NOTE: This is a repost of an article I did for The Ralph Retort.
The damsel in distress is one of the most criticized tropes in the modern era. It is considered the ultimate misogyny, and creators often apologize for using it by claiming that the damsel is “strong” and “not a helpless woman,” or by making the damsel match or outclass the male hero in some skill. Creators often avoid this trope to establish their modern, 21st-century street cred.
Well, I’m here to say that I’m a great fan of this supposedly evil trope, no matter how it is done. It pains me to watch creators squirm whenever they’re attacked for writing damsels; they should stand by their work.
But why would a modern, 21st-century man like me admit to liking damsels in fiction? Clearly I need to be re-educated in proper ideology! Such tastes are unacceptable; after all, it’s the current year! Well I’ll explain why, and if you can’t stand it, that’s on you.
I like damsels because:
– They trigger a protective instinct, regardless of the woman’s abilities. When a male viewer sees a woman in danger, reason and ideology go out the window; the viewer simply gets angry at the bully menacing her. It doesn’t matter whether the woman is a housewife or a superhero – seeing her peril makes you mad. The anime Sword Art Online exploits this to great effect; I consider it one of the best uses of the trope that I have ever seen.
– The rescuer shows the woman how much they care. The act of rescue reinforces the bond that the hero and the damsel have, and it shows that the hero would move mountains for the one they love. The film Deadpool is a good example of this; the merc with a mouth, in spite of all his wisecracking, actually gives a damn about his girl.
– You get a sense of justice after the rescue is done. Seeing the villain get what’s coming to them is a satisfying experience, and it feels even greater when an attractive woman is freed in the process. The movie Taken is the clearest example of this; the ending leaves you with a sense of triumph over insurmountable odds.
– The heroic male/rescued female dynamic shows great sexual polarity. A masculine man in a masculine role with a feminine woman in a feminine role just creates an emotional electricity that is hard to match otherwise. Accentuating sexual differences in an artistic work pulls you in that much deeper.
Damsels in distress are not some embarrassing relic; they are a trope like any other, useful in getting readers and viewers to care. Art should make people feel, and all tropes are valid when doing that. There is no reason to stop using a trope just because feminists hate it.
Also, pick up Sword & Flower, my novella. It has a masculine male and a feminine female in it.