Author Archives: Gina Campbell

Ask Gina: Metaphors for Tough $$ Times

October 5th, 2011 | Posted by Gina Campbell in Ask Gina | Coaching | Counseling | metaphors | Power of Words | Subconscious Messages | Therapy | Transitions - (Comments Off on Ask Gina: Metaphors for Tough $$ Times)

A lot of my clients are anxious about their financial security. Can metaphors help?  C. C., Denver, CO

Hanging in there through tough times
In today’s difficult economic times, many people are stressed out about their circumstances. If you are a helping professional working with struggling or anxious clients, you’ll be glad to learn that metaphors can help. Wondering how that could be, when jobs are in jeopardy and bills need to be paid now?

While metaphors aren’t likely to cause employers to start hiring again (actually, they could…but that’s a subject for another blog), you can help clients develop vivid metaphors  for an inner state or way of feeling to feel more resourceful and more hopeful now.   If  your client can summon more optimism, feel more in control, or find strength to face a storm, s/he will reduce the flow of stress hormones in his/her body, a benefit in multiple ways, and have more energy to devote to problem-solving… and joyful living.


You can take these four simple steps to discover and strengthen a supporting inner resource:

  1. Ask your client to recall another time when s/he felted stressed about a challenge. What personal quality or characteristic(s)  did s/he use to cope? It might, for example, have been courage, an ability to stay calm, or stubbornness.
  2. Get a metaphor for that quality with a simple question. If the client says, “Well, I guess I was brave,”  you ask, “If you were to draw a picture of that brave, what would it look like?” Invite your client to actually draw it or just describe it aloud.  Perhaps s/he would draw a surfer riding a huge wave or a lion tamer with a whip and chair, controlling a roaring lion.
  3. Help your client get a vividly detailed picture of this resource by asking these simple questions about what s/he describes.  Use only the exact words/short phrases s/he uses!  The point is to get your client more familiar with and to strengthen his/her own resource, not to make suggestions about what you think would be helpful–and that includes adding or changing even small details!
  • Is there anything else about that [client’s word]?
  • What kind of [client’s word or phrase] is that?
  • Where inside is that [resource word]?

Examples: Is there anything else about that “surfer”? What kind of “riding” is that “riding”? Where inside is that “brave”?

Keep on asking  “what kind of…”  and “anything else about….” questions until your client has a well-developed metaphor, full of sensory details.

4.  Encourage your client to return to this image–located right in his/her body now–whenever s/he want to feel that resourceful way again.

This is a simple demonstration  of how it is to work with Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling! For more details, see my Mining Your Metaphors website. We’ve a training starting July 5, 2012!

And if you try this exercise with a client, let us know how it goes!

The Edge Effect in Metaphor Landscapes

June 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Gina Campbell in Coaching | Counseling | metaphors | Therapy | Transitions - (1 Comments)
Environmental thresholds
In the counseling/coaching technique I work with, Symbolic Modeling, we use the term ‘metaphor landscape’ to describe the inner world of a client that is populated by personal metaphors  or symbols laid out in specific locations, like a map. While each client’s landscape is unique in its details and their interactions, I find some symbols are used frequently: rivers, lakes, and mountains; flowers, birds and fountains; trees, fields, and roads.

Perhaps it is because these “personal ecosystems” appear repeatedly with my clients that two words caught my attention as I was thumbing through a permaculture gardening book recently. The terms ecotone and edge effect are new to me.  An ecotone* is a transition area—a place between two plant communities, for example, the area between a meadow and a forest. Ecotones may be distinct lines, such as one created by a farmer on a mower, or they may be broader areas, such as many mountain slopes or wetlands.

Often these transitional areas have species of flora and fauna common to the ecosystems of either side, as well as additional ones that thrive in neither of the other two. It is this characteristic that is described as the edge effect*: the tendency of such an area to have a greater diversity of species than exist in either of its bordering communities.

Clients’ metaphor landscapes demonstrate an edge effect, too.  It is in those moments on a metaphoric bank, just before a client wades into a river, or goes through a gate or leaps onto a boat, when the client faces some significant, even transformative, change. Here on the threshold, the client may know things not only about the two worlds, the one behind and the one ahead, but also about things which are found in neither worlds, but which are crucial for staying a new course.

