Assagioli already presented his view on the differences between the genders in 1921, and what they can learn from each other, each gender has unique capabilities which is good to know.
- Abstract by Jan Kuniholm: The issue of the differences between the sexes has become more important. The superiority of one sex over the other, asserted by some, is a misplaced “problem.” The differences between the sexes occur on four spheres of manifestation: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Man’s physical activity tends to be “catabolic” or centrifugal; woman’s “anabolic” or centripetal. Woman’s emotional activity tends to be richer and more intense, “centrifugal” and extroverted; men’s less spontaneous and more introverted. Men tend to excel in linear mental activity, whereas women’s intuitive functions tend to be more alive and conscious. Recognition of these inverse polarities is necessary to understand the ideals and functions of the sexes. Each sex must moderate its excesses, correct defects and one-sidedness by developing the gifts of the opposite sex. Man must give a place to kindness, compassion, protection of the weak, and public morality. Woman must expand her educating activity to include all humanity. Men need to develop emotional and spiritual qualities and women need to develop their physical and intellectual qualities, emphasizing higher rather than lower qualities. One of the best means to achieve these ideals is coeducation. There is a particular call to woman, not to follow the path of men but to forge a new ministry of human regeneration to counteract the excessive masculinism of our civilization. This requires an original activity by women rather than any copying of masculine models, to save this endangered civilization.
The entry of women into public life is a fait accompli. Even before having obtained the right to vote everywhere, before having been formally appointed to public office, women have resolutely invaded workshops, schools of every grade, private and state offices on a vast scale, and have set about practicing professions which hitherto had been the exclusive province of men. This is truly a great thing; it is a radical upheaval of psychological, moral and social conditions and laws, the consequences of which are incalculable and which will exert a perhaps decisive action on the uncertain, indeed gravely compromised fortunes of our civilization.
Naturally, this great event has particularly called public attention to the ever-present problem: the problem of the differences in constitution and aptitudes that exist between the two sexes; of the different functions, of the different relationships of cooperation and antagonism that there are or may be between them.
The discussions on this subject have been very lively, and although there has been no lack of wise considerations or fair observations, rash and erroneous statements have often been made, confusions have been created. Through impassioned accusations and unjust denigrations it has even come to the point where a battle between the sexes is being staged, which is not only inappropriate and contrived, but truly against nature.
Therefore, a calm and fair-minded critical review of this complex issue does not seem unnecessary to us.
Above all, we propose to clearly and precisely “set out” the individual issues, attempting to dispel some of the misunderstandings, preconceptions and quibblings that complicate and obscure them, and to make some basic facts and principles stand out well, over the tangle of secondary and idle questions.
The debate that is most often ignited and perhaps fascinates the public the most, while in fact being the least serious and conclusive, is that concerning the superiority of one sex over the other.
We will therefore have to pause to examine whether there really is an overall superiority of one sex or the other, or whether instead we are dealing with partial and individual superiorities; and, if so, what these are and how they should be viewed. This will lead us to examine the broader question of the qualitative psychological and moral differences existing between men and women. And the observation of them will raise the question of their value and the attitude to be taken towards them. We shall therefore try to recognize which characteristics and dispositions of each sex should be cultivated, and which should be corrected or even eliminated.
In general, should each sex tend to exclusively develop its own characters and capacities — or should it aim rather to develop the elements that it lacks, and that are strong in the opposite sex? Or should one of the sexes do the former and the other the latter? It seems that our civilization has chosen the third of these ways. For while the female sex tends more and more to develop in the sense and image of the male sex, the latter shows no corresponding propensity; on the contrary, it seems aimed at accentuating and exaggerating its own peculiar characteristics more and more.
But is this orientation of our civilization really necessary and appropriate, or does it instead present grave dangers? Is not woman in danger of losing her best qualities, of neglecting or impairing the very noble functions inherent in her? And if it is recognized that woman, in imitating and emulating man, is following a wrong path, that indeed our civilization suffers from an excess of machismo, what would be the remedies? [i]
* * *
Let us begin by clearing the ground of controversies concerning the superiority of one sex over the other. Time and again, in various eras, it has been asserted — by men, of course! — that woman is inferior to man. Among the most ardent in asserting this were some ancient Church Fathers who — far from the true Christian spirit as manifested in the Gospels — regarded woman as the source of all iniquity and went so far as to question whether she possesses a Soul!
In our times, the German neurologist Moebius,[ii] the Viennese philosopher Weininger[iii] and the Scandinavian writer Strindberg[iv] have been particularly conspicuous in denigrating woman. Some years ago Moebius wrote a small volume on the subject that raised a great stir, which was translated into Italian under the title On the Mental Inferiority of Women.[v] In it Moebius did not limit himself to pointing out certain shortcomings of a purely intellectual character — about which, as we shall see, he may be partly right — but he also asserted the moral inferiority of woman. And the latter assertion was insisted upon even more sharply by Weininger, who in his strange and paradoxical book Sex and Character goes so far as to deny all personality and even the soul to woman.
