In a Facebook group of which I’m a member, there has been discussions about the hero’s vs heroine’s journey. The hero’s journey was defined by Joseph Campbell and refined by Christopher Volger. It is supposed to be the monomyth that underlies adventure stories everywhere in the world, of the lone man becoming stronger through a series of adventures that allows him to achieve his ultimate goal, after which his tale ends. Within these tales, women are evil or good, no in between, and exist for some small plot point and then disappear. Maureen Murdock, in response, wrote about the heroine’s journey, in which the woman tries out the hero’s journey, finds its not for her because, hello, woman, and focuses on spiritual awakening and familial ties.
I have degrees in English lit and art history. I remember these distinctions discussed over and over again in class after class. Men = heroes, while women = seducer or mother, and in those capacities, could be ignored after their flash appearance in the story. They’re Cassandras, even if that’s detrimental to the hero, because, hello, women.
Both journeys are based on century’s old sexist assumptions concerning who went to war and had adventures. It’s taken as a fact, that men built their egos and then did whatever they damn well wanted after powering up, while women were either the evil but ineffective blockade or the good but ineffective lover sitting at home wringing their hands. The problem with this, as with most things ancient, is that history was rewritten by the winners (patriarchal society) and the contributions of women were sidelined, ignored, or altered to fit with the deep-seated need for men to be superior. That history doesn’t necessarily reflect reality, and modern research is discovering how much.
Current research in archaeology has shown that some men’s graves are actually women’s, and that women had a larger role to play in the war arts than previously assumed. And that’s the key word, ‘assumed’. Excavators into the twentieth century just ‘assumed’, based on war objects, that bodies in said graves had to be men, and didn’t bother to investigate beyond that. Why would they? Everyone knows that, beyond a few exceptional women, only men went to war.
Of course, when someone actually decided to study the remains, some of these ‘men’ were actually women, and far more than anticipated. OOPS.
We have stories about Amazons, and the Scythians upon which they were likely based certainly had active women warriors. Celtic peoples trained women in the fighting arts. Tomoe Gozen was not the only female samurai or fighter in feudal Japan, even though they were not much written about or recorded (because women. That’s why, when a third of the Battle of Senbon Matsubaru dead were women fighters, their presence was ignored by contemporary scholars and downplayed by some current ones). How about the Mino of Benin? In the article, author Fleur Macdonald states, “The current Queen Hangbe told me that all traces of her ancestor’s reign were erased by Agaja, who believed that only men should hold the throne.”
And that’s a huge problem with research into women heroes. Men, whether in ancient or modern times, chose not to pass down female stories, female histories. Instead, they hid them. They changed them*. They made certain to keep women as artificial stereotypes because those metaphorically chained them to men’s will. That subservience made them uninteresting and dull compared to the flamboyant heroes, and who doesn’t like reading and identifying with the flamboyant?
Both the hero’s and heroine’s journey, in my opinion, rely heavily on sexist divisions to inform them. When I was reading up on them earlier this month, I was reminded about a student of my husband’s who majored in math. Her Gender Studies professor told her that there needed to be a redefining of math in female terms, making it more soft, gentle and natural. Men were hard and logical, and math reflected that too much. And the professor didn’t see it as a sexist comparison, and didn’t much care she completely misunderstood the nature of math. The student did, and was furious and insulted by it. That division underlies the hero’s vs heroine’s journey, and pretending that the heroine’s journey is more wholesome, in that it encompasses more of what makes a person a person, doesn’t eradicate the sexism, it continues the status quo.
History is being updated to reflect reality, so maybe it’s time to rewrite the ‘journey’ as well. I truly hope, that having a wide-range of authors from different cultures, different sexes, can start to chip away at the old foundations and create something new in their place. This is why indie authors are so important–they don’t have to follow the restrictions in place to create formulaic blockbusters. They don’t have to mash their stories into predefined categories using past-their-prime tropes. They can initiate change.
It will be long in coming. The hero’s and heroine’s journey are familiar, and don’t require much thought on the part of readers, who understand the stereotypes and know where stories are going to end based on them. There’s comfort in that, which is why these journeys’ are still around and taken so seriously.
*I realized this in college when I was studying King Arthur and his Round Table. Queen Guinevere’s relationship with Lancelot was introduced by Chretien de Troyes. It wasn’t original, it was a sexist revision. SURPRISE! Ever wonder how many other tales were purposefully changed by men to prove the destructive nature of women, and everyone assumes that was how it always was?
**cover image by Mark Frost from Pixabay
Shiobe Rising: The Wellspring Dragons Book 1 and Trouble in Tindrel: The Wellspring Dragons Book 2 are available in Kindle format. Lapis of Nicodem, a serialized dark fantasy, is available for free at World Anvil. Follow me, Kwyn Marie, on Facebook and Instagram. Check out my author website, and the Wellspring Dragons book site as well as the Lapis of Nicodem book site. And if you like what you see, buy me a KoFi!