Symbolically, the space between worlds may be a single step, like through a doorway, or it may involve numerous smaller steps, like a bridge or a hallway. Sometimes the distance is measured in time as well, as in a journey on a boat between two ports. However wide or narrower the space, however long or short the time spent there, it is a space that holds information unique to this overlapping of world views.

To think of these terms ecotone and the edge effect as metaphors is a wonderful way to describe the significance and potential this “in-between” time or space holds.  They are good reminders for therapists or coaches not to rush clients heedlessly through such spaces, but to explore them for their potential riches.

These spaces in a metaphor landscape are not always comfortable places to be. How appropriate then, that the word ecotone comes from eco– and the Greek word tonos, meaning tension. To move from one way of being to another may require significant preparations for readiness and a rallying of resources.  The steps before the shift can seem hair-splittingly small. It’s easy to gloss over a client’s statement as a common turn of phrase when s/he says  “I want to be able to start to change,” but notice: there is a want, an ability to start, a starting, all before s/he gets to the changing!  Each step may involve consequences to explore, a decision to act, and courage to be mustered to step away from the known and into the unknown.  All the more reason to pause at such choice points to learn more about resources and resolve, about the process needed for change.

Often clients come for help when they are living in a broad “ecotone”, in a space between the two worlds or ways of being.  As we explore both where they may be stuck and where they want to go, these new metaphors will remind me to consider “the edge effect.”

-excerpt from Gina’s new  manual for her advanced training course: Readying Your Clients for Change with Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling

*Definitions taken from wikipedia.org entries for ecotone and edge effect

For Sale: 3B/2B Metaphor

March 12th, 2011 | Posted by Gina Campbell in Art as Metaphor | metaphors | Subconscious Messages - (1 Comments)
What's welcoming about it?
As ubiquitous as the daffodils and tulips are the For Sale signs cropping on lawns in spring. I wonder, just what makes certain houses appealing? What are people buying, exactly?

Michaela Mahady suggests in her book, Welcoming Home, that inviting houses are ones that speak to us with forms we can relate to, and what we are seeking are spaces that make us feel protected and safe.  “When we see a reflection of our human form, whether in a house, a care or a chair, we have a visceral understanding of it.”

You might also say the houses are offering an appealing metaphor.

Consider how often we identify parts of objects around us by the names of our various body parts. Needles have eyes, clocks have faces and hands, tables have heads, feet and legs, pitchers have necks, shoulders and feet.  Nor do we stop at man-made objects: mountain ranges have spines and beaches have heads, as does cabbage. Corn has ears and valleys have bosoms!  We turn to that which we know best—our own bodies—to capture some essence of an object and our experience of it.

“Certain houses that imitate our body form, they draw us in and make us feel more friendly,” Mahady says.   That’s certainly true for my house. A  U-shaped  rancher, its short ends, like a pair of arms, embrace part of the back yard. Along with a fence and landscaping, they create a sheltered and private feel.  Include the water element of a pool, and perhaps it’s not surprising that visitors often choose the same metaphor to describe it: it’s an oasis, they say.  An inviting place of nurturance, relief, even rescue.

As you drive around this spring noticing the For Sale signs, you might play at asking which houses seem homey and inviting to you…and ask yourself why they feel that way.  Is there a metaphor for sale? I’d love to hear what you discover.

And if you think of other examples of objects whose parts we identify with body parts—share them here!

Love is… like what??

January 25th, 2011 | Posted by Gina Campbell in Art as Metaphor | metaphors | Power of Words | Subconscious Messages | Transitions - (1 Comments)
Can singing mend a broken heart?
With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’ve been thinking more about romantic love in our culture.  Have you ever ‘cried a river over’ that special someone who broke up with you? Ever ‘long for yesterday or seek a place to hide away’? Maybe, like ‘everybody’, you just ‘need somebody to love’ ?

We get so many of our metaphors for love from love songs—and often they focus on the pain of unrequited or lost love. Writing or listening to songs about such pain may be cathartic, a step in the healing process, but have you considered the collateral damage: our own optimism and expectations about love?

I came across a quote from High Fidelity by Nick Hornby recently that put a new spin for me on the power of our metaphors. “People worry about kids playing with guns and teenagers watching violent video games; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands—literally thousands—of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.”

