Sexual And Gender Violence by Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy

Extracts from The Emerging Feminine – Discovering the Heroine Within


Reading our papers each day we are confronted with reports about sexual and gender violence practically on a daily basis. The shocking part is the level of bestiality that humans are capable of perpetrating. What is even more shocking is to read about the age of the children that are violated. It seems to be a well-known fact the world over that the majority of rape cases and sexual violence happen within the family or with known or trusted persons. Particularly in India, lawyers and women’s activists report that nine of ten reported rapes involve family members or are people who are known to them.


In my latest book The Emerging Feminine – Discovering the Heroine Within, Yatra Books, 2014, I have been looking at the cultural collective unconscious patterns that we inherit by analysing some of our dominant characters from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana that affect our behaviour, patterns that we unknowingly inherit without our conscious awareness.


“‘Right’ behaviour patterns are not invented overnight or by a single ‘poet’. They evolve through the slow crystallisation of personalities, real or mythical, who act in certain ways, and who are then scripted into mythologies. Thus the individual actions of a hero’s or heroine’s journey are scripted in story form as a collective ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ action through the story form.”1


As a Jungian psychologist I have tried to dissect the dominant cultural narratives that stand out and analyse whether they are functional and relevant to us today. As a therapist I am interested to discover who is propagating the dominant narratives and what their motives could be? Do these narratives affect society and culture at large?


““Perhaps heroism in today’s world would be different if the ‘hero’ in any myth would be a ‘heroine’. If the feminine function is repressed or effectively ‘exiled’, in our society the male function too, is affected and ultimately society at large bears the consequences. Therefore, we need to re-examine whether the present cultural values that our dominant stories propagate are still relevant, or whether they suppress issues of gender, caste and race, or other human development potentials. Many women suffering from an oppressive education and conditioning may never get beyond repressing their potential. They may unknowingly develop a prejudice against themselves and learn to internalise parental and cultural edicts. Internalised oppression weakens the inner voice, and the sense of ‘self’ remains underdeveloped, often wreaking havoc, since it paralyses the woman from within, causing her to collude unknowingly in her own self-destruction.


Most often the archetypal patterns inherited through myths are not questioned, like family heirlooms passed down from one generation to another, not necessarily bestowing order to the lives they now affect. Those who inherit these unknown and perhaps unknowable ‘gifts’, may try to normalise the disorder they find within themselves. Most persons have the potential to correct an abnormal situation in their lives. But supposing one has no concept of normality; what if she has been blind to what she has unknowingly ‘inherited’? Perhaps this may explain why some women stay with husbands who are emotionally distant or disloyal, or are wife-beaters or self-absorbed narcissists. It might explain why women do not quit exploitative employers, or stay on in families where, as children, they have been beaten and subdued into silence or constantly criticised. They are ‘mute’, in this context, which does not just mean silent, but there is a blockage of the free expression of the ‘feminine’. And they remain muted because the reality of their word cannot be heard.


Psychology calls this ‘learned helplessness’. Experiments with caged raccoons have shown how a normally functional and playful animal is subjugated when electric shocks are applied to a ball each time it reaches out to play with it. It soon learns to desist, and curls up in a corner. From that moment, even when there is no electric current applied to the ball, the raccoon avoids touching it. This conditioned reflex may extend to the point where, even if its cage door is left wide open, the raccoon will remain inert. It fears the pain that may follow any action on its part and therefore behaves autonomously (in this case not to escape). Like the raccoon, many women can be similarly conditioned not to express their choice for fear of the consequences.


