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From Bachofen to Adler To Nowadays

Female power versus male power into the Courtroom

Ugo Sodini, Psy. D.

Italian Centre of Adlerian Studies

Ponte Buggianese (PT) Italy

e-mail: [email protected]

Summary. This presentation  delineates the  relationship between  two ancient and opposed types of power, those female and  male  with  regard to historical survivals  and exasperation  of   the   striving   for  superiority  into a neurotic  behaviour  (will  to power). It   examines  the matter  above  all  studying  the marital relationship in couples  during  civil  proceedings  to  identify  which parent is more suitable for having custody of underage children when a couple have separated without mutual consent.    

Cultural and scientific background

We would like to open this work doing a consideration about the relationship between women and men because it has always been into a difficult balance since the humanity arose. This thesis, obviously, calls to our mind  the Johann Jakob Bachofen’s studies and the researches that he led during his life. Particularly what he wrote on his most important and well known book published in 1861 titled Das Mutterrecht where he pointed out his discovery about the natural maternal law. His discoveries had so much influence on many authors and between these we would like to quote McLennan (1866), Morgan (1877), Engels (1884), Bebel (1885) and finally Adler. McLennan arrived to similar conclusions about the descending through the maternal line although, as he said, in a really different way. If we exam the history of the development of humanity we always find an unstable equilibrium that characterized the relationship between the sexes. Examining the social development of human being  with regard to the relationship between the sexes we synthesize it  as it follows according to Bachofen. Originally there was a first stage of the humanity where there weren’t rules and regarding the sexual unions the woman was subjected to man’s abuse (stage of Aphroditism and etherism). This attack against the women’s right would made to arouse a very hard reaction inciting the women to offer an armed resistance for getting a better existence (stage of Amazonism). After this stage would have taken place a pacific gynaecocratic period where the woman got the politic, social and religious power. McLennan, the Scottish jurist, considered there was a promiscuity between the sexes and a system of relationship through maternal line even in places where today there isn’t trace anymore of this. Morgan, jurist too and the most important American ethnologist at his time, speaks about a development of humanity according to three stages: Savagery, Barbarism and Civilization. He shared every one of these into two parts, inferior and superior part and he considered that the human beings lived into polygamy and polyandry up to the inferior part of second stage so the human descent was by maternal line only at that time. Subsequently, a progressive  modification brought at the monogamist couple as we can see it  today. The Morgan’s work maybe was also the contact point for Mark and  Engels with the Bachofen’s work. Engels agreed with Bachofen about the fact that the passage from the group marriage to the monogamist marriage was a passage that the women strongest wanted for protecting themselves about the too much pregnancies but he also noted this was the only way to make sure the paternity of man about the children he procreated. So, the monogamy was above all for the women and the monogamist family was founded through the power and dominie of man. This, according Engels, was necessary because only in this way the man could pass his own property to them and they could inherit the estate from him, their father. In this way his property could be passed on paternal line rather than maternal line. In this passage Engels saw the origin of process that brought the origin of the private property and Bebel described it as the process that reduced women to slavery. We know the Bachofen’s work arrived to Adler just through Engels and Bebel as also Ellenberger underlines (1970). Particularly he quoted the Bachofen’s work on 1926 in comprehensive works at a his written: “Bachofen, J. Das Mutterrecht (Matriarchy), Stuttgard, 1861” (Adler, 1926, p. 118) and the Bebel’s work on 1927: A good detailed description of this development is to be found in August Bebel (1885), Woman e Socialism”  (Adler, 1982, p. 6). Beside we can find something similar at the position described by Engels on the same book where it is reads: “Male dominance has not been a natural state, but became necessary only in the course of continuous fighting with neighbouring peoples, when a significant role fell to man that he finally used to seize leadership definitely. Hand in hand with this went the development of private property and the law of inheritance as a foundation of male predominance, inasmuch as man is generally the earning and owning part (Adler, 1982, p. 6).

To return to Bachofen  he supposed the gynaecocracy developed also the tendency to return to forms of amazonism and this fact would have produced a male rebellion versus the women’s power. So there was a hard battle between the sexes and it was finished when the paternal principle subjected the maternal one. This evolution have gone on for a long period, from the ancient Greece up to nowadays,  where there was the passage from the maternal law to paternal law: from matriarchy to patriarchy. This period had its paladins in Apollo and Augustus. About this Adler said: “There is indeed historical evidence for a time of matriarchy, matrilineality (Mutterrecht), when the mother, the woman, played the more important role in life, especially toward the child, and all men of the tribe had a kind of obligation to her” (1982, p. 6).

