bonny_kate: (Default)
Being a response to the wonderful Nim's post.

I must begin by explaining that my first post was not intended to specifically answer Nim's excellent and thought provoking series on the relation between the genders (first post, second post, third post). Of course, I admit that the reason I wrote the post was because Nim started me thinking (again) about the subject, but I was primarily interested in a bad idea about rescuing, or the damsel in distress, that I see much too often. Specifically, I was trying to address some of the bad ideas in Twilight*.

But, since Nim has responded specifically to my post, I think it quite right that I attempt to clear up a few problems that seemed to come from a lack of clarity on my part. Nim mentions several women in various books in her post, and points out that they are only rescued once, and are not, in fact, weak characters. She writes that the fact that they need to be rescued is not a character trait, but a circumstance, and not really a negative circumstance for them. It is, in a sense, bad that they need to be rescued, but it is not because of any defect in character. For those books that she mentions that I have read, I quite agree. I generally agree with Nim's conclusions as well.

I think the difference between us is a difference in definition. Nim defines (and I hope she will correct me if I misinterpret her posts) a damsel in distress as a woman who happens to need rescuing, but is of a strong or virtuous character. The circumstance that she needs rescuing is generally single; she only needs to be rescued once. I would propose as an example Princess Leia, who needs to be rescued in the first Star Wars movie, but goes on to rescue or help in rescuing Luke and Hans Solo, and is all round quite capable. Princess Leia is in trouble in the beginning, but this is in no way a defining characteristic or character trait. Very good. I don't see any problems with this.

This is not, however, what I meant when I was talking about a damsel in distress. I defined a damsel in distress as a woman who is primarily defined by her need to be rescued, or who is often and repeatedly in a position where she needs to be rescued. There are two examples that come to mind of what I mean. The first is that of Nancy Drew, which I used to read in large amounts. Nancy Drew always seemed to be getting herself into circumstances that required someone else to get her out of, and in that respect, I quite preferred the Hardy Boys. The Hardy Boys would get themselves out of trouble (that they had inevitably gotten themselves into), but Nancy was always being rescued by her boyfriend, or her friend, or her housekeeper. She always gets into trouble, and she always has to be rescued. A better example, and more recent, is that of Belle in Twilight. I can easily think of four separate instances where Belle is rescued by Edward, and two of those circumstances are directly caused by Belle's stupidity. I can think of no circumstance or way in which Belle rescues Edward (I discount when he says that she rescued him, as he gives no specifics). Belle is a perpetual damsel in distress. It is, if not a character trait, a perpetual state of affairs. I think there are serious issues with this popular understanding of a damsel in distress, and it is this that I speak against in my first post.

As a side note, I should like to point out that I have no problems with the idea of being rescued. It is human to need to be rescued. In Malory's Morte D'Arthur, it is true that often the ladies have to be rescued by knights. But it is equally true that the knights often have to be rescued. Lancelot is often defeating such and such evil knight and freeing thirty or so knights of the round table. Arthur would have been killed by his own knight wielding Excalibur were it not for the Lady Nimue. Lancelot would have perished in the dungeons of a sorceress were it not for a girl who helped him to escape. I have no problems with the fact that people need to be rescued. I have issues with the type of person who is primarily defined by their need to be rescued (and this is very often a woman).

To conclude, I think that the difference between Nim and I is primarily one of definition. She would like to redefine and redeem the term damsel in distress, and I would prefer to scrap it because I don't think it worth saving.





*I do not have much of a problem with Twilight as fluff or brain candy. I think, however, that Twilight becomes a problem when it is taken seriously. Some girls are not only crushing on Edward, but seriously seem to think that the relationship between Edward and Belle is a good thing. I think this will only get worse with the upcoming movie. A D
bonny_kate: (Default)
Note: for a much better understanding of this topic, told in the form of a story, I suggest Dorothy Sayers' Strong Poison.


One of the reasons I dislike the stereotype of the damsel in distress or the princess in a tower waiting to be rescued is that it is an overly simplistic way of seeing the world. It defines the girl primarily as needing to be rescued. This is problematic for a number of reasons.

It is a human characteristic to need to be rescued, it is a human characteristic to desire to rescue someone (or something). This morning there was a scrawny grey tabby in our parking lot, and I wanted nothing more than to take it with me and find it a good home (I would have, had it still been there when I left work). I wanted to rescue it, poor thing. Now, the form that this desire to rescue may take is different for every individual, but I think it a universal desire.

The second reason this view is problematic is that not because girls should never need to be rescued, but because this should not be the defining characteristic of anyone. That is to say, it is a negative characteristic to be defined by the fact that you always need to be rescued. It probably means that you are making poor choices, or repeating mistakes. To use a simple example, there is a great difference between being rescued from the ocean once because of unusual circumstances, and having the lifeguard have to come after you every weekend because you insist on going into the ocean when you can't swim.

Thirdly, this view is problematic because it does not take into account the affect that rescue has on a relationship. The person who was rescued will naturally feel an obligation, and a relationship formed primarily on a sense of obligation or debt is not healthy. Now, I am not saying that all relationships that begin with one person rescuing another are doomed to failure, but it complicates things. Take, for instance, that princess in a tower who has been rescued by a knight in shining armor (from a dragon, perhaps). The princess may feel that she ought to love the knight, because after all, he rescued her, or she may feel guilty if she doesn't care for him at all, or he may expect that she will love him because he has rescued her. What if the princess happens to like someone else? Should she feel obligated to stay with the knight, because, after all, he saved her? What if she only loves him because he rescued her? I can picture a certain type of knight always using this instance to settle any arguments; after all, without him, she'd still be in the tower. What about the knight? What if, having rescued the princess, he finds that he doesn't really like her after all? But the type of story that glibly talks about the damsel in distress ignores any of these issues, in favor of the simpler psychology.

In short, the idea of the damsel in distress seems to me ultimately flawed because it represents an oversimplification and a glorification of a poor situation. To be a princess in a tower who exists to be rescued is not a good thing, whatever Twilight would have you think.

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Kate Saunders Britton

April 2017

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