The Truth of Womanhood: Shifting Perspectives

As we have spoken about before, the field of Human Development Through the Lifespan is the work of academics who pose theories and systems to structure our human experience in order to describe how we create meaning for our life throughout our lives.

Most theorists prior to the mid-seventies posed models for understanding human development based their findings on masculine frames of reference and experience for development and maturation. Our understanding of how to structure and appreciate life’s experience came from men and was primarily about men. Such theorists include: Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, Lawrence Kohlberg to name a few. All of their work has been instrumental in the field of Human Development.

Developed from research begun in 1966…”Our primary aim is to create a developmental perspective on adulthood in men.” Resulting book published in 1978.

The Seasons of Man’s Life

Daniel J. Levinson, et al

But has there been research conducted about women’s experience? Is there a feminine model of development that is different from the experience of men through which women can honor our own experiences? Is there a woman’s understanding of development and maturation? A new separation of masculine and feminine experiences can be see through the work of Carl Jung in the 1940’s and Carol Gilligan’s 1982 pivotal work In a Different Voice. Other contributions in the late 20th Century to a revisioned feminine model of development were proposed and explored in:

Toward A New Psychology of Women

Jean Baker Miller

When God Was a Woman

Merlin Stone

Leaving My Father’s House: A Journey to Conscious Femininity

Marion Woodman

In A Different Voice

Carol Gilligan


Woman’s Place in Man’s Life Cycle

Images of Relationship

Concepts of Self and Morality

Crisis and Transition

Women’s Rights and Women’s Judgment

Visions of Maturity

Goddesses in Every Woman

Jean Shinoda Bolen

Women’s Ways of Knowing

Mary Field Belenky

Blythe McVicker Clinchy

Nancy Rule Goldberger

Jill Mattuck Tarule

The Chalice and the Blade

Riane Eisler

Finding Herself Pathways to Identity Development in Women

Ruthellen Josselson & Patricia Rushfield

The Heroine’s Journey

Maureen Murdock

The Feminine Face of God

Sherry Ruth Anderson & Patricia Hopkins

Women Who Run with the Wolves

Clarissa Pinkola Estes
The Wounded Woman: Healing the Father-Daughter Relationship
Linda Schierse-Leonard

All of this brilliant research paved the way and showed the need for an actual model of women’s development to be established.

The Heroine’s Journey

In 1990, family therapist and writer Maureen Murdock proposed a model for women’s development seen as a journey–The Heroine’s Journey. Murdock’s own Heroine follows an acknowledged standard journey through life which applies to both genders. Yet, still there is no singular model for women to appreciate their own lives distinct from men. Likemythologist Joseph Campbell’s 1949 The Hero’s Journey, Murdock discusses life’s experiences and views the journey of life as the particularly masculine quest to “go forth.”

From a literary perspective we can look at two different approaches for understanding an action model of gender developmental perspectives. Through the works of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers describing in 2007 the stages of The Hero’s Journey and Valerie Frankel, From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and Legend in 2010, where we meet one another in storyline and meaning making.

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers

Christopher Vogler

From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and Legend

Valerie Frankel

For either the hero or the heroine, what underlies this quest? What, fundamentally, is the quest about? This quest in either case, for women or for men, is a quest toward greater self-esteem and the appreciation of self-worth. What inspires quests but the search for particular consciousness, some realization of what’s missing for a sense of fulfillment, contentment and peace with the self. For Campbell and Vogler the hero’s quest begins with his Hero, the Man who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization. For Murdock and Frankel The Heroine’s Journey begins with “separation from the feminine” and ends with “integration of the masculine and feminine.”

The Hero with a Thousand Face’s

Joseph Campbell

The Hero’s Journey

The Ordinary World

The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma. The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history. Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.

The Call to Adventure

Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from emotional source rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.

Refusal to The Call

The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly. Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.

Meeting with The mentor

The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.

Crossing The Threshold

At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.

Tests, Allies and Enemies

The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.


The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.

The Ordeal

Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life.

The Reward

The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death. There maybe celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.

The Road Back

About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the

adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a

chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.

The Resurrection

At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.

Return with The Elixir

The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

The Heroine’s Journey

Maureen Murdock

The Heroine’s Journey

Separation from The Feminine

Identification with The Masculine and Gathering of Allies

Road of Trials, Meeting Ogres and Dragons

Finding the Boon of Success

Awakening to Feelings of Spiritual Aridity: Death

Initiation and descent to The Goddess

Urgent Yearning to Reconnect with The Feminine

Healing The Mother and Daughter Split

Healing the Wounded Masculine

Integration of Masculine and Feminine


The journey and the story of our lives leads us to gathering wisdom from experiences, through action and reflection, a natural order of self-discovery creating meaning, moving us toward greater fulfillment. All of these models describe the journey of growth as cycles of development addressing change and the difference in meaning making for women and men. Whether the meaning created is to reach a goal of importance, a hierarchical… for humanity or to heal through relationship incorporation, the story remains the same. It is a story of action.These are models of action.

