The brilliant camharr and I were having a conversation about Lois McMaster Bujold’s work, and she said something so resonant and on-point I had to share it (hopefully she’ll find time to blog her own thoughts about it at some point). In an interview, Bujold makes a great point about how non-universal Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” actually is (Campbell apparently knew squat about women’s lives and made the typical male academic mistake of assuming that men’s experience is human experience full stop; we’ll leave aside for now all the other reasons the monomyth is crap). In the hero’s journey, the hero goes out into the world, does some stuff, and comes back home. But Bujold points out that given the exogamous nature of most cultures, the heroine goes out into the world, and keeps going.
And then Cameron gave the most succinct and lovely summation of a heroine’s journey archetype I’ve heard yet:
“Woman loses everything she thinks she needs, discovers her own power, and builds a family who will fight with her to the bitter end.”
Reminds me of a great article I read once about Buffy (and yes, Buffy had its problems, and yes, there are a lot of issues with Joss Whedon’s takes on female heroes, BUT). It pointed out the whole archetype of the hero as lone gunslinger, who protects the community but cannot be part of it, and who must ultimately go it alone to retain his heroic status, and described how Buffy subverts this. Spike articulates it when he notes that Buffy is different — stronger and more resilient — than other Slayers because she has a team around her, and it’s when she tries to go it alone that she (and, I think, the show) falls short. Buffy ultimately embodies a different sort of heroic archetype, one that certainly isn’t exclusively feminine, but I think speaks to more women’s experiences:
The hero is someone who builds and is the center of the heroic family.
The family may be blood relatives, it may be teammates or coworkers, it may be a group of friends or a biker gang. But it’s a collection of people that together function in the hero role.
Art by Howard David Johnson.