Vampires: chick magnet, mirror or animus?

The old Abbey“Animus” is a Jungian term for the masculine aspect within the feminine.  Its counterpart, “anima” is the feminine within the masculine (for more on the anima see “The Animas in their summer dresses”

While “animus” is just a word it points to a concept that, when not integrated, contributes to everything from abuse in the bedroom to the glass ceiling in the boardroom.  Better understanding the animus can help women have better relationships, it can help parents raise more empowered and healthy daughters and it can help men better understand and relate to women as real others (rather than as anima projections). 

Many a woman, perhaps due to the way she is raised, is initially uncomfortable to recognize and accept her own aggression, desire and power.  As a result, she may project her animus out onto the men she meets, onto fantasy figures in books, films and TV shows as well as meeting “him” in her dreams—often as the nightmare rapist, intruder or kidnapper.

Much as a man may project his helpless and vulnerable side onto girls (and less so onto individuated women, upon whom the boy-man projects the mother, for better or worse), a woman tends to split her animus into “good” (prince charming) and “bad” (creepy stalker).  In the realm of fairytale and fantasy, a woman (or a girl making her way toward womanhood) is most likely to find the ambiguous figures of attraction and repulsion who represent the animus more completely. 

Take Beauty and the Beast for example.  Belle becomes prisoner to a hairy surly Animus who has imprisoned her weak and impotent father (symbolically showing that the old model of the masculine will no longer do, but the new one is still rather rough at the edges).  Through the transformative power of love, Beast is released from the spell of his karma (his previous narcissism that invited the witch’s spell that would teach him empathy) and Belle is able to unite with her idealized masculine.  The fact that in the Disney film Beast is way sexier than his transformed and tepid prince charming self speaks both to the stultifying effects of Disney on true individuation, while hinting that the “Magic Kingdom’s” trickster often comes up with truly dynamic characters (but usually the “bad” or “evil” ones) and the sexiness of the “bad” is a great clue to the real workings of the animus.

After all, women in their secret hearts tend to want a man who is good and kind, but who also can throw them up against a pick-up truck and desire them (and only them) with raw animal passion.  Too much lust and it’s creepy, too much kindness and it’s deadly dull.  What’s a girl to do?

In the Twilight of adolescent development, ardor and awakening we have the vampire, an excellent model of the animus.  Vampires are a little more in touch with their feminine side than lumbering Frankenstein, or lupine werewolf; whether Dracula, Barnabas Collins, or Edward Cullen these dudes are sensual, oral and hungry for the very blood of the objects of their desire.  Being desired is a great defense against feeling desperate, lonely and unwanted—an adolescent’s Goth pit of despair.  The vampire desperately needs the idealized woman to live, and even touchingly, at times anyway, desires not to hurt her.  The dynamic of desire and resistance pulses at the core of feminine sexuality; and it informs how Twilight taps into the zeitgeist of what pre-adolescent girls want to think, feel and know about.

As parents, it serves us to consider how the “bad guy,” (after all, we don’t want our kids dating vampires, and we don’t want our twelve-year-olds dating at all) can be a strong attractor for a girl who is trying to be what our culture says is powerful:  an object of desire (with emphasis on object).  At the same time Edward Cullen is a mirror of our girls’ nascent power, desire and magical abilities. 

According to Heinz Kohut, as our self develops it seeks at times an idealizing model to aspire to, and at times it seeks a mirroring object to be just like us.  The animus is a girl or woman’s self-mate, as opposed to the anima which is what “completes” a man, a soul-mate along the lines of Jerry Maguire’s “you complete me” speech (lifted right out of Joseph Campbell).  As a self-completer, Ed Cullens understands the girls who read about him, tapping into that bff feeling and offering a mirror of the lonely but authentic self and a hedge against the alienating phoniness of the “real” or non-magical world; on the other hand he is also a vampire, a super-human and immortal being and thus offers an idealized model to integrate and help a girl realize that she too can one day be special and loved, even if it is for traits and qualities that the non-understanding world would seem to devalue (i.e. being different).

A good way to think of animus figures is to see the Beast and Belle, or the vampire and his mate, or even prince charming and Cinderella as representing one masculine/feminine psyche when taken together.  If we can recognize both the masculine and the feminine within, we can better integrate these dualistic opposites and move toward individuation, leading the way for our children to do the same.  Along these lines women can stop unconsciously parking their cruel selves, their rational selves, and their sexual selves in men, and men can stop parking their feeling, sensitive, dependent and intuitive aspect in women.  From there we can begin to have much more interesting and nourishing relationships with each other.  Also note; with gay and lesbian psychology, these same principals apply, dividing themselves into “butch/feminine” and “macho-dominant/feminine-submissive” labels until individuation healthfully blurs these forced distinctions (and since ten percent of kids are gay, some of us are raising gay and lesbian kids and may not yet realize this).  

Ultimately we individuate, or become our distinct selves, so that we can reconnect more deeply with, and be nourished by, our oneness with the group.  Introversion/extroversion, masculine/feminine and straight/gay are relativistic yin-yang concepts that depend on each other for their meaning; they can also be mapped as a continuum on which we all find ourselves.  Our truth is that we all encompass all of them, what is expressed marks our individuality.

So, let’s dedicate today to honoring the animus in both its dark and light aspects, as well as in its transformative potential, and let’s do this in honor of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

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2 Responses to “Vampires: chick magnet, mirror or animus?”

  1. Angela Raincatcher Says:

    Thank you, Bruce, for this post. You have eloquently put into words an idea I have been wrestling with in talking with (male) friends about why these books are so attractive to girls and women, and why they are triggering such angry reactions in many of my male friends.

  2. What is up with Rumpelstiltskin? « Privilegeofparenting’s Blog Says:

    […] speaks of him trapping the girl until she can become a woman by rebelling (For more on animus see: Vampires: chick magnet, mirror or animus?)—the shadow animus is thus the male aspect that imprisons the feminine until she learns to use […]

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