On the other hand, there has been no lack of assertions by some women about female superiority over men; but such assertions have been less frequent and less exaggerated. A Venetian woman named Moderata Fante Giorgi wrote a book printed in 1600, The Worth of Women, in which women are exalted above men.[vi] In 1660 Marie-Anne Guillaume published a work with the title Que le sexe féminin vaut mieux que le masculin.[vii] And recently an English writer, Frances Swiney,[viii] who has done very active and beneficial work in favor of female advancement and social morality, has been carried away by her enthusiasm for feminine ideals to the point of believing in the complete superiority of women over men and wanting to prove it in her books.
We do not deem it necessary to have a discussion of the two opposing theses that refute each other. We will only say that the general error committed by both sides is to believe that one can compare the two sexes with each other, as if they were simple objects of the same nature, as if only quantitative differences existed between them. In reality, the two sexes are profoundly dissimilar in intimate constitution, and have entirely different, indeed in a sense opposite, functions. Thus the problem of the general superiority of one sex over the other is a problem of impossible solution, because it is fundamentally misplaced; it is a “problem” that makes no sense.
There are indeed partial and limited ways in which one sex is [generally] superior to the other with respect to certain specific gifts and abilities — but the study of these is part of the more general study of the qualitative differences existing between the two sexes. Such a study is very useful and timely. Indeed, a fairer and deeper understanding on the part of each sex of its own gifts and defects, its own possibilities and dangers, and an equally correct understanding of those corresponding in the other sex, constitute a necessary condition for the success of any work of human advancement, indeed of any intimate coexistence.
The study of these differential characteristics is more difficult than it may at first seem. The human being in general is very complex and multifaceted; it is truly a microcosm, of which we are far from knowing all the marvelous regions, the dark depths and the glittering peaks.
Another serious difficulty, which results in frequent errors of judgment, stems from the fact that no particular man is “completely masculine,” just as no woman is “absolutely feminine.” In fact, the psychic characteristics of the two sexes are mixed to a very varying degree in each individual, so much so that some men can be said to possess feminine qualities to a greater degree than certain women, and vice versa. This fact is very important and should be kept well in mind, both as a necessary caution in studying the characteristics of the two sexes and because of the value of the practical inferences that can be drawn from it in the educational and social field.
Attempts have been made many times to trace the differences that exist between the two sexes back to a general and absolute principle. Thus it has been said that man is active and “positive,” while woman is passive and “negative.” This concept is partly right, but taken in its own right it is too rigid and one-sided, and does not take into account other aspects of reality; so much so that there have been those who have argued — with less reason in my opinion, but also not without pointing out some true and usually unnoticed facts — that woman is more “active” than man. [ix]
We believe that in order to properly recognize and appreciate the validity and the limits of this and any other difference between the sexes, it must be studied separately in the various spheres in which human beings manifest themselves. These spheres of manifestation can be reduced to four.
- There is first of all the physical world, and in it we must study the characteristics of the physical body, its functions and the various activities that are directed to mastering the forces of nature.
- The second sphere of human life is constituted by the world of passions, emotions and feelings: from the lowest ones, connected with instincts, to the noblest and truly human ones.
- The third sphere consists of the mental world, the world of specific images and representations, concepts, universal ideas, the realm of intelligence and reason.
- The fourth sphere, the highest and generally least known, is that of spiritual intuition, inspiration, religiosity, and pure love; in it the mysterious contact of the soul with God takes place.
In the physical world, man can be said to be actually predominantly active and woman passive.[x] The man is physically more developed, and muscularly stronger than the woman. He is the more enterprising, fact-oriented, aggressive and progressive element. Man continually tends to do [things], to change reality; he wants to possess and dominate, and therefore with indefatigable art he has manufactured tools, machines and weapons, from the crude flint hatchets to the electric drills with which he excavates mountains today; from primitive slingshots to modern machine guns with which he disposes of his fellow men more easily and quickly, with far more perfect technique than his barbaric ancestors knew. On the other hand, woman — the natural woman I mean — carries on a less intense and tumultuous life in the [outside] physical world; [she is] more receptive and collected; she tends to escape [physical] dangers rather than face them; and to adapt to reality rather than transform it. In this sense, therefore, it may well be said that in the physical world man represents the active element, the positive pole, while woman constitutes the passive element, the negative pole.
