Feminism: The Power of Giving Way

A wrap-up of my project sooner than expected means getting back to the blog sooner than expected. Thanks again... deeply... for hanging in and expressing concern about the diminishing frequency of posts.

As an inaugural to Phase II of the blog, below you will find the article that I had always intended as the intro to the blog, laying out some principles of male/female energy that I believe underlie not just DD, but male/female relationships as a whole. Perhaps it will serve as a helpful reference point for a deeper understanding of the issues we all grapple with in regards to power in relationships and a furtherance of the very cool dialogue all of you have been adding to over the past year.

This article is a bit long and involved, which is why I've been putting off writing it. What follows is essentially a quick summary of a decade's worth of work on this subject -- radically simplified. Unfortunately, even simplified, the concepts required are fairly complex in places, so to do any sort of even basic justice to the idea requires a bit more length than is ideal for a blog.

Some of you will hopefully find it useful.


From time to time, I am asked by various writers, researchers and filmmakers to talk with them about how I reconcile my feminist views with my preference for a DD lifestyle. Understandably, this seems like a paradox to most people (even many in the DD world -- hence the title of and reason for The Disciplined Feminist in the first place!).

The interviewers are invariably surprised when I tell them that I don't see any contradiction between feminism and assuming a submissive role in a relationship with a man. They are momentarily confused, but then (ah ha!) they hit on the Big Explanation that Makes It All Make Sense To Them. They suggest that DD is consistent with feminism because I'm exercising my feminist imperative by "choosing" this way of viewing male/female relationships. (ie, we all have the Right to Choose, which is what makes us feminists).

Most people do see feminism as a choice issue above all else. Whether it's something as inflammatory as abortion or the more garden-variety choices of whether or not to marry, have children or pursue a career (or going further back in history, the right to vote), we seem to have defined feminism as the power to choose one's own destiny. A woman is either a feminist or not (your choice), depending on... well, what choices we make. We then advertise our feminism to the world with, again, our choices.

I would submit, however, that fundamentally, a true understanding of feminism at its deepest level has little or nothing to do with choice. While the ability to shape our destinies is a nice byproduct of a more egalitarian society, it is not and should not be confused with feminism.

Putting aside any contemporary, political definitions of feminism (are there any other kind, I wonder?), I suggest that feminism, at its core, is fundamentally about reclaiming the value and worth of being female. The word "feminine" forms the root of the word and thus -- as most linguists and anthropologists would agree -- the root of the concept.

To be a feminist is to insist that the mere act of being female -- of being feminine -- is a sacred experience. To be a feminist is to reclaim the power that contemporary Western culture has stripped away from women beginning in the pre-Christian era right up to the present extremist right wing religious movement in America. It is to say that feminine power, the feminine experience, is as worthy of honor and expression as the masculine experience.

To be a feminist is to claim the sacred right to be female.

All very well. But what does that mean? What is the sacred right to be female and what does it mean, then, to be feminine?


(apologies to those of you who already know this stuff)

As part of my personal journey, I've spent close to a decade now studying Jungian psychology, with an emphasis on archetypes and a special emphasis on the "heroine's journey" as it reveals itself in myth, fairy tale and contemporary storytelling. For those of you not familiar with all that stuff, that's a long, semi-fancy way of saying I'm interested in how human beings, collectively and at their deepest levels, experience what it means to be a woman. (If anyone is interested in exploring these issues and wants a recommended reading list, let me know and I'd be happy to recommend books that have been helpful to me along the way.)

As any of you who have studied archetypes and myth know, this is an extremely rich and complex subject, and by invoking it here, I run the risk of oversimplifying something that deserves a far more comprehensive explanation and treatment than is possible in a blog article. This is intended as a starting point for discussion, not a definitive or exhaustive examination of feminism and archetype (which is a life's work!). So please don't write and tell me that "it's more complicated than that." Yes, it is. But at the same time, it's also simpler, too.

Archetypal myth work is based on the premise that the reason story has been fundamental to all human civilizations since the beginning of time (even back to cave paintings and stories by the fire before written language) is that story is humankind's way of passing on our collective experiences to the next generation and articulate our deepest, most profound experiences.

This type of work is based on the idea -- supported by 2000+ years of history and anthropology -- that the same themes and patterns of story emerge across all cultures, language barriers and time periods, and that this pattern is the key to understanding our deepest, most authentic selves.


Joseph Campbell is one of the most famous in this field -- he posited that all men must go through a set sequence of life challenges, what he called "the hero's journey," to become complete, integrated human beings.

As many, many have pointed out since Campbell (including Campbell himself), the male journey and the female journey are fundamentally, clearly different. If one looks at the earliest, pre-Christian myths available to us, there is a startlingly clear and distinct difference between stories in which a man goes on a quest or journey and a woman goes on a quest or journey.

