Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Heroine's Journey

The Hero's Journey is a basic pattern found in important myths throughout the world, as described by Joseph Campbell. The fundamental structure of this journey has been described as follows:

1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline
2. A road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails
3. Achieving the goal or "boon," which often results in important self-knowledge
4. A return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail
5. Application of the boon, in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world

Many historic, religious, and literary figures, such as Moses, Odysseus, Joseph Smith, and Abraham Lincoln follow this hero prototype. I think that the Temple endowment casts all of the Lord's covenant people into this hero role, and follows many of the particulars on the Hero's Journey found in Campbell's book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces."

I've been captivated by the application of the Hero's Journey to women. Since the writing of Campbell's book, women have asked if we find a different journey with different archetypes when the hero figure is a woman. Do we need to adjust the stages of the hero's journey to fit the female life or do we just need to search for heroes (male or female) that we can relate to? Are women able to place themselves easily into the role of hero?

Many men, and especially those at the tail end of their adolescence, can visualize themselves as a participant in the Hero's Journey. Young women, on the other hand, can find it difficult to accept an image of themselves as powerful and competent, and so they reject "hero/ine" as a model of their journey. In recent years, there has been more literature with heroine as protagonist, especially in the young adult field. Motion pictures, however, have lagged behind, and Mormon culture in particular is sadly lacking in providing heroines as role models.

I would love to see more Mormon women heroine role models. When I think of Mormon women who we encourage our daughters to emulate, I cannot think of a one who strongly models the Hero's Journey. Many of them are known for their association with a powerful husband (Camilla Kimball or Patricia Holland). Others who seem ideally placed as models for women have been disappointing. I am thinking particularly of our recent General Relief Society Presidents. Name recognition and visibility has been quite low. (Try this: Name all of the Presidents of the Church in your lifetime. Now name all the General RS Presidents in your lifetime. Can you even name the current one?)

Are any of my readers aware of Mormon heroines suitable for emulation by Mormon women? What are their accomplishments? Do they reflect a Hero's Journey, or is their journey a modified one due to their gender? How well are these heroines known Church-wide?


Hedge said...

Sheri Dew is one of my heroines. She is amazing! A real woman of faith to look up to. She is educated, powerful, righteous and she isn't married - never has been. Then, there is Emma Smith, Eliza Roxy Snow, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, Martha and Mary, Mary (Jesus' mother).. I think there are a lot of female role models - we need to look for them, they are not so in your face as the male ones. Plus, we need to be those women for others.

Bored in Vernal said...

I like Sheri Dew, too. She is a fabulous speaker. But...what has she done to qualify as a heroine? How does she fit into the classic Hero's Journey mold? Do you think her rise to be the President of Deseret Book qualifies her as a hero of our day? In what way do you see her as having power?

I see Emma Smith and Eliza R. Snow as heroic, however, their notoriety comes mainly from their association with Joseph Smith. I'd love more stories about Emma's good works in the early days of Nauvoo, and--what did Eliza DO as RS President, other than just serve as the first one?

Marjorie Pay Hinckley is known only because she was the wife of a prophet. Even so, she could be placed as a role model for women in the Church--but what is it we are emulating?

Now I am not saying that people who live quiet lives of faith and service do not fit into the heroine myth. They do. But in order to enter into our consciousness as hero prototypes, their stories must circulate. Does anyone know a Marjorie Hinckley story, a Sheri Dew, an Emma or Eliza story which has circulated in the Church and models the heroic journey?

amelia said...

well, eliza r. snow did DO a lot. like making it possible for women of the early church to train as nurses and doctors, establishing cooperative silk manufactures, and building and operating a grain storage system that outperformed the one built and operated by the church's male bishops. snow definitely accomplished a great deal, much of it a bit untraditional for women.

but she still isn't quite a "hero" in the joseph campbell tradition. the thing is, campbell's whole structure is built around the idea of hero-as-adventurer. the hero must be someone with a superhuman task to accomplish; someone who goes out away from home. a lot of literary critics find his theories sexist (unsurprising; his contemporary freud is also often critiqued as sexist).

but if you want a mormon woman who fits the campbell hero mold, the closest i can think of is mary fielding smith. true, she was married to hyrum and part of her notoriety arises from that. but she crossed the plains as a widow and there are all kinds of stories about her overcoming serious trials (dead oxen she blessed to rise again and walk, for instance) in order to make that journey (and beating the wagon master of her party, who had told her she would never make it, to which she responded she would and in fact she would beat him into the valley).

but i have to wonder whether the problem here is that there are no female heroes or that the hero model campbell proposes is inherently flawed insofar as it is sexist.

Jo said...

My mom isn't Mormon, but she is my hero. She has overcome enormous difficulty in her life, lives with crippling pain and continues to transcend earthly problems to reach out and lift others. She amazes me and I am so proud to be her daughter.

Bored in Vernal said...

So Amelia, do you think a heroine model is different than a hero's? Is this because we have different roles?

In my view, the hero's journey is symbolic, so they need not have undertaken an actual journey across the plains. Building and operating a grain storage system could surely apply--if details are widely known and enter into the Mormon group consciousness as fully as the myths of Moses, Joseph Smith, etc.

I would say that the story of Mary Fielding Smith and her ox would qualify as what I am talking about (too bad it's not based on an actual occurrence!)

