Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Heroine's Journey

Suggested reading: Love and Love, Power

The Hero's Journey is monomythic, but I think this post is mainly about how it is in my culture. Strictly speaking, the Heroine's Journey is one expression of the Hero's Journey, because a Hero is just a strong/courageous/etc. Good Person.

I realized while writing that I was using male/female as a shorthand. A Hero is standard: he represents the positive qualities of the majority population. A Heroine represents the positive qualities of a minority population. A Heroine could just as easily be black, or aboriginal, or poor as she is female, though I will use the shorthand in this essay.

My views are developing--hence this monster of a note--but if I wait for them to not be, then I'll never post anything on this subject. Feel free to aid in their development: i.e., comment.

A group of friends and I recently-ish read Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.* In one story, a woman complains that all the stories that were told within that story had been boy's stories. The obvious question was, "What makes a man's story?" followed quickly by, "What makes a woman's story?"

The first thought that came to mind was that, since we are dealing with archetypes, Hero=masculine and Heroine=feminine. The capitals are important here--one can have a feminine or androgynous hero, and one can have a male Heroine. This didn't quite satisfy us, but if this is the definition one wishes to use, then Cluracan's story is a woman's story: Cluracan is a clever elf, and his power comes from his words.
* If you haven't, you should. Go on. I bet it's at the library.
One archetypal story is the Hero's Journey, and many interpretations include an interesting moment: Encounter with the Feminine. That event assumes that the Hero is male, and requires that he be masculine--if you are feminine or androgynous, then what, precisely, are you encountering? Your Shadow? But that's another place on the Journey.

We discussed this, and decided the Encounter boiled down to, "You can't fight your way out of this one." The Hero cannot simply punch out the diplomat--or rather, he can, but it will solve no issues and cause additional ones. The feminine, as used, is subtlety, trickery, diplomacy, tact, etc.*

Encounter with the Masculine--that is, trying to gender-flip the Hero's Journey--leaves you with a different instruction: "Stop being pretty." This isn't to say that attractive Heroines would fail this test, but that one needs to stop worrying about appearance. While Encounter with the Feminine would require a culture, Encounter with the Masculine would not. Its purpose is perhaps best served by an inhuman force--a thunderstorm, a fire. If it is a culture, it is one that only cares for survival, not form. Either Encounter, then, requires assimilation--the Hero will remain strong but gain diplomacy; the Heroine will remain clever but gain a direct way of acting.

The reversal does not quite create a woman's story. A man's story turned inside-out is not a woman's story; a man's story turned inside-out is a man's story turned inside-out. What they are, then, to me:
The Hero's Journey: A tale of societal rejection.

The Heroine's Journey: A tale of self-rejection.
Or, for those of you who like complete sentences: In a Hero's story, either the Hero decides that he needs to leave his society-by-birth, or the society decides the same thing. Either way, the Hero sets out due to unsatisfying surroundings.

The Heroine's Journey is similar, but has an important mental aspect: The Heroine does not (merely) reject the society, she rejects a part of herself. This happens to be due to the fact that the society is rejecting her at a very basic level--"No, you don't exist, so go home you silly girl"--but that is not the conflict of the story. The Heroine has internalized the belief that she cannot be both. She sets out due to an unsatisfying being.

At the heart of her conflict, the Heroine has decided she cannot be herself.

The Heroine as she is has found within herself both woman and warrior, but she sees only simpering women, so assumes her "woman" side is her weakness. Or sees only uneducated women, so assumed "woman" is her stupid side, what must be shucked off to become a scholar. She lacks a role model, so, of course, stumbles through as best she can and makes several errors.

A Journey can be tragic in two ways: It never starts or it never ends.

There's an episode of Star Trek with time-travel where Picard is saved from a nonlethal accident, but the accident was what inspired him to go out and be who he was. The episode has several painful moments that boil down to, "Well, you're...mediocre." He is not a Hero, because he never started his journey.

A Hero's Journey that never ends means never coming home. Home isn't there, or it's just out of reach. There are ways to extend this, make it no longer tragic, but just the idea of, "Sorry, you learned your lesson too late and anything you could have come home to is out of reach," is awful.

In a Heroine's Journey that never starts, the Heroine decides to be what she thinks she was born to be. The woman grows up passive and uneducated, hiding behind false smiles because a proper woman does not burden others with her pain.

A Heroine's Journey that never ends also means never coming home, but this time it's a self-imposed exile. She believes she could not come home and remain a warrior or a scholar, that she would have to be just a woman. And when she thinks of "just a woman" she thinks of others' lives, but projects her desires onto them. She sees only the choice between never going home or becoming the Heroine who never started her Journey.

The completed Journey means assimilation.

The Hero comes home--though home is not Home, any more than this Hero is the man he was--and brings back his wisdom. The society accepts him enough for his purposes. And, in my favorites, he becomes a wise old man quite similar to the one who helped him in the first few pages...

The Heroine also comes home, but in a different way. She is odd in the society, unless the story is incredibly idealistic, but that wasn't the issue. Had she needed society to accept all of her, she would never have started her journey.

She assimilates her self. They are no longer her selves, the woman or the warrior/the scholar/the whatever else; she is her self. The Heroine becomes a role model, a mentor, a guide. She broke a path.

At the end of the story, the Heroine is the role model she lacked.
* Since that conversation, I've read more books on the subject and now believe that the Feminine is part of what the Hero is not because it doesn't fit with the Hero's self-image. The feminine is, in Jungian terms, his Anima.

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