Us versus Them. It seems that is the only story we are capable of telling. Good guys (us, of course, you wouldn’t say we were the villains), and bad guys (the people who disagree with us, and aren’t applauding our every thought).
People these days are attacking all sorts of other people, with even death threats because someone’s life requirements do not line up perfectly with theirs.
It is a sick, sick way to view the world.
Yet good luck finding reportage that challenges that obnoxious, childish, self-serving narrative.
But that is the way of patriarchal narratives. It is all about The One: how the One was right/better/superior than the mindless hordes. Offer a different way of solving a problem that goes against The One, you must automatically be some sort of usurper out to do horrible things to people.
It would be nice to see a more constructive way of seeing things, you know, like Us with Them. How do we coordinate so that both sides can understand there may not be a better in the equation, and that both sides have rights?
But the second you offer that structure, people bring up Hitler as proof that in every single situation, there is a super-bad evil-doer, and should we have worked with the Nazis, too?
Please, do not be stupid — and binary.
Cue in Matriarchal storytelling.
In the Matriarchal, we are always aware that it is not always Us versus Them. Sometimes it is, but other times, it Us With Them, or Us going our independent way from Them, or Us Versus Us, or Them versus Them and it’s none of Us’s business. There is no One Rule That Explains Everything. You cannot memorize a single rule and then apply it to everything — or worse, think you must always go a little more extreme to prove you are a better follower of the rule than someone else.
Journalism was always about following rules, from Inverted Pyramids to news pegs. So it should be no wonder that the Patriarchal style of telling stories was highly appealing.
But then came social media and people having a chance to be their own PR hacks, spinning and justifying their every action, jockeying to be The One.
Journalism became lost in that game, and instead of questioning their own structures, they went to the extreme version of it.
We can see it in the coverage of Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein, the latter who can be easily characterized as a villain. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was also an easy target. It should be no wonder that in the death throes of the profession, journalists are sticking to their own patriarchal ways of telling stories. You need us! is the subtext of these yarns, Because look at all the bad guys out there!
Well, of course there are evil people, but when you have but a single lens to see the world, guess what? You lose focus. You begin to see every person who is not kissing your feet as they put you on a pedestal as a villain, instead of a righteous, fed-up person who is standing up to your cancerous ego as they put you and your self-entitled self in your place.
And if you ever wanted to know how the Harvey Weinsteins of the world are created, just go back and read the news stories about him before the truth came out. He was placed on a pedestal. Reporters were writing fawning stories about the Great Man, and what a cultured and brilliant visionary he was. He owned the Oscars. He ruled Hollywood, yes sir, because he was The One.
He was on the positive side of the Patriarchal paradigm.
And now he is on the negative.
Had journalists taken a more sensible matriarchal approach, no one would be going in thinking he was some cinematic deity. They would be digging and looking at all sides of the story, not the tripe bored Middle-class people look for so they know what to rave about at the backyard barbecue party to look hip and in the know.
The Patriarchal is all about designating angels and demons, and no one wants to be a demon — and even if people pretend they want to be a badass “demon”, they want to be a Mary Sue demon who is, in fact, an angel with an attitude who happens to be better than the angels.
The Matriarchal goes in knowing that people are people — and too much praise has always been a surefire way of making good people bad ones in short order.
Journalism lost its common sense with the Patriarchal, and it became irrelevant, always chasing after villains, instead of just looking for facts. Just the facts. Had facts been put out there, the predators of the world would lose much of their tyrannical clout. There would be no need for hatchet jobs, because when there were the first signs of trouble, that information would be out there when it counted — before people got hurt and had the course of their lives altered forever.
And people would be held accountable early on, and would be too busy to have to time to work on their image — or harming other people.
We are in an age of sophistry and extreme arrogance. Everyone is convinced they are The One.
No, you’re not.
You are one of an Infinite.
It is not always about hunting, but gathering as many grains as you can to see the big picture.
And only when reporters grasp that grain of truth can journalism ever get that resurrection it has longed for.
Art Nouveau was a peculiar and short-lived art movement that focussed on architecture, furniture, jewelry, and posters, and aside from the whiplash curves and flora and fauna motif, there were a lot of beautiful women portrayed in illustrations.
The women were gorgeous and very glamorous eye candy…but that’s just the surface.
Take a closer look, and what you have is the first generation of art that showed women as adventurers. They were performing on stages. They were smoking. They were riding bikes to dates. They were even having a beer out in the open.
