Female social archetypes and maternal energy
Although it was published in 1991, the best-selling “Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of The Wild Woman Archetype” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes is still selling today. She does for womankind what Carl Jung did for mankind by expanding female social archetypes and discussing creatively maternal energy. An archetype, or manifestation of a part of the collective unconscious, is defined by the culture and personal context in which it emerges in the form of images and motifs. In Estes’ view
“what we call masculine development is the ability to take ideas from one’s inner life and implement them in the outer world.”
She then goes on to ascribe that very ability to feminine archetypes, most notably, that of the mother and maternal energy.
Degrees of strength and power
Nobody recognizes the degree of strength, and power, necessary to be a mother more than she does. She describes her experience as a mother like this:
“When I was raising my children I had the feeling that I was in a dugout canoe going down a river filled with filth and on fire with snipers on both shores. And I had these three precious bundles who were my daughters. It was my job to get all the way down this river with them alive. Not drawn into the murk of the water, not killed off the drugs or alcohol or bad relationships or phantasmagoric ideas that would lead them to their destruction.”
Power comes in many forms. It is often defined by success in business or politics, as the top ten on the Forbes 2014 list of the 100 most powerful women in the world clearly shows. However, knowledge is also a form of power, as evidenced by the inclusion of Lila Tretikov, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, who oversees one of the most popular and informative websites in the world. The ability to influence others is also a form of power. One article lists Burmese social activist Aung San Suu Kyi as among the 25 most influential women in the world, despite the fact that she was imprisoned at the time it was written. Energy can be power, like maternal energy.
Mothers and influence
However, societies too often view mothers as less powerful women, and believe that by becoming mothers, women must sacrifice their power to care for their children. A good illustration of that belief was the intense scrutiny Marissa Mayer, then pregnant, was subjected to when she was appointed as CEO of Yahoo.
Despite the fact that most psychologists regard mothers as the most powerful influence on a human being’s development, big business and the media continue to downplay the importance of the power of motherhood and the force of maternal energy. The good news is that despite economic devaluation, another form of imprisonment, the power and influence of motherhood remains undiminished.
In fact, many mothers are channeling that increase in power into social activism. The International Museum of Women launched a project called “Mama Power” that features many strong mothers. For example, in 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women, including Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni woman who is also an activist, journalist, and mother of three. Recognising the potential of powerful women to change the world for the better the Nobel committee was quoted as saying
“We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women acquire the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”
The trap of unrealistic ideals
More than twenty years ago, Estes wisely observed that
“Only the archetype itself can withstand such projections such as ever-able, all giving, eternally energetic. We may try to emulate these, but they are ideals, not achievable by humans, and not meant to be. Yet the trap requires that women exhaust themselves trying to achieve these unrealistic levels.”
We as mothers would do well to remember that the true value of power and influence cannot be determined by employers or the media. It is determined, rather, by the amount of progress their often heroic efforts in the face of adversity have made towards constructing a world in which the lives of all children matter.