By Carol S. Pearson
The situation is bleak. The dark side has taken over again, the proof of which is how regimented and violent its soldiers are, and the light is being held only by a rebel band, guarded by a republic. The two great masculine heroes—Luke Skywalker and Han Solo—have lost faith in their power to create change, so Han has gone back to trading and Luke is hiding out.
But Princess Leia has not lost faith. She is a general for the Resistance to the Nazi-like First Order, having traded her royal status for the actual authority of leadership. And then, a new Jedi is being called, this time a young woman—Rey, whose very name (pronounced “ray”) links her to the light. The Force is awakening, and through women.
Star Wars Episode VII is a movie for its time, just as the first installment (Episode IV) was almost 40 years ago. We are in another era when it appears that the dark forces have triumphed. My sense of this was reinforced recently when I saw two other excellent movies: The Big Short, about the systemic corruption on Wall Street that caused the 2008 global recession, and Spotlight, about the systemic corruption in the Catholic Church that allowed abuse of adolescents by pedophile priests to persist with a huge cover-up. Yet, little seems to have changed on Wall Street, and I wonder whether even Pope Francis can end the culture of secrecy in the church during his time in the papacy. Lack of faith in government is widespread, caused to a great extent by the pernicious influence of money on elections and public policy, the cynical manipulation of public opinion by politicians who run against government itself, and the successful efforts of some of the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations to avoid taxes and federal oversight. The belief that government is an oppressor is now so common that I run into all sorts of folks who regard very entertaining but hardly realistic TV shows like House of Cards and Scandal as reflecting sad truths. And, more and more, people begin to distrust the heroic spirit as naïve, justifying following our lower impulses as what everyone now does.
Han Solo tells us explicitly that there is a power that balances the dark and the light expression of The Force, which I see as the dark being the urge for power and the balancing light being love and compassion. Together, these fuel a heroic spirit. In truth, any value, by itself, that is out of balance with its complement gradually leans toward the dark side. Today, the triumph of masculine over feminine values is so extreme that:
- The Warrior/Ruler archetypal idea that nature is to be conquered has resulted in climate change and its threat to our way of life, and the notion that people must demonstrate their worth through being tough and competitive had led to a disinclination to assist those truly in need, who some now regard as “losers”;
- The performance of women who enter historically male roles in the workplace or politics typically is judged by standards set by older males, and the wisdom that comes from the female experience too often is devalued or simply ignored;
- The caring work women historically have done raising children, being in charge of homes, supporting extended family and friends, and helping those in need (which requires the Lover and Caregiver archetypes in us) is assumed to be so inconsequential and easy that anyone should be able to accomplish it in whatever spare time they have after the workday is finished;
- As women and the men who partner with us struggle to fit in family and home care activities while working longer and longer hours at our jobs, we become over-worked and stressed.
All these developments positively reinforce masculine endeavors, attitudes, and behaviors, while depriving women, as well as tasks and qualities regarded as female, of being seen, valued, and rewarded. This, in turn, encourages both men and women to lean toward the masculine, to the detriment of the feminine—at work and at home. The result is that society is biased toward competition and achievement over caring and compassion.
Yet, today The Force is, indeed, awakening, and Persephone (that is, the powerful feminine) is rising. The earth is rebelling, fighting back against our renegade species, and it is a sign of hope that world leaders finally have agreed to listen. Women have been gaining social power since the 1970s women’s movement, which gave us increasing access to what had been strictly male domains. During this interim period, we have developed our masculine sides in order to succeed in these new roles, thus inadvertently contributing to society’s imbalance. Now, more and more women want to bring our feminine strengths and values to what we do, along with our more androgynous masculine capacities. Many are choosing to leave even high-level positions in the workplace and high-status marriages that do not match their values, or where their female voices are not heard and listened to. Persephone’s rise is further evidenced in the gender gap in voting behavior, where women give higher priority to issues related to children, families, education, healthcare, care for the poor, and inclusion of diverse citizens.