Some women were more sinister, as Aubrey Beardley’s illustrations like to depict:
What these women represented was a departure from showing women as housewives or damsels in distress. They were bold women about town or beyond, and decidedly feminista.
Or, fashionista feminists.
They were often otherworldly, going beyond the mundane. They weren’t how we see feminism today, but they planted the seeds, and showed women doing many things they weren’t being depicted doing before.
They showed that women had other ideas other than finding a mate, and they were having a lot of fun doing it.
Matriarchal storytelling picks up that torch with the concept of feministas: fashionable feminist adventurers who do their own thing. They don’t necessarily dress up in Moschino, but even when they rock short hair and jeans and a t-shirt, they command attention. These are female visionaries with gravitas who aren’t followers. They have their own enigmatic and eccentric logic. They do not care about making their neighbours jealous as they are out to change the world. They understand life is too short to try to impress people with bragging first-world middle-class stories: they are making a difference through action. They are benevolent adventurers who do not believe in a pecking order.
They are no fairy princesses, either: no, it is not about pretending you are superior to everyone else and that you never need to grow, change, or admit you were wrong. Feministas learn from their mistakes, and are gracious about improving themselves as they improve the world around them. They do not fake it with cheats and hacks pretending they know more than they do. They are women of action who live out in the open. Yes, naked for the world to see their hearts and souls…and they are brave.
They are unconfined by convention. Like their Art Nouveau foremothers, they live in a world of their own and own making. They have respect for flora and fauna as they take on bullies by living life on their own terms.
We have too many fairy princesses in fiction. The offensive wallowing trash of The Handmaid’s Tale is a perfect example of women being oppressed by the bars in their own mind as they willfully throw tantrums by indulging in angsty victimhood. A feminista tale is not one about being victimized and whining: it is about becoming that force of nature where no tyrant has a hope of getting the upper hand.
It is about being dangerous women who do not pretend they are superior to the women of the past. It is about carrying the torch from one generation to another and respecting the women who brought you to where you are now.
The feminista can be a global consultant, philosopher queen, an empress tycoon, a spiritual anarchist, an afterlife activist, a dream detective, or whatever other outré thing she can conjure. She is about progress and rocking the world with her ideas of how to evolve that world. She is not some passive whiner blaming men for all of her woes: she makes certain she has a firm say in her own destiny.
She may be the beautiful and serene woman of your dreams, but make no mistake: beyond those whiplash hair and pricey evening gowns, she is not a woman to mess with or underestimate — and you are the kind-hearted sort, you know you have absolutely nothing to fear, either.
The Walking Dead is a peculiar comic book, but then again, zombies are a peculiar breed of villain. Usually, villains have a face and a name and are integral and definitive characters in any given story…yet zombies are faceless, nameless, and just plain dead. They rarely have any sentience; they just kill in droves. They are not just the ultimate followers; they are cannon fodder twice over: they were killed by some other zombie before joining their ranks. They are toxic, yet disposable and you do not need to know their backgrounds, motive, or personality to get into any story with them. Their heartlessness comes from their mindlessness, just like killer robots.
What makes The Walking Dead more interesting than the standard horror concept is that the focus of the book is two kinds of cannon fodder: the zombies and the people running away from them. You do not have to know anything about the fleeting revolving door of characters you meet: they’ll all die sooner rather than later. It is as if you are a kid whose parents own a seafood restaurant and you foolishly name the lobsters in the tank and consider them to be your pets. It is less about heroes and villains per se, but more about what is usually ignored in stories: cannon fodder.
The entire cast of heroes and villains are essentially cannon fodder. That usually is the consequence of an ongoing story where anyone can die. Once established, that rig in the story turns the protagonists and antagonists into cannon fodder. Who they are becomes secondary to what fate holds in store for them. It becomes a competition in a “reality show” style: who gets bumped off is the focus, not how the winner comes out on top.
This genre of storytelling has a particular wrinkle: were characters downgraded from hero to cannon fodder – or were the cannon fodder upgraded to hero?
It depends on the story, but in the case of The Walking Dead, the answer is clear: the disposable characters got an upgrade. Because most are so poorly defined, the fact that there is any focus at all is important (In Afterlife with Archie, on the other hand, the characters received a major demotion for the simple fact these are established characters with decades of history, and in a single panel, it is all over for them).