The action for a heroine is the “struggle to separate both physically and psychologically from her own mother,” making a woman’s quest for wholeness actually a rejection of the feminine. Requiring a heroine to reject the qualities of being woman results in adopting masculine qualities. The value of simply being a woman is not honored, resulting in self-esteem issues and “emotional baggage.”


She is on a journey carrying emotional baggage or issues of self-esteem, because she does not know who she is as a woman.

She still has no place and identity in the world other than through the inherent function of healing.

But what are the underlying causes of the need for this healing?

Might it have to do with women not yet having a consciousness of worth and purpose in the truth of their being women in the world? Have we not yet realized a key to the puzzle of life?

Enlightenment through Gender Identity

The journey of life is the quest for Enlightenment. Whether masculine or feminine, the search is the same, a quest for a consciousness, to know and have an identity leading toward fulfillment of itself, in relation to itself and to others.

Women have been in search of something–either by following in man’s footsteps to gain a greater sense of self-worth or by searching for something more than just a variant of the masculine model as the standard for all of life’s experiences and how they are measured and appreciated.

There is a women’s emergence today. However, we have still not yet discovered our own identity.

To help delineate our feminine identity, let’s start by recognizing established principles of the differences between masculine and feminine.

Masculine Principles








Left Brained









Feminine Principles









Right Brained









The question becomes: If there is an acceptance and appreciation of these differences, are these differences fundamentally important to the enlightenment of ourselves as well as humanity? To begin our journey toward the truth of our own lives as women, we must sense deeply that the answer to this question is undeniably “Yes.” And how we understand our identity as women distinct from men is paramount if we are to create this New Consciousness.


And then, in 1996, two models of women’s development were offered:

The Feminine Life Cycle

“Women’s differences have been seen as deviations from the norm, rather than as essentially different and worthwhile in their own right, in large part by taking men as the benchmark for human development.”


Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. in A Woman’s Book of Life describes a woman’s life in thirteen seven-year cycles and the growth challenges culminating in the gifts of empathy, relationality, interdependent perception and intuition. She shows how to see “negative biases and reclaim the innate relational wisdom of interconnectedness that describes feminine biology, psychology and spirituality.”

The four quadrants of the life-cycle covered in A Woman’s Book of Life are:

“maiden;” childhood and adolescence: 3 seven year cycles from 0-21
“mother,” young adult: 3 cycles from 21-42
“guardian;” mid-life: 3 cycles from 42-63
“crone;” elder wisdom years: 3 cycles from 63-84 and the time beyond

Borysenko suggests nine qualities of Wholeness, Resilience and Maturity:

Curiosity: openess, spaciousness, and presence
Stillness: ability to center and find inner peace
Emotional Intelligence: How do I feel? (self-awareness), How do you feel? (empathy)
Mastery of the dirty tricks department of the mind
Social connectedness and friendship
Self-care: exercise, nutrition, sleep, rest, boundaries, saying no, saying yes
Lightness: Sense of humor and ability to let go
Spirituality: a life of compassion and awareness

A Woman’s Book of Life
Joan Borysenko

This work describes the foundation of women’s biological and psychological development with the spiritual purpose to “cultivate a compassionate heart.” The importance of women’s relational roles and their interconnectedness with all humanity is

the underlying developmental truth of women’s life purpose.

This central purpose, also expressed through The Feminine Light Journey, illuminates the health of all relationships.

Yet what is the essential nature of woman?

The Stages of a Woman’s Life

In 1996, two midwives again ffered ma ore fundamental approach to understanding wthrough roles omen’s elives Women’s archetypes were represented as stages of wisdom and the burgeoning consciousness of a feminine truth. These archetypal descriptions share a new language for wisdom as experienced through the phases of a woman’s life. These describe “women’s intuitive ways of knowing linked to nature, the body and the mystery of transformation.”

The Women’s Wheel of Life

Elizabeth Davis & Carol Leonard

Archetypes: the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies. Archetypes are recurring patterns of human behavior, symbolized by standard character types.

Over and over again, women live through thirteen Stages:



Blood Sisters









Dark Mothers


This archetypal model of development “the grand pattern of women’s lives.” has been blessed by Christiane Northrup, M.D. and Robbie Davis-Floyd, Ph.D. “as we (women) struggle to grow ourselves in each phase of our lives”.

Celebrating our wisdom: this model begins to get closer to who a woman is through The Transformer archetype where she experiences “stillness behind motion, when time itself stops, the center which is the circumference of all.” The Transformer “represents the most basic and fundamental ground of [a woman’s] being, the very essence of our ability to grow and change,” a role significant in uncovering our truth.

The worth of a woman remains yet hidden; the value of women is subtly experienced through phases or stages and our roles express a social function rising out of an inner sense of knowing. Here, we have roles of action alluding to the nature of our being.


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