Strong women vs. damsels in distress

My husband’s hobby is shopping around on Kickstarter. He backs various projects and gets cool stuff in return. His particular poison is tabletop games with constructable minis.

Kisa from Relic Knights. You have to admit, a giant robot cat is pretty cool.

Anyway, one of the games he’s been watching has a pin-up sculpt of a chick who’s going to be sacrificed to a dragon. She’s very damsel-in-distress, sad face, the works. There’d been other pin-ups before that one, but that’s the one that sent the comment thread into debate about objectification of women.

My husband thinks the reason people disliked that particular sculpt (or really, really liked it) is because it’s a damsel-in-distress. That’s not politically correct anymore, after all. Neither are curvy women. (Someone remarked on another forum, “Because it’s hard to sculpt ‘great personality’.”)

Then I read some articles on another blog about how the “strong women” stereotype is really boring in fantasy. A woman swinging a sword is basically another man. Which got me thinking.

I don’t really have a problem with strong women or damsels, myself. Men and women are different, and those differences are hilarious sometimes.

I watch my daughter lie on the floor and scream as my son throws pillows at her. I say, “Get up! Throw one back!” But she prefers to lie there and be the victim.

And it’s not just that my daughter is weird. We sit at the playground and watch the kids interact. The girls cluster together and shriek as the boys throw sand on them. The girls are the damsels. The boys are the strong, aggressive males.

In books, I enjoy a strong woman as much as anyone. David Balducci seems to write about tough women with handguns who still manage to be vulnerable. And women are tough. Speaking from experience, you have to be tough to raise kids. When the five-year-old stands there and screams, “NO!” you have to have the willpower to punish him and not let him have his way.

And yet women have this streak of Damsel in Distress, and men instinctively find it attractive. It’s the feminine mystique. Men love to care for their women by doing things for them–putting gas in her car, buying her a coveted item, working long hours to keep her clothed and fed.

Sometimes it’s hard for a woman to let her man do these things. Feminism whispers constantly that she should be out winning those things for herself, and not depend on any mere man.

But as soon as a woman swings a sword, she’s just another man. She’s lost the mystique. (And technically, women don’t have the upper-body strength for swords anyway.)

I recently saw another debate that was splitting hairs about misogyny in movies, and they were complaining about how many times Buffy got rescued by her man-friends verses doing the rescuing. It sounded about 50/50 to me, but man, these women were throwing a FIT.

And yet, I’ll bet you these women read romance novels by the cartload. What happens in romance novels? The heroine is charmed off her feet and into bed by a handsome manporn hero. MISOGYNY!

So the debate about strong women vs. damsels in distress rages on. All women have some of each inside them–it’s the Curse, after all. Your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you.

But sometimes a girl just needs saving.


2 thoughts on “Strong women vs. damsels in distress

  1. Great article, Kessie. An excellent exploration of BOTH sides of the issue. (and I liked your “manporn hero”. Lulz all around XD)

    What the debate needs to turn to isn’t “damsel-in-distress” vs. “strong woman.” It needs to turn to character development in the first place. You can have elements of BOTH and have an excellent character.


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