With zombie tales, it is usually (but not always) a viral “outbreak” that causes the sorrows. A virus picks off the weakest first, but it does not discriminate: everyone is a target. In the comic, the elevated fodder usually succumbs to the virus that infects them. The zombies are mere carriers, nothing more. We don’t need to know anything about the zombie; they are just the delivery vehicle that lets those around them know that anyone can fall at any time.
The comic book and the show have both proven to be very popular, an odd thing given that character development is not the primary focus. It is all about survival and body counts. Where the wander virus will hit, how, and whom is where we build our primary suspense. Personality and character background are mere afterthought. The story begins at the very end where no one can possibly find Happily Ever After, and now people must endure a life that will always be inferior to a life they have known before.
Which brings us to the collapse of journalism.
So many journalists are still wondering what happened. They do not get a thing. They still believe Donald Trump did something to them to make them lose face, and despite what you think about him, he merely bypassed them before tweaking his nose at them.
If you want to begin to understand what happened to journalism, go read The Walking Dead. It is popular for a reason: because it has somehow managed to tap into a zeitgeist and exploit it.
But there is more to it than that.
A virus hit journalism with catastrophic results: it is called the Internet, though a more appropriate term is the Fourth Medium. When we talk about things “going viral”, we mean people are posting someone else’s stuff on their social media feeds and blogs. That’s it.
And that virus decimated journalism.
Reporters chased after big newsmakers, such as world leaders and A-list actors, and every once in a while, they had “man of street” pieces, asking regular citizens for their opinions on the big fish. These stories were disposable filler, while most news stories were considered the important essence of the news media.
But then came along the Fourth Medium that did something interesting: suddenly, the focus was no longer on the newsmakers so much as it was on the “man on the street” opinions that clutter Twitter and Facebook.
In other words, the cannon fodder got elevated thanks to the virus. Sure, the opinions were fleeting and disposable, but the cannon fodder finally got top billing in the Fourth Medium, something that eluded them in the first three.
Whose opinion or story went viral became more interesting than the personality or background of the person who posted it. We don’t have to bother with how a married couple are getting along, so long as we can call dibs on seeing their marriage video of them tangoing while reciting their vows.
We do not have to make any emotional investments: we just have to view the next viral amusement, whether it is a DIY propaganda poster insulting a world leader, a ranting Tweet, or a feel-good story about a cat in need. There is no commitment required, no understanding, and no emotionality. Just react to the next virus.
To newsmakers, they lost their luster and clout. Sports viewership is down, movies are tanking, and books and magazines are crumbling. Gravitas has been felled by the virus. It does not matter if the amateur opinionist knows not a single thing about a newsmaker, it will be their snarky opinion that will get all of the attention, front and centre for five seconds before the next snarker is up.
Journalism could not compete. Those in the profession were so used to wielding all of the power in determining what issues would be discussed and how people would view those issues and newsmakers, that did not see that the Fourth Medium was akin to a zombie apocalypse…and now their lives are in tatters at the end of the story where they cannot expect their lives to ever be as good as it was before the outbreak began.
Journalism needs to completely change. The old world is gone, and in many respects, it is a great relief, but if reporters honestly believe they can go back to the days where they held all of the cards, they are mistaken.
The question is how can a profession so utterly clueless to a shifting reality move forward in a much more alert and humble frame of mind. It is a concept I have spent the last two decades studying, and the answers are not as easy or passive as many in the profession deluded themselves into believing.
There are some concepts that are fixable, but others that are not. The Patriarchal Storytelling structure is often misused to sell concepts that are not very good for people in the real world, even if they sound like romantic theories on paper, or at least a guarantee for better ways if you follow the instructions to the letter.
Many young women’s lives have been forever altered, and even ruined thanks to the toxic mindsets of Patriarchal stories, and we, at the very least, should acknowledge it.
My disdain for the story came from the get-go, but it wasn’t until I was a twentysomething newspaper columnist when I interviewed a social worker who specialized in dealing with teenage girls who were in abusive relationships that I could actually put my finger on the exact reason the story was repulsive to women. She was someone who genuinely cared about the young women she saw staying in relationships with men who beat them black and blue.
Some of those girls, she explained to me, were shackled by the Cinderella syndrome, in that they thought their abusers were their saviours (financial, for example, but there were other carrots dangled that these young women misconstrued as positive reasons to keep a man who was giving them black eyes and broken ribs).
But the other was the Beauty and the Beast Syndrome.
These young women thought their beauty was going to tame these beasts. The tale suckered these girls into staying with a batterer because their love was somehow going to magically transform these beasts into their prince charming, except it never did.
