(Question about my hacker (hacking??) novel.)

Just an FYI, I am a woman.

Edward is a cyber spy and works with an organization named Vox Populi to curate and release all data online, especially the stuff that shady people don't want others to see. Edward copies and releases data that a very dangerous group of people don't want in the public eye, and these people find his place of residence and kidnap his sister, Lily, with whom he lives. With the help of his friend and sorta maybe love interest Thomas, he has to save her and dig deeper into the mess he's caused, to know the bigger picture of why these people don't want their info out in public.

I know the whole "action movie hero man saves helpless girl" trope is used often, and I'm not trying to make Lily helpless or Edward morally untouchable. But is the use of this trope bad and/or sexist? Does it reinforce the idea that women need men to save them? If so, how do I avoid this?

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    You can be sure some people will find it mysogynic. But some people will find a fireman saving a woman from a burning house mysogynic too. Don't worry, just write your thing.
    – SF.
    Jan 16, 2019 at 10:01
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    The problem with this trope is the extreme disparity of what's at stake. A woman abducted by a stranger has much higher stakes than a man whose sister got kidnapped. It's the same mis-match with Women In Refrigerators: being murdered is MUCH WORSE than a villain trying to throw the hero off his game. If there is "misogyny" it's that this (description-less) sister is passed like a football to show which team is "winning". As others have said, she could be a vase or a poodle or a microchip.... Keep the highest stakes with your MC, not with an expendable character.
    – wetcircuit
    Jan 16, 2019 at 13:29
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    Is there a reason you've made Edward male? Developing the agency of the kidnapped little sister is great, but as long as the bond is about sibling love, why not have the older sibling be female?
    – Ben Barden
    Jan 17, 2019 at 22:59
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    A minor nit, but "misogynistic" and "sexist" are two different albeit related things.
    – EvilSnack
    Jan 19, 2019 at 22:19

14 Answers 14


This is a matter of opinion; personally I don't find it sexist. People have genders, and sexual orientations, and they have to mix.

We stray into sexism when we pile up too many tropes. In your case, you avoid the trope of sexual reward for Edward's effort on two fronts; Lily is his sister, and he doesn't seem oriented toward heterosexual reward anyway. Also, any family member has inherent value to normal people.

She doesn't have to be "helpless", she can fight and perhaps injure her captors. I love the little girl kidnapped in Along Came A Spider, she actually manages to escape, freeing herself and then repeatedly injuring herself loosening boards but continuing her efforts despite this. Although she would have been caught if the hero did not show up in time; I was impressed the writers did not make that little girl just a damsel in distress waiting for a white knight.

Do something similar. A stereotype is a collection of traits, you can break it by letting Lily play against type. Heck, you might make it clear that given another hour or two, she might not have needed Edward to save her at all.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Jan 20, 2019 at 2:47
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    At this point in the arc of creative media, the trope of the damsel in distress is pretty much dead. I would say that Lily would be "playing against type" by waiting for the white knight to come get her.
    – kingledion
    Jan 20, 2019 at 3:12
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    @kingledion Dead but not forgotten, so no. It is still considered bad writing.
    – Amadeus
    Jan 20, 2019 at 11:01

In general, if you can swap out a woman for a precious object and the story remains mostly unchanged, you should attempt a rewrite. The most important thing here is to give the character her own agency, try to avoid the trap of the "strong female character" where she has no significant flaws, and make damn sure she isn't just used to create "manpain".

S. L. Huang explains "manpain" very well in this blog post.

There's a fan term called “manpain” that fascinates me. It refers to the phenomenon of a media property that excessively and self-centeredly focuses on a male character's angst after tragic events happen to the people around him.

I would also advise that you make sure there's a good reason the kidnappers take his sister instead of him, instead of the usual ransom/sexist/"we're gonna hurt him by hurting his sister!" (again, manpain) reasoning. Perhaps a mix-up, or--since this is the digital world and the kidnappers may not necessarily know the real-life identity of their target--the kidnappers thought Lily was the infamous "hax0rb4be".

Good luck!

