We are mistaken if we think women, simply because they are women, are kinder, gentler than men.
The great psychiatrist Carl Jung said that women carry a masculine soul (animus) within and that men carry a feminine soul (anima) within. Whether the valence of these inner qualities is negative or positive depends on a number of things. But, simply put, if a woman carries her animus negatively, then she can be mean-spirited, vengeful, power mongering. If a man carries his anima negatively, he may be ineffectual and complaining. However, if a woman carries the masculine qualities of her soul positively, she is forceful and goal-directed, yet is also compassionate. When the man carries his feminine soul qualities positively, he can be receptive, nurturing, gentle, and carries this into the world with focus and clarity and determination.
When I view movies or read books, I often look at the characters with a Jungian perspective. And so, it is with this perspective that I recently saw the movie True Grit and also came upon I Shall Not Hate : A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity, the memoir of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish.
Both stories arise in the wake of tragedy. Mattie Ross, the late 1800’s heroine of True Grit, has lost her father and she is determined to avenge his murder. Dr. Abuelaish, contemporary Palestinian physician, has lost three daughters and a niece in the 2009 Israeli bombing of his Gaza home. Yet he seeks peace.
An early scene in True Grit attests the quick avenging of post Civil War America: Three men are publicly hanged before throngs of people—men and women—lusting for the kill. Our young teenage heroine appears unflappable to the event—perhaps considering it a harbinger of the justice she seeks for her father’s murderer.
Yes, she was bright, articulate, and focused in her quest. True grit? Yes. However, when we see Mattie many years later, she appears to remain one-dimensional, with no growth of character beyond an un-developed black-white morality of vengeance: no gentle grace to temper the grit.
How vastly different the living hero, Izzeldin Abuelaish, is from the fictional heroine. In his memoir, he describes his childhood in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Surely, it was a far more primitive life than Mattie’s in the last century. For Abuelaish, there was no electricity, no running water, no privacy. There was, however, dirt and hunger. Says Abuelaish, “in an over-crowded refugee camp, people cling to hope by a thread that threatens to break at any moment.” (page 39)
As a twelve-year-old, Abuelaish witnessed the horror of the Six Day War: pandemonium prevailed, fleeing families were separated—children and parents lost from each other. At one point, Abuelaish was sure that the Israeli soldiers rounding up everyone were going to kill them en masse. He survived the Six Day War only to be confronted with Ariel Sharon’s bulldozing of many Palestinian family’s humble homes. With the relentless and ruthless havoc that threatened families’ survival, Abuelaish “learned the bitter lesson of what it means to be helpless in the face of one man’s power.” Nevertheless, Abuelaish managed to eventually attain a medical degree. While continuing to live in Gaza and raise a family there, he worked in an Israeli hospital as an infertility specialist.
In 2009, a year after the death of his wife from leukemia, there was another Israeli incursion into Gaza. It was in this bombing of Gaza homes that three daughters and a niece were killed. Even in the midst of the bombing, Abuelaish was straddling worlds. He called an Israeli friend, a newscaster who was broadcasting live at the time of the call. Abuelaish wailed the deaths of his family and beseeched his friend to help the wounded survivors. He pleaded over Israeli TV to get ambulances to the border so that they could get them to hospitals. Although this did occur, Abuelaish still incurred the wrath of other Israelis who blamed him for the shelling, accusing him of harboring militants, hiding guns. He says, “It was so painful to hear the truth falsified. … I wanted the Israeli army to tell me why my home, which had harbored no militants, which was filled with children whose only weapons were love, hopes, and dreams, were fired upon.” Despite the fact that Abuelaish never received any apologies or definitive answers from the Israeli government, he refuses to hate.
“My three precious daughters and my niece are dead. Revenge, a disorder that is endemic in the Middle East, won’t get them back for me. It is important to feel anger in the wake of events like this; anger that signals that you do not accept what has happened, that spurs you to make a difference. But you have to choose not to spiral into hate. All the desire for revenge and hatred does is drive away wisdom, increase sorrow, and prolong strife.”
Abuelaish is far more our role model than is Mattie Ross for the integration of the masculine and feminine. Jung would say that he carries the feminine anima soul qualities of gentleness, compassion, receptivity, and relationship as a man far better than does Mattie, the moral avenger. True Grit lacks the true grace of a life beyond hate.