Not All Damsels Are Women, But Not All Women Should Be Damsels

Type A:

The thing about the Damsel in Distress as a stock plot device in video games is that the Damsel’s status as a female character is irrelevant. She could be swapped out for anything: the protagonist’s dog, a treasure chest, a really good taco- she’s meant to be a prize, not a character. It just so happens that many games don’t opt for a dog or a treasure chest or a really good taco, they opt for a woman.

Personally, I don’t think this trope as it appears in video games would be all that big of a deal if it weren’t so excessively prevalent and a big part of female representation. I have a very strong affection in my heart for the movie Barbie: A Fairy Secret, wherein the character Ken gets kidnapped and is essentially helpless comic relief for the entirety of the film. Barbie goes to rescue him, but the film isn’t really about Ken’s plight, it’s moreso focused on Barbie’s journey and the lessons she learns about friendship. Ken is the thing that prompts her to go from point A to point B so she can experience those things. But the damseling of Ken isn’t a big deal, because characters like him get to go on their own adventures all the time. Even within other Barbie movies, even though Barbie is always the central character, there are times when Ken gets more development outside of his relationship to her, such as his (spoiler alert) heartwarming ‘return of the prodigal son’ moment in Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus. He’s not being marginalized by not being the center of attention in a franchise marketed towards women.

Sometimes you want a simple story that’s focused on the protagonist’s journey, and damseling someone is an easy way to get the action going, and it doesn’t make sense to delve too deeply into the Damsel’s plight. It’s only when it’s almost always a sexy woman as the Damsel and almost never a woman as the protagonist that there’s a problem. When a large chunk of female representation in video games could be reasonably swapped out with a really good taco, then maybe it’s not very good representation.

Prompt: Write a 250-word blog post about Feminist Frequency’s video “Damsel in Distress Part 1”, referencing a work of media where the damsel in distress isn’t a woman

Title: Deconstructing Damsels in Distress: A Look at Feminist Frequency’s “Damsel in Distress Part 1”

In the world of media and pop culture, certain tropes have been so ingrained that they often go unnoticed. One such trope is the “Damsel in Distress,” where a female character becomes the central focus of a storyline, requiring rescue or protection from a male protagonist. Feminist Frequency’s video series, “Damsel in Distress Part 1,” challenges this trope and raises important questions about gender representation in media. But what happens when the trope is subverted, and a damsel in distress isn’t a woman?

The “Damsel in Distress Part 1” video serves as a critical examination of how this trope perpetuates harmful stereotypes about women, often portraying them as helpless, weak, and dependent on male saviors. However, it’s equally important to consider instances where this trope is reversed or reimagined. One such example can be found in the animated film “Shrek.”

“Shrek” subverts the traditional “Damsel in Distress” narrative by featuring Princess Fiona, who may initially appear to fit the mold but ultimately defies it. Rather than relying on Shrek or any other character to rescue her, Fiona turns out to be a capable and formidable character who can take care of herself. This clever twist challenges our expectations and demonstrates that anyone, regardless of their gender, can be a hero in their own right.

In conclusion, Feminist Frequency’s “Damsel in Distress Part 1” provides valuable insights into the problematic aspects of this common media trope. However, it’s equally crucial to acknowledge and celebrate instances where this trope is reimagined to challenge gender stereotypes and promote diverse representations. “Shrek” is just one example of how media can break away from these clichés and offer more empowering narratives for all characters, regardless of their gender.

Image from

4 thoughts on “Not All Damsels Are Women, But Not All Women Should Be Damsels

  1. I think you’re right, Catherine, that damseling is not wrong per se but becomes so when it is pervasive. And Sarkeesian marshals the evidence to demonstrate that it is definitely so in video games. The real crime, in some ways, is a lack of trying to come up with any other reason to go on a quest/adventure. Perhaps if Nintendo’s designers had taken inspiration from Japanese culture (something like The Tale of Genji rather than fairy tales), we would have gone in a completely different direction.

  2. I find it interesting that ChatGPT didn’t necessarily find a non-female character that didn’t fit the damsel in distress trope, it just tried to explain how Fiona (who is portrayed as the damsel in distress) eventually breaks away from those tropes. If anybody was a damsel in distress in that film, I would argue that it was Donkey for the majority of the time. Great connections to Barbie and Ken being captured!

  3. I love the line, “When a large chunk of female representation in video games could be reasonably swapped out with a really good taco, then maybe it’s not very good representation.” I will have to use that when talking about this with others. I think you make a really interesting point that the reason it is a problem is because it is so prevalent and not just because it exists.

  4. Love this post! Like most things, it doesn’t make sense for it to be all or nothing and eradicating any damsel in distress rhetoric doesn’t seem like the solution. I think you make great points and present ideas/measurements that we could use to better “measure” when this trope is useable and when it should be avoided.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Lean Blog by Crimson Themes.