The Heroine’s Journey

In the first episode of the Podcast I refer to the Heroine’s journey, so I thought I should write a bit more about it here.

You might already be familiar with the concept of the Hero’s Journey? He wasn’t the first to write about it but Joseph Campbell is probably the best known author on the subject.

The Hero’s Journey is the classic narrative utilised in literature, films, mythology and psychology which includes the following stages: –

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There’s plenty more information on the internet if you want to read more, but in running through the above headings it is clear that the hero’s journey is a masculine one in which women appear as either the goddess or the temptress; those two biblical favourite roles for women.

When challenged Campbell reportedly said, “Women don’t need to make the journey. In the whole mythological journey, the woman is there. All she has to do is realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to.”

The women’s movement up until the present day, with anger directed towards the Patriarchy, tends to encourage women to emulate this masculine path. To find equality by doing the same things in the same way as men, I have heard this referred to negatively as the Shero’s Journey, although if you google that term it is positively attributed to Maya Angelou and has also been co-opted by some online authors to suggest a hybrid between the Hero’s and Heroines’ journey.

But for me Shero sums up pretty well what I was trying to do during my 20+ years in the corporate world, 10 years as COO and the only woman on a corporate board. During those year, I got tough, hard and pushed myself to achieve. Yes I achieved some successes and commanded a good salary, but eventually I snapped and abandoned my career feeling chewed up and spat out.

Since then I have been on a constant personal development journey which has at times felt like 10 years of stumbling around in the fog. Until I came across the work of Maureen Murdock which had the immediate effect of putting into context the rest of the journey I’ve been on. I’ve set it out below: –

Heroine's Journey StagesMaureen Murdock’s DescriptionMy Journey
1. HEROINE SEPARATES FROM THE FEMININEOften a mother or societally prescribed feminine role.Rejection of mother’s way of life as stay-at-home mum. Also rejection of traditional female roles of nurse or teacher followed by my class mates.
2. IDENTIFICATION WITH THE MASCULINE AND GATHERING OF ALLIES For a new way of life. This often involves choosing a path that is different than the role prescribed for her deciding to gear to ”fight” an organization, role, or group that is limiting her, or entering some masculine-defined sphere.Set off to study management at University. Start of a 20+ year career in traditional masculine industries.
3. ROAD OR TRIALS AND MEETING OGRES AND DRAGONSHeroine encounters trials and meets people who try to dissuade her from pursuing her chosen path  and/or destroy her (ogres and dragons or their metaphorical counterparts).Redundancy, relocation then juggling having a child with being the main bread-winner. Return to work when daughter 10 weeks old. Marriage break-up, single parenthood.
4. EXPERIENCING THE BOON OF SUCCESSBy overcoming the obstacles.  This would typically be where the hero’s or “shero’s” (a female on a hero’s journey) tale ends.Promotion to the board, new husband, new house, completed a Master’s degree with distinction, driving a shiny sports car. The glory years.
5. HEROINE AWAKENS TO FEELINGS OF SPIRITUAL ARIDITY / DEATHBecause the new way of life is too limited.  Success in this new way of life is either temporary, illusory, shallow, or requires a betrayal of self over time.Pace takes its toll on my physical and mental health, I crack and leave my job and career.
6. INITIATION AND DESCENT TO THE GODDESS.  The heroine faces a crisis of some sort in which the new way is insufficient and falls into despair.  All of her “masculine” strategies have failed her.Offered other roles in the finance industry but loss of confidence means I turn them down. Long dark year of the Soul as I wonder what to do next. Not earning and need to be supported by husband.
7. HEROINE URGENTLY YEARNS TO RECONNECT WITH THE FEMININEBut cannot go back to her initial limited state/position.Decide to start the Women’s Development Forum in the hope of helping others to not suffer the way I had.
8. HEROINE HEALS THE MOTHER/ DAUGHTER SPLIT  Reclaiming some of her initial values, skills or attributes (or those of others like her) but views them from a new perspective.Long process of reclaiming lost feminine parts of myself through Systemic Constellation and Voice Dialogue work. Discover a feeling of having to earn back the right to belong to the sisterhood. 
9. HEROINE HEALS THE WOUNDED MASCULINE WITHIN Heroine makes peace with the “masculine” approach to the world as it applies to herself.A realisation that the Patriarchy is just as damaging to men. A fundamental re-think of how to help women achieve equality results in the closure of WDF.  
10. HEROINE INTEGRATES THE MASCULINE AND FEMININETo face the world or future with a new understanding of herself and the world/life.  Heroine sees through binaries and can interact with a complex world that includes her but is larger than her personal lifetime or geographical/cultural milieu.Launch of Female Potential a very different model for working with women. A deep felt need to reach back to before the Patriarchy to honour the feminine and help bring it back into equilibrium with the true masculine. 

Of course stages 9 and 10 are still very current for me and will probably involve a lot more twists, turns, ups and downs before they are complete.

But my main aim in setting out the journey in this way is to show that the descent into darkness is an inevitable part of the Heroine’s journey, when we might literally find ourselves losing the plot.

Through my coaching practice, I encounter women at this stage in their lives and generally they want it to end as fast as possible. Having been brought to their knees by illness, death of a loved one, divorce, redundancy or business failure, there is a tendency for them to want to run hell-for-leather back towards what appears to be the light. The Heroine’s Journey is not often linear and sometimes we do just have to go back and repeat the same stage over and over again.

But if we can embrace the darkness and resist the urge to view what is happening to us as a problem to be solved, then we get to do our inner-work.

If we can embrace the chance to get quiet, go inside, feel the pain, we can reclaim the lost, forgotten and disowned parts of ourselves and in that way find peace and receive the wisdom and learning from the next stage.

No-one said that the Heroine’s Journey was an easy one, but ultimately it is rewarding.

Recommended reading: –
If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie
Rise Sister Rise by Rebecca Campbell
Goddesses in Every Woman by Jean Shinoda Bolen
The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock

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