“Feminine Psychology and Masculine Ideology” — an excerpt from the book “Beyond Psychology”

Been wanting to transcribe more from Otto Rank’s book Beyond Psychology (1941), picking back up on page 235 at the beginning of chapter 7 titled “Feminine Psychology and Masculine Ideology”:

It has become a truism that man from time immemorial has imposed his masculine way of life upon woman, both individually and collectively. Traditions, likewise, seem to agree that woman not only willingly submitted to any man-made ideology which happened to prevail but was clever enough to assimilate it and use it to her own advantage. Less obvious, though of greater importance, is the complementary process, namely, that man, while imposing his mentality on woman, usurped some of her vital functions and thus unwittingly took on some of her genuine psychology, differing fundamentally from his own masculine ideology. Herein lies the most paradoxical of all psychological paradoxes: that man, who was molding woman according to his own sexual will, should have taken over into his ideological philosophy the love-principle so deeply rooted in woman’s nature. The conception of Agape, as we have seen, revived the vital principle of woman-love which had been lost in Antiquity, particularly in Greek civilization, where the original mother-goddess was finally replaced by the masculine ideal of the self-created hero.

This gradual replacement of an original mother-culture by the masculine state-organization appears reflected in the development of ancient religion, especially in the Near East, that is, in Asia Minor. Of particular interest to us is the recent study, already referred to, of such development which, documented by Biblical tradition, enables us to follow the successive steps, leading from the one form of social organization to the other. The material in question concerns the story of Petra, known from Biblical sources as “the Rock City of Edom,” which, from the time of Moses and possibly before that, controlled, for many centuries, a great transit route. In its early days of matrilineal succession, the deity was a goddess who, by acquiring a son first for the role of consort and later father, finally became masculinized herself in the form of a god.

Such development, characteristic of all early religions of civilized peoples, seems to reflect the gradual emergence of our later conception of family-types from an undifferentiated mixture of biological facts and supernatural ideologies. Yet, in a sense, this symbol of an original bisexual mother-goddess reveals to us the real story behind the mythical conception of the “first” man, as presented in later Biblical tradition. In order to be impregnated by man, woman had first to give birth to that man as her son, who, when matured, could become her mate and thus a father. The Biblical story presents, as it were, the end-phase of this development in a masculinized reversion of the fact that man is born of mortal woman. Primitive religion, on the contrary, abounds in pictures of a self-sufficient or (later) hermaphroditic goddess who originally creates life without the aid of man before creating man, who in turn creates her in his own image. Such speculations about the origin of man necessarily lead to an incestuous beginning, which, however, does not reflect biological facts but expresses an ideological need in man to blot out the mother-origin in order to deny his mortal nature. Herein is to be found the dynamic drive for man’s religious, social and artistic creativity through which he not only proves his supernatural origin (religion) and capacity (art) but also tries to translate it into practical terms of social organization (state, government).1


[Footnote] 1 A German scholar, Ernst Bergman, designates these two antagonistic tendencies of human civilization in terms of the difference of the sexes as “Erkenntnisgeist und Muttergeist” (Breslau, 1931), meaning the spirit of knowledge as against the spirit of motherhood. He even speaks of a sexualization of woman by man.


The primaeval mother-goddess, later associated with her son-lover who eventually as father usurped her place, seems to have been the prototype of the “Heavenly Queen” characteristic of all Near-Eastern religions, in which invariably a mother-goddess appears sexually related to a son. From Babylonian and Egyptian to Persian and Greek tradition we find this same pattern symbolized in the relationship of Istar-Tammuz, Isis-Horus, Maja-Agni, Tanit-Mithra, Kybele-Attis, Astarte-Adonis and Aphrodite-Hermes. Even in Christian tradition, traces of a similar relation of Christ to Mary can be detected as Robertson1 has suggested on the basis of an earlier myth of a Palestinian God—probably named Joshua—who appears in the alternate relations of lover and son to a mythical Mary. It is important, however, to bear in mind that Christianity does not represent a mere parallel to those ancient conceptions but rather a revival and re-interpretation of the original mother-concept which had given way to the masculinization of Eastern civilization. For in Christianity, this incestuous relationship is interpreted as a symbol of spiritual re-birth. This conception is expounded in Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus’ question as to how a man can be born when aged? Is it possible for him to enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born again? Christ’s well-known answer to this tricky question bears out his spiritual interpretation of the ancient tradition.