The scam takes advantage of something women do an awful lot by nature — what Arlie Hochschild coined as “emotional labour”. Women are the ones who keep families together, and that takes work — emotional work.
That focus on “fixing” a man means she will have to sacrifice that focus and ignore other things, such as her career, well-being, and happiness.
So no, Belle is not some sort of sexual social worker who is going save her man, she is just being distracted as she wastes her life.
Notice that Belle doesn’t stand up to the Beast from the get-go. She doesn’t start her own business to get her family out of poverty. She hooks up with a monster who financially supports her. The end. (And there is the threat of dire consequences if she leaves his castle, a common feint cults use).
So Beauty and the Beast merely encourages young women to settle for abuse with the promise that if they behave in the correct way for long enough, the payoff will be that her beast will become civilized. The notion is truly sickening — and is a waste of that emotional labor women are adept at expending.
It does not surprise me that this movie did as well as it did. It should not have, of course. It should have been denounced and Watson’s backside kicked hard from here to tomorrow as her right to call herself a feminist gets revoked until she actually understood that no feminist would have ever agreed to play a Disney Princess under any circumstance, especially as Disney cagily banked and exploited her feminist label to prevent people from denouncing a sexist story.
While Disney gets Matriarchal Storytelling when it comes to their more masculine properties, such as Star Wars and Marvel, it is clueless when it comes to their more feminine concepts. The problem is their Princess Line is too profitable for them to merely scrap it all in favour of something far more stable and liberating.
Princesses in stories have made a mess of a lot of women’s lives, encouraging them and instructing them to not cut their losses because if she holds on just long enough, her will can overpower an abusive male partner and he will just change for her, never mind that he has found the advantage of stealing all of her focus: she fusses over him as she helps his career at the expense of her own. She rewards bad behaviour by staying with someone who has earned to be alone — not some who is owed a servant.
Belle is not the only one whose story is unfixable: Wonder Woman is just the same: she takes off from paradise at the first male she sees, and slums it as she keeps saving her crush’s hide, all while prancing around in a modified Playboy Bunny suit.
The 50 Shades series and Twilight are adult retellings of Beauty and the Beast.
They all sell books and movie tickets, but at what price?
If you are a woman who has stayed in a beastly relationship or beastly job because you thought you could transform it into something functional, you may very well have been shackled by the toxic life philosophy of Belle.
I always said women could turn any Hell into paradise, but the point of life is not to ever reward those conniving demons with a paradise from your labor: if they want it so badly, let them clean up their own act, and not use you as their source of energy and servant.
It is not a talent to be proud of — it is a bad habit to question. Life is not easy, but we do not have to make it more complicated, either.
Matriarchal Storytelling doesn’t put up with the Beasts or the Belles as it a method of questioning our untested truisms, not continue to perpetrate them.
I have played around with the concept of Belle in my character of Alena Love — a teenage girl from Texas from the late-1800s who once came from obscene wealth until her mother died — and then her braggart father blows that fortune in less than a year, but in his need for money, he strikes a deal with wealthy older men, promising his two daughters’ hands in marriage in exchange for some cash.
Yet Alena Love is nobody’s fool. She figures out that a party her father threw was, in fact, a trap for her and her sister. She may have been the belle of the ball at the party, but the price was too steep.
If she were a character in a patriarchal yarn, she would have gone through with the marriage as she fought to save her soul.
But she is a Matriarchal heroine, and instead of playing the role of a sheep who is being taken to the market, she grabs her sister Vivian and gets the hell out before her father has a chance to see his plan through.
They never see or hear from their father again, but they meet up with a young Cajun teen in Louisiana who narrowly escaped a lynching — the three girls are tired of being second-class citizens due to their sex, and in Liselle’s case, race, and decide to find a town that will treat them as equals.
They are repeatedly chased out of town, mostly due to Alena’s little public sermons extolling equality for all regardless of sex, race, and even sexual orientation.
While Belle tap danced for the beast, Alena and her companions tell those beasts what jerks they are, but eventually find a small forest, and along with two other young girls they meet along the way, decide that if they cannot find a town that sees the world the way they do, the five, eventually known to the world as The Rocking Hand, will make their own town from scratch.
It is a hard road as they must build their houses, gardens, and make their own clothes and food, but eventually, twelve other young women join them in creating their own home.
They face obstacles and even stand up to violence, but they are not princesses expecting men to do their dirty work — they do it themselves.