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    See also: Women in Refrigerators.
    – F1Krazy
    Jan 14, 2019 at 19:44
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    I particularly like this answer, as it neatly explains why the vast amount of Romance genre literature written largely by women for women with plots just like this isn't "misogynistic".
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 15, 2019 at 14:55
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    @T.E.D.: Except it doesn't. Internalized misogyny is a thing. Jan 15, 2019 at 17:26
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    What's wrong with a person in a story functioning as a MacGuffin rather than a character? As far as extrinsic motivation for the main character goes, a damsel makes more sense than a vase. And there is only so many pages that can be given to character development, after all.
    – John K
    Jan 15, 2019 at 18:30
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    @JohnK When you are a member of the sex that generally gets to be the McGuffin, it gets incredibly wearing. And it has real world consequences, the more men and women, girls and boys are presented with narratives of active males and passive females, the more they think that's how it has to be. Where does that leave the developing minds who don't feel they fit the expectations society has for their sex?
    – Spagirl
    Jan 16, 2019 at 13:01

Answer: It depends on the execution.

What makes this misogyny is if the sister is in the story (solely) to allow Edward to be a hero. If she is a throwaway character who serves only to provide a prop for him, then your execution is flawed and in that case, yes it is misogynistic.

But, if the sister is a hero in her own right, perhaps facilitating Edward's efforts earlier using skills that she has and he does not, or perhaps playing a required role in the escape that Edward cannot or does not play, (perhaps he is wounded or some such thing, perhaps she can pick locks, who knows...), then no.

If she has her own life within the novel, a personal goal and conflict, and if she is fully realized and participates uniquely in the story arc, you will be okay.

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    It sounds like you're saying any use of a woman as a macguffin is misogynistic, which I definitely don't agree with. It might be lazy writing, but I don't see how using a woman is significantly different than, say, a ring. It only becomes misogynistic if the fact she is a woman is the reason she is the macguffin, rather than being an insignificant attribute. But, this is probably too subjective to be definitive on.
    – Benubird
    Jan 14, 2019 at 17:40
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    @Benubird - I get what you're saying, and I suppose you're strictly right, but I would say that it's not just bad writing, but unrealistic and unfair to the character to write them with no more personality than an object. And since it reinforces societal stereotypes without a a good reason, it's probably best avoided. For that matter, I don't think it's advisable to write a major non-female character who's got as much characterization as an object, even if it's probably not as stereotypical.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 14, 2019 at 18:30
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    Not just women, but as Aninonin says, ... if you can swap out a woman for a precious object and the story remains mostly unchanged, you should attempt a rewrite. In my view, every villain, every loyal friend, every woman and man... should have some reason to be in the story. Fine, you can have stock warriors or what have you, but good books are good for a reason--and rarely have poorly-fleshed characters. In the original question, the sister is introduced as someone to be saved. That's it. I don't believe she was even given a name in the question. (& nothing re: stereotypes was asked.)
    – SFWriter
    Jan 14, 2019 at 22:04
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    Not just helpless, but at some point she has to lose some of her clothing and venture into the dark corridor on her own. I've never seen a male hero do that. She might even twist her ankle and the hero has to pick her up and carry her. Ugh.
    – RedSonja
    Jan 15, 2019 at 7:25
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    [Please note that "misogyny" is specifically for a hatred of women, with the counterpart word "misandry" (derived from Greek andrós ("man") instead of gynē ("woman"). In both cases, the word originally referred, and still typically refers, to hatred against the target gender. The requirements do seem to have loosened recently, though, with the words also being used for negative portrayals in general, even those without any actual, intentional hatred.] Jan 16, 2019 at 2:24

Although your question skipped a lot of detail, what is there suggests how misogynism could enter through the cracks.

Let's look at your summary, and not unreasonably, assume that what you focus on in it, reflects how you've come to this storyline and where your emphasis and attention is - what matters to you. The point being, what doesn't matter to an author, what they don't love as much or put as much insight into - those often become the stereotypes, filled in by default, because it's quick and easy and their mind wasn't on it anyway.

What we learn about Edward: He's a spy. He works for an organisation. The organisation is fleshed out enough to have a name and goals. What he does for them. He has a sister. Her name. Where she lives. He has an ally in the rescue. He has a maybe love interest. The maybe love interest's name.

What we learn about Lily: Absolutely nothing. (She is a woman living with her brother, at most)

You're in danger of stereotypes - and many stereotypes in this narrative are sexist - simply because it doesn't seem that Lily has any intrinsic interest as a person to you. She's a foil, a trigger for the actions of someone else far more important. She can be filled in by simplified routine outline because Lily isn't a character, she's an object - she serves a role, she isn't presented as being of deep interest as a person.

How to avoid mysogynism? Do the opposite. Flesh her out as a person, as if she is the real hero or centre of focus - which is a good way to ensure you write all characters well. Love each of them. Care about each. Understand each.

