The damsel in distress has reached the expiration date, thank you very much

Gothic... yup...

Gothic… you know… something something pointed arches…

I’ve been thinking about the subject of this post for months, on and off and on again.
It’s the kind of thought I will continue to ruminate on at length, until I find the spark to start writing.

The spark came this evening, while talking with some trusted friends in a secluded and comfy spot of Facebook.
It was the kind of chitchatting that starts with the question “why the fuck do they call that awful, cliché-ridden paranormal romance gothic novel?” and then jumps to the abundance of cliché about women packed by the entertainment world; and to how infuriating it is to be a female writer who feels (and knows) that the audience expects her to write sugarcoated romantic bullshit; just to end up with the bedazzled question “what the fuck does she mean by make your lesbian main character a bit more lesbian?!”

It’s the kind of chitchat that ends up being a great venting opportunity and the source of some food for the mind.
The fact it fueled my own ruminations is just a bonus.

Pat Neil, from the cover of The Ministry of Thunder

Pat Neil, from the cover of The Ministry of Thunder. Nor a witless damsel, neither in distress.

My ruminations… they started with a post my friend Davide wrote during the editing phase of his first published novel. You can read the post here, if you please, but, long story short, there was a plot-hole and what the editor suggested, more or less, was

the hero escapes his cell, rescues the heroine, and together they wreak havoc in the bad gal’s base.

I knew only a little about those characters, from Davide’s posts on his blog and from some tidbits of information he let slip when we chatted during his months of writing and editing.
Nonetheless, it felt infuriating, I kid you not, to think of Pat Neil as a frigging damsel in distress.
I couldn’t stand the thought of her being just another trite, infuriating damsel.

As you can imagine, I felt relieved when, in the next paragraph, Davide said he agreed on separating the captives as the content editor suggested, but had the gal rescue the dude from his cell.

And then, the next day, as I was walking back home from work, it hit me. I suddenly knew what was the thing that didn’t feel right to me in Guardians of the Galaxy: Gamora.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-gamora-zoe-saldanaAgain, long story short: Gamora is this badass, super-strong, alien uber-killer, raised to be a killing machine and kick ass.
And asses she kicks in the movie, yeah, except when she’s imprisoned, along with the other main characters, and she has to be saved by the male lead from three random, unnamed assholes who want to kill her.*
Because, apparently, the main male character needed a moment of “knight in shining armor” and she was the only woman in sight, so, you know, screw the badass-asskicking-super-strong-alien-killer-with-12-known-murder-charges thing, she’s just another damsel in distress.

The fact that annoys the hell out of me is how often (too often!) you can look at a plot and clearly see that the women in it are accessories, or simple plot devices.
How often, even when the label (or the synopsis) screams “strong female character!”, all you will find is a woman who meets the man who can and will validate her and her existence by saving her ass countless times and having her in such a lustful state that she’ll become unable to think by herself.

It would be infuriating, if this was the sole product of male authors/writers/filmmakers, and we could blame it on the ever-present sexism of the media world and blablabla.
But the whole situation is not only infuriating: it’s depressing and sick, because the worst of these horrible cardboard women are the product of female authors who see nothing harmful in depicting women as bimbos hidden behind a “strong female character” façade.

Like my friend Lucia said, if somebody tells you time and again that a lie is true, you can start believing it.
If they tell you time and again that the only realization a woman can hope for is finding “the one”, maybe you’ll start believing it’s true.
And you’ll start selling that lie to other people, because, you know, it’s just a story, it’s only an innocent fantasy, right?

Next thing you know, even a badass killer becomes a damsel in need of rescue, and a female editor pressures you to make that lesbian character “more lesbian” (whatever that means) to be more palatable.

* yeah, yeah, I know there’s also Drax who wants to slit her throat and whatnot, but the ones abducting Gamora from her cell at knifepoint are a bunch of nameless assholes, not Drax. Super assassin that wants to save billions of lives VS bunch of assholes who want to kill her, and the assholes are the winners. WTF?!

Italian version of this article: here.

6 commenti su “The damsel in distress has reached the expiration date, thank you very much

  1. What a topic! It would take an essay to state the actual situation of the female characters in modern narrative and another volume will be needed to show how do we get this kind of trouble.
    It’s like a wall made of lies, held togheter by a lot of people who build his or her fortune on those lies. If you step out the line, maybe for a real strong female character and/or for more equilibrate plots, then it’s like you put your works out of the market itself, in an uncharted category unknown both to readers and market operators.
    These days it looks like faboulus writers like Ursula K. Le Guin never wrote a book. Once again, my only hope is feminist awake.

    • In other countries the feminist movement seems more promising, more open eyed. Here, if you say “feminism” the firts thing you find are radical chic who toy with ideas 40 years old 😦
      Let’s hope the situation will improve…

  2. Like most elements in bad writing, I think it might boild down to one simple fact: it’s easy.
    Using the female character as a plot device is easy – it simplifies everything, you jot down an age bracket, a hair color and a mannerism (“chews strawberry gum”), and it’s done; the reader knows what to expect (the tantrums, the teasing, the screams for help), and supplies with his own back-catalog of similar characters the missing parts.
    In the end, it’s just like writing “elf”, knowing everybody will automatically provide from his own imaginary stock the pointed ears, the flaxen hair, and the silly poetry.
    It’s lazy writers catering for lazy readers – and it’s habit-forming.
    Anything that breaks the routine, that requires the reader to do some homework, is “wrong” – “there’s no elves, it can’t be fantasy”, “the female lead does not faint at the sight of blood, it’s unrealistic.”
    And yes, “make them more lesbian”, too.
    Make’em more cliché would have been more correct, probably.

  3. Pingback: Di nuovo sul Falcon | Space of entropy


Inserisci i tuoi dati qui sotto o clicca su un'icona per effettuare l'accesso:

Logo di

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Google photo

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Google. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto Twitter

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Twitter. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto di Facebook

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Facebook. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Connessione a %s...

Questo sito utilizza Akismet per ridurre lo spam. Scopri come vengono elaborati i dati derivati dai commenti.