 It is well known that Adler regarding this wrote: “The transition from matriarchy to patriarchy was preceded by a great battle. Originally man did indeed not have the privileges that today he likes to describe as due him by nature, but had to fight for them. A good detail description  of this development  is to be found in August Bebel (1885), Woman and Socialism. The victory of the men was tantamount to the subjugation of the women.  Especially the record of the development of law testify eloquently to this process of subjugation.  Male dominance has not been a natural state”  (Adler, 1982, p.6).

 So, if the masculine dominance is not a natural equilibrium between the sexes, as we also think, a new and more natural equilibrium should have be found and for this reason signs in this direction should be also found when we exam the historical process of humanity with regard to the relationship between the sexes. In this sense we’d like to consider signs about this type of difficult behaviours of couples we can see during civil proceedings separation or divorce without mutual consent in Court  for obtaining custody of the child or children. During these proceedings there is so much conflict into the couple where every one is trying to subject the other one. Here we have again a manifestation of the primitive battle between the sexes for finding a new equilibrium. Today we are seeing as the balance situation  between the sexes is breaking again its equilibrium because the society needs of a new relationships and about which direction is better to follow the Adler’s thought because his teaching can help all of us so much.

Some  current considerations             

We know as can be difficult for a couple to live together because can be difficult to be ready for the marriage  and for choosing the right partner. This fact is well known for long time and we’d like to summarize it using the Adler’s words: “For the right choice of a partner, in addition to physical and intellectual suitability and attraction, the following qualities, which indicate a sufficient degree of social interest, ought principally to be taken into consideration: (1) capacity for retaining friendships; (2) an ability to be interested in his work; (3) more interest in the partner than in self. There is an old German method for finding out whether a couple is prepared for marriage. It is the custom in rural district to give the couple a double-handled saw, each person to hold one end, and then have them saw the trunk of a tree while all the relatives stand around and watch. Now sawing a tree is a task for two person. Each one has to be interest in what the other is doing and harmonize his strokes with his. This method is thus considered a good test of fitness for marriage” (Adler, 1964, p. 438).  

Beside he also said: “ In a certain district of Germany there is an old custom for testing whether an engaged couple are suited for married life together. Before the wedding ceremony, the bride and bridegroom are brought to a clearing, where a tree trunk has been cut down. Here they are given a two-handed saw and set to work to saw the trunk across. This is a test of how far they are willing to co-operate with each other. It is a task for two people. If there is no trust between them, they will tug against each other and accomplish nothing. If one of them wishes to take the lead and do everything by himself, then, even if the other gives way, the task will take twice as long. They must both have initiative, but their initiative must combine together. These German villagers have recognized that cooperation is the chief prerequisite for marriage” (Adler, 1982, pp. 121-2).

We know it is difficult to make the right choice of the partner and also it is difficult enough to be ready for the wedding above all because today  people are not often well prepared for cooperation and they are trained too much toward individual success. For this reason so many weddings and unions have been failing but their dissolution is very difficult too just because each partner desire to get  an own vantage from conjugal separation or divorce. They are not interest simply to solve their marital and parental difficult  because the pattern of their thought is the same that pushed them into their wedding: what can I get out? Which vantage is there for me along this direction? During civil proceedings concerning separation or divorce without mutual consent where it is very important to identify which parent is more suitable for obtaining custody of the child very often each partner wants to win, wants to subject the other one and sometimes to humiliate him or her too. Their arms are now no more bows, arrows and swords but lawyers and laws. They don’t struggle anymore in traditional battle fields, nowadays the struggle is into a new battle field named Court but they show us anyway  the real difficult in the common life when the persons aren’t trained to cooperate. In all these cases the private interest overcome the social interest or, as we prefer to say after the distinction that Ansbacher made, community feeling (Ansbacher, 1992, Sodini & Sodini, 2000a, 2000b, 2001, 2003a). In other words when the behaviour of human being is ruled from striving to power or will to power and it is not sufficiently modified in its direction by the degree of community feeling, we are going to have a neurotic behaviour (Sodini & Sodini, 1999). It is based on will to power rather than striving for superiority or perfection and its fictional goal to get a neurotic superiority, in other words: what can I get out from this situation? Which vantages? Many years ago Adler saw and described what today we can observe very easily into the Court when a couple is separating or divorcing without mutual consent. If we want to understand the case in a correct way we have to exam the personality of people, their life style and we think to set our analyze of the relationship between the sexes according to a restless fluctuating between the original pushes from matriarchal social organization to patriarchal one. In a certain sense we can also say that the continue tension  between the sexes speaks nowadays in a very clear way into Courtroom where the reaction originated from the frustrations experimented in the marital life explodes openly incarnating  and ritualizing the ancient  struggle about the right on own offspring with its heavy  repercussions regarding the education for a better growth of children.               

