In storytelling, the Heroine’s Journey is structured the same way as the Hero’s Journey but the feminine experience of the story tends to differ from the standard masculine interpretation. It is the same basic myth but with a feminine twist.
The Hero’s Journey monomyth was identified by Joseph Campbell in his book on comparative mythology, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. However, the feminine experience in these myths tends to be limited to a passive role; the women are there just to serve the male gods. In an interview with Maureen Murdock, Campbell said that women did not need to make the hero’s journey: “In the whole mythological tradition the woman is there. All she has to do is to realise that she’s the place that people are trying to get to.”*
I think most women, and many men, would agree that statement is, well, bollocks. I’m not about to launch into a deconstruction of the blind spots of the patriarchy. Suffice to say, Campbell’s position is out of date, to say the least.
What the myths mean
The myths are about facing unconsciousness, growing up and discovering your true identity. Obviously men and women tend to do this in slightly different ways, and even within genders there is a lot of variation. Arguably, we all have a hero and a heroine inside us. But when it comes to storytelling there are times, with a female protagonist, that you don’t want to be making her do things a woman just wouldn’t do.
Generally speaking, men are more likely to get physical, get into a fight and do a lot of running around and shouting. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to use their wits and intelligence, to outsmart the bad guys instead of punching them in the face. There are obvious exceptions, and sometimes a good old left hook is exactly what you need.
Ultimately, both the hero and heroine myths are about becoming whole. The story brings the hero or heroine face to face with their unconsciousness, forcing them to grow and change. They are challenged to complete the Sacred Marriage, the union of opposites, to be reborn as a whole person. In story, this is usually depicted as a relationship with the opposite sex, but in reality this is about internal wholeness – the marriage of opposites within.
The Heroine’s Journey: Structure
Act One introduces the heroine in her Ordinary World and shows what is missing in her life, where she is unconscious, not fully formed, or in need of healing.
Act Two launchers her into the Special World of the story where she will confront her problems, form allies and make enemies, and either rise to the challenge issued in act one, or not.
Act Three is the return to the Ordinary World where we see our heroine putting her new found wisdom/skills/whatever she’s learnt into practice.
Here’s the whole journey:
1. In Act 1 we meet the Heroine in her ORDINARY WORLD
2. The Heroine receives a CALL TO ADVENTURE
3. Reluctant to change, she REFUSES THE CALL
4. But after MEETING THE MENTOR, changes her mind
5. The Heroine rises to the challenge and CROSSES THE FIRST THRESHOLD
7. The Heroine APPROACHES THE INMOST CAVE where
8. She experiences the SUPREME ORDEAL
9. Leading to a REWARD where she Seizes the Sword
10. In Act 3 the Heroine is pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World
11. The Heroine crosses the threshold and experiences another death followed by a RESURRECTION
12. Transformed, the Heroine RETURNS WITH THE ELIXIR to share her Boon/Treasure with the Ordinary World.
*Quoted in The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock.
Image: Focus Features