The myth of the Hero’s Journey—often referred to as the “monomyth”—is a narrative template involving a hero who embarks on an adventure, overcomes trials along the way, and returns home transformed and empowered to enact change in his home world. Joseph Campbell’s version of the monomyth is crafted around Freudian psychology, cultural studies and comparative religion, and an analysis of the cultural phenomenon known as the “rite of passage” (events which he claims are manifestations of masculine psychoanalytical concepts). Campbell's iteration of the monomyth firmly excludes women as autonomous agents, instead representing women as worlds, as temptresses, as mothers, and as prizes. Though many stories that evoke the Hero’s Journey narrative feature female protagonists, its foundational principles are based on notions of masculinity and phallogocentrism that ground it firmly in the male tradition. Although Campbell has called the Hero’s Journey the “one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story we find” across cultures and throughout human history, his articulation of the hero’s journey myth was built around male-centric psychology, leaving female protagonists to shape their narratives to fit to a masculine template. In this paper, I discuss common criticism of Campbell’s work. Then, I show how Campbell’s monomyth is rooted in Freudian psychoanalytical concepts—particularly the Oedipus complex—with no concern for representation of women’s embodied experiences. I discuss the ways that women are represented in the monomyth and the material effects this has on mass media. Finally, I look toward other, more feminine modes of writing, particularly Hélène Cixous' écriture féminine, to encourage the imagination of new stories that reflect women’s embodied experiences.
Author: Emma Hamilton