And it’s not just kids; we all listen to these songs. They flood the radio stations. The best singers croon them. They are poignant, often beautiful , and we can all relate. But is it the air we want to breathe? With music pumping through our radios and earphones daily, what’s meant to be a step in a healing process has become the environment we live in.

Why is it that we ‘fall’ in love? That sounds like it hurts! Why are we ‘love-sick’?  Even our metaphors about the ‘blind’ first stage of love sound dire! It only gets worse as hearts break, they get holes in them, and we’re told we can’t live with the pain and that ‘you’re nobody ‘til somebody loves you.’

So, if we don’t want to encourage a culture of equating lost love or having no romantic partner with utter devastation, what kind of attitudes might we foster instead?

There are, of course, many songs about how wonderful love is. And some empowering songs about not wallowing in lost love’s misery, the sort that promote a “I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair” or “I will survive” attitude; they offer messages about resilience.

We can be careful about what we tell our children and, especially our teenagers, as they begin to wade into the waters of romantic love. Yes, rejection hurts, but after some period of grieving, it’s good to take stock of what you’ve learned about yourself, about relationships, about what’s a good fit for you, and move on. And they need to hear that you’re not defined by your love status nor is your life in limbo when you’re not paired up.

Can we celebrate friendship as well as lovers?  Is there a saint for friends? A special friends day?? Perhaps this Valentine’s Day season, we just need to be more conscious of balancing the messages we take to heart, and be sure we’re ‘looking for love in all the right places’: all around us.

There’s Bromance in the Air

December 14th, 2010 | Posted by Gina Campbell in metaphors | Power of Words | Subconscious Messages - (1 Comments)
Close as can be
With the U.S. military’s Don’t’ Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the news, we read again of the toll on individual gay men and women harmed by intolerant attitudes. There’s a sort of irony to the situation, as one often hears vets talk about the close relationships between soldiers in combat. In the heat of battle, they risk their lives, not for their country, but for each other. Surely, that’s a love of sorts. So, just how loving can loving be and still be acceptable?

Figuring out the cultural parameters starts at an early age. Little girls and boys establish close same-sex friendships, and hug each other and hold hands. But that changes pretty quickly for the boys. My own experience teaching third graders in the 1990’s showed me that. These eight year old boys didn’t really know what being a homosexual meant, but they knew to call a boy ‘a girl’ or call him ‘gay’ was a clever jab. They wouldn’t have been caught dead holding hands, and a lack of interest in playing roughhouse sports was somewhat suspect. Interestingly, they didn’t tease when a classmate cried, if the cause seemed reasonable. But it was clear they were refining…and narrowing… their ideas of what manly behavior was. They were determining what feelings they would allow themselves to acknowledge (even to themselves), and how they could express them without begin ridiculed by the other boys.

Is it any wonder that women often complain men don’t have the relationship skills needed for true intimacy? Men squelch the opportunities to develop the skills even before the onset of puberty! Ultimately, we all pay a price for our culture’s homophobia, gay men, straight men and the women in their lives, when males of any age fear being perceived as homosexual and restrict themselves from truly connecting with other males.

But I think change is in the air, evident in the increasing popular use of the term bromance, which refers to a close, non-sexual relationship between two or more men. It’s the male version of what the four women characters in TV’s Sex and the City portrayed—very close, clearly heterosexual friendships. They were unashamedly as important to one another as their dating/marriage partners. For male examples, think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Ben Affleck and Matt Damon; Ross, Joey and Chandler of Friends; Jaime Dimon and Barack Obama (oh, but the mags say this last one is over!) The term bromance is mainstream now, increasingly the topic of TV series, movies and magazine speculations. It seems it’s becoming acceptable for men to describe their relationships as being more than between friends who hang out and ‘do stuff’ together. It’s not that these relationships haven’t always existed for some men; it’s that they’re being labeled, celebrated and, thus, encouraged.

It’s an interesting term, bromance, with deliberate manly connotations. Coined by editor Dave Carnie in the 1990s to describe the relationships between skateboarders who’d bonded over their boards, the term’s prefix bro- conjures images of the uber-male, the last one might suspect of being gay, the first one might suspect of being homophobic. Among friends, the term is used teasingly; it’s not meant to be demeaning or offensive. And hidden beneath the laughter is the acknowledgment that these men are best friends who truly love each other.

