America s quest for female heroes
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America’s Quest for Female Heroes. NOT the same thing as a “lead” or protagonist who is simply the focus of a story A hero and her/his story embodies the values of a society. What is a hero?. Definitions of Hero. Sacrifice self for the greater good

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America’s Quest for Female Heroes

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America’s Quest for Female Heroes

NOT the same thing as a “lead” or protagonist who is simply the focus of a story

A hero and her/his story embodies the values of a society

What is a hero?

Definitions of Hero

  • Sacrifice self for the greater good

  • Embodies a system of values and protects those values

  • Overcomes fear/obstacles to succeed

Carl Jung and the collective (human) subconscious

  • Archetypes

    • Heroes

    • Mentors

    • Male and female

  • Based on dreams myth and religion

Joseph Campbell: The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Hero’s Journey

  • The hero is called but often refuses the call

  • The hero acquires a mentor

  • The hero acquires a quest/cause

  • The hero sets forth

  • There are setbacks and the hero may die more than once along the way

  • The hero must face his shadow self

  • In the end, the hero returns with his/her knowledge to right the wrong

We are born

We resist this

We have parents, teachers, and other mentors

We set out to achieve goals

We face great obstacles

We must face and control our own weaknesses

At the end, we ‘return’ with our own family, and start the process again.

The “hero’s journey” is the story of life

Heroes and their stories appear in every era and every culture

America’s hero traditions

  • The cowboy hero

  • The soldier hero

  • The police hero

  • The medical hero

  • The legal/business hero?

  • The superhero and comics

    • Women heroes?

But what happens when the hero is a woman (or a girl)?

  • Strong women are usually evil

  • And even when they’re not, they still get burned at the stake

  • The West has very few female heroes in history or popular culture

  • Japan has a lot more, especially in popular culture

Women do better as part of heroic teams, but team heroes are fairly new to Americans

But they didn’t; they just charged in with Xena who was originally just a male hero in a woman’s body

TV show attracted a large audience

The character of Xena was modified during the show

First show 1995

Trying to find a female heroic archetype

Xena portrayed as a strong character

But was Gabrielle a buddy/sidekick?

Or a mentor?

Or a co-lead?

Or a lover?

The buddy/sidekick motif


  • What kind of a character?

A “realistic” modern setting: High School

Metaphors for teen issues

Buffy is the sole hero, but surrounded by a group of friends

And then cameBuffy

Two sides of Angel

Accepting Buffy for herself

Unable to accept a weaker role in the relationship

How should a girl act? Buffy’s boyfriends

The Hero (Buffy) was calledShe resisted the call

  • Mythic heroes are always reluctant, but seldom this reluctant…or this fashion conscious

  • Preserving old ideas about femininity?

    • Allows for greater identification

  • Reinforcing patriarchal values?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

  • Huge following for the TV shows, movies, and comic book

  • Buffy studies: journals, books, conferences

    • Analysis of Buffy’s influence on culture and how it is a reflection of culture.

Analyzing Buffy

  • New Women

    • Feminist themes?

  • High-school life

    • High-school hell

  • Emerging Adulthood

  • Life & Death

  • Christianity


  • What kind of character?

But Buffy, far more than Xena, conformed to a hero’s story

  • With some changes needed because of her gender to include:

    • A larger group of friends

    • Greater importance for the mentor

    • Greater importance for lovers

    • Greater importance for nurturing/child care

    • Greater importance for magic and intuition

  • Almost everyone in Japan already knew about those changes


  • Analyze 2—this handout: think about e, f, g.

  • Blue Sheet—your character

  • Read (quickly) the “Joseph Campbell” handout—underlying social values.

The love interest is a major character, almost a co-lead

Even rejected suitors become friends and sidekicks

Female friends are even more important. Female heroes are not loners. But since they’re flakey, there’s almost always a smart, nerdy friend

And someone to handle the psychic stuff, although a miko has fewer negative connotations than a witch

The older sage or teacher remains fairly true to type although sex and even species may vary. S/he tends to stick around longer for female heroes though.

Nurturing is such an important theme that time and space get distorted to provide young heroes with “children” to nurture

And then there’s the gender-bending and questioning of gender roles.

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