OH! SAVE ME! SAVE ME! The Hero Model

Some say there is only one story ever written. It’s rearranged, maybe some parts are omitted, some may dominate, but in the end it’s always the same. You can throw in a few best friends, a love interest, a unique setting, but it’s still the same story.

According to American scholar Joseph Campbell, this pattern of narrative in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development is called The Hero’s Model.  It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and does good deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.*

Fantasy portrait of sexy woman fighterEveryone loves a hero. As girls and women, we thrive on it, and often that’s not such a good thing. There are syndromes like Firefighter Syndrome- falling in love with the guy who saves you (or who you wish would save you), Transference- falling in love with your therapist or your doctor, the gallant knight on his white horse, Prince Charming, Superman … obviously I could take up the remainder of this space naming our heroes. And if we fixate on a hero, then that makes us the damsel in distress, or the Princess. Many modern women believe the current princess obsession among young girls is cause for concern.

As a woman who grew up in the age of feminism- bra-burning, free love, protests against the Vietnam war, fighting for equality in the work place, civil rights; it’s something I contemplate often. When I became a teacher of biology and chemistry, I strove to give the girls in my class the courage to pursue careers in science, and did my best to assure them they were just as intelligent and driven as the boy sitting next to them. Seriousness aside however, I’m still a sucker for the guy on the white horse who gallops in to save the day, the only difference in my writing is that my hero is always a woman. Okay, she occasionally gets the tar kicked out of her by some serious Alpha male, but in the end she’s the one who saves the day.

I wrote the Hero Model without even knowing it existed. Once someone pointed it out to me I understood that it’s something we know by heart, because we’ve read it, seen it, heard it a million times.

A hero is an unsuspecting, ordinary mortal who suddenly finds herself in an extraordinary circumstance. She denies her importance, she walks away, she claims she doesn’t have the skills for the challenge. Somebody’s made a huge mistake. It’s not her. Circumstances niggle at her, they push her, torture her, beg her to reconsider. She refuses. She walks away… again and again and again. A mentor enters. The mentor urges, coaches, gives her confidence. She still doesn’t think she can do it. She fails. She’s despondent, she walks away again … and then? She finally succeeds, or sometimes…SHE FAILS! OH. MY.GOD.  Then, she may not be the hero in regard to the task, but she’s a hero in our mind because she did her best and still failed.

The hero model works so well because there’s something in our brains that responds favorably to this model, no matter what our culture. As women, maybe it’s in our DNA, left over from caveman days when we needed a man to protect us, save us from the dangers of primitive times. However, aside from the fantasy of having that alpha male swoop down and cradle us in his strong arms- which is fine in a book, in reality, we just might want to be the hero ourselves. To test our mettle, to do the extraordinary, to give our best for the good of others. So, I say to all those budding princesses out there: Wear your tiara and your pretty finery, your high heels, but when the going gets tough, jump on horseback, kick off your stilettos, conquer that boardroom and fight the good fight. Because women have the brains, the stamina, the drive and yes … the bravery, to save the day… any day.


Up Next from Caryn: The Lonely Life of the Writer

Author: Caryn McGill

Caryn is a former high school science teacher, school district administrator and adjunct college professor.

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