Sunday, February 20, 2011

Defining the Female Monomyth

The other day, someone asked me if the Harry Potter movies met the criteria for the Dykes to Watch Out For movie approval rating. The comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, has 3 rules for a film to meet its criteria:

1. The movie must have more than one woman character.
2. The women characters must talk to each other
3. About something other than men.

Generally, I have to say that the Harry Potter stories receive a resounding no on this. There is more than one woman/girl. But the girls do not talk to each other in any memorable way or play a significant role other than as supporting characters for the activities involving the men/boys.

This got me thinking, what would a girl hero look like? Would a hero's journey be the same for a girl? Do the masses of books about hero's journey even have anything to do with women? There are tons of books on the subject of the archetypical hero's journey and about archetypes in general, but do they even have anything to do with women? Joseph Campbell said that the women are the ones waiting at home. He contends that the women are not the ones toiling along the hero's journey because they have already achieved the spiritual enlightenment the men must struggle to attain. So, what of archetypes? It seems we do not share the standard archetypes of men. Do we have our own? Are there cultures with stories of the journey women must take?

For we do journey in a much different way. So ours has been to stay at home. Isaac Denisen touched on it when she talked about learning to live in boredom, in a quiet state of waiting while the men go off into the world without us.

Certainly, at this point in history, we women are venturing into the men's world and are met with resistance. In trying to claim a chair at the table, a cube on the floor, a voice in the meeting, we are being subtly beaten to a gory pulp. Like men who beat their wives, the corporate men make sure that the bruises are in places no one can see them. They disregard our ideas, only to reintroduced them as their own. They overlook our participation, even when we lead the way through, and praise the men who play a part. They make us invisible in a hundred different ways, and we feel crushed under it, demoralized and overwhelmed with the futility of it. If we attempt to discuss it, we are accused of having overactive imaginations. If we become more vocal, we are being too aggressive. If we don't speak up, that is our sin. Oh, and when we make a mistake, we get all the attention that was denied us in all other circumstances.

We seem to be in a no-win position. But isn't being invisible something we can leverage? Is invisibility an archetype for women? Women are the ones who operate behind the scenes, in the shadows, ones attending to details, making everything nice, ensuring that things run smoothly. We are the ones never seen, heard or noticed. There's food on the table, paper in the copy machine, coffee in the pot. The systems are stable. The infrastructure is in place.

Being the detail chaser is a job we never chose for ourselves, yet we do it automatically. It's only courteous to refill the coffee pot or the copy machine. In the past, this peripheral supporting role was the only one we were allowed. Now, we maintain that role while simultaneously and invisibly performing other, more critical functions. My experience working in IT operations demonstrates this repeatedly. My worst employment experience ever was at Expedia, but all of my IT jobs have supported this contention to some degree. Expedia is the only company I've worked for that really worked at being the worst employer for women in technical positions. The harder I worked, the harder they tried to diminish me. I digress, but I left Expedia feeling so bruised, so broken and so powerless. I left there months ago, yet I still fall into a ditch occupied by the thoughts about how it could have been different. The ditch is full of lies. It could not have been different because the men hold all the power, and they did not want it to be different.

Was I a hero in this story? No. They won. They abused me until I left. Is there a way I could have been a hero? I feel compelled to find a way through this because it isn't just me. It's every woman I've ever known who has worked in a technical field. There has to be a way through. There has to be a way to be in this field and not be crushed under the giant's foot. There has to be a way to stop being the one who sweeps out the fireplace that doesn't involve being rescued by a prince.

This is my quest. I want to tell a story that meets the Dykes to Watch Out For criteria, makes women the heroes and identifies the elements of the female monomyth.

1 comment:

Jane V.P said...

Quite a moving article you've got there. I can feel the pain in those words. So true and yet no one really cares.
The problem with women in this world is that only a very small percentage feel sexism is a problem, or even aware/admit that it even exists. I believe that true equality will never exist for women, because deep down all women are afraid of confrontation with men. Almost all believe that as long as they can live happily, be married, shut up and do as they're told by the patriarchal society that there is no real need to resist any further.
And those who do are Feminist lesbians who make life harder for everyone else.

Regarding the "Female Monomyth", I have been wondering for some time what this would consist of and whether or not it would be all that different from the traditional male perspective. According to the monomyth of of world religion/Campbell, the heroes are generally of supernatural or special origin, and hold awesome abilities which can be natural-born or acquired. In nearly all cases I can think of, the hero completes trials and prevails through brute strength or intelligence, eventually bringing a prize or boon back to his society.
In a "Female" version, I believe the heroine would not be special, but an outcast, who's ideals differ from all of womankind. She would win her trials through persistence and endurance, taking blows from forces greater than she can really handle. And in the end, break through the patriarchy by saving her own life, and living on her own terms while being recognized for what she is.
This formula seems to be the trend set in film, novel, and videogame for the past 40 years or so.