[Footnote] 1 Robertson, John Mackinnon, Pagan Christs. N. Y., Truth Seeker Co.


The gradual masculinization of human civilization, in my opinion probably the most enlightening clue to history, is borne out by mythical and religious tradition as well as by the development of social concepts and artistic creation. Mythologically, it is epitomized in the transition from an original moon-goddess characteristic for all early religion to the masculine sun-god who obliterates the moon. The transition—paralleling the above-mentioned religious concept of a mother-son relationship—is found in the widespread tradition of an originally female moon-goddess who was first supplemented by a masculine counterpart, a moon-god, in the role of son or brother, with a later development to husband and father. “These mythological traditions of all civilized and most primitive races have their sociological counterpart in the fact that the remains of the moon-cult also point to primitive conceptions of society, in which the woman still played a greater part than that which we find allotted to her in the patriarchal organization of high cultures with their sun-cult.”1 The best documented example of such masculinization, implying the denial of woman’s importance, is to be found in Egyptian tradition with its violent suppression of the moon-cult epitomized in the ancient Isis-religion by the sun-cult of Ra forcibly introduced by the heretical king Tutankamon. According to the original moon religion in ancient Egypt, the child was named after the mother, a matrilineal rule still reflected in the legend of Moses, the fatherless child. In this, as in all other traditions of the myth of the birth of the hero, the father was not eliminated, as Freud saw it in the light of his patriarchal philosophy, but was unimportant if not altogether unknown.


[Footnote] 1Art and Artist, Alfred A. Knopf, N. Y., 1932, p. 125.


As the repressed mother-cult is presented in such fragments of an earlier civilization, so we may find in other relics of ancient tradition further evidence for the once universal veneration of female creativity which was denied by man’s need of an immortality of his own. How far-reaching and in what unexpected directions such a search may lead can be illustrated by a suggestion of Dr. Murray’s, which she presents in connection with her discussion of this change of sex in the early religion of Petra. She points out that among the gods whose images—often merely oblong stones—have been found at or near Petra were several who were also honored at Mecca in the “Days of Ignorance.” This conjecture makes it likely that the “Holy Carpet” which covers the Kaaba was once the outward image of a goddess, which therefore had to be decently veiled. Such interpretation would explain the ceremonial circumambulation of the Kaaba during the ceremonies of the Haj as a relic of the ritual dances long ago, when pagan Arabs capered-round it naked and priests of Baal leaped up and down before the altars of a god who required human sacrifices. Both through their racial relatedness to the Arabs and the religious influence from Babylonia the Jews seemed to belong to this same cultural development to which they also appear geographically bound. Petra, which during its long history had changed hands frequently, was always snatched from earlier settlers by one of the many Arabic desert tribes attracted by its riches. In the Bible it is known as Edom because in its early days it was occupied by the Edomites, descendants of Esau and kinsfolk of the Jews. They had captured it from the Horites, who in turn had taken it from the Kenites under whom it was first known. The Biblical sources from which most of Petra’s history is drawn provide many examples showing how primitive and crude the Jews were in the day of their power.

There is one incident recorded from a later period which is completely out of place as far as religious ceremonial is concerned and which seems to have preserved in it another relic of an original mother-cult among the Jews, whose monotheism appears as the result of a long struggle against foreign gods who still betrayed the earmarks of an earlier mother-goddess. The episode referred to is King David’s dance before the Torah, an unheard-of sacrilege not only in the times before the building of the first temple but even in the early days of the Golden Calf—another mother-symbol. In the light of Dr. Murray’s suggestion about the original “sex” of the Kaaba it seems quite possible that the Torah which guided the nomadic Jews through the desert represented an original female symbol, a relic of the great Asiatic Mother-Goddess who had been replaced by Jehovah through the man Moses, in whom appears epitomized the transition from the mother-cult of ancient Egypt to the father-cult of monotheistic religion. The Torah proper, containing the new masculine Law of Moses, was—not unlike the Kaaba—carefully covered by the rich vestments inside of which it rested invisibly.

