, Gary (1972), Bare Ruined Choirs: Doubt, Prophecy & Radical Religion. New York: Delta.



[1] Collected Works, 10 ¶275.

[2] CW 14 ¶500.

[3] Men, Women and God,” Frederick Sands’ interview with Jung (April 1955); Jung (1977), 244-245.

[4] “Letter to Claire Scheuter,” Letters II (10 Jasnuary 1959), 475-476. The “referendum” Jung refers to is the vote in Switzerland in 1959 to give women the vote.

[5] “Letter to Verena Ballmer-Suter,” Letters II (24 January 1959), 477-478.

[6] Hollis (1994), 11; italics in the original.

[7] I.e., a student of animal behavior.

[8] Avolio (2019).

[9] CW 14 ¶503.

[10] Botkin & Keller (1982), 120.

[11] Ibid., 88-89

[12] Ibid.

[13] Mckenna (2006).

[14] Mui (2012).

[15] Mills (1996).

[16] Wills (1972) speaks of this trend in detail.

[17] CW 9ii, ¶s 137-139.

[18] This is the term Jung used to refer to organized religions; CW 18 ¶1637.

[19] A few years ago, when I contemplated taking a sabbatical, I investigated the Divinity School at my alma mater, only to discover that it had not a single reference (much less a course or program) on Jung and his insights!

[20] Boorstein (2022).

[21] The EEOC was founded in 1965, covering the five target groups; it now handles discrimination based on age, disability, national origin, race/color, religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity;

[22] The ADA was modeled on the Civil Rights Act that set up the EEOC;


[24] The National Organization for Women’s contact info is: 1100 H Street NW, Suite 300, Washington D 20005; 202-628-8669;

[25] The American Civil Liberties Union’s contact info is: 125 Broad Street, 18th floor, New York, NY 10004; 212-549-2500;

[26] The Southern Poverty Law Center’s contact info is: 400 Washington Avenue, Montgomery AL 36104; 888-414-7752;

[27] The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s contact info is: 4805 Mt. Hope Drive, Baltimore MD 21215; 877-NAACP-98;

[28] Pilkington (2021)

[29] Jung (1977), 244.

[30] Hollis (1994), 11.

[31] CW 9ii, ¶s 137-139.

[32] For a vivid account of this process, see Packer (2013), 37-56, 89-99, 149-154, 231-239, 327-333, 408-413.


[34] Hollis (1994), 24.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Steinberg (1990), 109.

[37] Jung (1977), 245.

[38] Hollis (1994), 101.

[39] Thirty-two bills restricting voting have become law in 17 states; Pilkington (2021).

[40] E.g. the 2022 Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

[41] Hannah (1976), 83.

[42] CW 14 ¶500.

[43] E.g. New Zealand women got the vote in 1893, Australian women in 1902, Finnish women in 1906, Swedish women in 1919, American women in 1920, and Swiss women (in some cantons) in 1959; Jung did not live to see Swiss women being allowed to vote in federal elections, as he died in 1961, and it was only ten years later that Swiss women could vote in federal elections;’s_suffrage

[44] Bryant (2022).

[45] Griffin (1978).

[46] Jung (1977), 245.

[47] Ibid., 244.

[48] Gaskell (2022).

[49] He worked at the Burghölzli Clinic from 1903 to 1909. Bair (2003), 53.

[50] CW 11 ¶85. Fear is primal; rage and hatred are defenses to hide the underlying fear.

[51] Cruz & Buser (2017), 69-86.

[52] Posner (2020), 256.

[53] Cf . ibid., 186 & Frommer (2022).

[54]  Weisman & Epstein (2022).

[55] Cf, e.g. Levitsky & Ziblatt (2018), Posner (2020) & Walter (2022).

[56] Cf., e.g. Kuttner (2018), Reich (2015) & Piketty (2014).

[57] Cf., e.g. Twenge (2017)s & Lind (2020).

[58] Walter (2022), 11-12.

[59] Women make up 58.4% of the US population (16 years of age and older), compared to 13.4% of Blacks, 12.7% of the disabled, and 16% of those over 65; source: Google.

[60] “Letter to Verena Ballmer-Suter,” Letters II (24 January 1959), 477-478.

[61] CW 10 ¶275.

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