Digging up the Dirt on Happily Ever After
Digging up the Dirt on Happily Ever After

Digging up the Dirt on Happily Ever After

Digging up the Dirt on Happily Ever After

‘And They Lived Happily Ever After …’

This blah-blah tagline that full-stops fairy tales embedded itself in the fantasy-loving part of my brain when I was a kid.

Years later, I devoured adult fairy tales—romance novels. My hippocampus hankered for that HEA ending, which, for a multitude of women was, and still is, the most gratifying denouement of a stereotypical plot line: hero overcomes evil and rescues damsel-in-distress from its clutches. And they lived happily ever after. Ahhh.

An alluring finale, yeah. 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, viz. the fairy godmother. But she et al were supporting characters with 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 ancient 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 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 been the headliner for way too long and 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. And the commodified ‘hero’ comes in many forms: overhyped vitamin supplements, miracle diets, superfoods, best anti-ageing 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 marketed as perfect: The One. Until we learn that magic bullets aren’t permanent and that they can have negative side effects—toxic ones, even. Yet still … the hippocampus drives us to quest after another. Out there.

But what we continue to find are merely vestiges of that which constitutes the original hero.

The Ugly Truth

A good example of the archetypal hero from ancient stories and pre-dictionary days is Achilles. He possessed qualities like those of our contemporary romanticised hero, but if dictionaries were around back then, a translated definition might look something like this:

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. ruthless brutal blowhard, unapologetic psycho.

Definition 2. would be considered complementary to Definition 1. Not a negative.


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’ve been capable of if your child’s life were threatened (doesn’t mean you’d act on it; you’re civilised)

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.

*see next post: Women with Balls https://paulahouseman.com/woman-balls/

List of Comments


  1. Yes, this revolutionary idea you proffer that we’re meant to feel base impulses–that if we truly don’t have them, that’s a sure sign something’s amiss–actually is *evolutionary*. The neocortex works best when we allow it to help us process and appropriate those feelings, but too often we altogether annihilate them in the name of decorum, or worse…we wait for a non-existent knight in shining armor to act on our behalf lest we break a nail/make a scene/give the impression we’re pushy, demanding bitches… Which begs the question: SO?

    • Well put! Ideologies that reduced our focus to a single *perfect* point did a great disservice to humanity. The world would be a far better place if we granted our base impulses an audience, so they wouldn’t have to have authority over us, viz. find other spillways to express——through physical/mental illness or moral monstrosities. Ugly as these drives might be, try squash them, they just fester and mutate. So, illness is becoming prevalent, naturalised and normalised. Is it just a matter of time before terrorism is also seen this way? The neocortex AND the heart work best when we allow every bit of us! And if we did honour our instincts (topic of my next blog), we wouldn’t need to subscribe to the salvational fantasy (have you read Thomas Moore’s ‘Care of the Soul’?). Thank you for your always astute insights, Steph!

  2. When in recorded history have we humans truly desired things to go on happily ever after? Don’t we crave conflict? We love the tension found in stories. Over and over. Men and women seek love, justice, happiness, and peace. But as soon as it comes, don’t we again perversely want to disrupt it. Not all, but most.

    Is that view cynical? Yes, but why assume that we must purge cynicism and conflict to achieve enlightenment? I would say that the goddess depicted here (https://goo.gl/27XN8R) demonstrates a rather cynical view of the world.

    • Indeed! Our Western brand of spirituality has seen the notion of enlightenment misappropriated. And with an either/or framework that encourages us to purge anything considered ‘dark’, we’ve become an increasingly de-souled society. The other side of ‘love, justice, happiness, and peace’ all have their rightful place in the human psyche. And when they’re accepted as natural, they don’t have to find ways to be ‘heard’—inwardly through unease/disease (physical or mental), or outwardly through extremes of behaviours.
      Thanks for taking the time to read my post, Michael, for your insightful comment and that great image of the goddess!

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