Recent cinematic prototypes of courageous, compassionate female characters—such as Neytiri in Avatar and Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild—have touched and awakened something in many of us, male and female alike. However, the big film event just over a year ago was Disney’s Frozen, which is adored by boys as well as girls (and adults, too!). Its broad popularity suggests that almost everyone can relate to its theme, in that all of us are repressing some devalued aspect of our power and want express it—like Elsa, the main character, who sings “Let it go!” And just like her, we then need to learn to harness that energy so that we gain mastery in its use. In the culminating scene of the movie, Elsa achieves this, so the threat of eternal winter is averted and she can take her rightful place as queen. However, this occurs only when she is embraced by her sister, Anna, and is healed by the unconditional love that Anna demonstrates. Real heroines and heroes allow love and compassion to utilize whatever their unique power is in the service not only of themselves but also of the greater good.
Similarly, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, after claiming her power and beginning to develop mastery over it, Rey returns to General Leia, and the two women immediately put their arms around each other to console one another. The explicit reason is that Han Solo has been killed by his and Leia’s unrepentant son, Kylo Ren, for which both are grieving. The metaphorical import of that embrace is the affirmation of a feminine bond and of feminine caring values. Confidence in love and caring help them avoid descending into despair in response to Han’s death and Kylo Ren’s continued treachery. Both women combine traditional masculine strength with the more feminine virtues, and reaffirm love as courageous and as mattering. Without such affirmation, heroines who buy into a masculine ideal always feel less than they are, and are more likely to give up in the face of defeats and losses. After this hug, Rey appears to be more confident and focused in what she then must do and, at the same time, softer and more caring than she has before.
It is only through trusting their feminine sides that Leia and Rey fully awaken their heroic trust in life and the awareness that Han and Luke need to reclaim their heroic spirits. Han Solo had begun to regain hope for change when he saw that The Force was manifesting itself through Rey in a feminine form. Although he dies at the end, his heeding Leia’s urging to not give up on his son and acting on it signals to the viewer that his faith in change has been restored, and his and Leia’s embrace symbolizes the union of the masculine and feminine in both. In this way, we can imagine that he dies whole and healed—though terribly disappointed. Rey’s last act in the film is to find Luke and offer to return his light saber to him. Although we do not know his response, we do see how confident she is in her action and the hope that he will grab hold of the saber and return to the battle for liberty and human rights.
I’ve become terribly concerned about the growing cynicism I see around me. Many people seem to have given up on the democratic process, rather than reclaiming the power they potentially can exercise when they are willing to engage in it. Too many also have let go of their personal dreams and ideals, concluding that it is naïve even to have them. In The Force Awakens, the growing heroism of the character Finn, who refuses to fight for the First Order and initially just wants to flee, provides a call to the quest for those of us who feel we are ordinary. Strengthened by love, he becomes a real hero. We, too, can leave stories, structures, and situations that we know to be wrong, or wrong for us, and take a stand for what we know to be right. This even can take the form of fighting to preserve our democracy and make it work, rather than opting out.
So, the questions for us today are: Can we feel The Force awakening within us, even if only in anger and outrage? Is Persephone rising in and around us? The archetypal energies that make up “The Force” are available to us. It is up to us whether we wallow in disillusionment, or, as heroes always do, bring new life to a dying culture. So, whether you are male or female, you might want to hug a courageous and caring woman or find a way for your inner feminine side to comfort you and affirm your feminine qualities. Then you might want to return the power the light saber symbolizes to any part of you that has given up and/or to someone else who has. In that way, you can awaken, reawaken, or reinforce the hero or heroine within you and in those around you, balancing masculine and feminine qualities while also promoting healthy gender partnerships.
I’d love to see your reply to this blog, especially concerning the following questions:
- What archetypal and mythic patterns do you notice in the latest Star Wars movie, and which seem relevant to the world around us today?
- What other films have you seen that offer signs of the feminine rising for the good of men as well as women? And, what signs do you see in our culture of the feminine rising in a new way, or of healthy and happy gender partnerships?
- What signs do you see of your having new energy for bringing your gifts to the world? What stands in the way of your doing so—in your situation or in the story you tell yourself about that situation? What would be your equivalent of the healing hug and the returned light saber? And, what would you do if you felt certain that The Force was with you?
 See Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within.