Female Hero Archetype

A reader (Wayne Stauffer) sent in his conference notes from a presentation given by Jack Marshall of Houston Community College, Central (where I used to work) to add to my “How to Write a Character Analysis” blog post. I think the work is useful enough to re-quote the entire comment here to make it more accessible to readers.

I’d like to offer another hero type. It’s not one of my insights, but one that I heard at a conference years ago.

The Female Hero: A Fictional Archetype
Jack Marshall

The Pattern
The Female Hero:

1. Enters a community alone, sometimes with her child or lives in a community which attempts to reject her.
2. Unifies the community and brings harmony and accord or creates a separate community full of harmony and accord.
3. Has personal relationships with several individuals and their lives are better because of their relationship with the Female Hero.
4. Has power over others because of her overwhelming love, wisdom, goodness, and honesty. The Female Hero rarely, if ever, resorts to physical force or violence to accomplish her ends.
5. Reforms the villain in the story, if any appears. Usually, incorrigible villains kill themselves, fate eliminates them, or other characters dispose of them.
6. Rarely participates in competitions or fights. When they do occur, reaching accord is more important than victory over an opponent.

Elements
Conflict—In traditional myths, the male hero must subdue or defeat a villain in a win/lose situation that ends in a victor and the conquered. In the Female Hero story, the Female Hero changes the antagonist or invokes social pressure to discipline or change the antagonist.
The Secret—The Female Hero or her best friend knows a secret that can only be revealed to someone intimate and trusted.
Popularity—The Female Hero becomes liked and admired by almost everyone in the community. She accomplishes this feat by good deeds, talent, skill, a friendly disposition, and overwhelming charm.
Community Unity—The Female Hero is always a part of some larger community, be it a family or town. Her goal is to reconcile all the members of her community. The Female Hero not only works to get everyone to like her, but to like each other as well. A happy ending occurs when her efforts and genial personality result in community harmony.
A Nurturing Nature—Sickness and death are moments of intimate expression and release of emotions, something very important to the Female Hero.
Expression of Emotion—This is a notable trait in the Female Hero precisely because most male heroes repress their emotions to the utmost. While the male hero takes action to solve a problem, the Female Hero faces problems which action alone will not resolve.
The Obnoxious Person—This character is much more important in a Female Hero story than any villain. Narrow-minded old people, irascible children, crabby relatives, irate neighbors, and the repressed husband are some of the more common obnoxious people the Female Hero must charm and win over as friends.
Relationships—Female Hero stories are about connections between people. Action is secondary.
Social Disapproval—In most myths, traditional concepts about the role and nature of women oppress the Female Hero. If male heroes reject society and ride off, society applauds. But women who stray from traditional passivity and acquiescence usually feel isolated and scorned by society. This is the reason so many girl heroes are orphans and so many adult female heroes are outcasts or newcomers into a community. Quite often the Female Hero must create a community of her own, even a community of outcasts. The traditional male hero battles a villain, but the Female Hero must contend with a much more amorphous foe, society in general.
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Love Stories are somewhat different from the Female Hero Story. The female protagonist civilizes, tames, or reforms the man-beast by the power of her love—courtly love stories often follow this pattern (e.g., Beauty and the Beast). The obedient, unassertive girl is rewarded with a prince (e.g., Cinderella). Originally, this was a story of a mother’s power: the dying mother gave the girl a doll who advised her, or a surrogate mother (fairy godmother) appeared and worked miracles. In genre love stories, the female protagonist must mold herself to suit the male. Her power is derived from her relationship with a man. Love stories often make the female protagonist seem less passive by making two assumptions: 1) The lovers think and feel in accord; and 2) fate or some other supernatural power has created the two lovers for each other and no one else will do as a partner.

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Wayne Stauffer’s 2¢ comments
When the male hero rejects society and rides off, the community approves because his kind of character is a disruptive, contentious element that disturbs the social equilibrium, the harmony and accord. The community is glad he’s gone.
When the Female Hero leaves, it is because she has disrupted the social equilibrium and is being punished for not fulfilling her role as unifier. The community is not happy to force her to leave, but it cannot approve of the disruption she has caused and must make her an example of what happens to those who would emulate her.

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