Such a relationship of opposition, however, does not adequately render the whole of reality, and it needs to be supplemented with other qualitative determinations. In fact, woman is also active in the physical plane: indeed, she performs fundamental and most necessary activity, although different from that of man. Man’s physical activity is expansive and dispersive in character, or — to borrow a term from physiology — “catabolic;” he prodigally expends his energy, consumes his body in forcing beings and elements to obey his will. In contrast, woman’s activity is predominantly constructive, restorative, “anabolic:” she tends to produce and preserve life, in herself and in others.[xi] [By analogy] the man corresponds in this sense to the industrious day, at the end of which one arrives tired and exhausted; the woman [corresponds] to the night, during which a silent and intense processing and assimilation of energies takes place in the apparent inertia of rest, so that at dawn the restored and refreshed being can resume the daytime tasks with new vigor.
From this point of view it can also be said that man corresponds [by analogy] to the animal kingdom, woman to the vegetable kingdom. The characteristics of the former are in fact predominantly external, mobile, combative activity, consuming energies drawn directly or indirectly from plant food; the characteristics of the latter are “fixity,”[xii] internal activity accumulating vital energies; anabolism. The plant assimilates carbon from the atmosphere by means of its marvelous chlorophyll function, the true nourisher of every living thing; while animal organisms feed the warm flame of their life by burning the carbon bestowed by their silent benefactors.
In the world of emotions and feelings, on the other hand, we find that it is not accurate to speak of male activity and female passivity, that indeed the polarity here is reversed. Indeed, the emotional and feeling life of woman is [generally] richer and more intense than that of man. Contrary to what she does in the physical world, woman tends to expand herself actively in the emotional world, to pour her exuberant energies out of herself; she attaches herself to others and to things themselves with the thousand bonds of her various affections, she immerses herself in them by infusing her own life into them. In other words, the vital motion of woman is here expansive and “centrifugal” (extroversion). Man, on the other hand, is, as a rule, less spontaneous and exuberant in this area: his emotions may be violent, but they are mostly aroused by external stimuli and cease as these [stimuli] stop. Man’s affections have a more centripetal character (introversion).
Recognition of these different characters of the emotional life of men and women serves very well, in my opinion, to interpret more correctly and harmoniously coordinate various facts that are often noted but not well understood and evaluated. Such a recognition, for example, gives us[xiii] clear reasons as much for the main faults as for many feminine qualities and merits: it makes us understand why women are often curious, talkative and susceptible; why they have so many excessive and irrational attachments; why the personal and subjective element predominates in them at the expense of equanimity and justice; why they are generally incapable of being self-sufficient and of enduring loneliness.
On the other hand, it makes us understand why women have such a ready and acute spirit of observation for details; such a keen perception of others’ state of mind, an admirable capacity for devotion, a tireless kindness and indulgence for loved ones.
All the opposite occurs in man. From the above-mentioned characteristics of his emotional life derive his frequent coldness and dryness, his tendency to isolate and enclose himself, his difficulty in understanding and appreciating the inner life of others and especially that of woman; and on the other hand his calmness, his self-possession, his greater ability to judge “impartially,” and his greater sense of proportion.
If we turn to consider the mental world, we can easily see a new inversion of polarity. Here man is undoubtedly stronger and more active. In all ages philosophical speculations and legislative codes has been almost exclusively his work; the domain of general ideas, rational syntheses, coordinated and organizing activity are predominantly his. [xiv]
Conversely, in this field [generally] lies one of woman’s worst weaknesses, as the best and most dispassionate among them have not hesitated to acknowledge. But even more than the ability to produce intellectually — an ability that some women have to a very high degree — they [often] lack the spontaneous impulse [for intellectual activity], the real interest in doing so, as one woman, Gina Lombroso, keenly observed. This appears, for example, in the case of Sofia Kowalewski, who, although she possessed a real genius for mathematics, and actively occupied herself with it for personal reasons, used to say that nothing bored her as much as devoting herself to mathematics.[xv] But such female disinterest in purely theoretical and abstract studies is in a sense justified, since these studies are alien to the natural functions and tasks of women. On the other hand, when some feeling or need impels her to do so, she can quickly and easily assimilate the products of male intelligence. It is very clear then, that in this sphere the man is active and positive and the woman passive.
In the fourth and highest sphere, that of intuition, which may be regarded in some respect as a sublimation of the second, we find that woman is more alive and conscious than man. Of course, not all women have developed this high and precious endowment, but in the best among them lucid intuition can suddenly grasp high truths, which man’s reason does not reach, or reaches only later and imperfectly. The capacity to love reaches the sublime heights of complete sacrifice, of heroic self-denial; the intimate religious sense reaches the supreme pinnacle of the full union of the soul with God. Women who have thus awakened within themselves the highest possibilities of their souls have been the priestesses, the seers, the inspired ones, the great mystics and saints; they have been and are humanity’s tutelary angels, inspirers and motivators. They have opposed mental doubts and discouragements with the security of their direct vision and their faith; they have met the labors and wounds of humanity with the balm of their healing and regenerating love.