When a man goes on a journey, he generally (and this is, again, very simplified) leaves the home of his father with a specific mission in mind (to get the Grail, to slay the dragon). On his way, he encounters physical obstacles and must prove his character, his bravery and his worth in order to secure the prize and return home to claim his rightful place in the kingdom. The way in which the hero proves his worth is outwardly-directed. He fights, he climbs, he struggles through walls of thorns or battles raging rivers. He breaks through things, breaks down things, thrusts outward with his lance or his spear or his fists. Only once he has overcome all physical obstacles in his path through the use of force does he earn the right to return home and become king.

To become integrated, a man on his hero's journey must extend himself outward into the world. This is why calling someone a "man of action" is one of the highest compliments you can pay a man and why being a "self-made man" is one of our society's highest goals.

This "hero's journey" is manifested in our culture most obviously by a man's quest for professional success, athletic prowess or sexual conquest. Making the deal, scoring the goal, bedding the woman are all outwardly-directed acts designed to elevate status and prove to the world (and more importantly, himself) that he's fit to be king. (Side note: This is also why a smart woman knows that any man worth having will put his work before his family -- and a smart woman wouldn't ask him to be any other way)

Most people are familiar with the hero's journey. Hollywood's been making money off it for years -- it's the standard structure of most mainstream action/adventure movies ("Die Hard," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Dirty Harry," and of course, "Star Wars" which was overtly based on Campbell's work), as well as spy, western and detective novels and comic books.


Because Western culture has elevated the masculine as superior to the feminine, most people aren't as familiar with the heroine's journey. (There are movies about the female journey, but they tend to be indie films.)

Our patriarchal culture has done a lousy job of educating us on what these feminine-centered myths are (but a really good job of supressing them!), so I'm going to take up a bit of space to tell one of the most famous -- the Descent of the Goddess is the grandmama of all heroine's journey myths and for the record, it pre-dates Christianity and patriarchal power structures, so it was not written to "keep woman in her place" as many later fairy tales were.

For those of you interested in this sort of thing, it's worth pointing out that the other big famous heroine's journey myth is the legend of Persephone and Demeter, but the Descent of the Goddess came first and many believe it forms the basis for the Persephone/Demeter myth.


So then, a brief retelling of the Descent of the Goddess (again, apologies to those of you who already know this!):

Inanna is the Queen of the Overworld, where things aren't going very well for her. For a variety of reasons (depending on the version of the story), she is motivated to visit her twin sister, Erishkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, who is grieving inconsolably from a broken heart.

To honor her sister, Inanna puts on her finest robes and presents herself at the entrance to the Underworld. However, to gain entry, she must pass through seven gates. At each gate, Inanna is required to remove one article of her fine clothing -- her crown, her robe, her shoes, etc. When she finally gains entrance to the Underworld, she is completely naked.

Even then, her sister Erishkigal won't see her and is offended at Inanna's presumption at intruding on Erishkigal's domain. Erishkigal orders Inanna hung by her hands and whipped until the skin falls from her bones and she is just a skeleton. There Inanna's body hangs for three days and and nights, dead.

Inanna's best female friend in the Overworld becomes worried when Inanna fails to return from her journey. The friend goes everywhere asking for help to rescue Inanna, but the only one who agrees to help is the God of the Sea. The Sea God fashions two sexless creatures of clay and animates them. The two clay creatures go down to the Underworld and present themselves to Erishkigal. Erishkigal is in such deep grief that all she can do is weep in her dark cave.

The two clay figures do not speak to Erishkigal. They merely witness her pain and hear her cries -- but this is key because everyone else has been too frightened of her to get anywhere near her. She's been crying alone in the dark for ages.

Just having a witness to validate and acknowledge her pain is so healing to Erishkigal that she is able to function again. In gratitude, she asks the two clay creatures what she can do to repay them, and they ask that she can restore Inanna's life and allow her to return to the Overworld.

Erishkigal complies. Inanna's body and life are restored to her, Erkshigal's broken heart is mended, the two sisters have a loving reunion, and Inanna returns to the Overworld a stronger and more complete individual to preside over a peaceful and just kingdom. In short, she lives happily ever after.


Contained in the story of Inanna is, many would argue, the essence of what feminism really means. Our journey as women is different. It is not to find ourselves by expressing outward into the world by force or penetration, but by surrendering inwards, and giving up false power (ie, Inanna's fine robes, our attempts to act like men) to find a more authentic power (ie, connection with our true selves). Being strident, bitchy, overly assertive or masculine are the contemporary "robes" that we must be willing to be stripped of if we're going to find our true feminine selves.

Analyzing the lessons of the heroine's journey contained in the Descent of the Goddess is a life's work (and many have made it just that), but for our purposes, the thing to notice here is that the way in which Inanna -- ie, the feminine -- seeks wisdom and wholeness is exactly opposite from the way a hero would (remembering that we're taking Descent of the Goddess as representative of feminine mythology). The solution to the hero's problems is to go forth and conquer; the solution to the heroine's problems is to go below and submit.

