“Damsel in distress.” Don’t you just hate that saying? It reeks of dependency, and paints a picture of a blonde stick figure gasping as she faints at the sight of a mouse skittering by. The phrase has some seriously sexist undertones. It’s not as if there’s a male equivalent, although maybe there should be. Who’s up for making “dude in dire-straits” a thing?
Robin Hood. Aladdin. Peter Pan. All strong men who, when thrown into turmoil, are brilliant enough to become renowned heroes. While a few of our childhood favourites had female leads like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, they were fragile and in desperate need of saving by men. Bonus points if they married said men. Extra bonus points for babies to make their lives complete.
For all the gasping, swooning and foot-popping that women stars have accumulated since stories began, we are starting to show what we’re really made of with some real kick-ass characters in our favourite franchises.
Strong Women are Taking Centre Stage
At long last, strong, female leads have commandeered the ship. My favourite film to reference is Wonder Woman, which kicked butt at the box office and is considered a brilliant film by critics, too. Thanks to the fairly new book genre “Young Adult fiction”, women are also getting thrown into adventure in the literary world. (Although let’s please forget Twilight!) Fighting zombies with our bare hands, handling weaponry, leaving the kitchen. *Gasp*.
No longer are we saddled with the old stereotype of dainty, little flowers. Finally, women are being re-defined in the media as strong, capable and multi-dimensional.
But We Still Need “Damsel in Distress” Stories
They make women look useless but honestly, we still need “damsel in distress” stories. Before you chase me down the street with bras ablaze, hear me out. In the past, many societies have painted a black-and-white picture of women being fragile and men being strong. Because of this, men in general have found it hard to express their emotions for fear of social repercussions. While it might seem hard to believe, as the stereotype of the submissive, gentle female has been around so long, we as women are in danger of putting this same pressure on ourselves.
Balance is the Key
We don’t need stories about strong women and emotional men. What we need is stories about strong people, emotional people and everything in between. We need interesting characters with depth and a chance to develop, whether they be man, woman or neither. We need to be able to find a bit of ourselves in the characters we read about or see in the movies and to be able to see a bit of what we want to become in these same characters. We need books and films to give us something to relate to and something to aspire to.
While “damsel in distress” is a black mark on the reputation of women, responsible for many sexist and inaccurate representations, our stories need its essence. If we abolish vulnerability and irrational feelings from our literature, we give ourselves even less to relate to and reinforce the idea that emotion means weakness. Sometimes we all need saving, and pretending that we don’t by banishing these ideas from what we read and watch will damage us in the long run.
We will never be “damsels in distress” or “dudes in dire-straits”, because we all have strength. But we will always need a hand to drag us up from the cliff ledge, today, tomorrow or ten years from now. Vulnerability is inevitable, and for our own sakes, we should not shy away from it. Let’s be in distress, let’s be in dire-straits, and let’s be OK with that.