Perhaps we could also include Belle Spafford and her work as General RS President. Note the elements of this story:

In April of 1945 Belle Smith Spafford became the president of the Relief Society. Only a week or two after she had been sustained a letter came from the National Council of Women, announcing their annual meeting to be held in New York City.

Sister Spafford had attended those meetings before, and in view of her previous experience, she and her counselors carefully considered the invitation for several weeks. They decided to recommend to the President of the Church that the Relief Society terminate its membership in those councils. They prepared a statement of recommendation, listing all of the reasons for so doing.

Trembling and uncertain, Sister Spafford placed the paper on the desk of President George Albert Smith, saying, “The Relief Society Presidency wishes to recommend that the General Board terminate its membership in the National Council and in the International Council of Women, for the reasons listed on this paper.”

President Smith carefully read the paper. Had they not held membership for well over half a century? he inquired.

Sister Spafford explained how costly it was to go to New York, the time it took, and described the humiliation they occasionally experienced. She recommended that they withdraw because “we don’t get a thing from these councils.”

This wise, old prophet tipped back in his chair and looked at her with a disturbed expression. “You want to withdraw because you don’t get anything out of it?” he questioned.

“That is our feeling,” she replied. “Tell me,” he said, “what is it that you are putting into it?"

"Sister Spafford,” he continued, “you surprise me. Do you always think in terms of what you get? Don’t you think also in terms of what you have to give?”

He returned that paper to her and extended his hand. With considerable firmness he said, “You continue your membership in these councils and make your influence felt.”

And so they did! Sister Spafford took the gentle correction from that wise prophet, and the day came that she was president of that organization.

Notice how this story fits the hero prototype.

But I still maintain that there are few stories of modern Mormon women which are widely enough known to enter into the group consciousness and serve as hero myths. These are sorely needed among LDS women today.

FoxyJ said...

For a class I took last year I actually had to do a presentation on the "feminine quest". If you email me I could send you a copy of my handout that has the citation to the article. The author's main thesis was that the quest motif plays out differently in women's lives because of societal constraints on their movement--both literally and figuratively. The paper is focused on examples from Spanish and Latin American literature (My master's is in Spanish), but you could see the same thing in works like The Awakening. The female quest doesn't usually involve an actual journey; it's usually an inward, changing of attitude and knowledge of the self. Unfortunately, in literature the feminine quest often ends up somewhat shortened and the protagonist does not fully realize her journey.

As for Mormon women...Hmmm...I'll have to think about that. I have honestly never been that excited about Shari Dew, but I don't know much about her. A leader whose biography I find very impressive is Chieko Okazaki, because she had to overcome all kinds of issues, from family pressure to prejudice to widowhood. I've always found her writing refreshingly free from many of the standard rhetoric.

J G-W said...

Well, if you take Joseph Campbell's description literally, I can't really think of anyone in Mormon history apart from Joseph Smith who fits the description, male or female. At least in terms of outward, external life history. Figuratively, however, all of us to the extent we embark on a journey to achieve greater knowledge are heroes or heroines... I think that's the point of Campbell's model.

We can at least find heroine-like elements in the lives of all the women mentioned in some of these posts -- Eliza R. Snow, Emma Smith, Mary Fielding Smith, and others -- if they don't deserve to be called heroines in their own right.

Personally, I think Mormon scripture presents Eve to us as a heroine in the classic, Joseph Campbellesque sense... The non-Mormon Christian world blames Eve for the fall, but the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price present us a different image of Eve... One who made a difficult choice between two conflicting commandments, who brought the knowledge of good and evil into the world, and who made possible the entire plan of salvation, without which none of us could know joy. Check Moses 5:9-13, one of the most remarkable passages in all scripture. Eve was the real hero, here... In the Mormon versions of the story she essentially forced Adam's hand, and she truly is the mother of all living in that sense.

Ana said...

In literature and myth, the feminine story could also be seen as cyclical rather than linear like the hero's quest. A lot of times parts or stages of the feminine myth relate to sexuality and motherhood - virgin, goddess, mother and crone (in my way of seeing it). The measure of success could be considered as being able to start and nurture that cycle again in the next generation.

What I don't know is whether that different feminine myth is a reflection of a deeper truth (like I thought many years ago regarding Campbell and Jung and other myth/archetype thinkers) or a relic of a sexist history. Do we as women do ourselves a disservice by thinking we have to mold our lives into the linear quest thing? Or are we holding ourselves back by sticking with the cyclical story?

Téa said...

I'm going to go back and listen to the dramatizations of "Great Mormon Women" I have on audio cassettes to more readily identify the elements of a heroine journey in those tales. (I blogged about the series at fMh last year)

I don't think they fit the widely known category though.

brooke said...

lets see.. i'm new to the culture, and as you know, i struggle with it, so, i know i couldn't name a mormon heroine. the current relief society president is not someone i particularly look up too. i've not thought long enough about the academic side of what makes a hero vs a heroine, but when i think about mine.. names like dr. king, leslie feinberg, gandhi, alix olson, eleanor rooselvelt, harriet tubman, medea benjamin, the women that continue to do the good hard work that is the work of the peace and justice activist all come to mine.. oh, there are just so many many many. people who's example i strive to reach. those who are willing to stand up for what is right, who are afraid but don't let their fear stop them from doing what is needed to be done.. those who do it because it is the right thing, not the thing that will boost their ego. those are the people that i consider heros, or heroines.