Inanna does not find power by going on a hero's journey; she finds power by claiming the right to undertake her own unique feminine journey. And she finds it by yielding rather than attacking. Instead of fighting her way through the gates or defeating those who would hang and beat her as a hero would, Inanna submits completely and without protest to the indignity and pain of the experience. This is the only way in for her.

Inanna returns to the physical world a healthy, empowered, complete woman. She does this not by fighting, but by submitting, by going without struggle into the depths of herself and surrendering her pride, her modesty and her physical power. Then -- and only then -- is she allowed access to her truer nature and her true pain. Had she struggled, she would have been denied entrance to the Underworld and by extension, denied knowledge of connection with her true Self and the opportunity to heal her broken heart.

The power that comes with yielding is not a weaker or inferior form of power, but rather a different one (albeit one that's threatening and alien to our war and aggressive-centered culture). Inanna is not weak. She is a queen -- a real one, not a false one who rules by trying to be a king. The fact that feminism has been sold to contemporary women as requiring us to act like men is a cruel, abusive and confusing lie that does more to DIS-honor the feminine spirit than the honor it (how much honor can there be in claiming that to be worthwhile, you must reject and act in direct opposition to your truest self?).


There are those who suggest that myths are not a valid enough basis for claiming that female energy is inherently submissive resist this idea at all costs. This resistance is understandable, given that the idea that feminine energy is about yielding can seem very frightening to those of us raised to believe that equal means masculine, and given the reality that there are plenty of predators lurking to take advantage of any yielding we do.

However, any doubt that female energy is primarily inwardly directed and yielding seems quickly dispelled when we look at something much closer to home and completely outside the scope of cultural manipulation, etc.-- sex.

The most basic place to find contemporary, non-mythological evidence of the difference between the heroine's journey and the hero's journey is in the sex act. The male's role in the sex act is to act outwardly. His penis protrudes out -- literally -- into the world. To consummate the act, he penetrates into the woman -- an act of aggression and force.

The female's role in the sex act is, of course, opposite of the male's (hence yin/yang and other concepts of balance). Our sex organs are internal, not external. No matter how "feminist" (in the misunderstood way of using the term) a woman is, to consummate the sex act, we must submit to being penetrated, entered -- acted upon -- by our "hero." Yes, there are other ways to find sexual pleasure, but it all still comes down the basic, biologically hard-wired Sex Act: a man takes action and a woman submits.

It is no accident that particularly in goddess-centered spirituality (but also in the mystic texts of mainstream religions like Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism), the sex act is considered a sacred ritual for connecting with God. A male and female joined in intercourse is our most profound symbol of unity, wholeness and the elevation of the human spirit. And it is inescapably an act which cannot take place unless the female submits to penetration by the male.

In short, to find the sacred, each must play our part. The male must act and the female must submit. Put another way, the male must give and the female must receive for the spark of life to be ignited.

There is no real "choice" here. If you want to have sex -- arguably the most basic and primal expression of gender -- and you are a woman, submission and yielding of physical control is required. And if you want to have good sex, I'd argue that a yielding of psychological control is required, too. If you want to find true completion in a relationship or within yourself, that same yielding of physical and psychological control is equally required, albeit in more subtle and complex ways.

So, too, is "choice" an illusion when it comes to defining feminism. We don't have a choice as to how our archetypal selves feel and act or what they require to feel whole. 2000+ years of history and our basic biological makeup tells us who we are at our most primal levels and no amount of kicking and screaming and post-modern protest is going to change that -- at least not in our lifetimes. Archetypes and inner truths don't care about the Pill or the ERA or wage parity. They care about the deepest, truest parts of our nature that strength back to before recorded history.

A woman's journey is inward, a man' s journey is outward. A man's journey to wholeness requires outward action; a woman's journey to wholeness requires "taking in," absorbing or yielding.

We can choose not to go on the journey, of course, or we can choose to go on the wrong one, and in that sense, there is always choice. But to truly claim our power as women -- to truly be "feminist" -- requires an act of surrender akin to stripping off our pretensions (right down to the skin on our bones) and allowing ourselves to submit completely to the wisdom of our subconscious.


DD is, of course, a fundamental, deeply ritualized and externalized re-enactment of the heroine's journey, of this sacred joining of in and out, force and submission. By allowing our bodies to be stripped and beaten, our wills to be humbled and our tears to flow in the presence of a loving witness, we are literally re-creating the Descent of the Goddess with each punishment. I would argue that this is why the experience is so deeply psychologically resonant, for women in particular, but men also (that's another article).

Those who are disturbed by this construct of male/female power have, over the years, done much to rationalize why it just ain't so. They insist that men and women aren't so different and women certainly don't have to submit to be self-actualized. But just because we're not comfortable with a truth doesn't make it less true.

Can the heroine's journey, the act of yielding, go wrong? Be abused? Absolutely. Just as the hero can get eaten by the dragon, so too can the heroine be taken advantage of and exploited in her act of submission. But just because there are dragons out there that eat heroes doesn't make the hero's journey any less valid or necessary to spiritual fulfillment. And just because there are those out there who would (and have) sought to use the yielding power of the feminine to debase, subjugate and abuse women doesn't make those truths less valuable, less sacred, or less true.

