You Are The One
The type of shows that get me (compel me to keep watching – yes, I’ll admit it, bingeing) and the books that I can’t stop reading are the ones where there is significant character transformation – for the better, that is. I mean the ones where the main character evolves. More specifically, the ones where that character initially doesn’t realize what they are capable of and then, because of the events and adventures that unfold, they eventually do.
Learning About the Heros and Heroines
I am drawn by the plot that has the protagonist start off as (seemingly) regular and ordinary. Then you begin to see glimpses that there’s more to her or him than meets the eye. She has hidden strength and fortitude. She’s going to morph and grow and prove herself to all the naysayers around her who discount her all the time. I wait for the moment when we start to see her hidden talent, her power, her light – and for the moment when she begins to see it, too. That’s the best.
I am thinking of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and Alina in Shadow and Bone and Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit and Willow in the movie of the same name, and Luke Skywalker…Joan Wilder in Romancing the Stone and, of course, Mulan and Moana. Pippi Longstocking and Nancy Drew, and Carrie Bradshaw are noted heroines by Maria Tatar, the author of The Heroine with 1,001 Faces.
Often the heroine in these plots is clueless about her real identity and her potential. She is good at recognizing it in everyone else but not in herself. She rejects her superior qualities even when she starts to see them. Some don’t want to accept it because of the responsibility that comes with it. Others just plain don’t see it because they are so used to seeing themselves as ordinary, as are the people around her. They are stuck in a paradigm.
This is our story, too!
This is why I fell in love with The Heroine’s Journey. The journey and its challenges bring all hidden talents (and sometimes flaws) to the fore. What has apparently become my mission in this latter part of my life is attempting to convince women that this is our story, too. It belongs to each of us – yes, and to you reading this. We, too, are like the story and film heroines who reject it:
“That can’t be me.”
“It’s her (pointing to some public and famous figure) but never me.”
“I’ve never done anything important.”
There’s some unwritten standard that makes it so hard to put a woman in the heroic frame. Well, it’s not unwritten, actually. It is our extensive cultural heritage – all those stories that have men doing great deeds of saving people, cities, countries, and the world! Just read The Hero With a Thousand Faces for examples of male hero stories, and you’ll get my point. They’re our literary and mythological, and archetypal heritage.
But there is a shift happening. Here’s how Maria Tatar sees it in her introduction:
“Today, we are reframing many stories and histories from times past, recognizing that women were also able to carry out superhuman deeds, often without ever leaving (or being able to leave) the house. Their quests may not have taken the form of journeys, but they required acts of courage and defiance. Like Penelope in The Odyssey or Scheherazade in The Thousand and One Nights, they used their homespun storytelling craft or drew on arts related to textile production to mend things, offer instructions, and broadcast offenses, all in the service of changing the culture in which they lived. They are rising up now to take their places in a new pantheon that is reshaping our notion of what constitutes heroism. It requires not just intelligence and courage, but also care and compassion: all the things it takes to be a true heroine.”
It's time for another perspective on heroism.
In 2007, after hearing a lecturer illustrate the Hero’s Journey with The Wizard of Oz story, I immediately glommed on to it as a means to educate women that this was their path to unfolding their greatness. “Just look at Dorothy,” I’d tell them, “And the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion all had within them all along what they were seeking. That’s the same with us. It’s all inside waiting for us to release it.”
It hasn’t been an easy sell. I’ve encountered the…
“But I just can’t identify with the hero, Susanna. It’s just not me.”
…type of resistance more than once. Women keep bumping up against that cultural inheritance of what makes a hero.
Here’s Tartar, again:
“Heroes are superhuman, while heroines are distinguished and admired. These definitions suggest that we might be wise to let go of the term “heroine” and turn “hero” into a gender-neutral term for us all. But perhaps not.” P.8
“But perhaps not.”
This encourages me to keep going with my own “heroic” quest. I was onto something when I resisted giving up the word “heroine.” To merge it into “hero” would make it even harder, I believe, for women to find themselves in the definition.
But help is on the way! There are different and new story models. Kim Hudson, author of The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual and Sexual Awakening, has a different model from the classic hero’s journey. She maps out a progression of “beats” that mark out the journey of a woman in film and story. The first beat, where the story begins, is the Dependent World: “The Dependent World in a Virgin story is the impediment to her self-realization, otherwise known as the antagonist. On one level, it is a force within her kingdom. On another, it is a belief the Virgin holds which keeps her attached to her Dependent World.”