As homosexuality becomes increasingly accepted and there is less fear of being perceived as gay, men are more open to deepening their friendships with other men and publically acknowledging their feelings. As men are getting married later and the strained economy encourages sharing living quarters, men are nurturing these relationships later into their adults lives.

We all can benefit from bromances. The world is a better place when more of the people in it have all kinds of love in their lives and build the skills to nurture caring relationships. And the day may come again when we don’t have to describe such feelings using a slightly joking term, just in case someone mistakes our meaning.

Yes, bromance is in the air. Now if the U.S. Senate would just catch up with the TV networks and People magazine!

For a super-short history of the rise of the fear of feminism in the 20th century and more, read Jonathan Zimmerman’s article, “Homophobia doesn’t just hurt gays” 

For a description and background on the term: bromance

Check out this comedic YouTube to get a feel for the combination of teasing and closeness the term bromance suggests to teenagers.

If you don’t believe the term bromance is prevalent, try Googling “bromance, politician” or “bromance, actor”!

Just how free are we to choose?

September 7th, 2010 | Posted by Gina Campbell in brain neuroplasticity | Cognitive Science | memory | metaphors | Mind/body | Power of Words | Subconscious Messages - (Comments Off on Just how free are we to choose?)
What kind of warm is a warm feeling?
We all make choices every day; we gather information, assess our options, and come to logical decisions about our choices. Or do we?

I think most of us would readily admit there are subconscious factors at work influencing our choices. Our past experiences have given us a vast repository of information that informs our logic. And we have personal preferences we develop from those experiences, whether we consciously recall them or not.

But what I’m curious about today is the choices we make that are not informed by our logic or those idiosyncratic experiences singular to each of us. They are the choices that are influenced by things of which we may quite unaware, and that influence all of us in similar ways.

I’ve been reading Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The authors do a fascinating job looking at how we present or frame choices for people predictably affects their behavior. Diners in a cafeteria, for example, more often choose food that’s near the front line and at eye level. The book’s examples get increasingly complex, dealing with everything from pensions and health insurance to encouraging energy efficiency. How we’re presented with choices is every bit as important as what the choices are; we can be ‘nudged.’

Other things I’ve been reading lately show that subconscious influences on our choices don’t stop there. Researchers at the University of Toronto Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey Leonardelli* ran two experiments. They found that people who are socially isolated reported feeling cold (as determined by their assessment of the room’s temperature.) In the second experiment, they offered socially-isolated subjects a choice of warm or cold drinks and food, and found they preferred warm food (presumably, to warm up.)

There’s certainly plenty of evidence in our language that supports this sensory/social association. We commonly use metaphorical expressions like “being left out in the cold”, “getting the cold shoulder” or describing a person as “cold-hearted”—all examples of being rejected or identifying a person as unfriendly. Contrarily, we use phrases like “a warm and friendly person”, a person or idea getting a “warm reception”, and seeing something positive as “warming my heart.”

The same is true for connecting other sensory experiences and our more abstract experiences. We talk, for example, about the sweet smell of success, the betrayal that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. We might talk about the rough road ahead or declare it’s all smooth sailing from here. A heavy topic of conversation is one that is to be taken seriously, while keeping the conversation light means the conversation should be superficial and pleasant.

So we don’t just use our senses to navigate our way in the physical world. Since conception, they’ve been helping to create a personal dictionary that we refer to, consciously and subconsciously, when we seek words or images to describe a feeling or experience. We make sense of a new experience by comparing it to something we’ve already experienced, and we encode it, with all its sensory/physical nuances, with a metaphor found in that personal ‘dictionary.’ Then we use these stored metaphors as part of our processing of every living moment.

Interestingly, Zhong and Leonardelli found it didn’t matter if the social isolating of their subjects was occurring in the room or simply being recalled. It seems once the association has been catalogued by the mind/body, the physical associations are part of the response.

Sounds good, right? Kind of impressed with our cleverness, yes? So creative and efficient! But there are pitfalls. You’re probably familiar with something like this scenario: you happened to be eating cherries just before you came down with a stomach bug. Now you can’t stand even the smell of cherries, though logically you know there was no causal connection.

