Men get hero’s journey stories all the time. George Lucas admits that without Joseph Campbell he never would have written Star Wars. And Joseph Campbell thought that self-actualization was something written for men. Women were only good as figures to support the men. (Insert eye roll here.)
Maria Tatar finds this all as ridiculous as I do. Of COURSE women are people with inner lives and goals of their own and things they want to do. And of COURSE women have to function in a patriarchal society that would like to deny them both their personhood and the ability to pursue their own goals. So how do we write independent women into their own stories? Where has that happened in the past and how is it happening now?
In short: how do women tell their own stories?
- Fighting Silence. So many stories, especially old ones, are about women who have their tongues cut out after they’ve been raped so they can’t say who did it. Or, like Cassandra, just aren’t believed. Women who are heroes are the ones who figure out other ways to tell their stories in ways that they’ll be believed.
- Discovering the joy of writing. Both Jo and Amy in Little Women discover the joy of expressing themselves; Anne Frank writes to entertain herself and because she enjoys it; Carrie Bradshaw is a hero and a writer. Not everyone gets to tell their stories.
- By Surviving. Scheherazade is the prototypical example here, but there are many fairy tales that are also about women figuring out how to simply stay alive in a world that seems destined to break or end them. But also: whisper networks (aka gossip) keep you alive and unhurt.
- Investigating. Nancy Drew, anyone? Miss Marple? Women see things that are going wrong, either in their lives or in their communities and want to know what’s going on. So they investigate. In the best scenarios, they fix whatever the problem is. It can be social justice (think The Hate U Give) – making things better for everyone, not just themselves.
Because women don’t have power, they’re often forced into a trickster, or trickster-like role, like Penelope unweaving the cloak so she doesn’t have to marry one of the suitors before Odysseus comes home. Or the schemes Lisbet Salander has to put into place to stay independent and safe.
Women are heroic when they are telling their own stories; those stories are often about compassion and care and justice. They are operating not as lone wolves, but as part of community, and are working to make that community better.
In short, if you are a reader or a feminist or both, I would suggest reading The Heroine with 1,001 Faces. It’s so illuminating.