What is the Heroine’s Journey? (part II)
In the end, however, I found myself as turned off by Murdock’s supposed “heroine’s journey” as I was by Campbell’s vision of women. This is due to the shock of my biggest disappointment with the book, and the reason I cannot recommend it: the author’s explication of the “breakthrough” moment where the heroine realizes the old ways of her living are no longer sufficient, and she must finally embark upon her Heroine’s Journey.
To metaphorically explore this emotionally transcendent moment, Murdock uses the classic myth “The Rape of Persephone” — although I found her explication of its meaning somewhat disturbing. She asserts Persephone knowingly ate the pomegranate seeds, in an effort to “escape” her mother Demeter!
Finding her new sense of self, Persephone has no intention of going back to the status quo, regressing to identification with her mother again. So she swallows the pomegranate seed and assimilates the experience of the depths (pg 98).
How Murdock “intuits” this meaning from the myth escapes me — every version and translation of the actual myth which I have read is unequivocal in stating Hades absolutely tricked Persephone into doing so. Mixed in with this rather repulsive example of the male fantasy of a rape victim actually “asking for it” is what I found the most appalling statement in the entire book:
The moment of breaththrough for a woman is always symbolically a rape — a necessity — something which takes hold with overmastering power and brooks no resistance (Murdock quoting Luke, pg 98).
I was so shocked at such a horrible assertion that I had to re-read it, to make sure I’d not misunderstood. Unfortunately, I’d understood all too clearly: Murdock quotes another author (also a woman, much to my shock and dismay) in order to state that for women, personal growth requires rape — symbolic or otherwise.
Astonishingly, this bald assertion is followed soon thereafter by an almost superficially quick exploration of the myth of Inanna’s “Descent into the Underworld,” which is a perfect example of a heroine’s descent into metaphorical darkness — without a rape — to retrieve wisdom. Curiously, Murdock chose to focus on Ereshkigal, not Inanna, in her analysis of the myth — and she seemed to utterly miss the critical fact that this particular Heroine’s Journey is one which includes no rape scene whatsoever!
I’m sorry (well, no — I’m not), but I simply flatly refuse the entire concept of rape as the inevitable requirement for the personal growth of women — not men; just women — on the path to enlightenment. Murdock seemed to so thoroughly miss the horrific implications of her statement… that the quote’s page number isn’t even listed in the Index under “rape.” Further, I was somewhat taken aback by Murdock’s apparent message as to what the Heroine’s Journey actually was:
What is woman’s place at this stage of our cultural development? I feel strongly that it is to heal the split that tells us that our knowings, wishes, and desires are not as important nor as valued as those of the dominant male culture. Our task is to heal the internal split that tells us to override the feelings, intuition, and dream images that inform us of the truth of life. … This is the sacred marriage of the feminine and masculine — when a woman can truly serve not only the needs of others but can value and be responsive to her own needs as well (pg 11).
This does not sound like a Heroine’s Journey to me. If anything, it sounds like an inward searching which all of us could fruitfully take. How is this inherently female? Isn’t this simply personal enlightenment — what Jung refers to as individuation? Don’t men have the possibility of getting tired of the “classic” Hero’s Journey and wanting to advance further as well? Also, what’s this weird fixation on active, individualistic principles always being “masculine,” while cooperative, relational principles are exclusively “feminine”? I have both, and I sure don’t consider myself part male. My inner active and individualistic urges are as female and womanly as my cooperative and relational desires. I’d expect the same is true regarding a man with both sets of internal urges: his would be entirely masculine.
After the dissatisfaction of this book not really answering my personal questions regarding the Heroine’s Journey, I decided to try and figure out for myself at least what I considered a good or compelling heroine to be — even if I’m still not sure what the actual Heroine’s Journey itself entails. I’ve been reading quite a few urban fantasy novels over this last summer, and I’ve got a pentacle of urban fantasy reviews coming up in November — as well as having already discussed some of my thoughts on how I think the author and the background of a series should work together, in the “Magic” series review I wrote. Further, after having read almost 45 urban fantasy novels one right after the other, I’ve gained the interesting side effect of now having a very clear idea on what I like and don’t like in heroines as well as backgrounds. So here are my ideas of what a fun and fascinating heroine is like (or hero, if that’s your preference), based on the following series which I enjoyed tremendously and cheerfully recommend, and for which I am eagerly awaiting the next books in the various series. I’ve listed them in order of personal preference:
- Patricia Briggs’ “Mercy Thompson” series
- Kim Chance’s “Cassandra Palmer” series
- Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files“
- Carrie Vaughan’s “Kitty the Werewolf” series
Since you’re effectively capitulating my article points, I can only say here: I agree! :)
It’s been a while since I read the myth of Persephone, but that assertion also sounds off the mark to me… o.O
Even more is my aghastness at the idea that a woman must be raped in order to grow. That said, I would agree that the growth of anyone – male, female, or otherwise – is at least partly dependant on hardship in some form. As I have heard you yourself quote, among others, ‘we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes’. Everyone undergoes stresses and conflicts of varying types, and varying levels of pain. That does not make the utter violation and victimization of rape necessary in the slighest, especially since this can be a shaping event that can do untold amounts of lasting mental damage and social stigmatism.
And as for the last piece, I’d have to agree that a journey of a hero, or heroine, or even merely a person, does not have to have any specific differences between genders, because the qualities that make us human are also not gender specific. We are all capable of great good and great evil, and the compartmentalization of male and female qualities only hinders this truth. Dualism is all well and good, but I think this is a dualism whose time has long passed, and if there is ever going to be true equality in how we percieve women, it has to be abandoned. Not male first and not female first – human first.