Are We Damsels in Distress?

DamselThis morning, one of my male friends told me a story from his college days in which he attended a fraternity party with some of his friends and their girlfriends, only to wind up in a physical altercation in which the girls provoked some of the other fraternity brothers and then expected automatic protection from my friend as well as his friends. For the men in the situation, I could only ask how they escaped from being between the rock and the hard place. These guys did not instigate the fight, yet they ran the risk of being categorized as Grade A assholes if they chose not to intervene.

This whole situation got me to thinking about men and women overall, and the expectations that are pressed upon each gender. Women are not the only ones that tote around this double standard expectation – men, too, have always been expected to be the protectors of the female species. I remember watching an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy in which two individuals (an engaged couple) were admitted to the hospital because they had been attacked by a gunman, and because the male did not properly shield his fiancée, he was given a bad rap. This very idea has become so ingrained in women’s minds that I have to ask: Do we as women simply want to be saved? Or do we genuinely believe that we can depend solely on ourselves?

For the larger majority of women I know, we would label ourselves as feminists, as the independent ones, as ones that have never sought a man – or anyone for that matter – to define us. However, our actions have told a vastly different story. For instance, over one third of American women would rather have a husband than strive for financial independence. Now don’t get me wrong, if you want a life of leisure and that’s what is going to do it for you, then very few people are going to get in your way. However, whether you are a man or woman, you better own that mantra. I can’t name one woman that would ever admit to being dependent on her partner, but when they have left a career path behind (and don’t necessarily have a family either) and their days are spent running from the weekly mani/pedi to the biweekly waxing, and someone else is footing the bill, then, I’m sorry to say, you cannot label yourself as Miss Independent. We can’t have it both ways. There is no having our cake and eating it, too in this situation.

This may stem from the longstanding fantasy of having someone else take control in any and all aspects. The same women that label themselves as independent (myself included) ironically tend to love being controlled and dominated in bed. Just look at all the hype Fifty Shades of Grey has received from women all across the country. I even have a friend that asked her now ex-boyfriend to choose her nail polish colors during her manicure because she wanted to please him and because it was oh so Christian Grey. Side note: I will fling myself off of a cliff if this is actually where our society is heading. Not because of the kinky sex (that’s all well and good), but because of the fact that some women desire men to make decisions for them – even decisions as basic as a shade of nail polish.

What it boils down to is this: we can’t expect men to save us if we actually want to be independent. Psychologist Colette Dowling coined a syndrome known as the Cinderella Complex, which describes women’s subconscious need and desire to be taken care of by our male counterparts. Why Cinderella? Simply put, if we break down the fairytale, we can see that a beautiful and hardworking woman belittled by the evil stepsisters fails to change her condition for the better and instead, only gains freedom once she finds her prince. Jesus Christ. I know, your mind is probably blown – I know mine was as I continued to research this topic.

But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the truth hurts. And many women hate the fact that there is truth in the story of Cinderella, especially feminists such as myself. Since the days of suffrage and bra burnings, women have constantly worked for an autonomous presence in society, but have we accomplished it? I’m not so sure. I mean, ask yourselves this: have you stuck around in a dysfunctional relationship for fear of being alone – or for fear of losing that source of dependence? I know I have. And that sincerely bothers me.

According to Dowling, this is because numerous women repress their secret yearning for dependence. And why do we repress this? Because we are fighting off society’s expectations. Dowling states that since childhood, females are taught to be helpless, and this becomes attached to our psyche, and while we go through the motions of traveling, going to college, pursuing a career, and whatever else, we as women have been taught to take from men. And it is this exact thinking as to why men are expected to provide for women. Protect them. Please them. The list goes on. Start lining up the Christian Greys now because evidently we are going to need to hand them out by the dozen.

And even the Miss Independents out there, we still struggle with a fear of vulnerability and loneliness. But we deny that this fear actually exists and this denial is the thing that dominates our lives and relationships most, explaining why so many women struggle when it comes to dating, relationships, and marriage.

So what can women do? For starters, we can acknowledge that if we do have these fears, then we better damn well accept them. And once we accept them, we can process our options. For instance, even if we want to be taken care of by men, most of us do not have that option. Not all of us can simply pick up a Sugar Daddy – we have to continue to work, educate, learn, and support ourselves. We need to free ourselves from the incubator that men have long provided for us. Basically, we can fake it ‘til we make it. And for those of us that make it and have already made it, kudos. For those that are still suffering from the Cinderella Complex, remember that the lifestyle you desire is one you can provide for yourself. Your decisions and your choices are yours and yours alone. Men are great to have around, believe me, but just like they do not need us, we do not need them. Whether it’s fixing your broken porch light, affording that new car, or debating whether or not to book that plane ticket to Tuscany, we all have our little battles and struggles, men and women alike. And the real truth of it all is this: in the end, it is up to us to save ourselves.


  1. Excellent post. Good points all around.

    Another view of the Cinderella Tale is what I call the ‘Cinderella Conceit.’

    That somehow a woman of the lowest socio-economic status (sleeps in the cinders – hence Cinderella) is an adequate match for a man of unparalleled socio-economic status (the Prince – soon to be King) because she is ‘fair of face and figure.’

    It is not merely that a woman bargains to have a man take care of her, as your posts ably points out, then decries her ‘misery’ that she is not independent, but rather the Conceit that this hypergamous lowly woman would remotely interest the Prince – that somehow they are on equal footing.

    The fiction that many women have bought into in that they Deserve the best; no reason is provided – they just deserve the best.

    Another course of action would be: 1) honest recognition of her skill set and acceptance of it, or 2) the noble endeavor of self-improvement. ‘Marrying wealth and/or class’ and pretending that ‘I am suited for this’ is not a cogent response.

    The two biggest problems I see with fairy tales are: 1) they are not true, 2) even when we feel that we are living in one, reality brings the euphoria to a crashing halt.

    Finally – try this as a thought experiment. . .consider the Cinderella Myth from the perspective of an average man. Is there even a place for him in this tale – and if so, where?

    • I completely agree – my mother always raised me to believe I deserve the best, but it was my father who said I deserve the best solely based on the person I am (and that if I always strove to be a good person, then I should deserve an equally good person in return).

      I like the point you make about fairy tales – we can’t live in them because they are not grounded in reality. And as far as the perspective of the man, I will definitely have to give that some thought. 🙂

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