Going through the motions in the real world, we are all Inanna, struggling to find our way without the benefit of a transcendant journey of descent into the depths of who we really are. And deep in all of our hearts, weeping alone in her cave, is our own private Erishkigal, waiting for us to come and heal her broken heart.


The power of the yielding submissive feminine is in the dignity of Jackie Kennedy walking behind her husband's casket, the compassion and courage of Princess Diana holding the hand of an AIDS victim or the eloquence of Maya Angelou sharing her story of rising above her abusive childhood.

The power of the feminine is not confined to women. Martin Luther King and Gandhi knew the power of yielding and used it to change the world by fighting violent discrimination with non-violent resistence. Jesus knew it when he went willingly to the cross and submitted quietly to the violence of his tormenters (and for that matter, Mary knew it when she let him go).

Any time anyone, male or female, chooses to nurture instead of attack or forgive instead of seeking revenge, it is the power of the true Feminine changing the world.

My deepest wish for all of us this holiday season is that we open ourselves to the power of these ancient truths and that we all take a moment to find gratitude for the blessing of our awareness of the sacred power of DD to help us find our way to our own Underworlds and discover for ourselves the awesome power of true Feminism, and that once there, we glory in our true Selves and celebrate our differences. (And if we are blessed to have found a companion to help us get there, so much the better.)

Happy Holidays,



  1. Fantastic essay, Viv!

    Another place this shows up currently in mainstream Catholic theology is in the homilies of John Paul II that are collectively referred to as the Theology of the Body... based on the premise (that you referred to) that in our very bodies and their biological realities we reveal something of the nature of the divine.

    Be blessed,

  2. Anonymous11:04

    An excellent read. Thank you.

  3. Anonymous12:39

    Now we are getting down to it! Very thought-provoking and useful. Two from a jostling crowd of comments.

    Each time a woman is punished she reenacts the heroine's journey into submission. Each punishment though is a penalty for misbehaviour, and for you is only potent for healing if earnt by genuine misbehaviour. Is this reflected in mythology -- what was Inanna's misbehaviour?

    And may not the mythology and the lesson it teaches lead towards a resolution DD's Big Problem? As you say the journeys of the hero and heroine take opposite though complementary paths. So the man must act and woman must 'suffer': agens and patiens. Now action leads to consequences, to success or to failure, reward or punishment. The dragon may devour him, his enterprise may fail. He may go bankrupt, he may lose the woman, he may be injured, he may be killed. But submission and obedience -- stripping off her clothes -- does not similarly entail consequence, so in order that her journey be completed she needs the man to chastise her.(Erishkigal when she orders the whipping is surely acting from her as yet unintegrated animus.) When he goes wrong he should apologise and act to put it right; when she offends she should apologise and submit to chastisement. This 'inequality' is a reflection of their different paths. The Christian domestic discipline formulation that the man is answerable to and will be punished by God, while the woman is answerable to and is punished by her husband, is a compatable formulation.

    I am not entirely happy with this and would value your observations!

    Interesting that the witnessing and recognition of Erishkigal's suffering by the clay figures is so similar in effect to the Grail question: 'what ailes thee, sire?' Empathetic acknowledgement heals.

    Greatly looking forward to phase two of your blog.


  4. Hi Julian,

    Thanks for commenting! Yes, I agree, this is where DD (and life) to me gets most interesting.

    As to what Inanna's misbehavior is, that's a great question. Perhaps in this case, her trangression is a failure to integrate and acknowledge all of her true self. After all, a huge part of her is broken heart and unheard. To deny pain is a crime against the self, arguably one of the worst a person can commit in terms of damage.

    As to Erishkigal as unintegrated animus(the "male" part of our psyche), perhaps. But her function in the story doesn't seem to me to entirely support that read, given her more feminine trappings (emotion, grief, the subconscious, earth, etc.)

    My candidate for unintegrated animus in the legend doesn't appear in my synopsis above, as it was a bit off the point, but I'd nominate her no-good consort who refuses to come to her assistance and steals her throne in her absence.

    Perhaps the lesson here is that we may need to disgard outdated, unhelpful animuses and build new ones, presumably when Inanna returns to the surface, she is more able to choose her mate wisely and the integration of the male comes later in the story? Maybe.

    Also, there are various versions of the legend, of course, including some where Erishkigal is totally unaware of Inanna's presence and her male helpers in the Underworld are the ones who order Inanna's beating. That would make Erishkigal more cleaer her unacknowledged feminine Self.

    Either way, it does seem to me that DD is a great way of creating an external animus to help women build a stronger internal one.

    Thanks for some great thoughts!