This high sphere of life is indeed not closed to man, but when he penetrates it he does so by developing endowments and adopting attitudes that represent the noblest features of womanhood. For example, the facts are very significant that in our [Italian] language, as in others, “the Soul”[xvi] is [linguistically] of the feminine gender, and that the relations of communion between it and God (the pure Spirit who is above all duality and polarity as such) has everywhere been indicated by the symbol of spiritual marriage: the Soul is the mystical bride of the Lord.
The attitude of humility, passivity and dedication that the soul assumes toward God, its indwelling in Him,[xvii]clearly have the characteristics of the feminine attitude. Before God all masculine attitudes of boldness, strength, imperiousness and self-assertion disappear and give way to mute adoration. It is natural, therefore, that such a consciousness should awaken more often and more easily in women, who have a greater intimate natural affinity for it.
The recognition of this fourfold inverse polarity is, in my opinion, of great help in clearly understanding what functions, tasks and ideals are most appropriate for each of the two sexes.
As a first guideline for determining such tasks and ideals, and as a constant standard for judging their respective appropriateness and importance, we believe we can usefully adhere to the following general formula:
Each of the two sexes must first of all perform the functions of activity most in keeping with its own nature,[xviii]but each must also moderate excesses, correct defects and one-sidedness of its constitution, by developing to a certain degree the specific gifts of the opposite sex. Let us see a little more precisely how this norm can be applied in different cases.
Let us begin with the man.
He must certainly continue to carry out his productive and organizing activity in the external world, providing the material means necessary for life, making use of the infinite resources of nature to build the main foundations of the social structure. But in fulfilling these functions he must become more harmonious and understanding. He must take into account the value and needs of all the feminine aspects of life; he must correct his excesses of brutality, materialism and feverish activity, giving wider place to kindness, compassion, protection of the weak and oppressed, public morality and religious spirit.
He will have to continue his work of creation and progress in the sciences, philosophy and the arts, manifesting in them all the highest gifts of his manly nature, but he will have to guard himself against the aridity, coldness and sterile intellectualism into which he too often falls, and instead enliven his work with a warm breath of human and religious feeling, guiding and enlightening his rational activity with the intuitive vision of supreme realities.
Woman, for her part, above all will have to continue to carry out her own particular and most noble functions: she will above all continue to be a mother, but in order to be so in a truly integral way, she will not have to limit herself to physical procreation, to the care of bodies; she will also have to be the educator, inspirer and protector of children; and in this sense she can also be the mother of the children of others, and of the whole of humanity. This great moral and spiritual motherhood can also be realized by women to whom fate has denied children of their own flesh; indeed sometimes these women can realize it more extensively than those who must do their work first and foremost in their own families.
Thus women must continue to be, and increasingly become, educators, in every school and also outside of schools; nurses of every physical and moral ailment, comforters of every sorrow, inspirers and rewarders of every noble action and every great work of humanity, courageous admonishers [of others] in the face of every degeneration, every oppression, every cruelty, illuminators of new ways in moments of bewilderment and darkness.
But in order to carry out these great functions, and implement such lofty ideals, woman will also have to moderate her excesses and correct her shortcomings. Above all she will have to overcome her weakness and overcome her tendency to passivity, to abandonment, [and the attraction] to the low forms of dedication into which she still too often falls.
She will have to learn to rein in the exuberance of her own emotions, her excessive flexibility and changeability; she will have to become capable of correcting subjectivism, disciplining the overly vivid imagination, tearing away with a sure hand the veils of illusion that so often conceal reality from her and cause her to make serious mistakes.
Therefore she will have to develop strength, firmness, constancy and seriousness. She will have to renounce certain easy triumphs of vanity and, without losing the charm of beauty and grace, make these instruments of elevation rather than depravity for man, purifying them of their sensualist element and animating them with a spiritual breath.
Woman will also have to cultivate and develop her intellect, the higher powers of discrimination, synthesis and rationality, by patient and assiduous work. For only with their help will she be able to discipline and restrain her emotions, and be able to separate true intuitions from the impressions and suggestions with which she not infrequently confuses them. Only thus can she better understand and appreciate man, intelligently accompany his activities, and offer him wise and effective help.
Both particular attention and caution are required regarding the “infantile element,” which is so developed and persistent in the woman. This element, which is often so strong as to constitute almost a personality of its own,[xix] gives the woman some valuable qualities, such as freshness, spontaneity and grace. But it is also the source of several of her less good qualities, and exposes her to serious pitfalls and falls. This childlike personality is fickle, capricious and inconsistent; above all, in it are weakness and recklessness, which are perhaps the greatest obstacles to female redemption.