Think hard about her, as you would about Edward. Is she as proactive as her brother? Does she just passively listen and think with feminine adoration "how clever he is!" (I hope not!) Does she agree or not, has she picked up things from him or not, what has led her to live with him, what is her inner life like? These and many more. Think about her life, her strong views, her goals and perspectives, where she's been and where she's going, and all that binds it together and makes Lily really interesting, enough that you could write a story about her, not him.

In Harry Potter, as much attention is given to the personalities of the hero's opponents, as to the hero himself - more in the case of some like Snape. Side characters are fleshed out in depth - the caring Molly who unexoectedly leaps to her daughters defense shouting "You bitch!", even the father of the antagonist, his wife, her sister. All lovingly dwelt on before fingers hit keys - and it shows. Ditto most good novels. Do right by Lily, and give her, her own life that's led to this point, not just an object or foil with a light touch of veneer, try to write her story, in this, not just the hero's, and she'll do right by you as a solid balanced character too.

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    I wish I could upvote this more. It's important to remember tropes are only tools. The damsel-in-distress isn't sexist. It's not not sexist either. What makes it sexist or not is whether the damsel is a mere plot device, an object of conquest, a goal, or if she is indeed a real character. Jan 15, 2019 at 10:38
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    In Harry Potter, the actual opponents are pretty bad too. You can clearly see the contrast between the characterisation of Lucius (boo, bad guy) and Severus (yay, a hidden hero!). Draco's characterisation is all about "hate mudbloods, being a bastard" - we only get a glimpse into his character when he switches side at the very end. But HP is still a good example in character design - the characters that aren't just foils are fleshed out, consistent and they make sense. The foils are still just foils, which is a missed opportunity, but that's common in children's books.
    – Luaan
    Jan 16, 2019 at 11:00

The scenario is not misogynistic. People need saving--sometimes those people are women. It also doesn't matter whether she "fights back" against her captors. The most realistic scenario of an everyday person being kidnapped by trained professionals is that they're going to sit there and do nothing. They're outnumbered, outmatched, and probably restrained--what are they going to do? What you want to avoid is not misogyny, but bad writing. That is, writing that makes the audience not care what happens.

See, a lot of claimed "misogyny" in media is just bad writing, but the character is a woman. Consider the damsel in distress trope we're talking about here. If a woman is introduced who has no purpose but to be rescued, the question I'm asking isn't "Why does the author hate women?" but "Why do I care what happens to her?" Well, I might care indirectly because the protagonist cares and I (hopefully) care about him, and perhaps in an abstract sense of not wanting bad things to happen to people. But it's going to be a lot more effective if I also care about the woman herself. And that's why it's important to flesh out her character--not anything about her sex. After all, an agender person who has no character other than being rescued by the transman protagonist would be just as uninteresting, albeit considerably less common.

(At this point someone will jump in saying that female characters are more commonly poorly-written than male characters. That's probably true, but also irrelevant. This is your work--what other people do is on them.)

Now don't get me wrong, you can totally go beyond bad writing to do this trope in a misogynistic manner. Probably the most common is a sort of subtle victim-blaming in how the scenario is presented. "Of course she got kidnapped--she's a woman. A man would never be so weak and foolish as to allow himself to be kidnapped, but women, well, they just can't help it." But you don't seem like the kind of person who would write like this, so I wouldn't worry about it much.

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    Spot on. Although I’d point out to those saying it’s misogynistic if she could be replaced with a heirloom, that the trope can still work even if she never appears. Perhaps the kidnappers found a note saying she just win a cruise and will be out of touch for a month, and then lie. They take the note and at the end he finds it after defeating that bad guys. Or they gloat about it as they kill him, he dies knowing it was all for nought. It’s the story that matters, it can be told badly an infinite number of ways, just as it can be told well in an infinite number of ways.
    – jmoreno
    Jan 17, 2019 at 0:35
  • "People can need saving, some of them are women => a story about a woman needing saving isn't mysogynistic" is flawed, much the same as "people can be mass murderers, some of them are Muslims => a story about Muslims mass-murdering won't be racist and islamophobic". "It happens, so it isn't mysoginistic" is the basic premise, and its dreadfully, and fatally, flawed.
    – Stilez
    Jun 13, 2019 at 7:41

I agree with everyone, it depends.

There are very few original stories on this earth. No one is expecting a totally original story.

We only have 2 real genders. So you can have M saves F, M saves M, F saves M, F saves F. 4 combinations. Even if you include all the new genders, say, 17x17 is just 289 combinations, a pitifully small number in the face of the thousands of stories being created every single day.

