The world celebrates International Women’s Day today. This time we are amid a conflict that experts and non-experts have rashly dubbed as another World War. Memes of Putin as merely a face for Hitler have already been created.
In a true Jungian fashion, the archetype of hero and demon is assigned in the collective imagination, where Ukraine’s President Zelensky became a hero and the Russian leader denounced as a demon. Other, more aesthetically pleasing, pictures have surfaced online as well.
Those pictures depict a new archetype that Jung did not discuss, but that is still incredibly important. I would further argue that it has contributed to Ukraine winning over the war’s hearts, minds, and perhaps libidinal forces waged on social media platforms. The archetype is that of the femme fatale.
Multiple pictures emerged depicting beautiful Ukrainian women bearing arms, captioned with messages to convey their preparedness to protect their country alongside their men. The images of these women were instrumental in allowing the world to see the beauty jeopardized by the cruelty of war and destruction—a message of solidarity and a cautionary tale.
The femme fatale archetype is a powerful one. It resonates with the inner desires of women to be strong, independent, and equal to men while being immaculately beautiful in the midst of an ugly, unjust war.
For women, it’s an identifying or at least an aspiring desirability of becoming the femme fatale. For men, the desirability of the femme fatale is an intuitive one. It perpetuates a particular type of woman endowed with all the typical characteristics of desirability the fragility of femininity while protecting herself from potential aggression.
The armed femininity manifested by Ukrainian women managed to disarm Putin’s carefully and diligently crafted image as the archetype of virile masculinity within the collective public imagination.
Though the attractive imagery of the femme fatale has recently dominated the public discourse concerning women, I’d like to discuss a less glamorous archetype of women. The archetype is that of a mother. A mother is a symbol of generativity, of giving, of nature. The connection we once had with our heart allowed us to revere the mother as womanhood par excellence. Those days have seemingly slid into oblivion, and womanhood became entangled in the economy of attractiveness that replaced the abundant beauty of motherhood with the plastic aesthetics of the femme fatale.
The war in Ukraine isn’t the only instance where the archetypal image of the femme fatale triumphed over the old-fashioned idea of the mother. It seems that societies have promoted a particular type of woman worthy of our respect, i.e., strong, independent and childless. Even when it comes to policymakers entrusted with advancing women’s rights, the archetype of the femme fatale is the predominant paradigm they have in mind.
It is evident in the emphasis on equal pay, laws against sexual harassment, and radical equality that almost erases inherent differences between genders anchored in biological sex. And I agree to the extent that those policies are crucial in allowing women to assimilate into society.
Yet, I believe that there needs to be a foundational structure that supports the biological needs of women that are intricately related to their roles as mothers. I believe that endorsing a particular image of women to the detriment of women’s other manifestations is unhealthy. Striking a healthy balance and promoting the diverse roles women inhabit isn’t easy.
But policymakers can begin with the intrinsic biological needs of women and respond to them in social, economic, and political strategies. Examples would be promoting high-quality and affordable childcare, paid maternity leave, and emphasizing sexual and reproductive health.
The illusion that women can defer their biological necessities for the sake of occupational fulfillment is an unfounded myth that inevitably caused declining birth rates in the West.
The policies I’m suggesting are perhaps not that attractive. Nevertheless, foundational structures are rarely appealing because their very nature is hidden and offers solidity to that built upon them.
On International women’s day, we must celebrate all types of women. It begins with primarily responding to the female biological needs before moving on to the social variations exemplified by them. Any attempt to advance women’s rights not grounded within women’s biological realities is merely an insult to a society that seemingly endorses women when it reduces their value to their physical appearance.