We Are Not Damsels In Distress

There’s no playbook offering step-by-step solutions to eliminate society’s sexism.

Most of us remember the classics.

Cinderella was found. Aurora was saved. Snow White found her prince. It’s basically all well and good in the world of fantasies. In reality, however, we are pressed with issues far too complex than what fairy godmother’s bibbidy-bobbidy-boo and pumpkin carriage can resolve. We face economic, social and political dilemmas that present more dimensional conflicts than what the usual storybook could ever tell and there’s usually no magical plot twist to real, harsh problems like poverty, hunger, crime and massive scales of corruption. There’s no playbook offering step-by-step solutions to eliminate society’s sexism and double standards, either.

A plethora of narratives and prose depict women as fragile, helpless characters in need of a hero in his steed. But such depictions are far from the truth. Female characters placed as mere secondary roles and subordinates are capable of being leaders themselves. Female characters — so often treated as victims in need of rescuers — can be as brave and able as their male counterparts.

The knights in shining armor (or knights in shining Armani, as others would have it) have dominated not just the pages, but pop culture as well. We have been witness to countless of action films with male protagonists. We have read epics centered on masculine characters. We have seen — and often been taught to admire — heroes, but we’ve never heard enough about heroines.

From such an early age, men and women have been programmed to believe about so-called “roles” and the belief that they’re too weak to do anything about it. We — the females, especially — have been encouraged to be passive and blindly follow what is already enforced. Patriarchy (or perhaps plain insipidness) condemns women to supporting roles in the society. Women’s leadership has appeared to be so uncommon and odd that it merits headlines — as if it’s something unnatural. Take the elections in most countries as concrete example. Women candidates are not treated the same as their male competitors — they’re seen as the outlier and the odd ones out — instead of the men’s equal. A man can simply be a “presidential candidate” like anyone else, but when we talk about women, it’s a female presidential candidate — with emphasis on the word “female”, because apparently, it has grown to be an unusual feat or a factor that might affect one’s qualifications. But that shouldn’t be the case.

Women should have the chance to pursue the life they want, without being seen as inferior on account of their gender. Women could be engineers, lawyers, doctors, presidents and whatever they choose to be — they could be leaders, without having to worry about anyone doubting them on the grounds of being female.

Some would say that we outgrow the stories we were told from childhood. Others, after all, have outgrown believing in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. Others have outgrown and lost faith in fairytales’ silver linings altogether. But why haven’t we outgrown the thinking that women are captives waiting to be rescued from a tower by a mighty hero? Why haven’t we outgrown the idea that women need someone else to save the day?

We have always been so quick to say that “it’s already the 21st century”. And usually, in that context, when we say “it’s already the 21st century”, others are defending modern dating (hint: Tinder), some are praising the perks of Facebook, then a few would rebut in defense of social media. But since we’re so quick to hop on to the modern, cosmopolitan wagon anyway, maybe it’s also time to discard the archaic and disvaluing notions we have about women.

Destroy the idea that a woman is an inferior being with an equally inferior purpose of waiting for someone to slay the dragons. Destroy the idea that women could only wait and let someone be the hero of their stories. Maybe happy endings aren’t always about wearing a tiara or riding off into the sunset. Maybe happily-ever-afters aren’t always about finding the prince. And if we’d only read beyond the fascinating tales about women — royals and commoners alike—-if we’d only read beyond the lines, we would understand that women are not the fragile princesses that storybooks made us out to be. Because we are our own heroes. We are our own queens.

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