The Damsel in Distress

Flipping through the pages of yet another piece of fiction, I had an epiphany. There was something wrong. The book was well-paced. Nice plot. Then what was it? After a few moments of silence, I got the answer.

It was the female character of the book, who was once again an overly idealised woman, clearly being more of a reflection of what the author perceives women to be than being a believable human being.

Why are the most common female characters often the reflection of what the society expects women to be instead of the sketch of a believable human being?

Here is a general description of popular female characters from several novels:

  • Bushy-haired, bespectacled (optional) shy girl who prefers books over male attention, only to transform later into a gorgeous diva for the hero, who understandably becomes the first ever man in her life.
  • A smokin’ hot girl from an academic background. She is unaware of her good looks and would finally make the hero fall in ‘true love’ for the first time.
  • An introvert girl who has clearly suffered some trauma in the past and she cannot trust anyone anymore. She finally meets our jolly-good hero who saves the day.

Did you see it? I can go on and on with the descriptions but the point is that each one of them is engendering a need for the ‘knight in shining armour’ to complete the plot.

This can also be witnessed in the trail of thoughts that women in books usually have. I once read about a female character whose heart was slowly ‘melting away’ looking at the ‘raw ruggedness’ of her boss, who has been disrespectful to her the entire time. She is wondering that something must be hurting him deep inside and that she can fix it.

Can we please have women who are less like soft toys stuffed by grandma and more like normal-behaving women who do not have the baggage of universal social welfare on their ‘tender’ shoulders?

There are more chances for a young woman to touch her scalp and pick off the little occasional bumps of dandruff instead of putting on some light, floral perfume before going to sleep.

It would be a great change to read of women who are developed human characters instead of objects of idealised wish fulfilment. That can also take the heat off the male characters who have to run around to put bread on the table.


Copyright © Neha Sharma

49 thoughts on “The Damsel in Distress

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  1. very true…but then even male characters are perfect in their own way or the way women like them to be.tall dark and handsome, most of the time very very rich and protective towards women.

    Reality is not very beautiful and entertaining, so most of the time readers want to escape to a dream world..otherwise there is some literature where people are normal too:)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Though, it may be true for some writers but still there are much better Writers too who avoid to build their narrative upon these clichés. My advice to you would be to read better ‘Novels’ and cut down on watching movies. By the way, stereotypes do exist and many fiction are actually conjointly themed with such issues. At the end it upon the plot which a Writer wants to develop through his fiction. You do have choice if you want to avoid these Novels. As It is someone else’s fiction which he wants to writer, he has every right to do so…
    Moreover, I could rarely find an exception of projecting this issue negatively. Not that a writer will wish to project this image but he mostly uses it to specify the pros and cons of it in his plot. Writers usually oppose social dogmas through narration which they can’t do without showing any such character.

    Anyways, you can’t expect Chetan Bhagat or Ravinder Singh to write ‘The Alchemist’ or ‘Midnight’s Children’ or ‘The Kite Runner’. You can’t ignore this problem because factually persists and the stereotype dominated the social sphere not so long ago and it still stands in odd rural areas.

    This is also referred to as a Social Narrative which changes with time and it will also change for better.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Most of the writers, who write in perspective of or in the first person is actually a man rather a woman. Moreover all are victim of petriarch thus idealised story sells books for them.

    You did a nice job bringing out this thing as most of the time these issues are ignored. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My father died when I was young, my mother never remarried, and so I was raised in a single-parent household by a strong, intelligent, and independent woman. That and few other traits became my ideal for women.

    When I was in high school, I came across a novel by Robert Heinlein, Glory Road, that had a strong female character in it (she turns out to be the queen of the universe). I actually fell in love with her! Then I foolishly compared her to my classmates and found everyone of them wanting. LOL!

    Thank you for a highly intelligent, insightful, and well written post, Neha.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I Soo loved it. …….infact I feel repulsed with these fairytales too ….they are the worst stories to be introduced to young girls ….. waiting for the prince charming to come for their rescue….we are feeding the young brains to be dependent instead we should be telling them tales of women standing up for themselves

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Very true, Sakshi. I have recently been reading some Russian fairytales and I have found them to have much better female characters! I once read in a Martin Lindstrom book that a country’s fairytales speak a lot about that country’s culture and values. I just hope ours changes sometime soon 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. You are reading the wrong books 😀

    On a serious note, women are always portrayed that way. Be in the Indian soaps, where she is either the God-fearing, children loving, praying mother or the vicious, husband-snatching vamp. Be in American movies, where she is, most of the times, the damsel in distress, in a world that is close to being destroyed and is saved by our quintessential hero! It is so very wrong to always think of women as the weaker ones, stereotyping them, casting them in the moulds we have had for ages now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha. You would be surprised to know how much of this stuff happens even in titles by really good authors!

      I believe that popular media plays a very strong role in perpetrating these stereotypes. If we hope to make any progress, we need to work from grassroot level.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree. Popular media does play a tremendous role in casting women as the weaker ones. Indeed, the change has to come from each and every individual.

        Liked by 2 people

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