Heroine’s Journey I

4th century AD mosaic from Villa del Casale Scicily of female athletes receving victory awardsMaureen Murdock is generally regarded as the first to chart an alternative to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey narrative paradigm that she believed is more appropriate for women’s life journeys.  As a student of Campbell’s,  Murdock,  came to believe that the Hero’s Journey model did not adequately address the psycho-spiritual journey of women. She developed a model of a  heroine’s journey based on her work with women in therapy.  When she showed it to Campbell in 1983, 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.” Perhaps Campbell viewed the hero’s journey as a journey toward wholeness, and in a patriarchal society in which men subordinate qualities traditionally associated with the feminine, the search for wholeness would lead to their  reclaiming so-called feminine qualities and values.  However, it appears that Campbell was either uninterested in women’ reclaiming qualities that had been lost to them through enculturation or those that had never been viewed as rightfully theirs, or he was blinded by the fact that the myths that he was examining involved male figures.  At any rate, Murdock became convinced that women were involved in their own psycho-spiritual journeys and quests and developed the following model.

women-walking-togetherMurdock’s model, described in The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness, is divided into the ten stages:

  1. HEROINE SEPARATES FROM THE FEMININE–often a mother or societally prescribed feminine role.
  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 him/her deciding to gear to”fight” an organization, role, or group that is limiting her, or entering some male/masculine-defined sphere.
  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).
  4. EXPERIENCING THE BOON OF SUCCESS by overcoming the obstacles.  This would typically be where the hero’s or “shero’s” (a female protagonist on a hero’s journey) tale ends.
  5. HEROINE AWAKENS TO FEELINGS OF SPIRITUAL ARIDITY / DEATH because 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.
  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.
  7.   HEROINE URGENTLY YEARNS TO RECONNECT WITH THE FEMININE, but cannot go back  to her initial limited state/position.
  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.
  9.  HEROINE HEALS THE WOUNDED MASCULINE WITHIN.  Heroine makes peace with the “masculine” approach to the world as it applies to herself.
  10.  HEROINE INTEGRATES THE MASCULINE AND FEMININE to 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.

Below is the journey laid out in chart form.

Heroine Journey Arc by Maureen Murdock

Heroine’s Journey Arc by Maureen Murdock

23 thoughts on “Heroine’s Journey I

    • Ark says:

      This misses the mark quite dramatically at nearly the first step. Note that the male hero’s journey sees no need to integrate the feminine into the character’s development. Essentially all you have done here is assumed that a woman requires a male persona in order to take part in the hero’s journey instead of developing a fully separate and unique approach to the journey.
      A woman’s heroic journey should not revolve around attempts to emulate the male one.
      Your idea that the first step must be to “Break from the societal prescribed roles of femininity”
      first assumes that femininity is socially prescribed, and that masculine traits are the true natural state of being. Second that masculinity is a required state of being for a heroic female character, rather than these traits being somewhat inherent (though subdued) as femininity is in men, and part of their natural progression. You can write a story in which a male or female has to integrate the opposite gender’s persona in order to overcome an obstacles, but this story will never be one that fully explores the depths of a feminine or masculine hero. Instead it will be one that just investigates the dichotomy between the two, and that is a very different story.
      You state that a truly developed hero’s journey for a woman would be a one in which she adopts outside forces of masculinity in order to develop. There should be no mention of masculinity period in a female hero’s journey. A woman has the natural capabilities to overcome her journey’s obstacles, without altering her inherent nature (at least in terms of feminine and masculine roles) Instead it must be her task to understand how to overcome her obstacles within the context of femininity, not outside of it. In a male hero’s journey, the central character must overcome obstacles as they relate to his inherent masculine persona, they never require integration of outside personas nor do they require deviation from their male persona. Their journey is built around the road from an unrealised heroic masculine persona to a realised one. Your first step must be to figure out what a female heroic persona is, independent of masculinity.

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      • nballard says:

        Ark, thanks for your comment. There are many heroine journeys. The one cited by Maureen Murdock is used most often. When it features a female protagonist (or a non-male protagonist) in a male-define context in which the woman or girl is oppressed, abused, or suppressed because of gender, then often the first step is to break out of the restriction by adopting the skills (and sometimes the values or part of the values) of the “other” or male. However, in the heroine’s journey this is never sufficient (if it is, then it is a female protagonist completing a hero’s journey). Something falls apart, either her “success” doesn’t last, is attacked, or she finds it empty or insufficient– she then has to go beyond the male/female binary to seek wholeness/ satisfaction/ fulfillment/ purpose or whatever she is seeking. In other cases the binary may not be so overtly gendered. Perhaps a male is seeking a peaceful solution to greed and war (King Arthur in Once and Future King) or a couple is seeking an enlivened life apart from expectations of “success” in their families/suburbia, or a writer is seeking purpose that is not defined by fame, approval or monetary success. Usually the starting point is based on some kind of distress or longing and there is a background assumption that some kind of societal prescription is the means to success, even if the protagonist or narrator intellectually rejects it. The female heroic persona can be just as much of a trap as a male heroic persona.It is the falling apart of the binary as solution (both ends) that often forces the author/ protagonist/ narrator / life experiencer to seek a new coherency or paradigm– and this is the heroine’s journey. Stay tuned and keep writing. We are going to wrestle with binaries in some fall blogs!

