LESSON Male Journey vs Female Journey

Discussion in 'DEVELOPING CHARACTERS' started by Asmodeus, Nov 6, 2011.

  1. Workshop by @Asmodeus;


    How to Use a Woman
    The Female Journey

    My second article starts with an apology. For a long time I've insisted on supporting the 12-Stage Structure as a mythic foundation for all stories. But recently I've come to realise that I have not been teaching the full picture.

    What I've been teaching is the Male Journey - the twelve stages that apply to masculine character arcs. The Female Journey, which has some key differences to the Male Journey, has been badly neglected up till now.

    I believe this is the reason why I'm having problems with the female characters in my novels, and it could explain why female characters in roleplays fail to arc properly, or else end up as thinly-disguised male characters.

    In this article, I will show the difference between the Male and Female Journey and how understanding both paths can lead to a better depiction of feminine characters.

    Some of what follows may seem very basic and black-and-white, but please remember that I am being deliberately generic. Most stories use a combination of journeys and almost all of them subvert the following conventions for dramatic effect...


    So, just to recap: this is the structure that I torment Iwakuans on a daily basis. It is derived from ancient folktales, including the oldest recorded story of a male hero - The Epic of Gilgamesh...

    1. The Ordinary World: The Hero is shown in his everyday life.

    2. The Call to Action: Something happens to threaten his world.

    3. The Debate: The Hero hesitates, procrastinates, weighs up the pros and cons of taking action.

    4. Meet the Mentor: A friend, teacher, herald or source of inspiration spurs the Hero to leave the Ordinary world and go on an adventure.

    5. Over the Threshold: The Hero crosses into an unusual world, full of discoveries, dangers and high stakes.

    6. The Trials: The Hero undertakes trials, makes new friends, gathers allies, identifies enemies.

    7. The Spiral: Things start to go wrong and the bads guy close in. The challenges become greater and the Hero becomes more desperate.

    8. The Ordeal: The Hero suffers his darkest moment, when all seems lost. This is the dark night of the soul - the moment when he faces literal or metaphorical death.

    9. The Reward: After surviving his near-death experience, the Hero gets a small reward, like a new weapon, a sex scene, a fresh hope. He picks up and carries on.

    10. The Road Back: The Hero starts to resolve things and head back to the Ordinary World. He comes to terms with what he has done and appreciates what he has.

    11. The Resurrection: The bad guys come back for one last attack and the Hero must decide to stand alone against the evil or let everything be lost.

    12. The Elixir: If the Hero wins, he receives his ultimate reward. If he loses, then his death becomes a lesson to others. Either way, the "Elixir" is the prize at the end of the quest.


    Now, if we think about female characters, we can start to see that they arc in a different way and follow a very different path.

    This is the 12-Stage Journey for females, based on the majority of folk tales and the oldest recorded legend of a female heroine - The Descent of the Goddess Inanna...

    1. The Illusory World: A very important distinction. The Ordinary World of the female protagonist is more likely to be a fake one, where the woman exists in a suppressed state, lying to herself and pretending to be happy. A male hero will often start his quest in a very nice world with plenty of personal opportunities. But the woman is, more often that not, trapped. At the start of the story, the Male has choices but hasn't yet made up his mind, while the Female has NO choices and HAS made up her mind (to be docile and inferior). This shows the fundamental distinction between the mythical male and the mythical female. One is a prisoner of himself; the other is a prisoner of her world.

    2. The Betrayal: Rather than being "called" like the Male Hero, the Female is usually betrayed. Her world falls apart and she loses her coping mechanism. Think of most feminist movies: they start when the heroine finds her husband cheating or when she loses a baby or when her career falls apart. Whereas a Male sees the enemy and goes out to fight it, a woman is usually "cast out" in solitude.

    3. The Debate: Though similar, the Debate for the Female is more emotional than physcial. While the Male Hero will weigh up the threats and opportunities of his adventure, a woman will think more about the emotional stakes. In the end, the Male Hero will physically throw himself out into the wilderness, while the Female will come to a decision inside herself.

