STACEY SIMMONS, PHD
The Divided Woman Archetype
& The Path of the Queen
A Monomyth of Women's Lives
Since the publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell in 1949 and the PBS program, The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers in 1988, there has been a powerful monomyth of the hero that has pervaded modern storytelling. In this myth, there is a well-defined pattern that sets apart The Hero's Journey, and helps define the narrative and mythic structure that we are so familiar with: Boy hears the call, boy ignores the call, boy gets pushed into a quest, boy meets a mystical teacher... etc., etc., Cue Luke Skywalker learning to fight with his light sabre, and eventually destroying the Death Star with his super inner powers connected to the Force. Chris Vogler has made the Hero's Journey part of the canon that writers need to be familiar with in order to tell a good story. It has bothered me for a long time that this myth seemed to be missing some key elements for it to be relevant to me. I am a woman, and nowhere in the Hero's Journey is there an equivalent to having to overcome social expectations and physical danger just to begin the Quest. I mean you never hear anyone telling Luke Skywalker that his hair looks funny, or that he isn't pretty enough. And you never see him have to prove he's not a sexual threat, or have to see him overcome a would-be rapist to hasten the quest. So much of the Hero's Journey seemed to apply only to men it always bothered me when I would use the structure for a story analysis or try to fit a female character or therapy client into that tale.
In 2010 I entered a deep and personal Jungian analysis that eventually led to my returning to graduate school to study archetypal psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Since 2013 I have merged my career in animation with my background in archetypal psychology. It started with my thesis. I intended to do a simple review of how women were portrayed in animated film. However, as I started examining the powerful films of my childhood, I found something more, a deep, hidden archetype in plain sight. I call her the Divided Woman.
My original idea was that I would examine the entire Disney canon from 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through the most recent films at the time of my writing, which were Frozen (2013) and Maleficent (2014). Because of time and page limits for my thesis, I limited my initial examination to only those last two films. As I examined the similarities, patterns emerged. There was always a female character who is magical and ostracized. This magical character has power, but no relationships, and no protection. There is also always a female ingénue-type who has innocence and relationships, but who is denied power.
After the thesis I expanded my research. And this mythic form was everywhere. My research revealed a deep pattern in the Western Canon from the Bible to modern film and theatre that shows a divided woman on a journey to reunite the pieces of herself... and eventually attain self-sovereignty, often identified with a Queen, crown, or other symbol of female power. She showed up in myths, like those about Demeter and Persephone. She showed up in Fairy Tales like The Red Shoes, or Cinderella. She even showed up in the oldest myth in the world, the Babylonian tale of the Descent of Innana. As I returned to my animation roots, the Divided Woman showed up in every Disney film with female protagonists over the age of 14. This encouraged me to look at other films and stories. I found the Divided Woman in everything from The Wizard of Oz, and Wicked, to Bewitched!, Miss Congeniality, The Color Purple, and Legally Blonde, to name just a few. I have spent the last several years breaking down stories, testing whether or not there was a pattern. It is always there in good stories. Even bad stories still contain the elements in one way or another. Recent films like Suicide Squad, Spy, The Spy Who Dumped Me, and I Feel Pretty are ripe with this mythic imagery.
The pattern of the Divided Woman, and United Queen is everywhere. We have been reproducing it in the collective unconscious for a very long time. Whether you are exposed to Lilith and Eve in the Bible, Elphaba and Galinda in Wicked, or Samatha and Serena in the 1970's sitcom Bewitched, you will see her everywhere.
Similar to Joseph Campbell and Chris Vogler making the Hero's Journey accessible to everyone; my goal is to make the structure of The Queen's Path available to writers, mythologists, filmmakers, development executives, and everyday women who want to stop feeling divided. Making this pattern intentional is the next step in telling powerful stories with women protagonists. The world needs our stories. Let's put a glass slipper on the Queen's Path together.