Christianity not only openly restituted the early importance of the mother-cult but likewise did away with its highly masculinized substitutes in Jewish religion and Roman statecraft. By spiritualizing the Oriental mother-cult, the Christian religion extended this genuinely biological conception into a universal love-ideology applicable alike to man and woman. We have shown how this spiritual love-conception of Agape gradually became contaminated with earthly, that is, sexual love-desires—a confusion of the two principles culminating in the romantic love-emotion. This semi-religious development precipitated what one might call a feminization of our Western world, resulting in our psychological type of man. The will-ful Eros and the yielding Agape were translated into psychological terms of “wanting” (will) and “being wanted” (loved), a moral re-evaluation which not only brought about a change of personality types but a change in the general mores of modern times.

This change of psychology in modern man calls for a new evaluation beyond our moral classification of masculine and feminine which shall take into account the more fundamental difference concerning the functioning of the will in the personality of the two sexes. Whereas man’s will in its free expression is simply “wanting,” in woman’s psychology we meet the paradoxical will-phenomenon of wanting to be wanted. Such reversal in the expression of the will raises the question as to whether we are to see it in another perversity of human nature or a genuine expression of woman’s natural self. This latter assumption would then presuppose that there always was and still is a woman-psychology, which has not only remained unrecognized throughout the ages but has been misinterpreted religiously, socially and psychologically in terms of masculine ideologies. First and foremost, through this confusion of the feminine Agape and the masculine eroticism, the religious conceptions of good and evil have been interpreted in sexual terms of “masculine” and “feminine”; that is to say, our social standards and values concerning masculine and feminine traits have become inextricably bound up with our moral notions of good and bad. According to this moral code, which Western man set up by interpreting nature in moral terms, masculinity became identified with strength, power, if not creativity—in a word, goodness; whereas femininity designates silliness, weakness, if not wickedness—in a word, badness.

In view of our previous discussions, it becomes obvious that what we meet in those moralistic qualifications is the age-old struggle of the rational self against its irrational nature. From the point of view of man’s rational psychology, “feminine” traits of emotionalism appear “irrational,” whereas in reality they represent human qualities of a positive nature. Since modern psychology is not only masculine but derived from our neurotic type of man, a great deal of its terminology originated from a misinterpretation of woman in terms of man’s sexual ideology. Such misinterpretation, as shown for example in the psychoanalytic conception of masochism, is not a modern invention but is deeply rooted in human language. For language, which originated as a free expression of the natural self, gradually developed into a rational means of communication voicing the predominant ideology. Thus, in contrasting masculine ideology and feminine psychology we have to guard against becoming involved in the intricacies of linguistic confusion inherent in human speech. In other words, we must first step beyond language in order to remain “beyond psychology,” made up as it is from a language already sexualized. Contrary to common belief, human language did not emerge like the love-call of birds and other animals as an expression of the male’s sexual urge for the female. True, language is masculine, but only in the sense that it was created by man to be used as a most powerful instrument with which to produce a world of his own by interpreting the existing world in terms of his masculine sexology.

The creation of the universe through Jehovah’s word, as the Old Testament presents it, gives testimony to man’s presuming to re-create the natural world in his own words. The Biblical story called “The Tower of Babel” epitomizes man’s ambition to change language from a means of self-expression into a tool for universal communication. The moral of this parable seems to imply a warning against man’s presumptuous attempt to “understand” everything by putting it into words. The fallacy of such an undertaking betrays itself in the vicious circle created by man who first named things in his own language, only to use the same language afterwards by which to “explain” them. Thus it seemed easy to prove—be it in religious, sociological or psychological terms—that this man-made universe was right. In reality, however, this creative ambition of man has produced ever-increasing confusion since the time of Babel, until in our day the world is actually at war about the meaning of words. Terms like communism, fascism, democracy seem to evade any clear definition, because it is not so much their semantic meaning which counts as the way they are used and the means they are used for.1


[Footnote] 1 Soon after the German occupation of Czecho-Slovakia, Berlin sent a daily radio-hour to Prague in order to explain the political terminology of the Third Reich to its new subjects.