They still find their loves along the way, but on their own terms. They are seen as rebel outlaws to the rest of the world, but their grit and determination defeats the fear of others.
The Matriarchal thrives with the concepts of innovation, invention, and re-invention. It is about the thrill of creating something new when the old is rigged to hold you back unnecessarily.
Belle gives in to the system. Alena thumbs her nose at it as she inspires generations after she breathes her last. In the Matriarchal style, I can write about a young Alena in her early days, but then also show an elderly Alena as she inspires her granddaughters in their own respective stories — and see how her descendants thrive with her legacy — and how those unrelated to her take her words and actions to heart as they are guided to build their own worlds to make a better tomorrow.
Feminism is about building new foundations. It is an exciting way to shake up the world from Sleeping Beauty’s passive slumber. It kicks Cinderella in the backside for relying on her looks instead of putting stepmom and stepsisters in their place.
And it also shows the ugly side of Belle who sacrifices the future of young women with the false promise that they are heroines who can change the ways of their abusers instead of showing them self-reliance and defiance in a world that has too many pleasers and enablers, but not enough rebels bringing people back to their senses.
Life often puts us on a hamster wheel, where we are forever running in place, getting tired and used up, and we don’t even realize how we have been conditioned to think in ways that are unnatural to us and even work against the very stuff of our souls.
We don’t realize our thoughts are unnatural and there is a game that has rigged things to favour certain people over others. We think we are idiots, but what we have been is secretly trained to believe things that actually harm us.
Storytelling is one of the ways we can enslave people, but it can also be used to liberate us.
As a storyteller, I agonize over subtext. I question structures of stories even more than content because structure is the silent and invisible prison that prevents true progress from happening.
I love Matriarchal Storytelling because its structure is fluid, not static. In fact, the emphasis is on the structure as much as content — and at times, it is the structure of the story that counts more than content.
Because the Patriarchal focuses exclusively on content, its structure is rarely questioned, but it should be questioned.
Because so much of society’s base assumptions dutifully follow the untested truisms based on the Patriarchal structure.
For example, why can’t we achieve equality in 2017? Considering how long humans have been interacting with one another, you’d think racism/sexism/homophobia would just be eradicated, yet every day, we have people getting harmed by authority figures (the city counsellor in my riding was hassled and carded by police last year, for instance, and Wyclef Jean was recently handcuffed by police. The only hassling either one of these men should get from police is for them to ask for autographs, but I digress).
We have people, to this day, not realize that being a woman is not a genetic defect.
How, on earth, have we absolutely not evolved by this time?
Because we have been conditioned since children to accept a very latent assumption that the Infinite is dystopia, while the One, by default is utopia.
In futuristic films and novels, a dystopian world is very, very bad. There is anarchy and chaos, and disharmony because there is some latent competition among people who just refuse to be part of the One.
But Utopia is all about harmony of the One. The hero swoops in, and after getting everyone to think just like he does, people become followers as the hero leads them to paradise.
Oh, nice try.
That is pure patriarchy talking. Why can’t people just give up their free will, hopes, dreams, and independent thinking, and go with the flow?
Aside from the fact that everyone’s life requirements are different, they really shouldn’t.
But stories told in the Patriarchal style absolutely reject this. To have plurality is considered evil, yet life is a mosaic: every piece has its place and contributes to the whole without losing its individuality.
In the Matriarchal, dystopia is not evil by default; in fact, we can all have a common thread (to embrace progress, freedom, individuality, kindness, happiness, and peace), yet how we achieve those shared qualities requires us to follow our own instincts. Far from being competitive, we are cooperative. We do not become threatened because a group of people progress. We, in fact, make certain that if a group starts to lag, we figure out the problem so that no one gets ahead at someone’s else’s expense.
It’s not hard, but there are seeds planted in us at a very early age where people who have different opinions from us are labelled “villains,” and when there is people following their own paths, we are to see it as “dystopia” — a place of ruin and misery.
The underlying message is simple: well, if these groups just all went lockstep with the hero, we’d all be united, and happy!
That is nothing but a lie and a scam used by people who are so petty and myopic, they think they cannot have any success in life unless they trick people into sacrificing themselves and not pursue their own dreams.
No wonder we cannot tell stories past Happily Ever After — we are too scared to contemplate that world of relinquishing our freedom to appease a control freak.
Where are the stories that embrace the beauty and excitement of multiplicity and does not see the Infinite as something to fear and despise?
