Omnipresent in the world of film since the first movies of the silent era, the damsel in distress can actually retrace her roots all the way back to the stories of Greek mythology. Ever since, she has become a staple of fairy tales, serials, melodramas, comics and of course, Hollywood movies.
In a male-dominated industry that still has to come to terms with a world that has ran amok with strange and unheard of concepts such as feminism and women rights, there is no doubt that the damsel in distress has a special place in the hall of fame of Hollywood stock characters. Much like virtually anything that Hollywood people enjoy “creating”, the damsel in distress is always a variation of the same thing presented over and over again. Indeed, her name could be Ann Darow, Lois Lane, Bella Swan, Mary Jane Watson, Vesper Lynd or Holy/Lucy McClane but her role is always the same: Get captured by the evil villain so the hunky (or emo in Twilight‘s case) male hero has to come to her rescue.
For that reason, if you ever find yourself among Hollywood people, under no circumstances should you ever mention that the damsel in distress is an archaic and generic character that is sexist and degrading to women. You will immediately earn the scorn and disdain of the people around you. Along with keeping countless numbers of actresses employed, she is also a way for chauvinist studio executives and filmmakers to portray ladies in a fetishistic nature. Helpless, clueless and invariably in need of a heroic manly figure to rescue and protect her, she is often found gagged, bound and facing abominable death traps.
In recent years, due to the fact that women can now voice opinions, drive their own car to the movie theater and even dabble in fantasies of equal rights with their hairier counterparts, the concept of the submissive damsel dependent on a dominant male figure has come under fire as a vestige of a male-dominated society. As a result, Hollywood has been a bit more subtle by making the damsel in distress spunky, and occasionally even empowering her to save the day at the end of the movie as shown in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009). However, you would be mistaken if you thought the Damsel in Distress is on its way out. She is just now called a romantic comedy heroine.
Who is your favorite damsel in distress in movies? Do you think men and women can achieve equality with characters such as these so widespread in popular culture?