Post Author: Pastor Courtney R. Young
This spring will mark the ten year anniversary of my graduation from seminary. If I had had to guess what course my ministry life would have taken over these ten years, I would have been wrong. So wrong. As of the writing of this article, I have been considered by about two dozen ministries. From those, I have received one offer of call, which I accepted and from where I was ordained. I have the ignominious achievement of having been looking for a call longer than I’ve actually been in one. Heaven knows that I’ve introduced my own complexities to the situation. I own those. I just never imagined that they would be so nearly insurmountable. It has not escaped my notice that they are all rather feminine in nature – children bearing and caring and being the non-breadwinning spouse. Somedays, having persevered through so much rejection, it feels like a real miracle that I am still here, in faith.
As the silence and the years kept mounting, I was desperate to find some story, some pithy proverb or insight, that would make my situation make sense. Something that would let me know that others have walked this path and would give me an idea about what my next step could be, because the stories of “more” and “harder” weren’t working.
As both a reader and a writer, I’ve always been a bit more interested in story structure, in plot points, than has seemed tasteful to my instructors over the years. My fiction writing was often critiqued as being too plotted with not enough character development. It seemed to me that, just like any character, circumstances arrive and visit and depart. They have personalities and quirks to tend to. In their wake, certain doors open while others close. I wanted to explore all the ways that a person could welcome them, host them, and wish them well on their way. While searching for the name of the circumstances that surrounded my life, I began to intuit that there was some other path that women walked that existed largely beneath notice.
When I was finally able to verbalize what I was looking for, my friend shared with me the Heroine’s Journey. As the website explains, Maureen Murdock was a student of Joseph Cambell’s, the cartographer of the Hero’s Journey in his famous book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Murdock felt like the Hero’s Journey did not illuminate the path that women must walk in this world in order to reach their transformational maturity. When I read the steps of the Heroine’s Journey, moments of my life flashed vividly in my mind’s eye. This was the story that I was living and trying to make sense of.
If I’ve been searching for this story and desperately needed to hear it, then I’ve no doubt there are other people who are on this journey looking for insight and guidance too. (Over the course of writing this article, I came to find out that a leading scholar of folklore, Maria Tatar, published a book just this last fall called “The Heroine With 1,001 Faces,” and I ordered it. Truly, I was not the only one who survived the isolation of the pandemic by connecting with my feminine resilience.) So I am committing to write a devotional for each step of the Heroine’s Journey where I define each stage of the journey, share how that has shown up in my life, in the life of some familiar fictional characters, and leave a blessing for the heroine at that stage.
Stage One – Heroine Separates From the Feminine
The Heroine is one born into or adopted by a context defined by an “other.” Many times that is a female identifying person born into a patriarchal context, but not always. Ultimately, the Heroine must integrate both self and other.
The Heroine rejects the feminine (i.e. the self) for two main reasons. First, the femininity most often presented seems impossible or too perfect, so the Heroine creates distance as a defense against something that cannot be achieved or is too demanding. Or, second, she learns to idealize masculinity and distrust femininity as “negative, powerless or manipulative.” In her distrust, when the Heroine turns away from her femininity, she also turns away from her “nurturing, intuition, emotional expressiveness, creativity and spirituality.”
For me, separating from and learning to devalue my femininity was not initiated by one big event, but encouraged by a hundred thousand tiny things. It is being born to a family that will not track its onward progression through you. It is the necessity of having complex conversations about how to dress your body when masculine clothes are nearly utilitarian. It is learning that feminine bodies are a nuisance and a distraction in public life. That our voices are difficult to hear and unpleasant to listen to. That menstruation is gross and should be invisible. That girls should not fart or burp or sweat or poop. That your eating will be judged. It is learning that you are expected to give way when walking. That “girl” is an insult that means “bad” or “weak.” In the end, you learn that you are valuable when you are physically small, reserved, neat, cheerful, and amenable. I created distance between myself and my femininity because I knew I must be something other than a “girl.”
I will use three popular characters to further illuminate the heroine’s journey: Elsa from both Frozen and Frozen II, Carol Danvers from Captain Marvel, and Po from the three Kung Fu Panda movies. Obviously, there will be spoilers.
Elsa separates from the feminine the night that she wounds Anna (a good reminder that femininity is a force that can be dangerous), particularly while she watches the different visions of her future. During that scene, her mother is a bit at a distance from her, holding Anna, while her father stands right by her side ready to step up as her guide. The gloves that Elsa receives from her father stand as a barrier between herself and the world around her.
In Captain Marvel, we meet Carol when she has already moved through this stage, but we do get to hear why Carol separated from her feminine self when she is being tempted by the Supreme Intelligence to stay. It insists that she will be “weak,” “small,” and “helpless” without the support and expertise of the Kree. Carol learned to believe that her femininity made her fallible.
Po is separated from his feminine power upon the combined circumstances of the death of his mother and his adoption by his father. His unease with his femininity, especially during the first movie, shows up as a lot of physical humor around the mismatch between his body and his environment and community.
Blessing for the Heroine
Little One, your power will keep.
So smear it with pink glitter. Or dirt. Go ahead; make it look cheap.
Or chuck it away, in dismay, with disdain.
But don’t worry, your power won’t break, won’t stain.
Be suspicious that it’s not up to the task.
Go! Leave it. Don’t look back.
Walk away without one second thought
To go discover all the things you are not.
Whether you set off south or north, west or east,
You will find yourself closing in on a beast.
Don’t dawdle. Dive headlong into the deep.
But don’t you worry, Little One, your power will keep.
Courtney Young is a bi-vocational Lutheran pastor/stay-at-home mom from Minnesota. She was honored to spend the first part of her career in campus ministry. Currently, she is on leave from call to care for her family during the pandemic and is writing a book.
Image by: Unknown Copied from https://heroinejourneys.com/heroines-journey/
Used with permission