In regards to social experiences, the problem with our sensory/social associations is we’re too quick apply them in reverse. Researchers have found that if we go into a cold room, we are more likely to perceive a person we meet there as unfriendly. If we are holding a warm cup of coffee, we’re more apt to perceive the person we meet as friendly.** We infer that heavy objects are more important, and subjects were more rigid in negotiations when influenced by hard objects.*** So, we don’t always reach accurate conclusions when we let those associations color our assumptions. But, as we’re not aware of the influence, we don’t question our reactions, checking them against more logical input.

What an intriguing thought: how much of what we judge to be true about the world, about others, about our situations and experiences, is influenced by these erroneous, subconscious associations we’re making? It gives a whole new level of challenge to avoiding assumptions!

Curious for more details ? References:

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (Penguin, 2009)

*Cold and Lonely: Does Social Exclusion Literally Feel Cold?, Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey J. Leonardelli, Univ. of Toronto, Psychological Science, 15 September, 2008 . Click here for a  concise review of the experiments and results.

**Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth, Lawrence E. Williams and John A. Bragh, Science 24 October, 2008, vol.322

***Incidental Haptic Sensations Influence Social Judgments and Decisions, Joshua M. Ackerman, Christopher C. Nocera, John A. Bargh, Science 25 June, 2010, vol.328

Time off to play and rest
I always knew our agricultural needs influenced our school calendars, with their long breaks to allow children to help on the family farm. What I’d never considered was the influence of the metaphor associated with the North American growth cycle, and how it explains why the tradition of a long summer vacation is still with us in the U.S. long after the family farm is mostly a thing of the past.

I’ve been reading Micheal Gladwell’s Outliers. In Chapter Nine, Gladwell briefly relays the history of the development of the public education system in America. Early on, basic literacy was considered essential, as informed citizens are necessary for a democracy to thrive. But what, exactly, should educating our children entail? Gladwell cites a number of sources that indicate nineteenth century educators were considering not just economic concerns, but that too much study could lead to an over-stimulated mind and mental disorders. Saturday classes were cut, and long school days and short vacations were adjusted to give students more rest.

Gladwell concludes that the metaphor being applied was that “effort must be balanced by rest”—just as fields rest in winter, and may need to lie fallow for a season to recoup. “We formulate new ideas by analogy, working from what we know toward what we don’t know, and what reformers knew were the rhythms of the agricultural seasons.” (p.254) Gladwell draws a contrast to the parts of Asia dominated by rice paddy agriculture and its rhythms. Planting two or three crops a year, rice farmers had no prolonged periods of rest. Nutrient-rich water used for irrigation enriches the soil, so the more it is cultivated, the better for the soil—unlike wheat or cotton crops. There developed, then, no guiding metaphor that suggests rest is good for the growing mind—and Japanese children, for example, go to school 243 days per year compared with 180 days for American children!

What Gladwell gives us is an example of the way metaphors can structure our thinking. A growing child is like a cultivated field, we think. Sic, what we know about cultivating crops can be applied to children. Utterly subconsciously, we can come to such conclusions, and they can limit our ideas about what might be possible or undermine our willingness to be open to new ways of doing things.

It’s precisely this sort of metaphorical sub-structure that can emerge with a Symbolic Modeling session. When I think about “effort must be balanced by rest”, I notice the implied metaphor in the word “balanced”. It’s a word that comes up frequently in client sessions, usually as something the client wants more of. My clients are far more likely to have an underlying belief that they are allowed to rest only when sick or completely exhausted than to think they rest too much. So, who is doing the allowing to rest, or not allowing, as the case may be? “Ah, interesting question,” the client usually replies. And then we are off, hunting for the guiding metaphor!

Left Brain/Right Brain and Mining Your Metaphors

January 5th, 2010 | Posted by Gina Campbell in brain neuroplasticity | Coaching | Cognitive Science | Counseling | memory | metaphors | Mind/body | Subconscious Messages | Therapy | Transitions - (Comments Off on Left Brain/Right Brain and Mining Your Metaphors)
Left brain? Right brain?
You may have seen her on YouTube, but Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight, is still worth a read, especially if you’re curious about the workings of the brain. Taylor, a neuroanatomist (or brain scientist, as she translates it for the layman), experienced a stroke that flooded the left hemisphere of her brain, leaving her to experience the world largely from her right hemisphere’s perspective. Over the next eight years, Taylor carefully observed her recovery with a scientist’s curiosity and attention to detail. As Taylor worked diligently to relearn to navigate in the world and to recover her former self,  she found one the most life-changing realizations for her was that she had the capacity to make choices she’d never realized were choices.

