What is Engaging the Feminine Heroic?
Interview with Dara Marks and Deb Norton
by Susan Stølsvig Skovmand
Beast of the Southern Wild
WIFT are hosting your Engaging the Feminine Heroic workshop at The Danish Filmschool – 4 days from May 31 – June 4, 2018. What kind of writer’s journey can the participants look forward to?
Our retreat is designed to introduce women to a personal, exploratory process that deepens and revitalizes the creative process. Those attending will not only gain insights and new techniques that will help strengthen their creative work, but they will also learn to see more deeply and compassionately into their own lives. What makes the program unique is that we bring together mythology, personal history, the creative process and writing technique into one big beautiful journey. These four elements are the pillars of discovery we use to help open and enhance creative self-expression. The archetypal pattern of storytelling is hard-wired into us and is reinforced by life experience. Learning to recognize and utilize these patterns is one of the most essential skills a writer can master.
Why is the workshop for women only?
Because we work with mythology and personal narrative that is distinctly oriented toward a woman’s journey, we have found that working with women-only in this retreat environment creates a safe, unselfconscious and non-competitive atmosphere. Our work aims to give women conscious command over the deep nature of their narrative and the creative process.
That said, we have had tremendous interest from men to have a similar type of workshop that is oriented toward a man’s journey. That is in development along with a co-ed retreat that investigates the interrelatedness of the masculine and feminine heroic.
How do you work as a team?
Joyfully! We each specialize in very different areas of the creative process. Dara lectures and leads discussions on big, exciting aspects of storytelling that focus on how to access the deep inner layers of narrative structure guided by the archetypal patterns we see in epic feminine mythologies. Deb leads the experiential exercises that drop these concepts down into intuitive, creative work product. In this deep, synergistic way, we help writers gain access to the interior realms of imagination where some of our best ideas lay dormant or underdeveloped, eagerly waiting to find their voice and be given life.
Why do you think the feminine heroic is difficult for writers to access?
That’s an interesting question because it shouldn’t be difficult. The feminine heroic is not the female heroic, it represents the internal part of us all – both men and women alike – and it expresses our inner, emotional challenges.
Part of the problem is that most of the popular stories in our culture reflect only the masculine aspects of the heroic journey – to strive, in the outer, physical world – to be all that we can be – to slay dragons and fight the good fight. This is a noble quest for men and women alike. It’s how we ascend into life and stake our claim on the world. But while we’re busy doing all the hard work of living in the outer, physical world, we also have an inner life that is just as difficult to navigate. This inner journey is the struggle to overcome internal obstacles like hurt, loss, pain and shame – and to make meaning out of life’s challenges. This is feminine heroic and it is the compliment to the masculine side of our nature. But part of the problem with the world today is that we haven’t been giving our feminine side enough consideration.
Without attention to the complementary feminine aspect – the soul-making work of our interior realm – our stories don’t tell the whole truth of the human experience. Therefore, our stories are out of balance, skewing the lens through which we view and value our own life experiences.
That’s why we created this workshop. In order to give women writers the tools and the processes with which to cultivate and work productively with this powerful archetypal value, we must first be guided to understand how the feminine heroic operates within us and within all humans throughout time.
Why do you use the words “feminine heroic” instead of female hero?
Female and male are terms we use to explain our gender. In our work, we use the terms ”masculine” and ”feminine” to put a name to the archetypal values that represent our external (masculine) and internal (feminine) self. In other words, each of us has a masculine and feminine side to our own individual nature. Regardless of where we find ourselves on the gender spectrum or with our sexual preferences, we all embody both the masculine and feminine.
Thelma and Louise
Can you explain the difference between the masculine and the feminine heroic?
The masculine side of our nature strives to build, conquer and achieve success in the outer physical world. No one begins writing a new script, for example, and exclaims, “I hope this is going to be average, hopefully, even mediocre.” Even if we don’t all get there, we tend to aim our life toward the possibility of reaching great heights of worldly achievement – to be all we can be; to aim at the stars. This is an essential part of our existence. It is how we’ve built civilizations, conquered the elements and achieved great feats in engineering and medicine. It’s what makes our world tangible and allows us to assert our identity and individuality.
However, we humans are more than makers, we also have an inner life that responds to our outer world trials. This is the feminine side of our nature. While the masculine is out experiencing life, it is the feminine part of us that copes with all of our emotions and feelings. She is the keeper of our hurt, pain, regret, loneliness and sorrow; the guardian of our inner life, the source from which new life is made.
For writers, understanding the principles of both the masculine and feminine are essential. Male or female, we are all called to strive, to face daunting challenges and move with strength and purpose to claim our place in the world. But the feminine heroic is there to give us the courage, to embrace the feelings that are neglected along the way and to process them in a way that makes meaning of our existence.
How does the feminine heroic help us write better stories?
Today’s popular narrative often reduces the human drama to a one-dimensional, hyper-masculine ideal in which good conquers evil, right vanquishes wrong. Such stories not only divide us from each other, but from ourselves because they only tell half the truth.
The feminine realm is where transformation takes place. She holds us through the dark night of the soul, through the sacrifice, death and rebirth process that is our most difficult life work, where we embody our truest heroism.
So, our work with the feminine heroic is not aimed only at women or at making super Zena warrior characters, it’s about making both male and female characters more whole and re-weaving the tattered threads of the masculine and feminine heroic, thus helping to restore the transformative value of narrative.
Can you name some films that explores the feminine heroic?
Some recent and classic films that illustrate the feminine heroic with strong female characters are:
Lady Bird, Breaking the Waves, Whale Rider, The Piano, Desperately Seeking Susan,Girlhood, Thelma and Louise and Beasts of the Southern Wild.
There are also many films with strong male characters that also portray the courageous inner battle of the feminine heroic. Some of these include:
American Beauty, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Birdman, Dallas Buyers Club and Silver Linings Playbook.
Silver Linings Playbook