Utopia can only be utopia if we embrace the different chords that all have a place and purpose. A patriarchy does everything it can to discourage the notion that we can have plurality. The patriarchal, when left unchecked, veers into monomania. When you become obsessed with always staying on top and dominating everybody and insist they all think and act like you, you miss an awful lot — problems simmer because all you see is The One.
We never learn to truly tolerate ideological differences, nor do we learn to navigate and negotiate when we reach impasses. We are trained to make other submit, rather than find the way for both (or more) parties to mutually benefit.
Matriarchal Storytelling is about connection with other people who are from different times and places.
That means the Patriarchy has been messing with us. It is not about conquering and submission. It is not about defeat and victory. We share this space, and those who are spending billions building flotillas, bunkers, and spaceships trying to run away, I have very bad news: you cannot run away from yourself.
Nor can you run away from the truth.
And the truth is we have been doing it wrong. We have become afraid and fear brings anger and hatred. We have been living in the dark ages where xenophobia thrives. It is time to put an end to those ridiculous lines in the sand, and start connecting to others in a genuine way.
The best way to bring people together is by starting with a very good story that weaves everyone in as it speaks to every heart in earnest truthfully. The meaning of life is different for each of us. We cannot expect progress if we force people to live an unnatural life.
We can have a world that is a paradise — but we can’t have it if we keep drilling it into future generations that everyone has to sacrifice their heart and soul to someone else to get there.
Optimism gets a bad rap these days as Batman is seen as cooler than Superman, but the problem is we have confused what is optimism with what is pessimism, and then our perceptions become misaligned.
Optimism is not about not seeing reality as it is. It is about being confident in your ability to improve a bad situation – but it is also seeing that others around you can do better because they are capable and you push others to try harder so their lives can improve.
You see the faults, but optimism compels you to better your surroundings.
Pessimism, on the other hand, is not about seeing a bad situation, but not having the confidence of seeing the solution.
Often, pessimists complain, but other times, they are sneakier with how they frame their negativity. They spin bad things to make them sound like good things. They live in a dump, but then go on and on about how great things are – always spinning a bad situation so they don’t have to deal with the rot and ruin because deep down, they think they cannot overcome; so they retreat and make excuses.
That is latent pessimism.
It is often hard to distinguish optimism with latent pessimism, unless, of course, you use Matriarchal storytelling techniques to weave your stories.
The Matriarchal is all about realism in human interactions, not wishful thinking: because we have multiple protagonists weaving in and out of stories, there is a scientific element to it: we can directly compare characters, their mindsets, and outcomes. In the patriarchal, characters are in a vacuum, so we must take a narrator’s word that the hero is an optimist or pessimist.
In the Matriarchal, we see the results and outcomes of various characters of equal importance, and thus, we can begin to see patterns. Is the hero really optimistic when he does nothing but be an apologist for toxic behaviors? Is the heroine who seems like a complainer resigned to a bad situation – or is she realistically assessing a situation to see the flaws – but also the latent strengths because she is a visionary who wishes to rise above the mess around her?
Suddenly, we have far more complex and interesting philosophical fodder to contemplate: what is the meaning of optimism? Can you be both an optimist and a realist?
Of course you can. You can be an urban idealist: you see all the problems you face, but you still strive to push forward because you know you can be better as you make your surroundings better. The Matriarchal favors urban idealists who do not wear rose-coloured glasses – but it doesn’t stop them from being Edenic in nature: they strive for utopia by creating a mosaic.
Which leads us to another interesting perk of Matriarchal storytelling: characters do not have to be extremist, but they can be from the radical center: they can be a balance of two seemingly contradictory qualities. The realistic optimist seems like an impossible quality, yet with the Matriarchal, it is more than possible to be both. A utopian who believes in embracing the infinite also sounds impossible, yet with the Matriarchal, it is an ideal.
We can embrace new combination of personality traits to create balances that reflect modern sensibilities. It is not either/or all the time. We can understand the value of One just as we can understand the value of the Infinite.
In other words, we can be urban idealists as we are out to make the world a kinder place. It is not a childish delusion: it is an innate drive to cherish and unleash with confidence.
The Matriarchal gives us the tools to tell stories from a different point of view: we can see the problems like Batman, but strive to solve them like Superman.
We can be both. We can bring both extremes together to meet in the middle, and when they embrace each other, nothing is impossible.
There is a very good column in The National Post about feminism’s biggest silent killer: The Princess in fictional storytelling, and it its essential reading, given the climate these days.