When woman has learned to stop playing the part of the spoiled and somewhat perverse child with man, when she has renounced the privileges (comfortable in appearance, but in reality paid for dearly) of childishness; that is, to call it by its true name — of a voluntary and artificial inferiority — then she will be able to take freely — with a new sense of dignity, with multiplied power of good — her true place beside man.[xx]
* * *
These, broadly speaking, are the ideals toward which each sex should strive. But what are the best methods of achieving them? It is certainly not possible to carry out an entire program of self-education for both sexes at this time. I will only mention the most appropriate and fruitful general method, and the most necessary and urgent tasks given the serious crisis now facing human society.
By now it has been recognized and affirmed in many quarters that the best way to elevate the two sexes is through their conscious, voluntary and extensive cooperation in all fields of human activity.
The inward and outward life of separation and latent antagonism which individuals of the two sexes have hitherto led, interrupted only by imperfect and incomplete encounters based upon passion, and by those too rare experiences of true harmonious and complete love, has been a source of the most serious drawbacks. Men, when among themselves, tend to descend to the levels of vulgarity and cynicism and to absorb themselves completely in their business calculations and in their political passions. And the women among themselves are equally prone to immerse themselves in gossip, and in frivolous inconclusive conversations about clothes, hats and maids!
In short, each sex isolated from the other has no incentive to improve itself; but is rather inclined to accentuate its own defects. The psychic influence that one sex exerts on the other is very strong. It has been said that the woman is shaped according to the image that the man fantasizes about her; and it is also true that the man tends to become what the woman desires and wants him to be. Such influence unfortunately — it must be made very clear — often serves mutual degradation. Many — too many — modern women tend to become those stolid, impudent and vicious creatures that are the heroines of the novels of a Guido da Verona;[xxi]many — too many — modern men tend to embody that half-snob, half-Apache warrior type: sensual and violent, who gratifies the baser elements of femininity.
But this mutual influence, precisely because it has so much malevolent power, can acquire — and sometimes has had — an equally beneficial power. Just as in the best days of medieval chivalry the noble manly ideal held up to men by the châtelaines[xxii] raised them up and induced them to heroic deeds, so now, and always, woman, by her charm, by her affection — though also by her command — can transform and sublimate the nature of man. And even more easily the flexible nature of woman lends itself to being molded according to man’s desires and aspirations. If he wants the woman to be his angel, the woman will be.
Such beneficial influence can extend to all the various relationships between one sex and the other. The father can in some respects exert a deeper and more useful action on his daughter’s education than the mother can. And then how deeply a woman of high feeling can shape the soul of her son, is attested to us by the testimony of many great ones. Thus for example we can find the secret source of some of the gifts we most admire in Giuseppe Mazzini[xxiii] in the truly superior soul of his mother.
One form of male-female cooperation that is spreading rapidly nowadays is that provided by coeducation.[xxiv]This is a very imperfect form, both because it is not voluntary and conscious on the part of those who participate in it, and because of the current very bad school system.[xxv] But even under these unfavorable conditions I believe that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. The young men are forced to moderate, at least a little, their tendency to vulgarity; the young women are driven to fruitful emulation in intellectual work, and have an opportunity to widen the circle of their interests, to prepare and temper themselves, by a more gradual and direct acquaintance with life, to safeguard themselves from its pitfalls, and to face its struggles.
But the increasing participation of adult women in the various forms of social activities offers an opportunity that has never before occurred in history, for a grand experiment in general and continuous cooperation between the sexes.[xxvi] Whether the results of such an experiment will proceed beneficially or disastrously will depend on the attitude which the participants adopt. If each sex consciously and earnestly proposes neither to overwhelm the other by force, nor to exploit it by charm, but to help the other and be helped by it, then human nature may receive a truly astonishing upward impulse, and many ills that afflict us be effectively cured.
We are still in the early days; there is still time. It is the duty of everyone who cares about the fate of humanity to work in every way for the implementation of this ideal, which is equally masculine and feminine. To teach with patience, to generously give what one possesses to the other; to receive what we lack with humility and gratitude — this is what can and should be done on every occasion of coexistence and cooperation.
Some of the concepts we have so far unfolded were expressed succinctly in a brilliant way by the English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, as may appear from the following excerpt:
The woman’s cause is man’s: they rise or sink
Together, dwarfed or godlike, bond or free . . .
* * *
. . . could we make her as the man,
Sweet Love were slain: his dearest bond is this,
Not like to like, but like in difference.
