Heroes, Damsels, and Villains

"The Story of Rapunzel" by Nina Y on Advanced Photoshop

I don’t actually hate the damsel in distress character in fiction. I dislike when that’s the only woman in the story, and when the hero is always a man, and they always fall in love. But I don’t think it’s wrong to be rescued, or to need help sometimes. To my mind, we all have inside us damsel, heroes, and villains.

There will be times we can stand valiant and strong against our own dragons and the curses that torment others. Like a mythic hero, we may find ourselves uniquely enabled to fight the beasts that plague our lands. We can be heroes to ourselves and each other some times, but not all times.

At other times, we will be weak and broken, struggling to survive and unable to escape. Like dragons and witches in fairy tales, abusers try to keep their victims locked away, incapable of calling for help. In moving beyond the damsel trope, we should take care not to make needing help a vice.

We also hold within us the capacity for villainy, for cruel words when a kind one would do, for malevolent pettiness. I believe this villainous nature comes when our heroism is tainted with disdain for those we save, and when our own saviors never come to rescue us. Bitterness, resentment, and contempt corrupt and pervert survival into a competition.

It’s important to be a hero, but also to let yourself be a damsel or lad or whoever in distress. To recognize that pain is not sin, and that needing rescue says nothing bad about a person. It feels better to be the hero. There is more public honor in it. I’m glad to see more heroines in media. Now for characters of all sorts in distress.

One thought on “Heroes, Damsels, and Villains

  1. When following Anita Sarkeesian’s YouTube series on damsels in distress in video games I said on her Facebook blog how I generally felt about damsel in distress tropes in fiction. Thinking back to when I first saw damsels in distress and brave heroes, in books or on TV, I think I can recall wanting to be like the heroes, like any other boy, but like any other boy I didn’t like the emotional connection between the hero and the damsel. When I started playing video games I think I basically accepted that rescuing the damsel was a common, popular theme and that games were going to have that, but I did get tired of seeing games where you had to rescue one woman. I think I liked rescue missions in games, but I was happier when it was your mission to rescue P.O.Ws, presidents, friends or whatever. Some would call that immaturity. I hadn’t developed a desire for the opposite sex yet. But I don’t think that even at that young age, that I didn’t have any appreciation for romance in fiction, if it was done in a certain way and that includes damsels in distress.

    One point I made on the Feminist Frequency blog was that the damsel isn’t necessarily weak and the hero strong. Depending on how you look at it. If the damsel’s distress makes someone want to be a hero and risk life to rescue them, doesn’t that mean the damsel has power? Strength? On the other hand, what if the hero doesn’t want to want to rescue the damsel and doesn’t think they are worth risking their life for, but feels bound by duty to rescue them or feels guilt for not, doesn’t that make the rescuing a little bit slavish and weak? This is an alternate way of looking at it.


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