The title of this blog may sound familiar to anyone who has ever read the mythologist Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. It details the hero’s journey, a series of steps which determine the course of all stories and myths. The hero’s journey focuses on the interaction between the hero and the worlds they travel through, and how they change internally. Campbell looked at ancient myths and studied the patterns in them in order to come up with this monomyth.
Unfortunately, he was also low-key sexist. There are steps in the hero’s journey like “Meeting with the Goddess” and “Woman as Temptress” that make the journey exclusively masculine and relegate women to side characters in the story. He also believed that women themselves didn’t need to go on the journey. Women represented the goal, the world, the treasure. They were the reward, not the heroes.
Maureen Murdock and Valerie Frankel responded with their own heroine’s journeys to combat this male-centric journey. “Meeting with the Goddess” became “The Immortal Consort” and “Woman as Temptress” became “Temptation”. The heroine’s journey focused more on internal change and the rescue of some lost part of the self, where the hero’s journey focused on the external defeat of the villain-king-father and corresponding destruction of some aspect of the self. The ego must die so that the new self can be born.
Now we have hero’s and heroine’s journeys to go on, but what about the people actually going on these journeys? Can they be male, female, or gender nonconforming? Can they be different races, sexualities, disabled and from different socioeconomic backgrounds?
The answer is yes, but it’s tinged with sadness. We need these heroes and heroines. We need diversity and different struggles than we’re used to reading about. We need our heroes and heroines to wear a thousand faces, not just the straight white cis able bodied middle class male that we’re used to reading about.
As readers, we need to fill in the blanks. We need to seek out books written by people of color, LGBTQ+ authors, and written in other languages. As writers, we have a moral obligation to represent the world truthfully, and that means expressing the diversity that exists in our world in our stories.
This blog is called Heroine With a Thousand Faces because I would like to focus on a feminist analysis of storytelling. My feminism is intersectional, and so a feminist critique of anything will also look at representation of different sexualities, disabilities, trans characters, and many other groups that are underrepresented in our stories. I want to seek out those other faces of heroines that we so rarely see.
This blog focuses on reading and writing with a feminist lens because being a woman doesn’t mean that you’re automatically free from the patriarchy’s societal conditioning. I find myself watching tv shows or reading books and wondering, “why can’t her husband go rescue her brother for her?” or, “They should let the men do this.” Immediately I stop those thoughts, but it still reveals my own implicit bias and understanding of gender roles. I want to encourage all writers, no matter your background, to address and actively seek to remedy your societal conditioning. Just because you have experience as a member of a marginalized group doesn’t mean that your subconscious is free from the rhetoric of stereotypes or harmful tropes involving that group. Not to mention how in our society and our stories we think that straight, white, cis and able bodied is the default for any character.
Analyze what you read. Be critical of what you write. Represent the diversity that exists in our world, and seek out the voices of people who are underrepresented in fiction. Support those authors and show the publishing industry that we crave more color and representation in our fiction. When you write, do so with research, empathy, and a willingness to listen and change.
Some women like dresses, some like swords, some like both. Some weren’t born in a women’s body and some feel like a women only sometimes. Some women like makeup and some like sports.
All of them are strong.
Here is a call to adventure, the first step of our journey as critical feminist readers and writers:
Remove gender roles from your writing. Women can go on the hero’s journey and men can go on the heroine’s journey. All of them deserve to participate in this monomyth, these steps that outline internal and external adventure and growth. All of them are equally capable of strength, emotional depth, and empathy. They wear a thousand faces, a thousand experiences, races, backgrounds, sexualities, and bodies. But they are all the same because they have a story to tell.
Let’s tell it as truthfully as we can.
Have you heard of the hero’s/heroine’s journey before? Do you use it in your writing? What are some of your favorite literary heroines?
photo by Lyanne Rodriguez