The Damsel-in-Distress Fallacy

“Just because a girl isn’t tied to some train tracks doesn’t mean she should be ignored.” – Kirsten Cohen, The OC


We’ve seen it in movies since we were born, heard about it in stories from before we can remember, and it’s a trope we can easily picture: the damsel in distress. She’s pretty and kind, sometimes a little naive, but she always finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thank goodness for her knight in shining armor, who will slay every dragon and defeat every wicked witch who stands in his way in order to save our damsel. After all, if he doesn’t do so, who will?

The damsel and her valiant knight are definitely not limited to fairy tales – in fact, we see them all the time in today’s modern culture. True, there’s the guy who overcomes all obstacles to take care of the girl of his dreams (much like Ryan Atwood on The OC), but plenty of girls are also drawn to the bad boys that they can reform, or save from themselves.

The question is: is this truly a desirable trait?

One of my favorite authors, John Green, has mastered the creation of such characters. For example, in his novel Looking for Alaska, the protagonist falls for Alaska, who is described as “gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up and utterly fascinating.” She may be strong-minded, but she’s often completely unstable, and the most she can ever provide him (other than Simon Bolivar quotes and an interesting perspective on life) is a never-ending chase. No matter what he does to try and rescue her, he will never succeed, because she will forever remain the same Alaska.

Too often I’ll see my friends falling for people like that – people who are quirky and cute and interesting (or maybe unconventional and misunderstood), but also incredibly self-absorbed, impulsive and dependent. They make poor choices, as we all do, but they never assume responsibility for them and often repeat them. They may hurt us, but we quickly forgive them because we  can’t believe they would ever do so intentionally. We hope that as long as they remain within arm’s reach and allow us to help them out when they do reach rock bottom, we will be the ones that turned their lives around. And yet, we forget that after one too many times, we may fall right down with them.

Yes, we’re all human. We all have our flaws, and we do need to lean on our friends/significant others from time to time. We are allowed to make mistakes… it’s a part of life. But we need to stop kidding ourselves — some relationships are toxic. And there comes a point when you can only accept so much of that, a point at which you have to just let go. You can’t be everyone’s hero, and you can’t just ignore the ones who don’t ask for your help on a regular basis. Sometimes the most competent and seemingly put-together people need your support, too, even if they don’t need to be whisked off of some train tracks.

Our flaws are part of what make us who we are, but they aren’t all we are. If we can’t learn from our mistakes, then what can we do?

10 Replies to “The Damsel-in-Distress Fallacy”

  1. 1. Love that you quoted the OC.
    2. Love this post.
    3. Just watched 500 Days of Summer and loved that they showed a guy romanticizing a less than perfect relationship. Painful to watch, but a good lesson to learn.

    1. Thank you so much… I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂 I’m a huge OC fan, which my friends love to make fun of me for, but I’m proud of it!

      I see my boys idealizing their crushes/relationships all the time (and they even outwardly relate themselves to that movie!) and it makes me so sad. I guess it’s something we’re all guilty of from time to time.

      Thank you for your comment!

  2. Yes, I think guys especially like it when they come to the rescue because it’s like they’re needed OR they don’t have to do much because it’s so easy to help out but for a girl like me–I’m miss independent and for me to see you as Knight in Shining Armor you’re going to have to do something extraordinary that I cannot or will not do for myself. I’m not talking about killing a bug in my room but being able to shoulder the responsibilities I shoulder and much much more. Someone more than I can handle and still have it all together.

    Great post.

    1. I completely agree with you! If I’m going to rely on someone, it’s going to be because I absolutely need them, not because they are simply there. But at the same time, I’m not going to ask them to do every little thing for me — I don’t need to be constantly rescued from dangerous situations because I’m not putting myself there in the first place.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  3. I can totally relate with your post. Very often men just ignore girls that they view as independent and strong while focusing on those girls that always need help all the time. Somehow, this is very much so in an Asian country where guys prefer girls that are less strong and powerful. They draw back and not to realize that even strong girls need someone too. I am an independent person but must I bring myself down to that level to find my prince in shiny armor?

    1. I totally know what you mean. I see strong girls ignored so often because they can fight most of their battles on their own… it’s as if helplessness and fragility are rewarded. But our valiant efforts won’t always be in vain – I honestly believe there are guys out there who truly do want the heroines and not the damsels-in-distress.

  4. I can definitely say it’s a curse! I’m (unfortunately) one of those girls that’ll always end up being with a bad guy that’ll shatter my world but I don’t think I go hounding them. Its just when I’m looking for someone, they’re always the first ones there. Damn their charm! Sometimes I feel like I have a sign on my forehead that says “Use Me”.
    But I’m definitely not blaming it anyone or anything other than my own actions but I feel like once you’re caught up in the cycle of ‘bad boy madness’, it’s kind of hard to break especially if that’s what you’re used to and most especially if that’s what you feel like you deserve. …Which I think is usually the case. These kinds of things are definitely works in progress; you can’t force a body to change if they aren’t ready for it no matter how much you want/need them to for their own sake!

    Ps. Love love love 500 Days of Summer 🙂

    1. I think every girl wants a bad boy at one point or another… it’s almost like a rite of passage. Part of it is because we like the idea that we’re breaking the rules and going for someone that maybe others think we shouldn’t, but sometimes I think another part of it is that we don’t think we deserve as much as we really do.

      Please don’t let anyone else make you think you deserve to be treated badly. No one does. It’s a rough cycle to break, but if it’s a destructive one, then breaking it will honestly be for the best. It’s one thing if “bad boy” is your type, but be careful not to get taken advantage of.

  5. This whole entry is like one overly extended platitude. “Yes, we’re all human.”, “We all have our flaws,”, “We are allowed to make mistakes… It’s a part of life”, “Our flaws are part of what make us who we are”- truly dreadful writing.
    What’s more, the opinion expressed is so unoriginal, so unchallenging… I mean, was really worth your time to spend five paragraphs on this tripe.

    1. You’re entitled to your opinion, and I’m sorry you feel that way, but I don’t think you really took away from this post what I was trying to convey. It’s not so much about how our mistakes make us who we are, but about how many people *don’t* seem to learn from them, and how harmful it is to enter relationships with people who are constantly making excuses or begging for our help.

      Therefore, the seven paragraphs (maybe you should learn to count!) written about this topic is really not meant to express what you think it is meant to express. I value hearing opinions that differ from my own, but I don’t think they should be expressed so rudely if you aren’t going to do more than skim a few sentences of the entire entry. Just my opinion 🙂

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