In trying, at least temporarily, to keep out of this ideological word-war, we go back to the undeclared war on the border of the two sexes, that is, masculine versus feminine ideology. Here, because the only terminology which psychology furnishes us with which to explain woman is a masculine one, we find ourselves confronted by the same difficulty concerning human language. While the story of the Tower of Babel impresses upon us the linguistic confusion between man and nature in terms of national differences, here we encounter a more fundamental difference in the language used in traffic between man and woman. There actually are two different languages characteristic of man and woman respectively, and the woman’s “native tongue” has hitherto been unknown or at least unheard. In spite of her proverbial chattering, woman is tacit by nature; that is, she is inarticulate about her real self. Man, in his creative presumption, took upon himself the task of voicing her psychology—of course, in terms of his masculine ideology. This fundamental misunderstanding between the two sexes, speaking as it were different languages, appears in Biblical tradition at the beginning of things when Adam listens to the voice of the serpent, speechless by nature, and simply understands it his way. Mark Twain, an unsurpassed master of language, expresses this dualism in human speech when, in his “Diary of Adam,” the first man constantly complains about Eve’s interfering with his joyful task of naming things by suggesting different names for them.

The question as to whether or not this aboriginal dualism of verbal expression in man and woman is reflected in the two genders of various languages has become a source of heated debate among linguistic scholars. In approaching the problem from a new angle, that of man’s creative urge, I was disposed to assume, in conformity with the general view adopted in this book, that what we have to deal with is not a growth of language out of sex-acts or sexual activity but a comparatively late sexualization of language as a manifestation of the human creative urge which gradually usurps the parenthood of everything by bringing sexual connotations into its nomenclature. This sexualization of language is itself, then, a metaphorical way of expressing a “just-like”; that is, it gives name-forms to everything that man creates, “just as if” they were produced by him as the child is.2 It is very tempting, of course, to adduce the existence of genders in almost all modern languages as evidence of the sexual origin of languages; but such a conclusion is so superficial that most scholars, even when attempting to prove the sexual origin of languages, scorn it as unscientific. A really scientific approach proves for our living languages what Powell had already established as a result of his thorough investigation of Indian languages, when he says: “The student of linguistics must get entirely out of his head the idea that gender is merely a distinction of sex. In the North American Indian languages (and probably in the Bantu and the Indo-European also) gender is usually a classification method.” We find the classification of “higher” and “lower” beings, that presently became one of “male” and “female,” in the Semitic languages, which, even thus early, breathe the moral outlook of the East. Here, too, the primitives disclose to us the deeper sources, for (according to Powell) the main principle of their classification is to divide animate and inanimate objects.


[Footnote] 2 A rather curious example is provided in the famous “Indian Bible,” as the first translation made in the colonies was called. Some scholars claim that the translation by the Rev. John Eliot was so faulty that the Indians could not understand it. But recently Prof. S. E. Morison came to the rescue of the translator by pointing out some of the difficulties under which Eliot labored. “Throughout the Bible, wherever the word ‘virgin’ occurs, Eliot uses a word that means ‘a chaste young man.’ That was because chastity was accounted a masculine virtue. They had a word for ‘virgin,’ but seldom any occasion to use it. No doubt it seemed much more suitable to the Indians to have the bridegroom met by ten ‘chaste young men.'”


