About a third of the way into David Cronenberg’s new film A Dangerous Method, Michael Fassbender – as Swiss psychologist Carl Jung – recoils after Keira Knightley lunges to kiss him.
“It is generally the man who takes the initiative,” he tells Ms. Knightley’s character, Jung’s sex-starved, sado-masochistic patient Sabina Spielrein. Jung delivers this rebuke with an air of propriety and, as Freud might say, repression (which came off as unintentionally funny given that, the last time we saw Mr. Fassbender, in Shame, he was having sex with everything that moved).
Fraulein Spielrein pauses for a moment, then responds: “Or do you think there’s something male in every female and something female in every man? Or should be?”
“Maybe,” Jung answers. “I suppose you’re right.”
The film is based on a true story, which suggests that Sabina Spielrein inspired Jung’s later conception of the “anima” and the “animus,” the names he gave to the feminine side of a man and vice versa.
A century later, while these terms have not gained wide currency, the idea that a woman can possess “male” qualities is firmly part of Western culture. Women like Sabina Spielrein – who not only lunged toward men, but later became one of the first female psychoanalysts – and the feminists who followed took back much more than the night. They took back the right to own all sides of their personalities, even the ones only men were supposed to get.
Men haven’t exactly followed suit, have we?
Maybe we were too busy worrying about how the change in women would affect us, but it’s time we caught up. Men embracing their feminine side is the natural next step of human psychological evolution. Sure, we’re already parenting much more actively and one-arm hugging each other more often, but I still feel we’ve only half-embraced the idea.
Deep down, are we as comfortable putting on ballet shoes as we are swinging a hammer? Are we okay hammering in ballet shoes while putting lotions on our big biceps and weeping? No, we are not. Okay, I realize that hammering while dancing will be difficult, but you get my point.
“Women want us to be sensitive and in tune with our feelings but also still be strong and protective and be able to work hard,” I often hear men complain. “They should make up their minds!”
This is silly. It’s true women may be asking for two things, but it’s only two things. Last time I checked, men have dominated the field of higher mathematics for decades, so we’re certainly capable of figuring out how to combine two sides of our personality. Shouldn’t the one-dimensional man be a relic of the 20th century?
I guess I’m biased, because Jung’s concept of the anima did once get me laid. My stepfather, who met my mother at a seminar for Jungians, advised me in my late teens that I would have better luck with the ladies if I embraced my inner woman. This would, he explained, transform me from a guy lusting out of a feeling of lacking something – I was still a virgin – into a man made whole, empowered not only by my own sexuality, but by the female side of my nature.
He suggested I try an exercise to see what he meant: “Pretend to be the woman that you are attracted to and see how you’ll feel different.”
One night, I told a close female friend about this assignment and then, half joking and half drunk, vamped it up on her balcony, role-playing the foxy women I observed on the streets of Montreal. It may not be true for all men, but it turned out my anima was comical and into disco. Acting it out helped me lose my sense of something missing. A few hours later, I lost it in the sack.
As the late Christopher Hitchens has said, simply making a girl laugh – as I did that night – will get you laid plenty, but I also came to realize that there is an alluring quality to a man who can be a man and also be a woman.
Even a man who can simply laugh at the idea of “being a man” is more attractive than one who can’t. (Those who disagree are clearly incapable of doing it.)
As for the opposite sex, I’ve always been most attracted to tomboy princesses like Leia in the third Star Wars, who changes out of her gold bikini and into camo to ride her hover-motorcycle. The first girl I fell in love with at summer camp had a short haircut and rode horses like a cowboy.
Some spiritual types – including latter-day Jungians – claim that the rumoured 2012 apocalypse is actually going to be a massive shift in consciousness. If these sages are correct, it could very well mean more men will be willing to let out their inner disco bunny, as they wipe their tears away with a hammer.
Micah Toub is the author of Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks .