Anger and grief do not make for a good mixture. When someone is angry it only makes it more frustrating to have to contend with a grieving person. Conversely, when a person is grieving, the last thing he or she needs is to contend with someone who’s angry. Yet, today, as women and men grow ever more sensitive to issues of gender, that is what, to a large part, we have to look forward to, anger and grief contending with each other.
During the past 25 years, feminism has been a major influence within the Western world. It is not, however, a monolithic phenomenon. The word “feminist”, like the word “catholic”, has as many variations as it has individuals committed to its credo. Many kinds of things emanate from feminist circles.
Despite this, there is a common denominator, anger. To be committed to feminist consciousness is to be, at some point, angry. This is not surprising. What feminism helps set free is, in the metaphorical language of some feminist circles, the anger of the frustrated goddess. What does this mean?
We all carry within us the Imago Dei, the image of God. We are born the divine child and this, whether we admit it or not, colours every aspect of our lives. It is written into our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our souls, and our feelings. We are gods and goddesses, kings and queens, mothers and fathers, called to create, order, nurture, and bless. This is true of both sexes, women and men. We have the same stamp of divinity within us, the same archetypal brand, and, from it, comes our mutual vocation – create, order, nurture, bless.
Feminist consciousness tells us that, for many centuries now, women have been partially (and sometimes largely) frustrated in this. Their call to create, order, nurture, and bless has been too often denied them, denigrated, constricted to a very small arena, and abused or usurped by men. The Imago Dei within them, the goddess, has been frustrated. Now that goddess is angry.
That anger, like feminism itself, is complex. There is proportionate anger (measured anger at specific injustices); ideological anger (politically incited and politically correct anger – “the anger of the great march”, in Milan Kundera’s phraseology); neurotic anger (“All of my personal unhappiness is political and the political has destroyed all of my happiness!”); and archetypal anger (anger that touches the psychic imprint within which are banked all the frustrations of women throughout the centuries).
When anyone is angry, normally there is some mix of all of these. Feminists are no exception. However, it is the last kind, archetypal anger, which is important here. When someone looks at feminism today and asks: “Why are you so angry? Isn’t your anger really out of proportion to its proximate causes?” that someone does not understand archetypal anger, the anger that is the tip of a pine cone that is releasing the frustration of the centuries.
That, though, is also the case with men’s grief. It is interesting, when men’s groups meet the dominant feeling that surfaces is not anger, but grief, sadness. There are many tears at “gatherings of men”. This grief, like anger within feminist circles, has many roots: grief for the father that the industrial revolution took away from his son; grief for the loss of the primal circle of intimacy with the mother that coming to male identity necessarily takes away from the male; grief for the gender depression that results from not knowing how to act in such a way that it feels good to be a man; and, especially, archetypal grief, grief that touches the psychic imprint within which are banked all the losses of men throughout the centuries.
When a man cries he too is the tip of a pine cone … through which seep the tears of every coal miner who has ever died of black lung, of every 19 year old soldier who ever left home to die in a strange country in a heartless war, and of every man who ever had to kill an animal or an enemy.
When someone stands before a man today and says: “Why are you so chronically sad? Why are your suicide rates thirty times those of women?” that person is not understanding archetypal grief.
Archetypal anger and archetypal grief do not make a good mix. But it is vital that they be understood if we, as men and women, are ever to come to a nurturing and tender mutuality which can help heal the centuries old wounds of both women and men.