‘And They Lived Happily Ever After … ’
This blah-blah tagline that full-stopped many a fairy tale from my childhood rubber-stamped itself on the fantasy-craving part of my brain. (It was probably passed down and became encoded in my DNA when I was in the womb!) As I got older, it drove me to devour romance novels—a super-popular genre that has the same kind of conclusion (inferred maybe, but expected). For a multitude of women this was, and still is, the most gratifying denouement of a stereotypical plot line: the hero overcomes evil and rescues the damsel-in-distress from its clutches. And they lived happily ever after. Ahhh.
It’s been an alluring theme, particularly for baby boomers, because most of the fairy tales fed to us when we were little had us pegged as the damsel-in-distress—the nauseatingly passive, small-waisted goody-goody. Of course, there were some powerful female characters in the stories, such as the fairy godmother. But the likes of these were secondary players. They only had bit parts. And as I recall, they got the short end of the stick in the looks department. The damsel, on the other hand, was fetching/comely/winsome. But it’s little wonder she ended up in distress. She was naïve and she wasn’t educated in the ways of the goddesses.
Modern woman also has some catching up to do.
Searching for the Holy Grail?
It’s only in the last fiftyish years (since the advent of second-wave feminism) that the goddesses have become unearthed. But because womankind has been estranged from them for so long—see earlier blog, Women with Balls—it’s not surprising that a lot of us girls related more to the Snow White/Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella template. Feminism has helped shift the focus. Womanhood is constantly being updated. And much as I’m loath to return the focus to the hero, because God knows this knight in shining armour has had star billing way too often, paradoxically, he needs to be exposed.
Our understanding of ‘hero’ needs an overhaul!
he·ro noun 1. a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealised for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. Idol, perfect type, paragon, martyr, megastar, deity. 2. another term for submarine sandwich.
Definition 2. doesn’t tell us anything about the sandwich, but it does convey that in the modern world, ‘hero’ has become de-personified and commercialised. Hero can come in many forms: overhyped vitamin supplements, miracle diets, superfoods, best anti-aging skincare products, get-rich-quick schemes, maximum fat-loss exercise workouts … In all of these, the ‘hero’ that’s going to save us from our (perceived) not-so-ideal realities is plugged as perfect. But then we learn time and again that magic bullets aren’t permanent, and they can have negative side effects. Toxic, even. Yet, we keep right on looking … out there. Strange as it sounds, what we continue to find echoes what really constitutes a hero.
The Ugly Truth
The archetypal hero from ancient stories possessed qualities like those of our contemporary romanticised hero. But this original model was also unapologetically psycho! Achilles, a good case in point, was a brave warrior admired for his courage and outstanding achievements. Talk about twisted. The vengeful things he did were beyond bestial. Yet, his behaviour was considered praiseworthy and he received a hero’s burial … shock-horror!
You Go, Girl!
Today, there’s a psychological and spiritual push to find the hero within. If you think it’s inconceivable that the female psyche is imprinted with this ugly Achillean aspect to the hero, consider your knee-jerk reaction when your children were young, and were bullied at school. Ask yourself what you would be capable of if your child’s life were threatened (it doesn’t mean you’d act on it).
So, when you feel disillusioned on your internal pilgrimage to locate the clichéd hero because base thoughts and impulses seem to be blocking you, instead, congratulate yourself! You’ve actually awakened the hero that inhabits the lizard brain. In that moment, though, you’re only seeing one side that makes up the real archetypal hero. Push through the temptation to avert your eyes and you’ll see the whole, otherwise the hero you keep cultivating is a cardboard cut-out. And everyone knows that no matter how reinforced it is, cardboard eventually folds.