This is a topic I've been wrestling with a lot lately.
Metaphorically wrestling, of course. Physically wrestling with a topic would be a tad one-sided.
Here's my problem: Is a Damsel in Distress a truly anti-feminist character?
Can there be no gray area on this issue?
I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that I am not a particularly staunch feminist. I support (and am grateful for) equal rights, but, let's face it... I'm also a homeschooling housewife. I don't feel the need to have a career to validate who I am, and I love that my identity is intertwined with (but not defined by) my husband's. (please note: you can be the exact opposite of me on this, and I still love you. I'm not right, you're not wrong, we're just different.)
With that disclaimer out there, I have to say I've noticed a disconcerting trend. There is a very loud voice in the book blogging/writing/reading community that says anytime a girl or woman is rescued, she's setting feminism back a couple generations. That by simply being in danger, she is stripping women of the right to vote or the right to divorce their abusive husbands.
And I don't quite understand it.
There are times when characters need to be saved. If it's your main character, we hope s/he survives. And they can only be saved by one of two ways: They save themselves or are saved by a hero/ine. (I am dismissing entirely the idea that the villain might suddenly implode, leaving our protagonist danger-free.)
Either way, the saving has to make sense. There are some things you can do for yourself, and some you cannot. Fictional superpowers can obviously alter this, but for simplicity's sake, I'm going to leave those out of the equation.
Let's create a fictional female. She's physically fit, confident and smart. As she is walking home one night, she is abducted at knife-point and thrust into a back alley, where she is bound and gagged. Her attacker starts to rape her.
Now let's create a fictional male. He knows the fictional female through a neutral setting (school or work) and is on positive terms with her (i.e.- he is not the villain in disguise). He's physically fit, confident and smart. He walks past this back alley, sees what is happening and has a decision to make.
What decision is he going to make?
I would hope that he would take the necessary steps to attempt to save her.
But so many people are crying about the idea that a woman doesn't need saving, that it almost feels like they would prefer a story in which this fictional male walks by, sees whats happening, and leaves, thinking to himself, "She's a strong, confident female. I am sure she can work that out for herself. I'll just text her tomorrow to make sure she's okay."
I know what the first argument is going to be: Don't write characters that need saving! Don't put them in that situation!
But here's the thing: Your character should be in danger at some point. The stakes need to be high, and your protagonist needs to be on the brink of death/failure/losing all hope. If you refuse to put your character in danger (emotional danger counts), then you are chickening out.
Trust me, I'm not advocating for a wilting flower to take over as our new leading lady. I don't want a girl who simply stands by, wringing her hands while the hero fights for her honor. I don't want to read one book after another of girls who fret and worry and avoid making any kind of a decision, forcing the men in their lives to make their decisions for them. None of that would be fun to read, and I know it.
But here's where the rubber meets the road: would we do this to a man? If a male character needs saving... do we automatically think of him as weak? Do we think less of the author for giving a hero some assistance? When a male character gives in and finds help, do we throw the book at the wall, shouting, "You should be stronger than that! You are giving men everywhere a bad name!"
No. It seems as though it's okay to write a male character as being in over his head and requiring help/saving/rescuing/whatever.
Is this another one of those situations where we expect far more of women than we do of men? Men work outside the home, come home and relax. Women work outside the home, come home and cook dinner. (HUGE GENERALIZATION, I KNOW. KIND OF THE POINT OF THE POST. MOVE ON.) Individual situations may vary, but the societal expectation is still there (how many commercials for cleaning products and home cooked foods have you seen featuring men doing all the work, even though women make up fifty percent of the American workforce?)
The same idea applies here- are we expecting far more of our female characters than we are of our male characters? To the point where we don't want female characters to have genuine flaws or disadvantages?
What say you? Is a Damsel in Distress automatically a strike to feminism? Or is it possible to be strong, in every sense of the word, but still need a little help now and then?