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The hero in a thousand forms: The need for a new mythology about the value of daughters.

If I ask you to imagine a hero ... who shows up in your mind?

For many women we have ingrained images of mythical male figures in our minds — soldiers, gladiators, military figures, larger-than-life movie stars, Harlequin romance covers, perhaps even images of our own fathers or father substitutes.

Whether or not we rationally believe that we are looking for these heroes to save us, we often still live our lives unconsciously desiring and attracting such individuals (but mostly imposters). Sadly, the hero figure in our minds is rarely that of a woman, and almost never the image of ourselves.

The hero figures in our minds are mythical representations, and if we look more closely at the stories that have been passed down to us from generation to generation, these hero figures often come with a huge risk factor for women. Story after story chronicles the sacrifice of one particular individual, the daughter. This I will elaborate upon in future articles.

Something in us gets sacrificed

when we look to mythical heroes

to save us from our own journeys.

What inevitably gets sacrificed is our willingness, our own ability and strength to become the hero of our life. When we hand this task over to somebody else, it will fail. It may take a year, a decade, or a whole generation, but it fails. In the old myths involving fathers and daughters, if you dare to look closely, horrible things happen to the daughter. In certain cases she is molested, she becomes pregnant and is cast out into the wilderness, she turns into a tree or perhaps a pillar of salt. These are only a few examples.

Of course these stories may be symbolic and not literal, although the emotional ramifications of these metaphors (even if "only" metaphors) are astounding and painful. And when our emotions are so deeply impacted, it can feel like we have literally lost a limb or that we are bleeding out. This, unfortunately, is the mythological bedrock of the father-daughter relationship.

As daughters we are taught these traditional hero stories for a variety of reasons. One, it is a quick way to generate compliance. Essentially daughters are taught to be "good little girls." Sugar and spice and everything nice. However, this does not account for the vital quality of shadow, which if ignored can show up in grotesque forms, and it definitely does in many myths and fairy tales. Two, the telling of myths helps to maintain the status quo. As a patriarchal culture, we certainly do not want "naughty girls" shaking things up, so stories of daughters "kicking ass" are few and far between, whereas daughters as victims are rampant. Likewise stories are rare involving fathers who take responsibility and apologize to their daughters for harm inflicted upon them.

And so myths help the ruling class, whether it be the ruler of the household or the ruler of the country. Stories generally are not passed down that support the questioning of authority. The myths that survive for generations reinforce the social values that favor the storyteller and the powers that be. It might be time to start excavating these old stories and seeing them in a fresh light, yes? Better yet, let's start telling new stories! I would like to believe this process has begun.

We currently live in, what I refer to in my research as, a "father complex atmosphere" — a culture in which the father figure is typically seen as the hero (or is at least the dominating force) of the story or kingdom or nation. Most fathers with daughters would think this is an optimal story, and it may be fine when your daughter is young, but thrown out into the world in her 20's and beyond, it sets her up for massive disappointment and struggle. This also holds true for daughters who had no father figure at all. They end up having to prove they are "good enough" to someone.

Research proves that most daughters wish to please their fathers. They seek “love, validation, and approval” — and not just from their biological fathers, but from the “male gods” of the patriarchy (Murdock, 1990, p. 77).

The majority of little girls learn what games to play to receive their father’s praise, and they learn that being a “good girl” is more rewarding than being “bad” (Murdock, 1994, p. 13, 20). But this creates a false sense of self, and a chronic need for approval from whomever "the other" might be in any given scenario.

The “father complex atmosphere” has consequences that extend far beyond the family system, potentially wreaking havoc on a daughter’s sense of self.

These father figures, or archetypal Father energies, show up throughout a daughter’s life — in the form of bosses, coworkers, teachers and professors, priests, boyfriends, lovers, husbands, uncles, stepfathers, and brothers —

“the hero in a thousand forms”

(Kast, 1997, p. 114, 120).

Depending upon the daughter’s earliest experiences with her father, or more generally the “father complex atmosphere,” she may strive for admiration from these idealized figures, far beyond childhood, at the expense of developing a true sense of herself in the world.

"For many of these women, the root of their injury stems from a damaged relation with the father,” either to their personal father, or “the patriarchal society which itself functions like a poor father, culturally devaluing the worth of women." “Inadequate fathering” can thwart a woman’s “ability to form relationships and their capacity to work and to live creatively” (Leonard, 1998, p. 3).

“This affects not only individuals but also partners, groups, and whole societies,” both men and women (pp. 4, 25).

And if we look around us right now, we can see how damaged our current story is. It is time to write a new story.


  • For fathers: We've heard the theories about the "good enough mother," but in modern psychology we have barely addressed the good-enough father. Be good to your daughter, obviously not neglecting or abusing her, but also not doting on her every need. Listen to your daughter. Really listen, and learn something FROM HER. Research shows that daughters spend a large portion of their lives listening to others. It is no wonder she looks to others for answers and leadership as a grown woman, rather than inside herself. YOU can help to change this story.

  • For daughters: What quality of the hero do you need to show up for you in your life today? And how can you take a step, just a small step, right now, in the direction of being your own hero? How can you start to give yourself what you are waiting for others to give to you? What are you needing at this moment? Also, do not stay silent, do not roll over when it comes to your emotional life. Start speaking up, and keep speaking.

© 2014, Karina McGovern Chace, from "Fathers in the Sand: The Transformative Emergence of Archetypal Images through Sandplay.

[Artwork: Oedipus proves he is a hero by ridding Thebes of a female monster.]

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