Women have our own powerful monomyth- and we need it now more than ever.
I discovered that storytellers have been telling the Divided Woman's story for 6,000 years- we are still telling it. And yet, we don't know her- even though we see her every single day.
In talks and at lectures, when I describe the Divided Woman, I usually get the exact same response every. single. time. The woman or women I am speaking to, give me half-hearted attention, because they're tired of being sold some story about how they can improve their lives by using an archetype. But I'm not selling a woo-woo version of Goddesses for women to identify with. No, I am illuminating an archetypal pattern that has the potential to free women from internal and external forces that keep us disempowered, isolated, and striving for acceptance.
Suddenly the woman I'm speaking to, is giving me her attention. I explain that she was put on a track at the young age of 7 or 8 years old. And as a result, she was either set on the path to ideal womanhood, as Maiden in Search of Relationship (MISOR). Or she was sent into girly purgatory as Magical, Isolated, Powerful, & Endangered (MIPE) where she would always be alone, often trying to claw her way back to being accepted for who she is, whether she fits the ideal or not. When she doesn't fit it, she sees herself as a failure. At this point in our few minutes together, she is often welling up as if someone has finally seen her struggle, as though someone has insight into her life.
Up until the moment that I define the TWO possibilities for her, she had personalized her failure. It wasn't that the ideal of being a MISOR was bad, it was that she wanted to join her MISOR ideals with her MIPE capacities, and that was not going to fly with family, culture, bosses, and husbands. She saw her inability to reconcile her personal ambitions and desires with the cultural ideals as her own unique experience. When she realizes that it is a track, a role she was given- I get a stare, often tears. She didn't recognize that the archetypal world had impeded on her personal experience. Sometimes when I'm done, those women are angry. Sometimes they are angry at me for pointing it out- telling me I'm wrong. Other times they become angry at the systems that kept them in this binary.
My response is the same every time. The way forward- towards sovereignty- is not to rage against the system. The path for women to succeed beyond the Divided Woman is to TELL HER STORY, and in doing so enable EVERY WOMAN to learn the truth about her potential. She is not banished to a marriage OR to a tower. She has the opportunity to become a Queen. One who has absolute sovereignty over her own life.
Joseph Campbell defined the Hero’s Journey as a MONOMYTH, a unifying structure that unites people across cultures. Across every form of narrative, from journalism and movies to psychology and education, the Hero’s Journey has been accepted as exactly that- a Universal Myth that is THE SAME for everyone.
But the Hero’s Journey as put forth by Campbell, and reproduced in our cultural products, does not take into account the experiences of women. Primary among these is the idea that everyone is called to the Quest equally.
Archetypal ideas are everywhere. They permeate the culture, and create expectations for men, women, work, and participation in the world at large. Women are set up from the time we are little to expect to "fit" a set of very narrow expectations. Most of them are actually set up as double binds that keep us on edge, teeter-tottering with shame, so that we don't see our own power.
In order to confront the systems that would have women remain subjects in society, we must first illuminate the hidden ideas that keep women "beneath" the power structures. First among these is the assumption that women should follow the same mythic and archetypal ideals as men. For as long as there is still patriarchy, this will ALWAYS set women on a path to be outsiders. There is an alternative, and it is not to diminish the Hero's Journey, it is just to remove the idea that it is a universal canon for ALL PEOPLE, and recognize that there is an alternative archetypal journey that better reflects the experience of half the world's population.