Newstalk 1010 had a discussion of it on Jerry Agar’s show today, but the male panelist and host’s complete ignorance of the problem is not unexpected. A lot of men don’t get it, mostly because it’s not their own backsides in question, but also because people who do not write fiction for a living really don’t understand the nuances of subtext, and it is time those men get their education in it because they are defending very reactionary and archaic thought patterns, and as one of the panelist’s erroneously assumed, shallow window-dressing updates cannot hide the stench of the Princess Archetype.
The princess is the enemy. She is not praise or a map to how any woman should live her life. In a world where women who are sexually assaulted cannot get justice, are victims of domestic violence, and do not get the same pay for the same work, there is no room for princesses.
So let me explain it to those who don’t have a clue, and really would benefit from being teachable.
The Princess is the shackles that has kept women back for a very long time. In essence, this archetype is something of a Mary Sue — someone who comes from privilege, feels self-entitled, gets herself in scrapes because she assumes she is good enough as she is, yet is hopelessly short-sighted, and then doesn’t change, yet life gives her a different outcome for doing the same thing and thinking in the same way — either a male beneath her has to swoop in to save her worthless and arrogant hide — or by some miracle, her passive nature is rewarded and everyone else has to accommodate her.
It is far from the hero’s journey men get to read as boys: you work your way up. You see the weaknesses of others — but true change arrives when the hero sees his own inherent weaknesses, owns up to it, and makes changes within himself before he makes his surroundings better.
The modern princess is not a hero, not even if Disney puts out some pseudo-female empowerment press release pretending that they do. They are not fooling anyone with a functioning brain.
The panel discussion is worth a listen, only to point out how ignorant people who are in the communications industry can be when it comes to the ideas of narrative. One of the panelists used the real life stories of Beyonce and Oprah Winfrey as example of good princess narratives and said that princesses don’t always wear crowns.
Those rags to riches narratives aren’t about princesses — those are hero’s journey stories — and they are real-life stories spun to give a newsmaker a certain image, but if we were to indulge this theory — those women aren’t princesses, but queens. Get your royalty straight before you disagree with someone who thought a problem out longer than you did.
Second, a princess is not about a crown: it is about a vortex or a hamster wheel that someone keeps spinning on because they cannot see themselves as they are — they have no power, and then have to make educated guesses what someone in power is like so they can get what they want in the way that they want it.
Princesses get things because of who they are — they are passive, coast on their youthful looks, and the modern princess in Patriarchal storytelling is still passive. Things just work themselves out in the end — she doesn’t have strategy. She has to have others tell her of her strengths. She always has to build consensus and appease others because she can never stand alone.
Modern storytelling still gives women a single option: not to reflect on herself honestly and realistically so she can see what she needs to do around her — and with herself — to have control of her circumstances in order to build her own worlds and empires on her own terms.
Feminism is at a crisis right now, and it happened because we had too many princess stories distracting us from creating the stories we need so that we are never, ever again at a place where we have to fight battles that should have been resolved decades before. Feminism needs to change its strategy right here and now: and one of the first orders of business is to completely abandon the princess and the patriarchal for Matriarchal Storytelling structures to give women an array of viable options of strategy.
It is the reason I began A Dangerous Woman Story Studio in 2013 — because the world doesn’t need another princess secretly harming women who shouldn’t be marching on the streets yet again — but in the world shaping it to make certain women can go as far as they want and need to for her to reach her full potential.
Patriarchal storytelling is a narrative in the dark ages because so many portrayals of women leave too much to be desired. We have princesses who need rescuing as their fathers bribe men with crowns to marry them, all while the princess thinks she is so perfect, she never needs to grow, change, or be well-rounded. Her entire purpose in life is to get married and live Happily Ever After.
Or, she must be a queen bee who can never share a spotlight or be happy for any other women who has successes, too.
She is a damsel-in-distress, a second banana, arm candy, trophy, evil step-mother, husband-hunter, bitter spinster, man-stealer, or even cannon fodder, but because the patriarchal is all about a single hero who must save everyone from themselves, female characters get the short end of the narrative stick.
Male characters get the perks of gravitas, respect, eccentricity, and can even be weird jerks who will still get top billing. Male characters get all of the perks and their characters change and evolve, but often at the expense of the female characters. Oh well, that’s the nature of the patriarchal structure; so just roll with the punches and make do.