  5. Anonymous10:29

    Thanks, Vivian, for the article. It was rather timely as I was just dealing with this issue in my own mind. Even as I see the benefits of DD, I still sometimes struggle to reconcile it with parts of who I am. I want to be respected as an intelligent, strong, and independent person; that's always been more important to me than being complimented that I was pretty. As much as I know I want DD and I do understand its logic, I couldn't help but question from time to time why I want it. Your article articulates and validates my inherent need for DD and gives me a better understanding for it.

  6. Anonymous00:59

    This was a brilliant article Viv.

    It has explained eloquently the fundamental differences between men and women which old fashioned feminism and the contemporary zeitgeist have sought to deny.

    I particularly liked your heretical
    statement "...a smart woman knows that any man worth having will put his work before his family ..."

    Men have been constantly told of late that only the femiinine aspects of our character are valid, that and that the concentration on the external is somehow inferior.

    Your analysis chimes with a much partially quoted Christian scripture ( which someone has alluded to in the comments ) that wives should obey their husbands. The other part of the quote is that husbands should love their wives "as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it".

    The man's true role is that of self-sacrifice, as illustrated by the hero's journey, the woman's of submission.

    The only problem is that it is hard to do,

    Thanks very much for this article, you have made some things about DD much easier to understand.



  7. Anonymous11:12

    Here's a question I don't think you've pondered: why should females necessarily emphasize their feminine power? Like you talked about at the end, in the mythic journey of the figure of Jesus, a man takes a feminine journey of Descent. And that story is really part of a whole 'grain king' mythology where it's all about a male figure having to undergo a descent for much the same reason

    You say in one part that "the mere act of being female -- of being feminine" when maybe, maybe being 'feminine' and being 'female' are to related but not identical acts.

    Maybe it would be more accurate to say that there's nothing natural about a *female* submitting to a man, but that there's something natural about *feminine energy* submitting to masculine energy.

    So I'd still say feminism is all about choice--women having the choice in how much feminine energy they put out as opposed to how much masculine energy their animus--to relate it to you study of Jungian psychology--puts out. And why it's very much worth having a man who will put his family before his job--sometimes a man *should* let his anima take over.

    Maybe what patriarchy really did to our myths is it suppressed the ones where women go dragon-slaying, and to a less successful degree, men go on a journey of Descent. Maybe the corrolary to seeing "the power of the true Feminine changing the world" when someone of either gender chooses "to nurture instead of attack or forgive instead of seeking revenge" is seeing the power of the true Masculine when the world is changed when someone chooses to attack or seek vengeance (a less loaded term would be retribution). In other words, sometimes you need a nurse, sometimes you need a doctor, if that makes sense.

    So I'd say it would be more accurate to add two other elements to your definition of feminism. Maybe feminism should be defined as:

    1) an affirmation of the worth of feminine energy;

    2) an affirmation of the worth of being female;

    and 3) the right of a female to choose what balance of 'masculine' and 'feminine' energy to put forth.

    Hope that was at least interesting to you. Take care.

  8. Anonymous07:01

    If I may come back in here...

    Whilst apart from a few unfortunates we are all born definitely male or female, we all posess various proportions of masculinity or femininity in our make up.
    Therefore I would suggest that a certain amount of both questing and descent is necessary for all of us to develop our full complex characters.

    On the different subject of how DD relates to the need to learn submission I have thought as I have read many posts on the subject that the desire a woman has for DD or submission or whatever within a relationship does not exist in a vacuum.

    If DD is applied where the woman doesn't really desire it it is plainly abusive.
    When on the other hand she uses her partner as an agent for her own ends ( viz. descent, submission and the rest ) it is not so simple, there is another person in the equation. The partner.

    His attitude to it is crucial, for if he assumes the role of disciplinarian as of right, the unfairness has returned. If he is merely acting as her agent, then there is no real submission, for she can cancel the arrangement at any time, and he is submitting to her will in this.


  9. Anonymous12:25

    I've never really found the imagine of the passive female parrticularly appealing, even though sexually I am very passive. But secretly I would like to be someone brave and dashing, not passive at all.

    As a little girl i wanted to be Robin Hood, then when I was about eight years old I saw a woman being spanked by a man on Tv (an episode of The Lone Ranger) and after that I also fantasised about being the woman who get spanked by the Lone Ranger. These two fantasies ran concurrently in my head, and I am still basically having the same two fantasies, though the characters I imagine being or being spanked by have changed over the years.

    Nowadays I watch action movies with Michelle Yeoh and imagine myself as the martial arts expert defeating the bad guys, then I meekly submit to being spanked by my husband. Everything is tangled up in my head. I don't really believe in archetypes, I think they are too tidy, real people are more complex than that. I am the spanked wife who dreams of being an action heroine who can fell a man with a single karate chop.

    And the trouble with insisting that women are 'naturally' submissive, is that there are many who aren't submissive at all, and quite a few men (judging by the DD groups I belong to) who themselves yearn to be spanked and dominated by a woman. Human beings are complex creatures.

