I became the girls’ math champion in my fourth-grade class at Hampton Elementary School in Detroit, Mich. Dean Philo was the boys’ champ and we were to face off the following day to determine the best math student in the class.
I loved Dean Philo. He was cute and just as smart as I was in math. I ran home beside myself with joy that not only had I won the girls’ championship but I also had the honor of competing against my boy crush.
At hearing this amazing news, my mother said, “Boys don’t like it when girls win.”
What? My mother meant well. She gave me protective advice based on 40 years of experience observing gender dynamics. She was right, especially in 1968. With that simple sentence, my mother told me not to win. Even if I could run concentric circles around Dean Philo, I should lose.
Me and my shadow
Carl Jung, the founder of analytic psychology, would say that I tucked that tidbit into my shadow – that place where we stuff those personality traits deemed unacceptable by our communities, our families, ourselves. My desire to win didn’t go away. It just slipped into a cave somewhere in my psyche. Unfortunately, shadow material left to its own devices will devolve – become ugly. One of the ways it manifests is through projection onto something outside of itself.
Jungian analyst and author James Hollis writes, “Although every moment is absolutely unique in history, our psychic system, in service to historically charged experience as well as anxiety management, floods the new field of experience with the data of the old. So we project our inner life, or aspects of it, onto others, onto groups, onto nations. Accordingly, propaganda, political campaigns and advertising specifically seek to evoke positive or negative responses from us.” (Why good people do bad things: Understanding our darker selves)
Since the 2016 presidential race, I wonder about the connection between warnings like my mother’s and the 42% of women who voted against Hillary Clinton. I wonder how many of those women were little girls who stuffed their power into their shadows only to project that unacceptable part of themselves onto Hillary. Having an unreasonably strong reaction to someone you don’t know is a clue to what is buried. By rallying and voting against a woman who dared to be powerful, were they projecting the power that they or someone else deemed unacceptable? Were they trying to manage the anxiety that Hillary’s power triggered in their own shadows?
I wish I could say I shunned my mother’s advice and beat Dean Philo that day. But honestly, I don’t remember the outcome. That, too, was buried.
Tell me about the messages you received as a child regarding the power of women and girls. Were you encouraged to shine your light or advised to stay in the shadows?