In the past, when some event triggered a reaction like feeling angry, jealous, or highly critical, she would react reflexively and run the well-established neural pathways. These old pathways, with their myriad interconnections with all sorts of past history and associations, resulted in plenty of unpleasant feelings, memories and subsequent behaviors. After the stroke, Taylor was blissfully unaware of any of these. As her functions returned, she discovered her memory had not been destroyed, but she would have to work hard to re-access and reactivate those pathways…or she could choose not to.

She learned that when an emotion is triggered in your body, its initial physiological effects—hormone release, etc.– last only 90 seconds. After that, if you are still connected to that emotional response, it is because an extensive and complex array of neural pathways has been activated. It may happen so rapidly that it feels like a natural, inevitable reaction. But in that moment, at the end of the 90 seconds, between the emotion and stepping on the pathway,  one has a choice. Taylor says she realized she could choose to engage her left brain connections with past memories, with fears about the future, with its tendency to fill in gaps of information with assumptions–the “storyteller’s potential for stirring up drama and trauma.”  Or she could “step to the right” and embrace her right hemisphere’s personality and value system, which emphasize staying in the moment and meeting it with compassion. Taylor makes clear this isn’t easy; she says it’s a choice you may make many times every day. But it’s a realization that changed the way she meets the world.

Taylor’s book also offers what I consider supportive evidence for the impact Symbolic Modeling has for a client. To cite but one example,  Taylor says, “I believe the real power in experiential recreation is located in our ability to remember what the underlying physiology feels like.” (p. 176) In a Symbolic Modeling session, you may re-imagine the past, re-image it. Inferring from Taylor’s book, I suggest that by doing so you are building new neural pathways– ones that serve you better than the old ones.  By using your own metaphors and getting to know not only where they are, but how they feel (Taylor’s ‘underlying physiology’) and by revisiting them often, you can strengthen them and increase the likelihood of ‘going there’ when an unwanted memory or emotion is triggered.

Given that this is the start of the year, it’s a good time to re-image what you’d like to have happen…or like to have had happen in the past. When you notice uncomfortable memories surface or their accompanying old feelings (such as anxiety, sadness, or jealousy) or physical reactions (perhaps shallow breathing, queasiness, or headache), they’re a signal to you that those old, familiar neural pathways are being engaged. Replace them with your new image and its accompanying feelings—emotional and physical. Or…step to the right. And if you read Dr. Taylor’s book,  we’d be curious to hear how you think her experiences inform Symbolic Modeling.

Can she be tough and feminine too?
If you’re interested in metaphors and how powerfully they can affect not only our everyday lives and personal selves but our country and culture, you’ll be intrigued by Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post- 9/11 America (2007).  Faludi has meticulously researched the US and, in particular, the media’s response to the terrorist attacks in the days and months that followed. What is astounding…and frightening… is how ardently and ruthlessly the powers-that-be sought to promote and protect their comforting metaphors/myths of male heroes of the day, exaggerating both their potential and actual effectiveness, and marginalizing the efforts of women, both those that helped that day and those that raised uncomfortable questions afterwards.

What I found even more intriguing was Faludi’s theory as to why these deliberate misrepresentations were perpetrated—consciously or subconsciously. She looks at several hundred years of US history when traumatizing Indian attacks on the homesteads of early settlers repeatedly found the men unwilling or unable to protect themselves and their families. Faludi concludes that the myth of the American hero, tough and resourceful, saving the weaker women and children, evolved as a way to assuage the hurting male egos.  Faludi backs up her theory with plenty of historical facts and examples that make for a fascinating read.

Included in the book is Faludi’s description of solider Jessica Lunch’s ordeal in Iraq in 2003. A dramatic rescue that was plastered all over the media for weeks turns out to have been basically a staged event. I was reminded of the story recently when America was horrified by yet another mass murder, this time in Fort Hood, Texas, where Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people. He was shot by Sgt. Kimberly Munley, a civilian police officer, in a gun battle during which she was shot three times.

I happened to be watching the news coverage on MSNBC. Two female reporters gushed over the heroism of Officer Munley. How astounding that a small woman should stop this killing rampage (as if being short and small is a disadvantage when you’re dodging bullets; you might think it would be an advantage not to be a large target!) Nevertheless, their honoring of her heroism seemed genuine. But it was a final comment that got my attention, and called to mind Faludi’s theory. Noting that Officer Munley is the mother of two young children, the reporter added, “As fine a cop as she is—she’s an even better mother!”  She offered no information to support this claim beyond the fact that Munley has children.