Is solution of this matter possible? Probable? Impossible?

Paraphrasing the title of the Adler’s article on the progress of mankind (1937) we’d like to underline as the humanity has own destiny in its own hands. Obviously a better type and quality of relationship between the sexes is part of the progress of mankind so all of us should redouble our own efforts for doing possible the solution of this matter. This solution, as Adler underlined, should be long the direction of cooperation for reaching a real harmony into marital couples. Indeed, he taught us: “There is no place in love for the striving of one partner to stand out the expense of the other, to satisfy his vanity (Adler, 1982,  pp. 96-7).

When someone wants to satisfy him or herself  anyway an entirely inappropriate tension is introduced into the sexual relationships and also in more general sense treating every chance for happiness into the couple. This situation has a bad influence in the children  explaining why many of them grow up with the thinking that marriage is a difficult and dangerous matter (Sodini & Sodini, 2003b).

We could even say that for a full solution of this co-operation of two, each partner must be more interested in the other than in himself. This is the only basis on which love and marriage can be successful (Adler, 1982, pp. 124-5).

 Concluding this article we’ d like to quote what Meiers says because he, according our opinion, explains in a very clear and shared way what means also to be Adlerian:

In my opinion one cannot be a good Adlerian unless he understands that Individual Psychology is more than just a therapeutic method or an abstract school of psychology with certain distinctive feature. All this is vital as a minimum, but it does non suffice … To me as an individual psychologist, Individual Psychology is as important to mankind and to the evolution of mankind, as vitamin … Social interest is not only vital to Individual Psychology but to  the building of every individual personality, and hence of whole families, including children, parents, grand-parents, uncles and aunts, in order to prevent them from tearing themselves to pieces” (Gröner, 1984,  p. 5).

So, the most important thing is to promote the development of community feeling because only a good degree of it can offer the possible solution for getting a relationships between the sexes better than now and a better social organization of our society because Ansbacher says and we agree to him: “Adler saw the solution in a close co-operation between two individuals of different sex, committed not to a mistaken “self-actualization” but an actualization of each other and, through children, the future of humanity” (Ansbacher, 1992, p. viii).  Concluding we’d like also to quote Gastone Canziani, the first modern Adlerian in Italy (Sodini & Sodini, 1996a, 1996b, 2001), about the role and goals of psychology: “Psychology is not a neutral area but an area to better the environment for all humanity” (Canziani, 1977, p. 15). In this sense we think to understand correctly the spirit of Alfred Adler’s  message in our opinion well express also in North American Society of Adlerian Psychology motto:  helping  to change the world.   


–          Adler, A. (1926). Psychische Einstellung der Frau zum Sexualleben, in the Handbuch der Normalen und Pathologischen Physiologie, 14, 1 : 802-807, new English translation as  Psychological Attitude of Women Toward Sex, in The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler, Volume 5,  Journal Articles: 1921-1926, pp. 112-18, edited by H. T. Stein, The Classical Adlerian Translation Project: San Francisco, 2004.

–          Adler, A. (1937). Ist der Fortschritt der Menschlheit möglich? Wahrscheinlich? Unmöglich?, Itn. Z. Indiv. Psychol. 15 S. 1-4, English translation as Is progress of Mankind possible? Probable? Impossible? In Adler, A. (1979). Superiory and Social Interest, (The Ansbachers Eds.), W. W. Norton and Company, New York – London, pp. 23-28.

–          Adler, A (1964). The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. H. L. Ansbachers & R. R. Ansbacher (Eds.). Harper & Row, New York.

–          Adler, A (1982). Co-operation between the sexes: Writings on women and men, love and marriage, and sexuality. H. L. Ansbacher & R. R. Ansbacher (Eds.) New York: Norton.

–          Ansbacher, H. L.,  Preface to Adler A. (1982). Co-operation between the sexes: Writings on women and men, love and marriage, and sexuality. H. L. Ansbacher & R. R. Ansbacher (Eds.) New York: Norton.

