Rise Authentic Woman!
A Manifesto for a new female mythology
Mythology is the vital lifeblood of any culture.
It informs and shapes the way we understand our world and the people who live within it.
Myths aren’t falsehoods, they’re stories.
The stories we read, the stories we hear, the stories we tell others.
Myths aren’t about facts, they’re how we feel about facts.
Myths reflect our dreams, our fears, our hopes, our morals and our beliefs.
Myths show us ourselves.
When we think of myths, we tend to think of tales that were created a long time ago, in very different cultures to our own: Norse myths, ancient Greek myths, fairy tales and biblical narratives. But these myths continue to be recreated and perpetuated every day in our advertising, our media and our children’s books.
The pure good girl who loves animals. The wicked stepmother who’s threatened by youthful beauty. The beautiful princess who’s just waiting for a handsome rich prince to sweep her off her small neat feet. The nag, the angel, the crone, the distracted mother. The greedy devious temptress. The whore with the big heart. The female friends who only ever talk about their boyfriends. The bossy smart girl who gets on everyone’s nerves. The shallow good-time bitch. The witch. The woman who just doesn’t know her place.
Maybe these days, they’re a little sassier, it’s true. A few smart come-backs and it looks like they’re standing on their own two feet. Thank you for that, Spice Girls.
But come the high hour, however many degrees they have in astrophysics, whatever the colour of their karate belt, no matter how sensible their shoes, regardless of how many animal friends they have, your average mythological woman will still keel over at the slightest gust of baddie breath and will need rescuing from whatever it is that they need rescuing from - whether it be death, spinsterhood, poverty or malicious gossip...
Unless they’re a bona fide villain, of course, then they’ll keep lurching back to life like no one’s business, however many times you stab them.
This is our female mythology. Recycled, rebranded, retold. Unchanged.
But we live in interesting times – the old paradigms are shifting. Revolution is in the air. More and more writers, artists, filmmakers and thinkers are reclaiming the old female archetypes for themselves and transforming them into characters whose stories we recognise as more truthful and reflective of our own.
Instead of being uncomfortable tight moulds that women struggle to squeeze into, these new female characters are far more open, flexible and complex. Authentic.
They can be playful and sincere at the same time. Tormented and compassionate. Masculine and feminine. Dirty and beautiful. Experimental and studious. Aggressive and kind. Heroine and anti-heroine. Trickster and saviour.
The female capacity to be multi-dimensional is not evidence of our fickle insincere shallowness, as has often been painted. The fact that we are changeable is not evidence of our untrustworthiness. The fact that we have a richness of thoughts, feelings and behaviours is not evidence that we are unsteady and unreliable temptresses.
It is evidence of nothing more than the fact that we are human. Humans with a wide variety of human relationships. We are not the same person with our children as we are with our partners; or our parents as we are with our friends; or our employees as we are with our neighbours; or our audiences as we are with ourselves. We are not the same people now as we were ten years ago.
And yet simplicity and a very narrow set of behaviours and interests is what has come to define the mythology of the female. Women’s interests have become, not only separate from male interests, but niche and specialised as if, instead of half the human population, we form a very exclusive tiny minority.
Well, stuff that.
Let’s not have role models here, only rich abundance, awkward messiness and multi-dimensional variety. Humans. With the odd goddess and demon.
Let’s ditch the female characters who know their place and do their best to stay in it.
Instead, let’s have female characters who haven’t yet worked out where their place is. Let’s have female characters who might know where their place is supposed to be but can’t for the life of them contain themselves in that place. Let’s have females who are cursed for daring and choosing to step out of place.
The things that haven’t been said, the qualities that haven’t been shown, the behaviours that have been denied – these are the things we want to hear new stories about.
Because it’s time to reclaim ownership of our vast and rich female mythology.
Witches, demons, monstresses, goddesses, queens, blacksmiths, servants, rebels, superheroes, warriors, politicians, students, musicians, artists, philosophers, aerialistes, barmaids, firefighters, judges, scientists, engineers, writers, cowgirls, astronauts, builders, revolutionaries, doctors, journalists, secret agents, teachers, healers, librarians, pilots, waitresses, explorers, cleaners, film-makers, illustrators, taxi-drivers, mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, friends, antagonists ...
And not one fucking princess in sight.
I am full of envy for those of you who have yet to encounter Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter or its irrepressible freak-show heroine, Sophie Fevvers, a cockney aerialiste with legendary real wings. Earthy, prickly and tender-hearted with soiled stockings and a huge appetite, there's no trace of the pure angel here.
KAMALA KHAN -
The Muslim American schoolgirl trying to work her way through an identity crisis, finds her concerns are complicated somewhat when she suddenly acquires superhero shape-shifting powers. Wilson's approach manages to be both light and nuanced at the same time and Kamala is a heroine you root for precisely because her concerns are so awkwardly human.
Polly Jean Harvey
For over twenty years, PJ Harvey has been fearlessly experimenting with personas and stories that explore the dark side of the female psyche. And she refuses to hold your hand too. So, woman up, and step on in for a simultaneously scary yet empowering experience.
A violent and magical fairy tale for our times, the teenage Maika is a compelling heroine, tormented by the mysterious monster living within her while struggling to find answers about who she is. Set in an alternate matriarchal world, the story has rich beautiful artwork and a sense of urgent horror that creeps under your skin.
A blues guitarist and songwriter who could easily hold her own with any male peer, she embodies perfectly the idea of a woman who chose to live life fully on her own terms, including her habit of spitting tobacco while wearing a chiffon ball-gown. Perhaps this is why she's not as famous as she should be. Perhaps this is exactly why it's time for that to change.
Marjane Satrapi's account of her youth growing up in the shadow of the Islamic revolution in Iran is good enough to sit next to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Opinionated, intelligent, and fearless, she frequently gets into trouble for speaking her mind and stepping out of place. For her own safety, her parents send her to Germany where, messy mistakes and triumphs alike, she continues to trail-blaze her way. Brilliant. Truly utterly brilliant.