Yet in the long years liker must they grow;
The man be more of woman, she of man;
He gain in sweetness and in moral height,
Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world;
She mental breadth, nor fail in childward care,
Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind;
Till at the last she set herself to man,
Like perfect music unto noble words . . .[xxvii]
The comparison of woman with music is not a mere poetic image, but reveals an intimate correspondence between the high spiritual gifts of the female soul and the most spiritual of arts. This analogy was deeply intuited by Giuseppe Mazzini, who expressed it as follows:
Music (like woman) has in it so much of the sacredness of natural purity, and such promise of the future, that even when they have most prostituted and degraded it, men have failed to cancel the iris of promise by which it is surrounded; and even in this Music of our own day which we condemn, there is yet so much vitality and power as to foretell its higher destinies, and new and holier mission.
Though as yet in but fragments, it does present to us occasional images of the harmony and beauty which are eternal. One might almost fancy it the voice of a fallen angel sounding to us from the abyss, and conveying to earth from time to time an echo of the tones of paradise.
It may be that a higher ministry of human regeneration is reserved for Music (as for woman) than is generally believed. [xxviii]
In dictating this last thought Mazzini’s genius was, as in so many other cases, wonderfully prophetic. In recent times a “higher ministry of human regeneration” has truly been revealed to our eyes, which constitutes the New Woman’s chief and urgent task and which will be — we hope — her glory. In her above all lies the salvation of the present civilization.
Our civilization has increasingly assumed predominantly and excessively masculine characteristics. This has been noted by several scholars, and best of all by the great Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore[xxix] in that admirable essay on woman contained in the volume Personality,[xxx] which every woman, but even more so every man, should read and ponder.
This fact is clearly evident to anyone who observes the most salient manifestations of contemporary life with a little attention. Unrestrained thirst for material possession and domination on the part of individuals, of professional and social classes, and nations; the exaggerated tendency to organize everything from the external vantage; the predominance of intellectualism and technicality; the devaluation of moral and religious principles — all these evils of our age derive in an obvious way from an excessive and one-sided accentuation of typically masculine elements. And woman herself, as we have mentioned, suffers from the influence of this general trend and tends to masculinize herself in every sense.
It is evident how urgent it is to heal those evils by balancing masculinism with an introduction of good and high femininity into social life. It is necessary to begin ab imis fundamentis[xxxi] with the protection of physical life itself, which men are far more concerned with destroying than preserving. It is necessary to protect life from its germinal beginning in the mother’s womb; it is necessary to protect childhood; it is necessary to fight the diseases and poisons that undermine it. But to do this effectively requires a profound overturning of bad habits and erroneous evaluations that are very deeply rooted in the male soul. The problems of prostitution and alcoholism must be resolutely addressed. And it will take no less than the full weight of women’s will and new power to overcome the tenacious coalition of passions and interests that have so far frustrated every attempt to effectively cure those shameful plagues.[xxxii]
It is now being asserted and repeated on all sides that it is then necessary to completely reform the systems of public education. But it has not always been seen that in order to correct the present harmful systems it is especially necessary to enliven the schools with the elements that are endemic to womanhood: it is necessary to make teaching more concrete and humane; to make sentiment play a larger part, to animate education and supplement it with breaths of beauty, morality and religiosity.[xxxiii] Equally necessary is the influence of women in the field of international politics. For what will be able to correct the dreams of empire, the greedy lusts for wealth, and the ill-suppressed hatreds that inform the grim male politics of the post-war period and that threaten to stir up terrible new conflicts, if not the feeling for the value of life and human personality, the spirit of love and sacrifice that is native to woman?
But some will ask, how can this happen if upon entering social life woman tends fatally to masculinize herself?
Fortunately, such a distortion of woman is more superficial than it would seem from judging by appearances. The intimate constitution of a human being is not so easily changed. Certain blatant exaggerations of feminism, [many of which are] unconscious imitations of masculinity, are an artificial product, a masquerade rather than a true distortion of feminine nature. Nevertheless, the danger exists, and it is necessary to take time in between things to highlight it and to combat it.
I am very glad to say that the leading representatives of the female sex have clearly realized this and have resolutely set to work. Not mentioning more recent events in Italy, I will recall the warning by Countess Gabriella Spalletti Rasponi,[xxxiv] President of the National Council of Italian Women, inspired truly by superior wisdom, made on the occasion of the proposed law on the vote for women:[xxxv]
Woe if woman were content to copy male action, to passively agree with it! In order to have the new society it is necessary that she should bring an original strength to it; that she should not allow herself to be organized by men, but maintain her own independent organization; and this not out of the ambition of a hateful “feminism,” but out of a duty to sincerely express her strength, which has remained latent for centuries, and which must now manifest itself and flourish in the sunshine of freedom.
