The burning need to change female archetypes

She's the warrior queen

The burning need to change female archetypes

Patriarchy often boxes women into the role of the nurturing mother or the evil temptress. Those like Hillary Clinton are on a journey to challenge these archetypes.

Like many other feminists, I tweeted and posted on Facebook at a furious pace after the second presidential debacle that was billed as a debate. “Whether Trump did or did not do what the infamous tape suggested – and I think we all know which is true – the act of celebrating sexual assault as male prerogative and patriarchal power is deplorable,” I wrote.

I addressed Trump’s stalking, stuttering and snorting in lieu of substantively addressing policy issues, and I shared my astonishment at his having received good reviews while Hillary Clinton was judged to be off her game for maintaining a calm, polite, focused demeanour in spite of being stalked, verbally abused, threatened with imprisonment, and confronted with the sick stunt perpetrated by her opponent.

Then I read Rebecca Traister’s stunning analysis of the subtext of the debate in New York Magazine and realised how much more there was to consider.

Traister, a smart feminist analyst and writer, talked about Donald Trump’s loathing for any woman who might defeat him, and his hideous ways of showing that hatred, including being verbally and physically threatening: “The worldview that Trump affirmed over and over again, during decades in the public eye, is one in which women are show horses, sexual trophies, and baby machines, and therefore, their agency, consent and participation don’t matter.”

Misogyny’s tools

Traister continued, condemning Republicans as “a party that has been covert in its cohesion around the very biases that Trump makes course and plain”, referring to their anti-woman legislative agenda, including its attempts to shut down Planned Parenthood and much worse in some states.

She pointed out that Republican legislation aimed at disempowering women, and the Republican response to Trump’s gutter talk, reveals a “fundamental lack of recognition of women as full human beings”, not simply mothers, daughters and wives, as they insisted when disavowing their candidate. In the end, Traister said, the weapons of choice among misogynists for beating powerful women are humiliation, objectification, shaming and sexualisation. That couldn’t have been made more explicit than by how Donald Trump behaved toward Hillary Clinton during the debate.

Hillary’s archetypal journey

No sooner had I finished reading Traister’s compelling article when my daughter called to make another stunning point. “I think Hillary is on an archetypal journey,” she said.  “She has to go into that dark place and emerge on the other side intact.”

It was a brilliant observation. Think about it. Women have traditionally been denied the quest or journey to enlightenment. Locked in their castles birthing future kings, or in convents, where they spent the better part of their lives invisible beyond the cloister gardens, they were denied their hunger for a wider world, their intelligence and courage continually hidden from sight and declared non-existent or illegitimate.

Almost the same can be said of women relegated to post-war suburban isolation even though they were, in many cases, well-educated. Many of them who dared to seek a larger role than wife and mother were quickly admonished to go home and make babies when they bravely sought careers.

The mother and the temptress

Two of the most easily recognised female archetypes are the nurturing mother and the temptress. The nurturing mother sustains the warrior on his journey, while the temptress tries to seduce him away from his quest through her sexuality. But now, in Clinton, we have a new female archetype – a warrior woman equal to, and in this case surpassing her male counterpart. She is a warrior capable of undertaking the quest, and emerging intact to win the golden fleece.

Another key element of the archetypal journey involves entering into and surviving the underworld, often a dark cave. Clinton has had to survive the darkest of caves in an underworld full of deranged men and incipient violence.

A good many male warriors might have given up in comparable circumstances, but she has persevered. Luckily, along the way she has had good mentors to help her overcome the ever-present obstacles of the arduous journey she has undertaken.

Among the many symbols of the classic archetypal journey are mountains, water, serpents and rainbows. The Democratic candidate still has some murky waters to wade through, waters that are home to snakes continually lashing out at her.

But when she finally gets to the other side of the river and ascends the mountain, there is likely to be a rainbow of colours there. Many of us will be standing with her, relieved and hopeful once more, able to see the world as a place of safety and beauty again.

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