In 2003, I moved to New York City to attend graduate school in psychology at New York University. It was my time at NYU and most particularly an independent study in the final year that was a watershed for my life. The independent study focused on the connections between gender bias, narrative and the emergence of the Self. That study reshaped my identity as a woman and as an artist. It also inspired a self-narrative paradigm which I named the Scheherazade Model. Scheherazade is the famous Arabian storyteller who told stories to save not only her own life but the lives of other women. Her storytelling cycle prevented the death of countless women and, very importantly, it transformed the heart of a kingdom.
In 2006 I launched a web site, The Scheherazade Project. The goal was to have a place that I could have a voice, explore the narrative work I began at NYU and, quite simply, begin my writing life. Over that first year, I wrote about the three prongs of the Scheherazade Model: mythology of self, mythology of other and mythology of planet.
This paradigm emphasizes feminine values. Feminine values, also known as intrinsic values, focus on the importance of community and harmony, as opposed to masculine values which center on the elevation of the individual and the mastery of the environment.
The way we tell our stories directly affects the way we live our lives. And our storytelling is largely based on the monomyth, also known as the hero's journey. The monomyth has several distinctive characteristics. It almost always centers around a male hero. It also values skills which enable this hero to master the environment and realize personal achievement (e.g., rewards, recognition). These values are commonly referred to as extrinsic or masculine. What can be lost when our stories are skewed to the masculine is a recognition of our essential interdependence with creation and each other.
The Scheherazade paradigm, on the other hand, emphasizes intrinsic or feminine values. Feminine values are grounded in harmony as opposed to conquest, in community as opposed to the individual, in relationship and inclusiveness as opposed to individual power and reward.
This shift toward the feminine that the Scheherazade Model incorporates is important both individually and globally. On an individual basis, feminine values are the ones that are more strongly correlated with a sense of well-being and satisfaction with life. This is true for both men and women as they age. On a global level, an embracing of feminine values is a necessary step toward lessening hostility and violence. By focusing on our interconnectedness, we can create a world in which there are fewer divisions between us, a world in which we share more equally in our natural resources and abundance, a world in which we exist in harmony with each other and with our environment.
This model is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all paradigm. Your personal myth or story will reflect the wisdom, values and experience which are unique to you and your life. But the Scheherazade Model can serve as a starting point for you, a springboard to new imaginings of your life and our world.
N Atlas, plate II, fig v, vi. Usher. 2022.
Self portrait of the artist, Moonbear museum series, 2022.