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: (rose)
Being a response to Nim's post

I like the jolly sort of books like The Three Musketeers, or Treasure Island, or The Count of Monte Christo (which I am currently reading again). I don't mind the fact that the women in them are, for all practical purposes, absent. I also adore books that are more a comedy of manners, like Pride and Prejudice, or Vanity Fair, or Jane Eyre. I like them both, and you better not try to make me choose between them, for I can't. What I do mind, and have a problem with, is the false definition that the first is a guys book and the second is a girls book.

First, great literature is simply great literature. Pride and Prejudice is a great book. It is great literature. It may not be to a particular person's taste, but I read books that I do not find to my taste because I know and recognize that they are great works of literature. You may like it, or you may dislike it, but you should not feel obligated to like it if you are a girl, or dislike it because you are a guy. I don't understand why it is often called chick lit, in a disparaging sense. It isn't a little fluffy novel, but a great and enduring work of literature. I like Pride and Prejudice, not because I am a girl, but because it is great.

Second, I like adventure stories, particularly fantasy or sci-fi adventures. But the desire for adventure is not a specifically masculine trait, but is rather a human trait. I see no reason why a girl should stay at home, but a guy gets to go off and have adventures. I see no reason why girls can't go off and slay the dragon, or defeat the overlord, or save the world. Treasure Island would be different if the main character was a girl, but that is simply saying that Treasure Island would be different if the main character was different. Every individual will defeat the dragon or save the world in their own individual way. That's all I want. I want the recognition that Treasure Island appeals to me, not because I am a tomboy, or because I have tomboy-ish tendencies, but Treasure Island appeals to me because it is a good story and I happen to have a taste for adventure.

There is something appealing in the idea of being a knight, of going off on quests, of defending the defenseless and defeating the wicked. I like the idea of sailing off to fight wicked pirates and find buried treasure. And I don't see why I can't (at least in literature).

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Kate Saunders Britton

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