As someone who has studied writing for a very long time, I am familiar with the Hero’s Journey. It was first described by mythologist Joseph Campbell as a common story pattern. From ancient myths to today’s blockbusters, people are drawn to the hero.
The hero is “every man” or “every woman.” There is nothing about their birth or upbringing that promises great things from heroes. And in fact, the hero is often found to be missing or lacking in some way. It may be something internal—fear or a lack of confidence—or external, such as lack of opportunities.
No surprise that the word hero comes from the ancient Greek, meaning a “defender” or “protector.” Santa Clara University professor Scott LaBarge writes that the hero did “something so far beyond the normal scope of human experience that he left an immortal memory behind him when he died.”
Psychologist and writer Scott T. Allison, Ph.D, who often writes about heroes, explains that heroes elevate us while healing our emotional wounds. They bring us comfort and the belief that everything is going to be all right. Heroes even bond us to a larger community of shared values. People who count Mahatma Gandhi as a hero are different than people who name comics sensation Stan Lee as a hero.
I often write about female heroes. Mary Anning, Bessie Coleman, Sally Ride, Rachel Carson, Jovita Idar—are all examples. Some are well known; others are not. I think it’s important for girls to read about women who have succeeded against the odds. They’re not who you picture when you hear the word hero. But these women fought against prejudice and societal norms to do what was meaningful to them, what was right. This alone makes them heroic.
Hero stories heal and inspire us. They are symbols of what we wish to be. They make us want to be better people. Heroes teach us that we have it within us to transform our lives. We can discover our true purpose in life, and if we are willing to risk change, we can experience our own personal transformation. Then it’s just a small step to improving the lives of others. And this is what heroes are all about.
This is why it’s so important to have heroes in a variety of shapes, sizes, genders, and skin tones. Because if you read about or see a hero who looks something like you, that means you can be a hero too.
Today, I look at older female heroes, like Susan B. Anthony or Maya Angelou. Or even a present day hero like Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Because it still means I can be anything I want to be. Even a hero.