In Defense of the Damsel in Distress

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by Parker J. Cole

Some time ago, I was at a friend’s house and she wore a shirt that said something to the effect of, “I’m not the damsel in distress, I’m the dragon.” I thought it was cute at the time but something about it bothered me but I wasn’t quite sure what. I gnawed on it over the course of a few months when it came to me. 

What’s so terrible about being a damsel in distress? 

The image of the damsel in distress is usually shows a princess being rescued by a knight from the dragon. Over time, this imagery has been frowned upon due to society’s ever-changing whims. Women don’t need rescuing. They can rescue themselves. Men aren’t knights in shining armor. They’re sadistic rulers who have fed women to the dripping jaws of a horrible beast. 

I got to thinking about this for a while – driving in my car, walking down the hall at work, sitting at home writing, or just staring blankly at the wall. I’ve come to some conclusions.  

It should be noted that the damsel in distress is a recurring theme in many cultures. Various forms of it exists as we can read in diverse folklore and mythologies. Perhaps its not a medieval princess but the daughter of a chieftain, a priestess of power, an orphaned girl, a neglected child of a marriage, etc. The damsel exists in the mythologies and folklore because…she is a reflection of a real element of life.  

There is a woman in distress. She is trying to make ends meet. She is lonely. She is hurt. She is sick. She is overwhelmed. She is in distress.  

The rescue of the knight symbolizes someone who has heard her cries for help. Like the damsel, the rescuer is in many tales. A king’s son, a warrior, a peasant, a man of good standing, a thief. The rescuer is made aware of her cries. This rescuer again reflects an element of real-life.  

There is a man who wants to rescue a woman from her distress. Whether as husband, friend, or just a concerned person, a man wants to rescue.  

The dragon represents a great evil. An evil which seeks to devour and consume utterly. Most tales have tales of virgins being sacrificed to dragons, something I will come back to in a moment, but this dragon, beast, mythical animal, has an instinctual need to destroy. There is no bargaining chip. There is no compromise. This dragon is a danger to both the damsel, crying out for help, and the knight, who risks his life to rescue her. 

The dragon is real – external and internal dragons exists in many, many forms. It will do all it can to destroy us.  

Too often, particularly now, the focus of this theme has been on the roles of gender. Women, weak and helpless, their virginity (often seen as synonymous with sexual independence) sacrificed to patriarchy. Men, appointed saviors of women, who have placed women as both the victim and the one that needs to be rescued.  

And, let me be clear: many horrific things have been done over the millennia of time to women who have been fully dominated by men and continues in the 21st century. This post does not negate this in any way nor do I make light of it.  

But my point is this, what if this recurring theme has to do with something other than gender?  

In fact, I would submit this: humanity is the damsel in distress. We are in need of rescue. It doesn’t matter if we’re of royal blood, or low status. It doesn’t matter if we’re born to plenty or few. It doesn’t matter if we’re whole of heart or are carrying around our heart in pieces. Whole or broken, sad or happy. 

The Dragon is sin. I know some may say the Dragon is the Devil, nor do I disagree with that.  For the purpose of this post, I’m using the illustration a bit differently.  

See, sin will not allow for equality. Sin does not believe in balance. It does not believe in communion and unity. It does not uphold the precept that all men (humanity) are created equal. It’s all about complete dominance. The Dragon is a threat to the damsel – it wants to consume her. Sin has a ravenous appetite. It is never satisfied.  

The Knight is Jesus Christ. He heard our cries for help. He heard our pleas. He knows we are dire straits. We are about to be eaten by a dragon. He charges to our rescue. 

Interesting that Christ is a knight in this illustration. A knight is usually sent by a King in that King’s place. In shining armor – His glory, perhaps? And yet armored because He put on the trappings of humanity. Our flesh, our limitations, our weakness and yet, His glory shines through. As the knight that comes in the stead of the king, He risked all to save the princess.  

So, to answer my own question at the beginning of this post – there’s nothing wrong with being a damsel in distress. It means several things: 

You are acknowledging you’re in trouble.  

You are acknowledging you’re held captive. 

You are acknowledging you can’t do rescue yourself. 

You are acknowledging there is a threat to your life…your soul. 

You are acknowledging that if things continue the way they are, the Dragon will destroy you. 

You are acknowledging you can’t beat this Dragon on your own. 

The question remains – are you willing to cry out for help so the knight can rescue you? 

About the Author:

Parker J. ColeParker J. Cole is a writer and radio show host who spends most of her time reading, knitting, writing, cooking, and concocting new ideas for stories. Her first novel, Dark Cherub, won Best of Spring Reading 2013 from eMediaCampaigns. She lives in Michigan with her husband and beloved dog Sarah.

Visit her site at http://www.ParkerJCole.com

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4 Comments

  1. Excellent blog Parker.

    Reply
  2. I love this analogy, Parker. I’m a damsel in distress so very frequently. I’m so thankful for that Knight in shining armor. What would we do without Him! I love how you’ve captured the essence of sin and the reason we all need to be rescued. This is really good!

    Reply
  3. This reminded me of Surprised by Joy and affirmed again for me why i love fantasy stories. This article came at the perfect time as i sit here attempting to write a new story…in a world where folks don’t usually like old-timey fantasies or modern damsels in distress.

    Reply
  4. Good insights, my sister.

    You redeemed one of our enduring icons from the chains of PC contempt, that was dragging it down into the darkness.

    This is Damsel, Dragon and Knight is one of the core stories that spring from the soul of our humanity as men and women. It is a picture of God’s redemption, writ into the common Ethos of humanity. Part of what has formed our concept what it means to be truly human.

    Without our cultural ethos, we become pale ghosts of people, and usually sink into the opposite of the good taught by this icon.

    Thank you

    dave 😉

    Reply

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