If we were to content ourselves with passively following in the male footsteps, doubling the man’s vote with ours, we would give the most explicit proof of our weakness and unconsciousness.
Woman would thus betray her own cause first of all, and then the interest of society as a whole. It would be a new abdication of her own personality, her own independence; the continuation of that passive state, in which until now she has seen the accumulation all the evils she suffers and deplores.
Women say, “We want the vote because without it we will never be whole; our voice will be lost in the wilderness;” and this is most justified. But if they want to be whole, it is because they feel that they have a different word to say than what men say; and if they feel the duty to say this different word, they must also feel the need to unite, as women, so that their voice will have the necessary reach and effectiveness. All women’s aspirations must be united in one voice, and this not against man, but in aid of man for the highlighting of so many shortcomings that escape him and cause common unhappiness.”
And similarly, the promoters of the Sorores Lucis Women’s Association, who set out with great fervor and profound seriousness of purpose to carry out a work of regeneration of womanhood, stated in their first appeal:
Woman must place herself in a position to bring a special note to the solution of problems affecting the collective life of the country and of humanity, but one derived from the elevation and nobility of feminine character. It must become a factor of restoration and renewal and not simply become an echo, and often a bad echo, of what is a male note; a copy — a bad copy — of what has been the prerogative and initiative of men.
Oh! if all women understood their mission, as some do, one might exclaim with Giuseppe Mazzini:
If they would, instead of grazing on idleness and corruptness, reconsecrate themselves with a sublime apostolate of freedom, and join with the youth around them, inspirers of magnanimous deeds and generous feelings! Certainly the angel of strong thoughts would never have assumed more cherished forms nor more attractive appearance.
Let the new woman therefore prepare herself for the arduous and glorious task: Save this endangered civilization. Stand firmly against the influences that are now prevailing. Bravely fight whenever necessary — not man, but his errors and faults, for the good of both. And the new man will come to fight by her side for the holy cause, and will love her as he has never yet loved her, with a higher and worthier Love.
[i] It is particularly important to note that Assagioli refers in some sections of this essay to “man” and “woman,” as opposed to “men” and “women.” This usage is intended to be a generic survey looking at predominant trends, or collections of archetypal qualities, not a prescription for all men or allwomen, for he has specifically noted the masculine and feminine qualities are distributed between the sexes, and the characteristics of some people are clearly not within the predominant trend. For those people, the suggestions for the predominant trends must be qualified or even reversed. —Ed.
[ii] Paul Julius Möbius (1853-1907), German neurologist, referred to by Freud as one of the fathers of psychotherapy, published a pamphlet in 1900 titled Über den physiologischen Schwachsinn des Weibes (On the Physiological Imbecility of Women). This work went through nine editions in eight years.—Ed.
[iii] Otto Weininger (1880-1903) was an Austrian philosopher. His book Sex and Character asserted that the female aspect of a human is passive, unproductive, unconscious, and amoral or illogical. —Ed.
[iv] Johan August Strindberg (1849-1912) was a prolific Swedish playwright, novelist, poet and essayist, best known internationally as a playwright. His relationships with women were notoriously troubled and he published misogynistic remarks, having given glowing reviews of Weininger’s book mentioned in Note 2, which Strindberg said “probably solved the hardest of all problems: the woman problem.” —Ed.
[v] This may be the work cited in Note 3, in which case the Italian translators softened the impact of the original title. —Ed.
[vi] Moderata Fonte, a.k.a. Modesta di Pozzo di Forzi (1555-1592) was a Venetian writer and poet. Il merito delle donne (The Worth of Women) and other dialogues were published posthumously in 1600. —Ed.
[vii] “That the Feminine Sex is Better than the Masculine.” —Tr.
[viii] Rosa Frances Emily Swiney (nee Biggs) (1847-1922), English feminist, lecturer and writer. —Ed.
[ix] See G. Lombroso – L’Anima della donna – p. 12 and following. —Author’s Note. Gina Lombroso’s The Soul of Woman: Reflection on Life was published in 1918. Lombroso (1872-1944) was an Italian physician and psychiatrist. —Ed.
[x] The word “passive” derives from the Latin passivus, meaning “capable of feeling or suffering;” its original sense is “receptive” or “capable of being acted upon.” —Ed.
[xi] In biology or physiology “catabolic” refers to activity involving the breakdown of complex substances into simpler ones in metabolism; whereas “anabolic” refers to activity involving the building of complex substances from simpler ones. —Ed.
[xii] I think Assagioli here has in mind a quality of “preferring to remain in place” as opposed to “wandering.” —Ed.
[xiii] Perhaps unintentionally, Assagioli refers to “us” in this paragraph, making it clear that, on this occasion at least, he is a man speaking to men. In this paragraph, women are “them.” This perhaps shows the limitation of this essay. —Ed.