Now, here’s a civilian police officer, a former solider trained in ‘active shooter scenarios’, a  firearms instructor, and a special response team member whose quick and aggressive response is credited with saving a significant number of lives (based on the amount of ammunition found on the suspect)—and this reporter emphasizes her mothering abilities?!  I certainly don’t mean to downplay Officer Munley’s courage, skill or heroism, but then, this is what she is trained to do. While I respect all officers for their willingness to put their lives on the line, I would expect no less of a fine and dedicated officer. That she is a woman and mother has nothing to do with it.

All this made me curious: was the MSNBC reporter’s  response typical of  the media’s, similar in ways to what Faludi describes post 9/11? This time the media was not minimizing Munley’s role in stopping the rampage. If anything she was a media darling, her picture appearing repeatedly, the story on every newspaper’s home/front page. But was it common of the media to maintain a slant to the story that emphasized Munley’s exemplary motherhood? I did a brief and informal survey on the Internet, and while I did, indeed, find numerous headlines or first sentences of articles that read something along the lines of “policewoman and mother Kim Munley…”, overall I did not find an overemphasis on Munley’s sex, parental status or stature or which had a patronizing tone.

Unlike in Faludi’s description of the media’s response to 9/11 or to Jessica Lynch, the media this time did not minimize this female’s officer’s role in incident. If anything, they seized on the opportunity as ‘great copy’. In fact, I feel for Munley’s partner, Sgt. Mark Todd, who responded to the scene with her. In some articles, no mention at all is made of him; in others he is simply identified as “her partner”.  Perhaps because he wasn’t shot, he was overlooked. Or maybe it was because he isn’t a 5”2” and 120 pound mother.

So, I’m left with the question: are the times a changin’? Is America rewriting its metaphors of the female ideal–or at least broadening its parameters?  Eight years ago, the media airbrushed the female firefighters, EMTs, etc. out of the 9/11 rescue efforts. Six years ago, Pvt. Jessica Lynch became the Army’s poster child for the weak female needing to be rescued. Today, Sgt. Munley is hailed as a brave heroine, but there still seems to be a compelling need to assure ourselves that this female icon is both a solider and a mother.

If you notice other examples of current media mythology about women in the news, please share it with us.  Meanwhile, here are some links you may find interesting if you want to read more.

Here’s an article which can give you the flavor of  Faludi’s book.

An article by a BBC reporter gives you an idea of how Jessica Lynch’s rescue was staged.

Are you angelic? Devilish? A wanna-be?
Halloween is fast approaching here in the U.S.  Come All Hallow’s Eve, the streets will be filled with little witches,  ghosts, hobos, superheroes, and serial killers. For grown-ups who still relish society’s permission to go extreme and get creative one night a year, there’ll be parties full of prostitutes and politicians, with an occassional rock star and nun thrown in. So what is it that attracts us to the costumes we pick, these archetypical metaphors?

You may claim your choice of a costume is based on what’s in the back of your closet or what you just thought would get the biggest laugh or win the prize for best costume at the party, but undoubtedly, your outfit reveals more about you than you might be consciously aware of. Does your costume display your deepest fantasy? Your secret desire to mock those with different opinions? Your attitude towards authority? Your attempt to overcome your childhood fears? Does it show your naughty side, your rebellious self, your wish for innocence  and simplicity?

Answer such questions, and you’d start to sound like an analyst of old–congitively dissecting associations made with typical costumes, assuming you’d selected yours for typical reasons. Why not instead take the playful, creative approach Halloween invites, and ask some Clean Language questions about the costume you’ll wear?  “And what kind of witch is that witch?”  “And when you’re a princess, then what happens?”  “And when you’re a slice of pepperoni pizza, is there anything else about pepperoni?”  (Don’t have a costume? Draw a picture of what you’d be and ask questions about it.) Archetypes, by definition, have broad, cultural attributes, but your sense of that metaphor will have unique personal resonances as well.

Halloween invites us all to conceal and reveal our true selves. Be playful about exploring your true self….and let us know what you choose to be for Halloween!