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  1. E. Garcia says:

    This is very helpful. I think the woman’s journey today includes the stages of Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell ( in the Identification with Masculine stage) but then moves beyond it at the end to re-connect to the feminine so as to move to a deeper intuitive understanding beyond any one time, person, culture, race. This is a timeless connection.

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  2. Ann Medlock says:

    Delighted to find you and this charting of a woman’s journey. I have my own experience of Campbell and have been finding/telling heroes’ stories for over 30 years . I once asked him if he knew of any stories from all his research in which a man and woman stayed together, worked together. He was silent a long time and then said he could only think of the old couple who lived by the side of a road and cared for travelers. Thinking back now on conversations with him, I’d say he was of his time, that he delighted in and was amused by women, but definitely believed that we’re here as sidekicks to men. At best.

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  3. Kathleen Saville says:

    I think of my own story of rowing across two oceans with my late husband as an example of people staying together. I’ve also thought a lot about my late husband’s take on our rows as Campbell’s hero’s journeys while my own take on our rows is something quite different. I’m not even sure Murdock’s model works for me because I am still in the process of charting what those journeys really were for me. In my recently published memoir “Rowing for My Life” I explore this as a couple. I know there is another story to be told of my journeys alone. Happy to find this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nballard says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Kathleen. We’d love to here more about your journey and what you believe the differences are between your husband’s view of the journey and your own.

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  4. Kathleen Saville says:

    I consider my two rows across the Atlantic and South Pacific oceans with my late husband, examples of a couple staying together after the journey. I believe he saw our ocean rows from the POV of the hero’s journey while I saw it from the feminine journey POV. I just put up a post on my blog site about this. My recently published book on our ocean rows, “Rowing for My Life” illustrates this too. I’ve enjoyed the readings on this blog!

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  5. Evadene says:

    So interesting – I’ve always had a sense that the female journey is different from the male journey, but have in the past simply adapted the Hero’s Journey. The Heroine’s Journey has opened up the possibilities considerably in my WIP. Thank you!

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  6. Luke says:

    One critique — number 4 is the ‘Illusionary’ boon of success, and that one word changes the entire meaning of that stage of life.

    Food for thought.

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    • nballard says:

      Hi Luke, thanks for your comment! I agree that step four’s boon of success feels illusory, but usually only after one achieves some measure of success and it fails to provide the “boon” one had expected. E.g. the promised paradigm shift or ongoing fulfillment doesn’t materialize. It is the failure of the boon to stick (e.g. the failure of a happily-ever-after or change in community attitudes) that catapults the subject toward step five and ultimately the rest of the journey.

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      • Luke says:

        No. To be brief, in the book itself, the word illusionary is literally that. I feel that the omitting of that word in the list of ten steps is something (for you) to think about.

        But that is the point, isn’t it? Maureen is saying that you deceive yourself about the ‘illusionary boon of success’ you are experiencing. Because it is not actually who you are, it is not what the voice inside wants, it is not what the person you keep locked up inside wants… whatever it is – it is not what your true self wants. So your success in life up to that point, even if you are a successful person, is ‘illusionary’ – not that it ‘feels’ illusionary, it *is* illusionary. And after you realize that, and make changes, then you are past the ‘illusionary boon of success’ and on to the next step of life.

        -Luke

        since this is the internet, want to mention I write this without spite or malice. I just had a coworker randomly ask if I felt fulfilled at the job where we work together, and I couldn’t help but think about Maureen and the steps that women take in their lives. My coworker asked that because earlier in her life she wanted to work at a nursing home but said she selfishly chose other things. My coworker is currently under the ‘illusionary boon of success’. If all women are on the same path, or experience the same steps in life, as Maureen and other suggest, well that was my initial point in my post a year or so ago, that you too are in that stage/step, and hence purposely omitted the word illusionary.

        Good luck with love.

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    • nballard says:

      Hi Matus, We have given lots of examples already on the site. Go to Journey Narratives and look at the drop down menu for movies, folk tales, short stories and novels. Here are are few more: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (novel); Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (creative nonfiction/reportage); and Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill. We will probably be doing a review/exploration of each of these books (plus movies) and more this fall. So stay tuned!

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  7. annathomsonsite says:

    Thank you for your summary. I am interested in exploring more of the binary of masculine/feminine. Identifying as a queer person, I see this binary as an inherently heterosexual one, and one which I do not relate to (nor do many people I know). Are there ways in which a journey could be made which do not divide us a category of two?
    Warm regards, Anna

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    • nballard says:

      One of the things I like about the Heroine’s Journey is that it is oriented toward wholeness, not win/lose/; success/failure; good/bad; male/female; leader/follower gay/straight, and other binaries. Wholeness is often conceived of as the integration of two opposing forces or ideas, but it need not be. You raise a very good point and I will try to integrate the idea of wholeness as something other than the integration of binaries into some new posts coming this fall. Part of the temptation to see life or purpose as a yin/yang binary is that many of our brain functions operate as binaries, but that is no excuse. Thanks for your comment and please keep coming back. If you have another conception you would like to offer as a blog or extended comment, by all means let us know. And we are glad you stopped by. Come again!

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  8. Marta C Weeks says:

    I am preparing to finalize an article regarding Haya’s journey on the first book of my Immortals series, The Sylph’s Tale. like this article and I am currently taking a class on Mythology that is the best, in my opinion, I have taken.

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