Bradley Harper is a retired US Army Colonel and pathologist with extensive experience in autopsies and forensic investigation. Along with clinical experience, he had four commands, and is the only non-Italian to ever receive the Knights of Malta award for his support of the Italian Army. A life-long fan of Sherlock Holmes, upon retirement he received his Associates in Creative Writing from Full Sail University, to help him write the book–A Knife in the Fog–that he’d always wanted to read. Each Christmas, he and his wife play Mr. & Mrs. Claus.
The movie “Mulan” as a case study
My Historical Fiction series features a real-life person, Margaret Harkness, in adventures based upon other real people and events. Before I as a man could try to write a strong and believable female character, I felt that I needed to understand the path a woman must undertake that is similar, yet in some ways distinct from the male’s in achieving their quest. Below is a model which I feel mirrors the reality most women face when they try to become successful in a male-dominated society. I hope that readers of this article, both female and male, gain some perspective on the female version of The Hero’s Journey.
In 1990, Maureen Murdock wrote The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness as a response to Joseph Campbell’s model articulated in his seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (1949). Murdock, a student of Campbell’s work, felt his model failed to address the specific psycho-spiritual journey of contemporary women and she developed a model describing the cyclical nature of the female experience.
While I am a man, as a retired Army officer I have been led by and commanded female soldiers and can in some measure appreciate the difficulty a woman has in adjusting, and ultimately becoming successful in the masculine society of the military. I believe that any successful woman who has had to adjust to working and living in “The Boys Club,” can identify with the stages Murdock sets forth in her work.
The Heroine’s Journey begins with an Initial Separation from feminine values, seeking recognition and success in a patriarchal culture, experiencing spiritual death, and finally turning inward to reclaim the power and spirit of the sacred feminine.
This Journey is based on the experience of daughters who have idealized, identified with, and allied themselves closely with their fathers or the dominant masculine culture. This comes at the cost of devaluing their mothers and the female culture. Mulan must forsake her female identity in order to save her father and family from dishonor and probable death.
The next stage, like the hero’s journey, is the Road of Trials where the focus is on the tasks necessary for ego development. In the outer world, the heroine goes through the same hoops as the hero to achieve success. Everything is geared to climbing the academic or corporate ladder, achieving prestige, position and financial equity, and feeling powerful in the masculine world. Mulan undergoes military training and must demonstrate her skills and obedience to fit in and to gain the respect of her fellow soldiers.
However, in the inner world, her task involves overcoming the myths of dependency, female inferiority or deficit thinking, and romantic love. Mulan must embrace the masculine values of the society she finds herself in, aspiring to become fully integrated into the military culture.
The first part of the heroine’s journey is propelled by the mind and the second part is in response to the heart.
In the Awakening phase, even though she has achieved her hard-earned goals, she may experience a sense of spiritual desolation and death of self. Her river of creativity has dried up and she begins to ask, “What have I lost in this heroic quest?” Mulan sees war for the brutal experience it is. Though she still desires to save her people, she feels as though she has lost her core identity.
At this point, the heroine is faced with a Descent or dark night of the soul, a time of major de-structuring and dismemberment, usually caused by a major loss. In the movie, Mulan’s gender is revealed, and her relationship with her fellow soldiers and her captain is lost.
The descent may take weeks, month, years, and cannot be rushed. The task here is to reclaim the discarded parts of the self that were split off in the original separation from the feminine–– parts that have been ignored, devalued, or repressed in her quest for success.
At this stage in the heroine’s journey, a woman seeks to reclaim a connection with the sacred feminine to better understand her own psyche.
The next phase involves healing of the mother/daughter split that occurred with the initial rejection of the feminine. This requires reclaiming a connection to intuition and creativity. Mulan must integrate the lessons she has learned from the masculine world with her feminine self to achieve a new balance, or wholeness of spirit. In the movie she regains the trust and allegiance from her fellow soldiers as her true, feminine, self, and successfully leads her comrades in saving China from the Mongols.
The next stage involves Healing the Wounded Aspects of her Masculine Nature. This entails identifying the parts of herself that have ignored her health and feelings and becoming aware of the positive aspects of her masculine nature that help her to speak her truth and own her authority. Mulan wins her father’s respect as well as her own for the person she has become.
The final stage of The Heroine’s Journey is the Sacred Marriage of the Masculine and Feminine, integrating both aspects of her nature. It is a moment of recognition, rediscovering what she has always known.
The union of masculine and feminine concerns recognizing wounds, blessing them, and letting them go.
The theme of Mulan has been described as: “Be true to yourself.” Much of the Heroine’s Journey involves determining who that self really is. Hopefully, this model may provide a compass.
All images are from the website: https://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images?p=Mulan+Images&fr=uh-mail-web&imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fscreenrant.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2017%2F04%2FMulan-Disney-animated-film.jpg