Thus the inclusion of primitive languages within the scope of our study has shown this phenomenon of grammatical genders to be but a part of a much wider and more complex system of classification; and this makes it all the more interesting to follow the phenomena of transition. Opposed to the two-gender system of the Indo-European, we have the Indian classification that we have just been discussing, based chiefly on the distinction of “soul” and “no-soul” (living and non-living), though, to be sure, there attaches to this a certain valuation as “personal” and “impersonal,” which reappears in the distinction of “masculine” and “feminine.” Most interesting of all are the transitional languages, which show the beginning of sexualization side by side with the old basis of classification. According to Meinhof, the developed system of the Bantu languages has more than twenty classes with special prefixes; and between them and our two-gender system we have, for instance, the Hamitic Ful, in which, above the old classification of nouns, is an overlying new system with only four headings: persons, things, big and small, whence, as the big pass into the class of persons, and the small into that of things, a twofold system is developed, corresponding to our division into masculine and feminine. This gives us a glimpse into the valuation-principle which eventually identifies persons, living, big and important things with man, and non-living, small and unimportant things with woman. This provides a striking parallel to the primitive’s belief regarding the immortality symbols (i.e.. the shadow) of man or woman respectively, stressing the immortality claim of man’s soul as against woman’s mortality, and subsequently assigning values to everything by dividing the world into things animate and inanimate, i.e. good and bad. The only problem here is: why does woman always come into the class of the evil, dangerous, and less valuable? This, as I have explained, arises from man’s urge to eternalize himself personally, an urge threatened by sexual propagation, of which woman is the representative; and so woman passes into what I have called the Not-I class, which includes dangerous as well as unimportant (and neutral) things.

This brief summary of the origin of human speech bears out man’s utter egocentricity, which can be supplemented by the fact that among the first things he named were the parts of his own body. Centuries before the Greeks formulated this basic egocentricity in the slogan of their whole civilization: “Man is the measure of all things,” it operated naively in primitive man. Starting from his own body as his “first field of experiment in his efforts to solve the problem of the ego and to discover its relation to the surrounding world,” man divided the visible universe, as it were, into two categories, the “I” and the “not-I.” The things he accepted, liked or needed he classified as belonging to the I-class, relegating everything else to the not-I class. By virtue of his belief in personal immortality, in which woman as the bearer of sexual mortality did not participate, she automatically became identified with the not-I class (wo-man—no man). Hence, all not-I things, which later formed the neuter class in European languages, were first considered feminine. Thus language, like all other basic human inventions, originated from the supernatural worldview and not from practical motives or rational considerations. Such origin explains the powerful role of words in magical practice, whereby the knowledge of the right word, kept as a secret in priestly tradition, could call a person or thing into being as well as destroy it.

While this genuine magic of words still echoes in our political and scientific slogans, language, which was at first religious, gradually became secularized. Hence is explained why any profanation of language was forbidden, and still is, for that matter, until language itself in its every-day use became profane. This process of deteriorization, known to linguists as “change in the meaning of words,”1 ultimately also led to the sexualization of language as a part of the whole masculine interpretation of the world.


[Footnote] 1 In the process which reflects the changing mores, words tend towards a baser standard. Examples of such “moral degradation” of words can be amply found in every modern language. Not being sufficiently familiar with the history of the English language, I am taking a few examples from a letter to the New York Times. Mr. Jacques W. Redway, of Mt. Vernon, N. Y., writes on June 21, 1938: The opposite process, the covering up of a bad meaning by a nice word known as “euphemism,” applied essentially to everything which has to do with the two basic “unmentionables,” sex and death. Examples abound here, too, for every category; so we will just mention one which, having found expression in law, definitely characterizes the social philosophy of our times. The good old English word “bastard,” which is avoided in ordinary speech has been formally banned in New York by a statute approved April 9, 1925, and for it is to be substituted in all legal documents the term, “child born out of wedlock.”


[Bolded mine. Some footnotes were omitted.]

Stopping for today on page 247. It’s proven to be an interesting book to read, though I won’t claim to have formed a strong opinion about all of its content. It’s interesting food for thought to take in and swish around with the rest. Though I am fairly familiar with arguments about the masculine origin and slant of language, Otto Rank adds an interesting perspective into the mix.

I intend to transcribe more from this book at a later date.

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