[xiv] It must be noted that under the title of “mental activity” Assagioli is here referring predominantly to what is now called “linear thinking,” the activity largely associated in modern studies to the left hemisphere of the brain.
[xv] G. Lombroso, The Soul of Woman, p. 130, op.cit. —Author’s Note.
[xvi] l’anima in Italian. —Tr.
[xvii] Note that the use of the masculine pronoun for God is purely conventional and spiritual, not gender-based.—Ed.
[xviii] In an interview 50 years later, Assagioli asserted that most life roles can in fact be chosen and carried out by either sex, so that what “is most in keeping with one’s nature” is a matter of choice, although many functions require specific training and development; and that “function” was not the same as “value.” Some “functions” are clearly limited by biology. See “A Higher View of the Man-Woman Problem” in the first issue of the journal Synthesis, 1974. —Ed.
[xix] This essay was created before Assagioli developed his theory of subpersonalities, which is a core concept in psychosynthesis, the framework he first presented in 1927 and developed and propagated for the rest of his life. —Ed.
[xx] It is unlikely that Assagioli was unaware of the social and political pressures that enforced the sexual roles that were prevalent in his time. He has chosen to emphasize personal responsibility, which is a hallmark of all of his psychological work. In a later work, Freedom in Jail, written many years later, he explores the freedom that is available to anyone even in the most constraining of circumstances; namely physical incarceration, which he himself experienced. —Ed.
[xxi] Guido Verona, a.k.a. Guido da Verona (1881-1939), Italian poet and novelist, was the most commercially successful Italian writer between 1914 and 1939. His works would today be perhaps called erotic romance novels. —Ed.
[xxii] French: “mistress of a castle or a household.”
[xxiii] Guiseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) was an Italian politician, journalist and activist who spearheaded the efforts to unify Italy in the 19th century. —Ed.
[xxiv] Coeducation was a new idea in the 19th century. The first coeducation school opened in Croyden, England in 1714. The first coeducational college was the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, which opened in 1833. Coeducation was not the norm in most countries until the late 20th century and is still not the norm in most Muslim countries.—Ed.
[xxv] Major educational reforms in Italy were initiated only after this essay was written. —Ed.
[xxvi] It should be clear from this sentence that the greater participation of women in education and public life that was occurring, even in a limited way, in English-speaking countries was not common at all in other countries, particularly the southern Europe of Assagioli’s experience at this time (1921), where “traditional” sex roles, separations, and limited education remained predominant well into the 20th century. —Ed.
[xxvii] Tennyson, The Princess. Taken from the English original. —Tr.
[xxviii] From Life and Writings of Joseph Mazzini, Vol..4, p.16. Translator unknown, London, Smith, Elder & Co. 1891, accessed through Google Books. —Tr.
[xxix] Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was an Indian poet, playwright, composer, philosopher, social reformer and painter. He was in communication with many prominent people of his time in both eastern and western countries, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. Assagioli published several of Tagore’s writings in journals he edited. The two men met in person what Tagore visited Italy five years after this essay was written. —Ed.
[xxx] Personality: Lectures Delivered in America by Rabindranath Tagore was published by Macmillan and Co. London in 1917. More recent editions are available both in print and online. At the end of this volume is a chapter titled “Woman” which addresses issues concerning both sexes in the world. —Ed.
[xxxi] Latin: “from the very foundations.” —Tr.
[xxxii] In contemporary (c.2023) western civilization the use of sexuality for monetary gain, either literally or figuratively, has become part of the predominant business model for many enterprises, so that one could say that prostitution has become “normalized.” Accordingly, the use of the word “prostitution” is often regarded as offensive by many. What Assagioli regarded as a plague has become widespread and acceptable to many, indicating that what he regarded as rampant “masculinism” has become widespread worldwide, and progresses seemingly without restraint in our time. So the urgency he writes of is still present and the balancing and reform are still needed. —Ed.
[xxxiii] Assagioli is not advocating religious indoctrination in schools; but rather an education in the capacity for religious attitudes and activity. —Ed.
[xxxiv] Rasponi was later to be a founding sponsor and president of Assagioli’s Institute of Psychosynthesis. —Ed.
[xxxv] Women in Italy gained a right to vote in 1925, but only in local elections. They did not gain full suffrage until 1945, after the fall of the fascist government at the end of World War II. —Ed.
[i] This essay was written when Assagioli was 33, three years before he married Nella Ciapetti, who would be his companion and spouse for 50 years. This would be his second marriage, and nothing is known by us of the first, but perhaps this essay might shed some light on it by implication. —Ed.
[ii] Editor’s interpolations are indicated by [brackets]. —Ed.