Emma Watson + why the Artemis archetype makes for awesome heroines
Emma Watson gave a UN speech over the weekend in which she declared herself a feminist, called for women’s equality and a loosening of gender roles.
Emma represents an archetype emerging in this culture that – judging by the success of characters like Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander and Anastasia Steele – girls in particular are hungering for, a femininity with fire in its soul.
It was originally Jo from Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel LITTLE WOMEN: the unconventional sister in the March family who had a temper, a desire for adventure and independence, and a fierce determination to be a writer. Like Katniss, Lisbeth and Anastasia – or Arya Stark, Sarah Conner, Ripley, Buffy, Xena – Jo embodies the Artemis archetype, characterized most of all by an indomitable will.
An archetype is a recurring pattern of human behavior shared across cultures and mythologies. Jung believed that archetypes live within the collective unconscious: we know them and respond to them on a deep level. We project them onto others; we sense them activated within ourselves.
In her book GODDESSES IN EVERYWOMAN, Jean Shinoda Bolen put forth the major Greek goddesses as female archetypes, each one representing a different way of being in the world. Although one archetype tends to be prominent at any given time, different stages of our lives can call forth different archetypes.
Everywhere you look – on billboards, in magazines, on Victoria’s Secret runways – you see sexy Aphrodite. In a recent issue of Esquire, Tom Junod drew some online fire with his In Praise of 42 Year Old Women, which was truly in praise of Aphrodite women.
You see the goddess Demeter in the so-called soccer moms: packing their kids into minivans, running errands in yoga pants.
The goddess Hera – wife to Zeus, not known for his monogamy – comes alive in the “jealous, crazy” ex-girlfriend. She’s the one who slashes your tires or sticks pins into dolls bearing a striking resemblance to you. When his daughter Dylan accused Woody Allen of molesting her as a child, many people pointed fingers at ex-wife Mia Farrow, depicting her as another version of crazy, bitter, bitchy Hera. They dismissed Dylan’s story as the brainwashed delusion of a frail and damaged maiden: a Persephone.
Every time a confident, successful woman like Marissa Meyer distances herself from feminism, I think of Athena. Athena women, with all their brilliance and strategy, are the ones smashing up through layers of glass. They tend to identify with men, keeping femininity at a distance.
Like Athena, Artemis is a badass. She’s a competitor and a goal achiever.
But she’s also a feminist and an advocate for sisterhood. She comes to the rescue of girls and women not yet in the position to rescue themselves.
Artemis women often have difficult childhoods. She’s the kid who seeks comfort in the woods, or animals, or books. If trapped in an authoritarian family, she blends in to get by – but keeps a fierce autonomy inside her head and heart, looking to the day she breaks free.
She engages in the pursuit of mastery (Artemis can handle the bow and arrow like nobody’s business). Jean Shinoda Bolen writes:
“The bow and quiver of arrows which makes a sculpture or a painting of a goddess recognizable as Artemis is a meaningful symbol. To send an arrow to a target of your own choosing requires aim, intention, determination, focus and power. You can bring down game to feed yourself and others, punish enemies, or demonstrate confidence: metaphorically, you can take care of yourself.”
These women use their intuition and depth and courage to drive themselves out of their comfort zone. They are not subdued. They are not broken. Each in her own way must venture into strange territory: blazing trails, navigating a metaphoric wilderness.
She is Jane Goodall studying the chimps in the woods and revolutionizing our entire understanding of them. She is Eve Ensler conquering cancer to finish building the City of Joy — a rehabilitative and educational community for sexually assaulted women — in the Congo. She is Sheryl Sandberg on the TED stage urging women to claim their place at the table.
She is the high school girl accompanying her friend to the rape crisis center at three in the morning, then taking her home and making her tea.
She is the still-hot woman in her forties who starts to find deep satisfaction in pursuing her goals, and starts recognizing men as friends and brother figures and not just potential lovers.
She is the middle-aged mother of three who watches her kids set off for college, then rediscovers her wanderlust and goes trekking in Nepal.
She is Malala, targeted by the Taliban and shot in the head and still resolute, fighting for a girl’s right to be educated. She is Elizabeth Smart, abducted from her bedroom at 11 years of age, surviving nine months of captivity and abuse, telling teenagers at the Key Club International conference to “Never be afraid to speak out. Never be afraid to live your life. Never let your past dictate your future.”
She is Emma Watson on the UN stage, saying that both genders should be equally free to express who they are, inviting boys and men to join the fight for equality.
She is formidable.