This is the cost of the ‘heirloom’. Many women are blindfolded, their psyches injured like Gandhari of the Mahabharata; and when their blindfolds are removed, they will not be able to see to begin with, much like the raccoon that is not aware the cage door is wide open and it has the choice to flee. Such learned helplessness has settled deeply into the psychic system of individuals and of our culture. ‘When instincts are injured, humans will ‘normalise’ assault after assault, acts of injustice and destruction towards themselves, their offspring, their loved ones, their land, and even their Gods.”2


When we talk about healing, we are not just concerned with simply healing ourselves, with taking stock of our situation, as to when and how we as women lost our self-confidence. We must come to terms with the fact that many women in India were never allowed to develop our free expression in the first place. Can such a fundamental right still be denied to us? Clearly not. Along with individual change, we should look at the underlying reasons that are culturally embedded and try to change them if we want our children and grandchildren to have a better future, actual equality and full participation in their human rights.”3


“It is time to rediscover the rich and unexplored tradition of female heroism through female mythical figures. We will find that, although the archetypal patterns of male and female heroism are quite similar, they differ profoundly in detail and meaning according to gender. Without this understanding the journey in search of our internal identity is a lonely one, with no direction or purpose, muffled into silence. It often ends with the feeling that there must be something very wrong in us.


The need for a re-look at relationship patterns through a new ‘gendered’ worldview of the woman is not designed to be interpreted as a general criticism of the dominant masculine method of understanding the world. It is more a confrontation with set and unconscious patterns deeply embedded throughout our male-dominated heritage and the myths so propagated – stories prescribing human behaviour within societal constraints. ‘Self’ formation is vital for growth and identity formation.”4


Many stories that I have chosen to be included in the book depict the masculine power drive that crushes the feminine – in both men and women. Hence a prince who might have married a princess retains an inhuman form, and the development of the feminine remains thwarted in both. Do these stories actually represent the processes that are taking place as a part of a larger public discourse or have we as a society given away our power to the lawmakers, the politicians, the Brahmans, the priests, the mahants and the mullahs whose self-aggrandisement and sectarian views are thereby propagated?”5


‘“Women who grow up in such dysfunctional family situations try to normalise the abnormal circumstances in their lives, because they know no better. Women are not the property of men; they are personalities in their own right. If this fundamental difference is not understood, it can damage the institution of marriage and the state of the morality with respect to women that is in a state of decay in our society. They are then often unable to get out of such family complexes, as they are part and parcel of the dysfunction. Therapy is a way of discovering certain traits in ourselves and seeing the way in which we operate unknowingly and helpless to change.”6


Besides the mythical heroes and heroines that are analysed in the book, I also show how therapeutic work can help free certain women who feel trapped in their life situations. Since our culture seems to have such a high percentage of women who feel violated within their own families, I have chosen a case history that relates to the subject concerned.


Case History
“A husband referred his wife to me as he felt she needed therapy, and wanted her sorted out. To begin with, therapy only works when the person concerned wishes to see what is amiss in his or her life, and not when someone else feels the ‘other’ needs to change. The person concerned must feel the need for a fundamental change in their present status quo and he or she must contact and ask for an appointment for him or herself. In this particular case the woman did feel she wanted an intervention and asked for counselling


Going into her personal case history, she revealed to me that her maternal grandfather lived with them, after her grandmother had passed away. On the pretext of reading her mythical stories when she was a child, he sexually abused her. I inquired how long this state of affairs had lasted. It had started at the age of seven, and like many such case histories, the adult compromises the minor dependent on them by swearing them into a pact of secrecy. Her ego was not strong enough to protest. She was eleven, when she realised that her body belonged to her, and she was able to put her foot down and able to say ‘no’ to her grandfather’s abusive requests, and yet it remained a tightly kept secret which she dared not to share with the rest of her family.”7


Once my client was married, she knew no better. The sexual relations with her husband were not something that she looked forward to or enjoyed but more one of compliance. She was not respected for who she was as a human being, but once more she was used as an object to satisfy the husband’s sexual needs. They had two children, whom she brought up practically as a single parent. She had a full-time job, and fell to bed dead tired each night. Her husband was never home, and partied and socialised till late into the night, after which she would be woken up by a drunken husband who needed to be sexually satisfied. Her body in time reacted with the same disgust as the eleven-year-old towards her grandfather. She refused to have sexual relations with her inebriated and needy husband. That was one of the main reasons she was sent for therapy – to reform her refusals! He hoped that she could be sorted out and become the compliant wife he knew, before she awoke to her Self. Unfortunately, the man was in for a rude shock, for once the Genie is out of the bottle, it is hard to suppress the new sense of ‘Self’ to be put back.