  10. Anonymous20:30

    That was a very interesting read Viv. Thank you :)

  11. So insightful. Brillant!

  12. I think your blog is fantastic. I am home in bed with an ailment and was searching online for something to help me understand what is happening to me, as a woman, as a submissive female.
    I find your writing is just what I what I was looking for. I knew that this and is more than just a sexual preference for me. I am now your biggest fan!

  13. Thanks for reading and commenting, Vanessa!

    Welcome to the blog and I hope you'll continue to share your thoughts on these issues -- the dialogue between everyone is, for me anyway, the richest part of The Disciplined Feminist!


  14. Anonymous01:38

    First, archetypes can tell us a lot about ourselves, and you are right that stories encode the wisdom of prior ages. However, I don’t think the stories here warrant all your conclusions.

    In the story of The Descent of the Goddess, we have the representation of a being who is jilted by a lover. In this story, I believe Inanna represents part of the conscious mind and Erishkigal represents the unconscious mind. Erishkigal is grieving inconsolably from a broken heart. Inanna goes to visit her. I interpret this as an attempt to understand (and maybe quiet) the unconscious—to stop the grieving—so that Inanna can get on with ruling her domain.

    Erishkigal orders Inanna to be hung by her hands and whipped until she dies and turns into a skeleton. Why does Erishkigal do this? She is “offended at Inanna’s presumption”. In other words, the type of reason that Inanna represents is righteous. It has an agenda, a bias. It is using unwarranted assumptions. This shows the failure of righteousness to deal with the unconscious.

    Inanna’s friend in the conscious mind (unnamed here) decides to investigate and requisitions the help of the God of the Sea. As such, he has knowledge of the depths, so he comes up with a workable solution. The solution is to send sexless creatures into the Underworld (the unconscious) to investigate. They succeed in getting Inanna restored to life.

    Why do the sexless creatures succeed when Inanna fails? I think that they represent an unbiased reason. Whereas, Inanna goes to the unconscious with unwarranted assumptions, the sexless creatures go without any bias. They are on a fact-finding mission. As a result, they are able to hear the truth, unfiltered by any presuppositions. In other words, they are a kind of meditation, a presence of the center listening without thoughts.

    Another reason the sexless creatures succeed, probably, is that they don’t trigger jealousy. Remember that Erishkigal is suffering from a broken heart. The last thing she wants to see is another queen, one that is functional when she isn’t. I believe that jealousy is the motivation for having Inanna whipped. As Erishkigal has no reason (she is the unconscious), she has Inanna whipped to death. Her actions are disproportionate with the stimulus, just as much of the unconscious actions are.

    Why does the plunging of these creatures into the underworld work? This is how the conscious and the unconscious work. The unconscious will continue to do inexplicable things, even to the detriment or death of the whole, unless the unconscious processes can be redirected. This can only be done by plunging into the unconscious with the conscious reason. This brings the unconscious processes to light, exposing the underlying beliefs. Emotions are based on beliefs, and bringing them into the conscious allows us to analyze them and potentially replace those beliefs with ones that work better. But, for this to work, we must go into the unconscious without biasing assumptions. We must look at what is there without our reasoned judgments, based as they are on logic that may not apply to this nether world. Only then can we see the real beliefs that underlie our thoughts and actions, and potentially replace them with better ones.

    This story doesn’t just work for the female. It may be a heroine story, but perhaps that is misleading. Exploring the unconscious is not for one sex or the other. (Maybe this is the meaning of the sexless creatures succeeding, by the way.) Everyone must explore the unconscious in order to succeed in life. We must come to terms with our unconscious. Thus, I read this story as just as applicable to men as to women.

    In any case, many men have explored the unconscious through philosophy, mysticism, and meditation. So, going into the unconscious is not confined to women.

    Does the story suggest that women should yield or submit to achieve their answer? I don’t think so. The story is not resolve by submission. In fact, submission leads to Inanna’s death experience. It is really the action of her friend that leads to resolution.

    What is the action of the friend that makes this possible? What is the point of the story? What is it that we should take away from this as the path to resolving problems with the subconscious?

    I think the answer is love. It is the love of the friend for Inanna that leads to resolution of the problem. Her friend doesn’t take action based on preconceived notions. Instead, she asks for help from others, searching for the answer to her problem. She pools her knowledge with that of the God of the Sea (perhaps a metaphor for having sex with him), and out of this is born the answer. It is the act of love by the friend that leads to both Inanna’s return from the dead and Erishkigal’s release from broken-heartedness.

    I might note that love suffers from assumptions. It is the dropping of assumptions and presuppositions that allows us to love. Love means getting off automatic and choosing good. When we follow rules we are not acting out of love. What we do may be good, and we may act out of duty, but that isn’t love. Love means that we step back from what the rules and laws demand and take into account, as best we can, the results of our actions. Then, if we are acting out of love we chose that which is good. That may be good for our “loved one” or it may be good for others or even for ourselves. Perhaps the power of love is related to our vision, to the scope of what we can envision of the future. In any case, love requires consciousness, and the bigger the consciousness the wider the scope for love.