I recognize that the stories I’m particularly drawn to are the ones where the heroine detaches from her Dependent World – that’s the hook for me. That creates an opening for their power to show itself. Hudson calls this “Caught Shining.”
This is us.
We are all Heroines just waiting to bust out but often we don’t see it in ourselves. We are not taught to see ourselves as heroines with a unique and special gift. That would be “acting conceited” or “self-serving” or “thinking too much of ourselves” or “being selfish” and “not ladylike” – whatever “ladylike”is. Basically, we should know our place (whatever that is) and stay in it.
Or, we compare ourselves with the known heroes of our history and culture and see no similarity.
Or we are stuck in our Dependent World and don’t see that there’s a door. And it takes belief in ourselves to find and open the door.
I’ve just met a new film heroine, Cait in Amazon’s, Britannia. Cait is a girl whose initiation into Celtic culture, her coming-of-age ceremony, is interrupted by the second Roman invasion of Britain. (It’s early England at the end of Roman occupation – it’s very loosely historically based.) You can only imagine the violence and chaos that ensues. It’s hard to watch. Thank goodness for a comical character or two. But I am riveted because I quickly recognize the archetype of the heroine on her journey of discovery. That is, the discovery of her true identity, and I can’t wait for the unveiling.
I know she’ll be breaking out of her seemingly subservient role eventually. I know she’s a heroine “in waiting,” and I am eager for the authentic Cait to emerge. I know her apparent servitude to her blind father is temporary. She is learning that life (and its blueprint) has much more in store for her. (I’m just hoping I can survive the murders and sacrifices and gore! Grisly body part extractions and dismemberments and head chopping – oh dear!) (I’m still in the midst of it all.)
Cait’s beloved sister and the queen tell her, “You’re the one.” There’s even a crazy (and funny) druid that wants her to own up to her destiny and learn what she must learn in order to step into that destiny. But she has a hard time accepting that larger than her (current) life destiny.
She has a hard time seeing it, accepting it – envisioning it. She is very bogged down in her Dependent Life.
This, too, is us.
So, dear real-life heroines, do I think you are going to be fighting demons and the Roman Empire, like Cait? Of course, not – but you’re going to fight your own particular kind of demons. And somehow, because of how we’ve been conditioned into our “smallness” and because we have accepted history’s definition of hero, we don’t recognize our victories as heroic. Heroic is a term only applied to large male victories.
What word then can we use for women who transform from passing through a difficult divorce or from leading an organization through a rough time or from getting out of a demoralizing relationship or from buckling down and writing a book?
If we don’t associate these actions with heroism (definition: great bravery. "they fought with exemplary heroism" – Oxford English Dictionary), then what word can we use to attribute the appropriate level of validation to what women do?
If not a Heroine – then what?
Women have always been in the story, but their part hasn’t always been the theme. Their role hasn’t been the one we pay attention to. The male role gets recorded because of its action.
Every day I meet women who are heroic in my view. They are doing things that require courage, great courage. These stories don’t fit into the formula of the epic heroic narratives of yore but they are just as deserving to be recounted. That’s what we do in The School for Real-Life Heroines. We tell our stories about stepping over a threshold into the unknown – and what that does for us, as scary as it might be. These stories don’t describe the conquering of a city or starting a new world, or even outwitting a demon, but they do something just as important; they tell the story of how a woman transforms into someone who is more aware of who she is and what she can do. And in sharing her story, she helps women listen and learn that they aren’t alone because they are doing it, too. They are crossing thresholds of their own and inspiring others to do the same.
You are the one.
Cait’s sister returns from the dead (yes, it happens) to tell her, “You are the one.” Cait doesn’t believe it. She always believed (as did her father) that her sister was “the one” who would save the land.
I am convinced that each of us has a soul blueprint and that if we would but listen to our intuition, the still, small voice within, we’d hear where to step next and how to fulfill our destiny. We are “the one” - one of the ones who will help to save the land, our world if we accept our calling.
Here’s a beautiful poem by ullie-kaye, that Sara, a student in my Accountability Program, sent me this morning:
in your heart of hearts you
already know. do not question
the still, small voice that is
telling you which way to go.
you are afraid because things
will be different. feel different.
but then again, you are braver
now than you were back then.
and you have learned that strength
does not grow from comfort zones.
it grows from thorns. and high tides.
and wild, wild winds that knock
you off of your feet.