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Heroine’s Journey: Captain Marvel Rises

What happens when a woman starts living life on her own terms?

Do this. Wear that. Say this. Don’t go there. You can’t do that.

Women live by other people’s rules all their lives—rules usually made by men. From the men who fathered them to the men who decide what they should learn, from the men who dictate how much they should get paid to them men they marry, from the men who decide what they can do with their wombs to the men who rule the countries in which they live.

But what happens when women decide to live by their own rules? What happens when women stop playing by the rules made by men, and instead make their own rules, live according to their own terms?

It’s really all this that comes to mind when you sit in the theater and watch the hero’s journey that is Captain Marvel. (Read up on Joseph Campbell, or look up Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness for something more appropriate.)

Heroine’s journey

You know this story. You see it in all the movies, from Star Wars: A New Hope to The Matrix, from Buddha to Jesus, in 2011’s Thor and 2017’s Wonder Woman. You see enough of these movies to recognize the pattern: Hero heeds the call to adventure, and crosses a threshold, entering the unknown. Hero encounters trials and tribulations on the journey. Hero attains enlightenment, and returns changed, evolved.

If you’re familiar with the monomyth, you already know what’s going to happen in these hero origin movies.

Having a heroine in place of a hero, however, changes a few things. In many contexts, a woman experiences trials and tribulations not just on the journey, but in her home, in her community. A woman often heeds the call to adventure, not to seek thrills or fame or fortune, but to prove herself worthy, capable, despite opposition, oppression, abuse. A woman leaves the familiar, the comfortable, the home, not merely out of discontentment or restlessness, but often because there is a need to find something better, something other than the life she knows, the life that is evidently not enough. Enlightenment, growth, transformation: all these often happen at great personal cost.

“Noble warrior heroes”

Do this. Wear that. Say this. Don’t go there. You can’t do that. A woman goes on a journey, seeks a new life, changes herself, to get away from a life full of that, to change that life, for herself, for others.

It’s all this you should remember as you sit in the theater, watching Carol Danvers: the pilot, her struggles, her courage. It’s all this you should remember as you watch this commander of Starforce, her amazing powers, her amazing feats of strength. It’s all this you should remember, as you watch her struggle with memories of two lives, as she tries to make sense of people who call her by different names, people who want different things from her. It’s all this you should remember as she discovers her power, her true self, and what it means to live life on her own terms.

For Captain Marvel, for any woman, life is lived by fighting with one arm tied behind your back but still fighting anyway. Life is playing by other people’s rules until you recognize your own power, and you realize that you don’t need to live by anyone else’s rules. For Captain Marvel, for any woman, life is realizing your strength doesn’t come from an alien power, from a supreme intelligence, or from fists of pure energy. For Captain Marvel, for every woman, your strength lies in your conviction, in determination, in setting your own terms, in persisting.

And Carol Danvers, she persisted.