    So, I think the point of the story is that Inanna’s friend gives us an archetype for love, and if we read between the lines then we will not act like Inanna, proudly going off before our fall, but rather like her friend, acting humbly and seeking advice, looking for enlightenment.

    More generally, we should think hard about how these archetypal stories bear on modern feminism. For one thing, even if the stories are old, they come from historical times (generally, although they may have prehistoric roots), and those times are all patriarchal. So, we should take this with a grain of salt. The current times are different from historical times.

    Not only that, but these stories don’t necessarily apply to everyone directly. For example, the hero’s tale of going out and conquering dragons before coming back to be king suggests that it is appropriate for those who will be king. But, as we know, in any kingdom there is one king and many other men—knights, clergy, serfs, tradesmen, and so on. What are their myths? Where are the archetypes for these men?

    We need to understand that we are moving into a different age, one that will have a different nature than the ones we’ve known. This age will be flat where the ending one is hierarchical.

    This more egalitarian age is not meant to have the same dominance hierarchy as the previous one; it is not going to be patriarchal or matriarchal. In putting together this new age, we should consider ourselves free to take apart the archetypes of the past and put them together in new ways.

    This doesn’t mean that men and women are the same. We are not. We have completely different hormonal systems, and hormones convert to neurotransmitters. This acute difference in what neuronal pathways are activated means that men and women are very different. We should not expect them to act the same way. However, we also should not expect that just because certain hierarchies and presumptions have prevailed in the past that they will in the future. These patterns were created by the action of the male and female archetypes through a different set of circumstances. Our world, based on the control of inanimate energy, is different than the past, based on the expenditure of animal energy. This change, wrought by the industrial revolution, has broken down the old patterns. This creates chaos, but at the same time, it creates an opportunity to reformulate human existence in ways that were impossible before.


  15. Anonymous22:48

    So many words. Open your eyes & hearts. A woman is childless, ready to leave this world, wrinkled & searching. All I can do is offer a sip of water with all the love I've got,then move on. There are no words to track my femininity or hers. My submission is being of service, e.g., to someone I'm very close to. It's also accepting submission as desire and the world that it opens up.

  16. I was once in love with a woman who is no longer alive. She did not love me although we were friends and certainly enjoyed each other's company. Still, I wanted her arms around me and mine around her. It was not to be. I stopped calling her. A few years later I learned from a mutual friend that she had died alone in physical and emotional pain. I ran around in my mind crazy for a while wanting it to go away. I did a lot of crazy things with my mind and my mind did a lot of crazy things with me. But let me tell you something, Vivian, something which is good I didn't know then because the pure pain of not having known is turning out to be the measure of peace in my life, partly with the loving help of other women like yourself and partly myself as I learn to surrender.
    (It's a shame that the only free time I seem to find to write is so late. I was really beginning to worry about that last sentence. It started to sound like a country-western song, you know, the one where the cowboy sings that he wishes he didn't know now what he didn't know then....)
    Anyway, yes, maybe I'm even more sleepy than I thought.
    Oh, one last goofy, sleepy thought about those cowboys: rumor has it that they can give one hell of a spanking to any cowgirl who gets even the slightest bit sassy while they're firing up the branding iron, so mind your manners girls, or your moms will be asking why you're eating supper standing instead of sitting.
    Sorry if I didn't keep entirely focused.
    Thanks, again.
    Love, Ann

  17. Viv,

    Your post is a gem. I love reading intellectual musings on the DD lifestyle. Finding someone who goes beyond the "whack 'em - smack 'em" routine on their blogs is a relief. Otherwise, one does tend to wonder why the h*** they're doing this as it doesn't always seem like the rational thing to do.

    I've now bookmarked your site as one of my faves. Thanks again!

    - desiree

  18. Anonymous18:47

    I am in agreement with Desiree that it is refreshing to find intellectual musings on the DD lifestyle however I also agree with Rich and believe that very possibly the conclusions arrived at in the commentary may be more accurate than the general conclusion postulated in the article. I criticize that in the artical both the hero's quest and the heroines' stop abruptly before finishing out the lifespan with a "happily ever after" the hero slays the dragon the heroine accepts that she must yield. I admittedly am less familiar with the heroines' journey but as i remember it in the hero's quest the next stage if you will is integration of the Anima and the end goal is to attain the treasure of the dragon which is selflessness and retuning of knowledge to the society. I believe that your conclusions are valid but only to a certain point in the lifespan. All told I am happy that you have decided to look into this and encourage you to keep writing and keep revising Dan

  19. Anonymous20:32

    The trouble with these archetypes is that individual humans are far more diverse than that as is humanity. Furthermore, archetypes that might have seemed universal and valid during most of the first two millennia AD are not necessarily so in the modern world. Even women's role in the sex act is not necessarily as you describe just because the penis goes into the vagina. To claim that these archetypes are universal puts individuals into a box into which, say, Golda Meir, or Margaret Thatcher might have been at pains to fit. If it works for you, fine, but I'm sure it doesn't work all that well for a large proportion of the population.