    4. Meet the Mentor: Likewise, the mentor for the Female Hero is far more likely to be non-physical and non-human. The important thing to remember is that the Female is abandoned to her quest, and this is HUGELY different to the Male Quest, where the Hero may have allies right until the very end of the story. The distinction here is one of power. The Woman seeks to gain power and find connection with the group; whilst the Male seeks to yield power and find the strength to stand alone. This follows very obvious mythical expectations - the Man, as protector, must achieve independent glory, while the Woman, as life-giver, must find union with her community.

    5. Over the Threshold: This is one stage that IS the same. Both Male and Female Heroes choose to take the first step into an Undiscovered World. But, as said before, the Female is much more likely to be on her own at this stage, with no allies and no support from her homeland.

    6. The Trials: Once again, this stage is similar for both journeys, but still with its distinctions. For the Male it is a very calculating and systematic time, when he works out who are his friends and who are his enemies. But a Female Hero is more likely to go through a humbling process here, learning which of her abilities are useless and learning what it takes to survive. This is the Little Red Riding Hood moment, where the Girl must navigate her way through the dark woods.

    7. The Spiral: Perhaps one of the biggest differences can be seen in the Spiral stage. Here, the Male Hero is confronted by feminine symbols, and the Female Hero is confronted by masculine symbols. This is equivalent to facing your alterego. The Male is challenged by feminine principles such as a romantic subplot, a call for mercy, a call to return home, a need to protect the weak. He will be challenged by feminine characters who call on him to show compassion and open himself up. This is HIS spiral, where everything becomes more complicated and less black-and-white. But for the woman, she is confronted by the Masculine, which takes the form of pitiless monsters, physical challenges and the need to fight and be strong. Sometimes she will have to protect something like a father would (as in Ripley in Aliens, who is given the task of defending Newt against unforgiving monsters). The Spiral challenges Male and Female Heroes alike to conquer the 'other' sides of themselves and learn new things.

    8. The Ordeal: Here again we see the primal mythic difference between Masculine and Feminine. The Male Hero must go through his near-death experience alone. He is unlikely to be helped by his allies or rescued by someone else. He must dig deep to find his inner strength and to stand alone. But for the Woman, an opposite is learned. At the Ordeal stage she finds CONNECTION. An ally will come or a group will assimilate her, and with the help of this new family she will rise out of her darkest moment. Think of all the films where the female character gets a make-over - this is a modern-day rebirth scene. She gets her sisters, her new family, and she gets back in the saddle.

    9. The Reward: And so it follows, that the reward for the Female Hero is a much greater one. While the Male will simply get a blowjob or a shiney new sword to continue his adventure with, the Female will actually be more-or-less complete by this stage. She has come into her power, beaten her fears and is ready to face the world again. The Female Hero recognises her faults much earlier and conquers them much sooner (albeit it with the help of the collective), whereas as the Male must venture onwards a little longer and make a few more decisions. His final battle has yet to be fought...

    10. The Road Back: Again, the distinction remains. As they return to the Ordinary World, the Female enjoys her power, while the Male lingers in indecision. The road back is much more of a "coming-to-terms" scene for the woman, and just as the Debate stage was non-physical for the woman, so the Road Back stage will be MORE physical for the Female. She will return to her community and meet all the old faces who abandoned or doubted her before.

    11. The Resurrection: For the Female, the Resurrection is a last little challenge where she demonstrates her new power. She comes home and tells her husband to go fuck himself. Or she gives birth to the baby and decides to raise it on her own. Or she sings at the end-of-school concert. There is little chance of her being defeated, because she has already come into her power - all we want now is to see her showing everyone the New Woman she's become. But for the man, the Resurrection is VERY important and VERY MUCH in the balance. It is his sink-or-swim moment, his final battle, where he either gives in or digs down to find the deepest reserves of strength with which to prevail single-handedly over evil. As said earlier, the Masculine is all about standing alone, while the Feminine is all about "re-integrating". So the Resurrection is clearly going to be much more violent and dangerous for the Male.

