Celia de Anca. Professor. IE Business School
11 September 2008
Our idea of a heroine has changed since the days when princesses waited in their towers to be rescued. Today’s heroine is all action, a feminine version of a masculine hero. Therein lies the mistake.
The psychologist Carl Jung argued that by eliminating any element that wasn’t strictly rational, the western world transferred a series of stereotypes that were deep-rooted in our primitive collective conscious to our subconscious. Thus man´s relationship with nature, the supernatural or tribal functions became part of our subconscious world, resurfacing in the form of dreams, symbols or myths (1).
Enter the classic hero with a thousand and one faces, as described by Joseph Campbell. However, all heroes share certain features that changed very little since the existence of the subconscious was first acknowledged. Indiana Jones is perhaps one of our most widely known modern-day heroes and, like his forerunners, he demonstrates courage and determination in pursuing his ideals, even if those ideals are somewhat more tangible as a result of changing times.
The heroine, meanwhile, has undergone radical change. She is no longer the princess that waits impatiently to be rescued from her tower. She is an intrepid and independent adventurer who competes with the hero in terms of courage and strength. Although it must be said that it is still the hero who usually saves her from the cliff edge or from perishing in the fire. It seems that the 21st century heroine has become something of an imitation of the male hero, but perhaps a weaker version?
This might be a good moment to rehabilitate the heroine of our fairytales (the princess waiting in her tower) and take a look that goes beyond an interpretation made by a patriarchal society. After all, a stereotype is nothing more than a superficial simplification of something that is complex and profound; it is not a literal representation of reality, although many people might see it like that.
The princess longing to be rescued from her tower bears little resemblance to the woman embroidering articles for her bottom drawer while she waits for a good suitor to marry. The reinterpretation of legends, adapted to a new environment, requires a supreme capacity for reception, far removed from a passive and submissive receptiveness, and far more active, constructive and dignified.
One of the main obstacles here is our cultural tradition in which giving is always a symptom of generosity and receiving one of selfishness. This idea has robbed us of one of the most beautifully described female stereotypes that legend has to offer. From the Sephyrotic tree of the Kabbalah to the exquisite poems of mystic union by San Juan de la Cruz, which describe a woman’s longing to receive her loved one now that she has prepared her home…
In today’s society, where action leaves little room for reflection and guilt dictates that we receive only in exchange for something, the term "running on empty" takes on more meaning than ever. After all, if a person loses the capacity to receive, what does that person have left to give?
Active receptiveness is the capacity to absorb new ideas and interpretations, inspirations that, once assimilated, motivate the receiver to be creative. Hence, firstly we need active receptiveness that will lead to a subsequent more committed and effective creativity (all this depends, of course, of each one´s receptive capacity, how easy something is to digest, and, if it is not properly channelled, there is always a chance of indigestion, or empty calories that put on weight do nothing for creativity).
If the salient feature of our collective subconscious´s hero is generosity in commitment, our heroine was characterised by generosity in reception. The tale of Snow White represents the human being´s capacity to receive something beyond themselves and, as part of that reception, to create and thus also give. Hence a reaction between opposites can advance humanity, individuals and organisations.
This capacity to receive, which many men and women have, constitutes one of the central values of the culture of new organisations. It is the trait that provides the conscious interpretation of the female stereotype in the 21st century with greatness and creativity, and not the reverence of Lara Croft, or Lucy baking biscuits at home, because they are not the same. Or are they… ?
(1) Carl Jung ed. Man and his Symbols Macmillan London 1964