  20. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    I usually don't respond too much to comments, as I feel like I've had my say in the articles, but in this case, it seems warranted to offer a quick reply.

    You may be confusing archetype with stereotype. Archetypes are archetypes precisely because they apply universally, over thousands and thousands of years, and they don't change in just a few decades of social reform.

    The way archetypes work is that we have a variety of them within each person, and that variety and proportion, and which archetype is more dominant, is what makes each individual unique.

    Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir are, at least in their public personas, women who have a more dominant male archetype. It doesn't mean the female archetype doesn't apply to them, it just means they experience the mix in a different proportion from, say, Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana.

    As to the sex act, of course there is more to it, but no social reform in the world is going to change the reality that, at its heart, for life/conception to occur requires the female to be penetrated by, and thus to give way, to the male. That's a biological reality that no amount of political correctness can change!

    At any rate, I'll let this dialogue go on without me, but thought this might clarify some of the thinking.


  21. Anonymous18:51

    Incredibly thought provoking article and responses. I gave in yielding to God my will to my husband to interact in a way that had meaning beyond myself and this existence in choosing to submit.

    I became terribly abused and psychologically scarred. He used my submission to further his interests which is why the placing of submission is only valid when voluntary and in the hands of someone who cares for and about the one who submits. Rather than a gift to him I enabled an unchecked archetype to run unbalanced and fed an ego and a sickness that would do neither of us good. I gave candy to the narcissistic child throwing a fit in the checkout line, only to worsen the fit with each trip to the store.

    I did not abandon the idea of submission and after much suffering and finding a piece of the male archetype necessary for my survival did I fight for my life and that of my children and get out. I owe the ability to do that to the society which has arisen from those archetypes which embraces pieces of both in each human being and allows my freedom.

    Later after exploring my desire to learn submission I found in DD the context in which submission is a worthy gift, when "Loved as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it". A high ideal. If the man to whom I submit is willing indeed to give his life to slay the dragon i.e. to protect, care for, provide for me, then it is a beautiful gift to give my submission to this journey of his. This may ultimately lead to his feeling powerful and worthy and my feeling fulfilled and at peace. But should I lose all my masculine energy or he yield to all of his there will invariably be a lack of compassion and one taking over the other that in no way typifies the giving of Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. or Christ. Because it is voluntary and can be taken it is prized. Were he entitled I fear it would all too often lead to my first experience.

    So I thank the feminist who protruded outward to fight for my right determine my destiny even if they had to do so my emulating the masculine. There is power both in the conquering of Hitler by aggression as well as the shaping of a nation by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. in finding peace. For me there is a place for both and a balance.

    It is precisely feminism or the choosing of this life and to whom I entrust the gift of my feminine self that I owe that to.

  22. While femininity is not a choice, who to submit to is the choice. I am a traditionally feminine woman and I fell for a predator who now has my daughters. I know, just me it's a small sample and just anecdotal. But, I think that emphasizing the wrong aspects of femininity causes women to go into bad relationships. The most masculine men have no fear and absence of fear is one of the traits of psychopathic personality disorders. There needs to be a complementing article about masculinity - and masculinity (the daddy-material kind) does not have to be defined starkly as fearlessness or level of aggressiveness.

    In the end, the goal of the male action and female yielding is to come to a peaceful relationship. I don't think that answering the definition of feminine/masculine defines how happy a relationship will be. I love discussing archetypes, mythology, and true selves, but I also like to bring it to a practical level.

    How the hell am I supposed to find a real man, who is un-masculine and enjoy being a woman with - without inviting abuse or behaviors that are taking me for granted/taking advantage of me and turning it into a weakness not a strength.

    I apologize for any poor grammar. I hope I made a good point.

  23. Anonymous09:08

    Hello all. My wife and i have had a very troubled 20 yr marriage in which a power struggle has, i have realised been taking place to the point where separation almost took place. We overcame a lot of probs and recently we decided on DD. Last night she asked me to explain why i thought it would help and i found myself trying to explain with some diffuculty. THIS site has My explanations written down perfectly for her to read and understand. If we manage the emotional breakthrough for both of us that i'm hoping for then i for one shall be elated and somewhat overcome. I know it will take time but here's hoping and praying that it helps. Thanks. I will be in touch...

  24. Jude03:02

    Viv, huge thanks for this article, and to all who commented. This depth of perspective on DD validates my inner yearnings in a way that reassures me..
    It is too easy in todays western world where the archetypes are unknown to end up in an abusive sitiuation as society suppresses our differences with the resulting feelings of `wrongness` when we own our deepest truths..
    The denial of suppression and our mobile spciety leave us externally validating what we hear and dis-believing our small still voice within. Oh that this awareness of the archetypes were prevelant.
    Thank you Viv, for all you have here.