Is the Damsel-in-Distress a Sexist Stereotype?

So, as I explained at the end of our September video on the Damsel-in-Distress character, while we were shooting our September video, the three of us (Daniel, Anna, and myself) kind of got into a bit of a debate about the damsel-in-distress character type and whether or not it’s a sexist character type. The camera happened to be running through our discussion, and so we thought you might enjoy the footage of our unscripted discussion. Watch the video, and then let us know in the comments where you fall on this issue!


Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here or short stories at his website (link below) as he works toward achieving these goals.
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  1. I agree with Anna. I don’t necessarily want a weak male character. It seems wrong. However, I think girls can still be strong while in distress. Sometimes the damsel in distress makes the story flow better, but if it doesn’t, then I think it’s just weak writing.

    • Good point about how it should ultimately depend on how it ties into the story flow. I definitely agree. It really depends on the story on whether or not it’s effective writing or not.

  2. Damsel in distress definitely isn’t inherently sexist. For example, in Orson Scott Cards “Shadow” series when Petra gets captured and Bean has to save her. He never would have been able to do it without her secret help and though she is a damsel is distress, isn’t so completely helpless. Damsel in distress can become sexist though, and I would consider it so when the damsel is only in the story to be in distress and nothing more.
    I think that would be my problem with a male damsel in distress as well. If the male character is only there to be in distress (and please many feminists I suppose) I would find it more annoying than anything.
    And yes. Yes Hans was a damsel in distress in the original movies. But in that case could Poe Dameron be considered a damsel in distress since Finn had to save him? Flynn Ryder, since the men from the Ugly Duckling had to save him? What about Peeta Mellark from the Hunger Games?

    • I haven’t gotten to that part in the “Shadow” series yet, but I need to! I kind of got sidetracked by the main series after reading Ender’s Shadow, but should pick that series up again now that I’ve finished the major quartet.

      Those are some good examples; I think they’re probably close to being “damsels in distress,” but I’m wondering now if an essential part of the damsel-in-distress is that the character is saved by their lover. So Han and Peeta are still more-or-less saved by Leia and Katniss respectively, but the others I think may fall into more of a general “captured hero” trope.

      I shared this comment with Daniel, and he responded that since Peeta is a damsel-in-distress, this proves part of his point, since a lot of girls prefer Peeta to Gale. ;P So I think he appreciated your thoughts there as well!

  3. I love watching siblings interact. 😀

    As I see it, this problem is only a problem when the females are one dimensional as a plot device, as Josiah said. Otherwise, I have zero objection to women being more often captured or in physical distress of that type than men. I’m a woman. I should be angry, right? But I’m not. XD
    I mean, let’s face the facts people. Are women weaker physically than men? Yes. Absolutely. Therefore they are more likely to fall victim to physical distress. This is a fact of life, guys. Writing is life. Life is a story. It goes without saying that the minute ANYTHING goes into a story simply as a plot device instead of as a reflection of life, it’s gonna have problems.

    *descends from soapbox* I have finished my sermon. Next?

    • Yeah; I had a lot of fun editing this and listening to us interact each time. We may have to do more of these!

      Good points on how writing needs to reflect real life in this instance. Haha, no worries about the sermonizing. 😉

  4. I also agree with Anna. Sorry, Daniel. As far as physical distress goes, I wouldn’t like a guy to be in distress and saved by a female character. God made women weaker than men. That is just a fact of life. Having a women save a man physically seems weird. Emotional or spiritual distress would be different to me though. I wouldn’t mind a girl helping a guy in that situation. Make sense?
    BTW the video is hilarious. Siblings are the best. ????

    • Haha, yes–they totally are! We’ll have to see if we can do more ‘sibling discussions’ like this in the future! 😉 And I like the distinction you made there between physical and emotional distress. Good thoughts!

  5. I think this is my favorite video so far! xD Y’all are great.

  6. I was laughing the whole way through this. We need more behind-the-scenes videos. Also, I have a solution that no one seems to have thought of. If a ‘damsel in distress’ mainly means the character is captured and needs help or rescue, then why can’t a man rescue a comrade in arms if he needs too? Women are weaker and, perhaps, more likely to be captured, but if someone wants to ambush and capture a prince, they will probably be able to plan and execute it in the same way they’d captured the princess. A sister might help in the rescue, but she wouldn’t have to. A brother could rescue the prince, or a friend could. And when the damsel is captured, another sister in arms could rescue her…the two genders can mix in a wide range of positions when it comes to rescue and capture.

    • Good thoughts. I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps for the damsel-in-distress to be the damsel-in-distress, it needs to be a love interest that rescues them; otherwise they’re just the captured hero or whatever. But mixing it up some certainly does help.

  7. I agree with Hope, we need more behind the scenes videos! I laughed a lot guys! There is nothing better than sibling discussions. I like the fact that men are the heros and women are the ones captured and “in distress”. I think it displays God’s original design for men and women. Men are our protectors (not saying we can’t know self defense) and we are the weaker vessel. We crave that protection. Of course the feminist movement wants to twist that whole idea around, that we girls don’t need men, we can do it ourselves so I think it would be odd to reverse the roles and put the man in distress. But I think Josiah hit the nail on the head when he said that for writing it really depends if you’re using the damsel in distress as a plot device or if she’s actually a interesting character.

  8. Here’s a question: (And I’ve only seen the movie, haven’t read the book) Who is the damsel-in-distress in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Is there one?

  9. I’m late commenting, but I just wanted to say I really enjoyed this video! It’s hilarious, and it brings up some interesting points. I’d have to agree with Anna: women are a weaker physically weaker than men, so it makes more sense that there are more “damsels in distress” than “gentlemen in distress.” 😉

  10. so I really like the video, (watched it about six times) but I’ve got to ask, would you recommend the Haddax series? I have the first book, but I want to know what you think of the other books before I get them

    • Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed the video! Assuming you’re talking about the Missing series (the ones I have on my bookcase in this video), I would. Some of the books in the series are better than others, but the characters are good and it’s a nice twist on the historical fiction genre.

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