Opinions, Column

I Am Not Your Damsel in Distress

Once upon a time, a damsel sat hopeless in her tower. Suddenly, the door to her prison burst open, and a prince appeared. Before asking if she was fine or mentally stable after years of isolation, he knelt on one knee and asked for her hand in marriage. With no other choices before her, the damsel agreed and the couple lived happily ever after in the prince’s castle. 

The girl never knew, but the door to her tower had been unlocked from the start. Yet, she thought that the only way to be free was for a prince to come rescue her with a ring in hand. After all, that was the ending in the countless story books she spent her life reading. 

Generations of patriarchal fairy tales have ingrained this mindset into the heads of so many little girls. It is outdated and misguided—they do not need to be saved. “Saving” implies that women are helpless. According to this mindset, girls are incapable of helping themselves and can only survive under the watchful eye of men.

While women are taught to wait for a strong man to save them, men are conditioned to believe that “saving” women gets them rewards, such as a romantic relationship. Most of the time, though, they “save” damsels from nothing. They fabricate the “danger” of single life to form a system of reciprocity that allows them to get exactly what they want.  

These medieval mindsets need to be set aside. There should not be a dynamic between the genders that requires one to be in constant distress and the other to performatively play the hero. We should see one another as capable beings who deserve each other’s respect—not meddling in each other’s lives, but being there if assistance is needed. I don’t believe we should wholly fend for ourselves, but I want to provoke a conversation that asks: What is the motive of our actions?

Cinderella’s shoe may have ended up in the hands of a prince, but in reality, she saved herself. She sewed a dress from scratch and learned to speak to mice to get to the ball. If anything, she is a prime example of a self-made woman. Somehow, though, the only thing people ever remember about dear Cinderella is the fact that she married Prince Charming. 

In the fairy tale stories that imprint this “savior” mindset onto both sexes, the prince only comes to rescue the princess when he is promised something in return. I cannot think of one fairy tale where the prince saves the damsel and then walks away. And yet, being a good person with no romantic incentives would be the truly noble thing to do. If the damsel was really meant to “be his” (or some other w misogynistic belief), shouldn’t she decide to elope with the prince after some time and consideration? These stories don’t let that happen. The damsel goes from one captivity to another without realizing it. 

In the real world, there are no princesses locked in towers or cheerful talking mice. But the idea of “saving” others is especially prevalent in college life. In college, the amount of times I’ve seen men provide ingenuine gestures to women to get “something” from them in return is ridiculous. It surprises me how little some men will do and suggest that it is worthy of repayment. Put simply, a man that pays for an Ubers and or a drink is not automatically entitled to anything beyond a thank you. After all, Boston College teaches that we be “men and women for others”—not men and women for rewards.

Gender relations in college can be used to examine our internal motivations. The next time you try to help someone, ask yourself: Why are you doing this? Are you doing it for the right reasons? Or do you seek something in return? We should be doing things because they feel right to us, not because of any imagined prize that other people are supposedly obligated to give us in exchange.

So let’s change the initial story of this column. Our poor damsel, stuck in a tower for no apparent reason, is not a helpless female in need of a man to come and save her. And she certainly doesn’t “owe” the prince anything. She can escape the tower herself and come into a world that sees her as an equal and capable of making her own decisions. This is the kind of fairy tale I would like my future daughter to read.

February 25, 2023