Of course, the idea that a rig must be kept in place is more than just silly; it is obnoxious. What is wrong with outrageous women with quirks and gravitas? No wonder publishing is in a big mess: it is in the dark about what women want and need.
And they want is to be unleashed as they roar their own Fiat Lux!
Women have been held back for far too long because they are expected to sacrifice themselves for the Greater Good, except there is one catch…
You cannot achieve the Greater Good if you sacrifice women. That is truth and that is reality. Women matter. Women matter as much as men. Women are not supposed to just be resigned to be denied, and then just take it. Women are not immortal beings who can afford to waste a century or two. They are brilliant and hard-working, just like men, but we never get to know their true potential because the system of Patriarchal narratives does not entertain the fact that perhaps there is more to a woman than to be used a plot device to make the male character look good.
For years, getting stories out about diverse female characters was a challenge because the literary rig made it hard to do it properly. It was masculine rig that favoured male characters from the get-go. It is tune with their wants and needs. The narrative works in its favour: a maverick comes in from nowhere, challenges the status quo with his swagger, he uses strategy to get what he wants, and he wins all with a gorgeous babe on his arm.
That is Patriarchal storytelling.
The Matriarchal has other ideas.
And on the top of the list is that women are frustrated because they are always held back in some unnatural way, and her challenge is to remove those rigs, confines, and barriers as she lets every grain of her being push forward.
She can do it alone, but more make it a fun and fantastic party with a purpose.
How does the Matriarchal do that?
It does it in several critical ways: first, because we can explore multiple characters, a protagonist has a strong supporting cast who all shine in various ways. We can even have two characters shine in the same way: we see it is not a competition or rivalry, but why not double the resources as both go at the same problem from two different angles or ways? It is not always a dynamic where everyone has to be completely different [think of The Monkees: The Smart One (Mike), The Cute One (Davy), The Funny One (Mickey), and the Naive One (Peter)]. The underlying assumption is no two character can step on each other toes because there will be rivalry, friction, or redundancy, which is absolutely silly and unjustified.
We can explore personality better as we can see how very different personalities can get along to achieve a common goal. We can have several smart and strong personalities cooperate and not try to dominate others, or tell the what to do or how to think. The Matriarchal is about freedom and the power and strength freedom gives us. Your strength does not come from being a tyrant: it comes from working with the energy of others as you share your energy. Idealism is not a childish or impossible concept; in fact, it is the most important quality to have if you wish to have a progressive life that evolves, expands, strengthens, changes, learns, gives, and grows.
But the Matriarchal has another purpose, and that is to show benevolent strategy. I often find there is a black hole when it comes to having strategies for women that are in tune with a woman’s reality, truth, experience, biology, and mindset. We have manuals such as The Art of War, for example, but they aren’t the same for a woman’s life where she finds herself in a cutthroat situation and things are stacked against her: she doesn’t have the experience of strategy as her male counterparts, she doesn’t have the same backing support, connections, or clout — plus she has relatives to look after who don’t understand that she needs focus in her career and she must divide that focus as she is in her daily gladiatorial arena.
The Matriarchal thrives in creating the maps for all kinds of strategies, but it is not all about being a destroyer, but a creator who builds worlds. It is all about that fiat lux, but one the enlightens the world about what women want, need — and can do when she does not have to be distracted by a patriarchal narrative that wants her to run to a hero when she could have just as easily done the job herself.
With the Matriarchal, men can still be heroes — but so can women. There is no divine or natural rule that says women cannot be heroes in the same stories as men. For too long, we have gone in with the assumption that the Patriarchal was the only way to tell a story. The structure made a lot of damage, and it is time that we demand Matriarchal stories.
We need a structure that shows us that we can be wonderful heroes in life without entertaining the notion that others must play second fiddle to us. We need stories that show us the power and beauty of finding our places as we make the most of the time we have here on Earth. We need stories to show us new strategies of coming up against bullies and manipulators that give us energies and results, not drain us as it seemingly breaks our spirit when we hot back and it appears not to make a difference.
Storytelling is a calling like no other because it is a profession of creation: storytellers build. They entertain as they inspire and teach. They are the needle that sews people across time and space together to make an ever-growing cloth.
But we must insist on exploring different structures to tell stories. The Patriarchal model has now hit a wall, but that wall is one that the Matriarchal can get through to the other side that requires women to be free as they create, inspire, invent, and grow as they make this a place of kindness that is tune with their hearts that is filled with a mighty light that shines its brightest when it creates.