Therapeutic intervention is about strengthening this inner core of ‘Self’ and about discovering the process of individuation, each path uniquely her own. I often use the story of Draupadi from the Mahabharata to show how she is able to hold her centre of balance by using wisdom and compassion, as she addresses the issue around the abuse of power. It acts as an example where the archetype of anger is used in a positive way to bring about change when we confront unacceptable situations in life. Each of us has the ‘Self’ within, which needs to be activated and strengthened. Reading the myth of Draupadi, to such persons awakens in them a sense of their own power and self-worth. Each of us has our unique qualities, our family histories and traits that make up our individual character. Character in the end may be defined as refined intelligence, which broadens with learning and which is tested in times of crisis. That is why we turn to stories as we witness the characters; we may observe the way their active force responds, which then can inspire our lives and learn what works in life and what does not.”8


The Emerging Feminine ends by looking at the Ramayana and making Sita the heroine of the story. “Sita’s descent to Mother Earth is symbolic – it is her return to nature that heals her. By receding to the underground chamber, she fulfils her compelling need to protect herself, because nothing else worked. Many women unfortunately still remain underground, as patriarchy still rules supreme. The collective unconscious does not provide the required nutrients and strength that they need for renewal within our culture. They need to find solace in knowing they are no longer hostages and have positive archetypal forces within that can be reawakened that empower them.


Sita’s Message For Us Today
In the case of Sita’s self-extinction we have to go beyond the victim narrative. Psychologically speaking, going back into Mother Earth is like going back to our seed essence, to find the functional archetypes that are inherent and un-awakened, silenced or suppressed. They have been like the seeds that women have carried through centuries awaiting a paradigm change because they had no other choice. The paradigm is changing, and when there are enough of us who are awake and who realise that we have a right to live with equality and respect, creating a ‘critical mass’, these archetypes of renewal can flourish. When the renewed goddess energy is active in our lives, we have access to a personal relationship with the divine energy within ourselves.’910


“The world too has changed and women no longer accept being exiled. Are we as women, ready to honour and protect womanhood collectively? It implies that we accept the gift of life of the girl child equally from the foetus onwards and protect her though every stage. Standing in our own right means risking and even if we fall, it means risking again. The mistake that Western feminism made to overcome patriarchal repression was that her male qualities took the better of her; she mirrored the outer male and fought him. The resurrected Sita symbolises Mother Earth, the water of life flows through us; we have the feminine healing qualities that can bring man and woman back to wholeness.”11



Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy works as a Transpersonal Psychologist. She practices in Mumbai and New Delhi, and teaches and lectures in Switzerland, Holland and Mexico. Besides her private practice, she works with groups in conflict areas in Kashmir. She is the author of Psychology of Love: Wisdom of Indian Mythology, Roli Books, 2001 and The Emerging Feminine: Discovering the Heroine Within, Yatra Books, 2014.


1Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy The Emerging Feminine – Discovering the Feminine Within p XI, Yatra Books, 2014

2Clarissa Pinkola Estés PhD Women Who Run With the Wolves p 246, Ballantine Books, New York, 1992

3Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy The Emerging Feminine – Discovering the Feminine Within p X111, Yatra Books, 2014

4Ibid p X1V

5Ibid p X1V

6Ibid p 143/44

7Ibid p 144

8Ibid p 143/46

9Adapted from Jean Shinoda Bolen, Goddess in Older Women p 204 Harper Perennial, 2001

10Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy The Emerging Feminine – Discovering the Feminine Within p 429, Yatra Books, 2014

11Ibid p 430