    12. The Elixir: This is where the two stories come back together. With victory, both the Male and Female Heroes achieve something on behalf of the Ordinary World and find contentment within themselves. Or, if the story is a tragedy, their deaths stand as lessons to those they have left behind. The Elixir is androgynous - representing the union of Male and Female principles. Perfection in Alchemy.


    So, once again, I apologize for not acknowledging these differences before. Hopefully they will help you to put more thought into female characters and how to write their character arcs. Now here's a last few points to remember...

    - The Female journey goes in a circle, from abandonment to re-integration (the womb).
    - The Male journey goes in a line, from ignorance to enlightenment (the phallus).

    - The Female's greatest achievement is proving herself to HERSELF.
    - The Male's greatest achievement is proving himself to THE WORLD.

    - The Female awakens at the BEGINNING and finds a way to power.
    - The Male awakens at the END and finds a way to humility.

    - The Female starts in a dangerous world, suppressed and unsupported.
    - The Male starts in a safe world, with opportunity but indecisiveness.

    - The Female must save herself.
    - The Male must save others.

    Playing with these conventions can lead to great stories and memorable characters. Think about films where these journeys are reversed. Ripley follows the Male Path in Alien, where she is forced to surpass men and become a warrior-woman fighting terrifying demons. Neo follows the Female Path in The Matrix where he loses his world and must come to terms with his own inner soul and find a new family to care for.

    In Star Wars, Luke is continually challenged by feminine symbols (the Dark Side, his father's love, his family, compassion, inner-strength, suffering), while Leia is continually challenged by male symbols (physical captivity by monsters, the demands of politics, leading her people, fighting for her life).

    So if you ever find your characters not working, take a quick look at the mythical underpinnings of what they are doing. It might just be that you've got them on the wrong path. A huge amount of female characters fail if you put them on the Male Journey, and sadly too many writers (including myself) have made this mistake.


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  2. I have trouble with female characters at times, and I think I now know the reason why; I'm more familiar with the Male Journey, and when I do use the Female Journey, I miss some steps. Since I'm attempting to work on this particular fault, I'll be referring to this.
  3. It's an absolute pain in the chebs to find this goddamn article so lemme pull some thread necromancy real quick.

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  4. I'll be keeping this in mind.
  5. this is interesting, although I would call them more feminine and masculine journey as I identify certain woman (like xena) that use the 'male journey'. This whole thing also depends on what kind of world the woman born in. Like old cultures in my country, Indonesia treats women as the goddess.
  6. Why do characters fail when not put on paths of their respective genders journey?

    What about the male journey makes it difficult for female characters to succeed? And vise versa?
  7. Thank you so much for this!
  8. I gotchu, Fam.

    Well... often it's because the hero has already come to terms with that side of their psyche. They have nothing more to learn.

    For example, take Superman, and keep putting him on male journeys. He has to beat up this guy, then this guy, then the other guy, then smash this, then smash that. Eventually it gets tedious, and there's no real story left, because the audience knows that it's just a matter of time before he finds the right way to punch the thing.

    He's got nothing left to learn on the male journey.

    But put him on a female journey - make him care about the world, and then be forced out of it, severed by something more subtle and heart-rending than a merely physical barrier - and you've got yourself a story. He has to reconnect with the world in a way that doesn't play to his natural strengths. He has to learn something. BOOM!

    To versa that vice, look at Hannah. Nothing really gets resolved by her loving anyone, or forming a connection, or establishing a family. Everyone she loves ends up getting hurt, including her father, who sacrifices himself out of love for family. So in the end Hannah just has to take the male journey and beat the fuck out of everyone. Only then does she free herself. And it's a compelling story, because she's an itty bitty girl and everyone she fights is bigger than her.
    #8 Asmodeus, Sep 22, 2017
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2017