–          Ansbacher, H. L. (1992).  Alfred Adler’s Concepts of Community Feeling and Social Interest and the relevance of Community Feeling for Old Age, Individual Psychology, 48, 4 : 402-12.

–          Bachofen, J. J. (1861). Das Mutterrecht: Eine Untersuchung über die Gynekokratie der alten Welt nach ihrer religiösen und rechtlichen Natur. Kreis & Hoffmann, Stuttgart, English translation as Myth, religion, and mother right. Princeton University Press, 1967, Italian translation as Il matriarcato. Ricerca sulla ginecocrazia del mondo antico nei suoi aspetti religiosi e giuridici, Einaudi, Turin, 1988.

–          Bebel, A. (1885). Die Frau und der Sozialismus, Dietz, Stuttgard, English translation as  Woman and socialism, Socialist Literature Co., New York 1910, Italian translation as La donna e il socialismo, Savelli, Rome, 1977.

–          Canziani, G. (1977). Editoriale, Psicologia e società. Social Psychology Review, Organizzazioni Speciali, Florence, II, I : 8-32.

–          Ellenberger, H. F. (1970). The Discovery of the Unconscious. The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry, Basic Book, New York, Italian translation as La scoperta dell’inconscio. Storia della psichiatria dinamica, Boringhieri, Turin, 1976.   

–          Engels, F. (1884). L’origine della famiglia, della proprietà privata e dello stato, Editori Riuniti, Rome, 1963.

–          McLennan, J. F. (1866). Primitive Marriage. An Inquiry into the Origins of the Form of Capture in Marriage Ceremonies, Edinburgh, Italian translation as Il Matrimonio primitivo, Pieraldo, Rome, 1991.

–          Morgan, L. H. (1877), Ancient Society, or Research in the lines of Human Progress from Savagery Through Barbarism to Civilization, Macmillan, New York, Italian translation as La società antica. Le linee del progresso umano dallo stato selvaggio alla civiltà. Feltrinelli, Milan, 1974.

–          Gröner, H. (1984). Interview with Dr. Jseph Meiers. Individual Psychology News Letter, 32, 2 : 5-8.

–          Sodini, U. (1993). Matriarcato e patriarcato: la Psicologia Individuale come possibile strumento di passaggio dall’antitesi alla sintesi (Matriarchy and Patriarchi: the Individual Psychology as a possibile Instrument of Passing from the Antithesis to Sinthesis), Riv. Psicol. Indiv., XXI, 34 : 61-76.

–          Sodini, U. (2004) Alfred Adler. La nascita di una psicologia per tutti, Attualità in Psicologia, Edizioni Universitarie Romane, Rome, 19, 3-4 : 205-20.

–          Sodini, U. & Teglia Sodini, A. (1996a). A Recollation  of Gastone Canziani, the first Adlerian of Italy, ten years after his Disappearance, Individual Psychology New Letters, 41, 1 : 8-9.

–          Sodini, U. & Teglia Sodini, A. (1996b). Un ricordo di Gastone Canziani, il primo adleriano d’Italia, a dieci anni dalla sua scomparsa, Attualità in Psicologia, Edizioni Universitarie Romane, Rome, XI, 2 : 195-208.

–          Sodini, U. & Teglia Sodini, A. (1999). L’adlerismo italiano tra monismo e dualismo, Attualità in Psicologia, Edizioni Universitarie Romane, Rome, 15, 3-4 : 314-22.

–          Sodini, U. & Teglia Sodini, A. (2000a). L’adlerismo italiano tra monismo e dualismo. Il sentimento comunitario, Attualità in Psicologia, Edizioni Universitarie Romane, Rome, 15, 1 : 16-26.

–          Sodini, U. & Teglia Sodini, A. (2000b). Dualism: The difficult in Italian Individual Psychology, The Canadian Journal of Adlerian Psychology, 30, 2 : 26-33.

–          Sodini, U. & Teglia Sodini, A. (2001). Gastone Canziani: The First Modern Adlerian in Italy, The Canadian Journal of Adlerian Psychology, 31, 2 : 66-73.

–          Sodini, U. & Teglia Sodini, A. (2003a). Terminological and Conceptual Matters, Adlerian Society (of the United Kindom) and the Institute for Individual Psychology, Year Book 2003, pp. 59-70.

–          Sodini, U. & Teglia Sodini, A. (2003b). An Adlerian Approach to Cpurt-Ordered Custody of Underage, The Canadian Journal of Adlerian Psychology, 33, 2 : 49-56.

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