An interview with Jean Shinoda Bolen by Patricia Smith Melton
Gas in Syria, the government shut down, kittens all over the Internet. What’s a woman to do?
We persevere, pray, seed circles, write emails, pound on doors, and realize that the grassroots really is a force for change.
But, Jean, the grassroots is being trampled on.
The grassroots rises up again because it’s only the surface that gets trampled, the roots run deeper. Look at the Arab Spring. It rose, it got trampled, and it will rise again. It is like the seasons of the myth of Persephone, where you disappear in one season and you come up in the spring. I have great faith in the collective wisdom of women.
What is the role of humor in the face of tragedy? How do we stay the course?
You have to be able to laugh at what is also ridiculous in the midst of tragedy. I have written of the goddess of healing laughter, the goddess of mirth. In the worst of times the ability of women to laugh together a moment before they cry together is a strength that humanity has through women. Men don’t seem to be able to do this.
It’s the humor that we’re in the same boat together, the humor of women to laugh at a wrinkle. It says, “We’ll get through this.”
You write of the gods in every man. Which one can we work with?
Actually all of the archetypes of the ancient Greek gods are potentially in any women. We usually have at least one of them as part of ourselves. When I am lecturing, I tap into Hermes, the messenger god. He also the one god that can go from the heights of Mt. Olympus to down into the underworld.
Some women become like Zeus. The gods are all in all of us, but men sort of repress them.
Men repress the gods or the goddesses in themselves?
The goddesses, and they suppress the gods that were not successful on Mt. Olympus and aren’t successful now. The patriarch is really hard on boys and men, it cuts them off from sources of deep meaning in themselves.
My grandson’s favorite color at age four was pink, but when another boy said pink was a “girl’s color,” he dropped it like a hot potato.
Right. That’s what happens to boys in a patriarchy where they can’t even have a choice of colors without being labeled or mislabeled.
Let’s say I’m in a situation that is confrontational, say a board meeting, and there is a man who at least fancies himself to be an alpha male, and I realize we getting nowhere. What is my best move?
In the early days of feminism there was assertiveness training about saying truth to power. You have to stay in relationship to the man as a whole person, not just the Zeus that sort of takes him over.
So you get his attention by whatever means, but not by anger, then you gain strength in unexpectedly speaking to him from your heart with authority. There is a heart authority that people recognize. It’s a more effective way to make your point than to take him head on because he cannot afford to be humiliated in front of the board. Humiliation is the major fear that alpha males avoid.
What we need are alpha males who could imagine what it might be like to be a woman, little girl or boy, a person with a different skin color or religion who cannot control their circumstances or who are not believed. Lack of imagination leads to a lack of compassion. We need imaginative, compassionate alpha males and empowered and equal women.
Do you think it is innate in a child or adolescent to want to make a difference, to bring good to the world?
Our archetypal underpinnings make us different. If, for a girl or woman, their archetypes are in the categories in which Persephone, Demeter, Hera, and Aphrodite predominate then to be attractive, to be pleasing, to be receptive is a natural thing. It is part of the psychological makeup of that girl or women.
But the girl that speaks up from the very beginning, that finds bullying innately awful, who says “that’s not fair” and wants to do something about it, she has a strong archetype of Artemis, the huntress at the heart of the moon. This is the girl who is interested in nature and is often a runner, though not always. It is an innate element in some girls from the beginning, just not for every girl.
If a tipping point is reached where women’s influence started bringing major change in in the global community, what are the first benefits we would see?
That’s easy. What I refer to as the Mother’s Agenda would be at the top of the list. We would live so we provide for all children what each of us wants for our own child. Education, health, opportunities.
And there’s reproductive rights as well because you can’t take care of more children than you can take care of. Not every woman is into being a biological mother, but all women have a kind of relationship of looking out for children, animals, nature. Maybe not all women, but almost all women have a relationship to the earth as home. We understand when you abuse women and children they don’t grow up well and terrorism is one part of that.
Can a terrorist be changed?
Almost anybody can change, but there are kids who have attachment disorders, who become sociopathic, become egoistic, and can’t see a future for themselves. These children may be raised around terrorism, but I don’t think the mothers in these cultures want their boys to grow up that way.
An alliance of mother energy can change this. We are at a teeter-totter point in history and this teeter-totter can be tipped in either direction. Women in sufficient numbers will be that pivot that tips it for the sake of the children.
Survival cannot be left up to men because they don’t know how.
That’s a strong statement.
Well, the patriarch acculturates men and, combined with the natural archetypal energies in men, it means that we have brilliant left-brained men, and the macho men of the world make the decisions for the rest of humanity. Many of them have undeveloped right brains to the point that they have asymmetrical brains. The state of the world is in the hands of men with power and many of them are not whole.
They don’t have full resources.
No, if they did they would make different decisions. If there weren’t a bullied little boy in them that had to suppress his authentic self and wear the colors he was “supposed” to wear, definitely not pink, it would be different.
But when a tipping point happens, it happens quickly. The great sign of the possibility, and it’s all related here, is the sudden acceptance of gay marriage.
I use the labyrinth as my image. You aim for the center, but as you walk the labyrinth you don’t know where you are in the path, but suddenly you’re there.
My work with individuals in this transformational change is to help people to be their authentic self, to listen for their wisdom and dreams, and to connect with bad things that happened to them as well, so they understand it is all part of the story they are living.
Each of us has our magnum opus, not a book, not a monument. We have the magnum opus of our own lives that we are meant to live out.
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Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book on Atalanta, the Greek goddess of runners known for her firm grasp of her own worth, will come out in the fall of 2014. Harper and Row Publishers is also reissuing anniversary editions of “Goddesses in Everywoman” first published 30 years ago, “Gods in Everyman” published 25 years ago, and “Goddesses in Older Women published” 10 years ago.