Totally helpless damsel in distress is not misogynistic, but it is really old fashion, a bit unrealistic, and quite boring.

Take the Terminator, it started out as classic hero saving a damsel in distress story with Kyle Reese traveling back in time to save Sarah Connor. But within the 2 hours run time of the movie, that helpless damsel, an ordinary waitress, grew into a pillar of strength, and the mother of humanity's last hope.

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    "We only have 2 real genders" may give the impression of being phrased to antagonise. If that wasn't your intention, it could be edited out without changing the core of the answer. Jan 14, 2019 at 23:02
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    Just pointing out the mathematical fact that there are a very finite number of combinations of who can rescue whom, relative to the nearly infinite number of stories being weaved. Any combination you can come up with can't possibly be original in and of itself. Therefore, just relax, and write a good story that entertains (and if it says something, all the better)
    – ashleylee
    Jan 14, 2019 at 23:11
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    "a bit unrealistic" - why? Historically, it was overwhelmingly the men who did the hunting and the fighting, and even today they do most of the more dangerous work. It's a simple fact that it's more common for men to be risk-takers than for women.
    – vsz
    Jan 15, 2019 at 7:15
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    @vsz I'd go even further - it's extremely common for people in danger to do nothing to help themselves, even if it is easy and essentially risk-free. It's true for both men and women. It's also true for the would-be rescuer, so if we were writing realistic fiction, by far the most common story would be "Woman doesn't come back from work, guy calls the police and keeps worrying for a few weeks, the end." :)
    – Luaan
    Jan 16, 2019 at 11:09
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    @Luaan: common yes. interesting no. if a story is just superman rescuing stranded kittens out of tall trees........ yes that would be realistic. it wouldn't be anti-kittens, but man would it be boring after the 5th time.
    – ashleylee
    Jan 16, 2019 at 15:25

I would say that no, it is not misogynistic, and particularly in your case it's realistic.

The majority of people working in the tech industry are male; for example, women only represent 33% of the workforce in silicon valley, so it makes total sense that your character whose background is IT-oriented is male.

People in the spying industry get threats all the time (or, at least, the ones portrayed in pop culture do) so it's not a far reach to suggest that one's sibling get kidnapped. It can be the start of a good plot.

Edward's sibling that gets abducted has a roughly 50% chance of being a sister or brother, choosing his sibling to be a sister is just a choice you made, it shouldn't need to be defended. It's not like you're going against the odds to get a woman in that role.

Most people who get kidnapped are quite helpless when they are being held captive, regardless of gender. Therefore it's not particularly degrading to women to portray a female hostage as such. It's to be expected.

Furthermore, most people who have a family member in danger will do all they can to help them. It's reasonable that Edward goes off to help his sister.

So I would say that hacker guy whose sister gets abducted goes on a mission to save her isn't misogynistic, it's realistic.

Pointing out the obvious here but don't make her helpless by using stereotypes involving women (e.g. don't say "she was easily abducted because she didn't want to fight back out of fear of messing up her hair").

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    Also, the hero to be male is statistically more likely. Men are evolutionarily more predisposed to be risk-takers. It's not impossible for women, but still it's much more common in men. During the vast majority of human history, men were always the expendable gender, doing dangerous tasks, going out to hunt and to fight, risking themselves to protect women, because of the simple fact that losing many women would make the tribe go extinct, while losing many men wouldn't (as a tribe with many women and few men could reproduce better than a tribe with few women and many men).
    – vsz
    Jan 15, 2019 at 7:11
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    The fact that it's realistic doesn't stop it also being highly misogynistic. I can't agree with this answer, which conflates the two. If society is misogynist, then replicating it will also be so. "Realistic" is not an excuse.
    – Stilez
    Jan 15, 2019 at 9:04
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    @Stilez Current societal structure is part of reality. If the story has a realistic setting (it seems to me it has), you want to change as little about the world as possible while still enabling the plot. Setting up your story with irrealistic or at least improbable preconditions in order to not seem misogynistic (aka virtue signalling) can be itself considered misogynistic. :) I think you should only change the default preconditions if it is relevant to the story, otherwise, it seems unnecessary and possibly counterproductive to me. The answer seems very reasonable.
    – P.Péter
    Jan 16, 2019 at 9:55
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    @Stilez Of course "realistic" is an excuse. That doesn't mean it's good writing. Writing intentionally breaks lots of realism to write in a way that's nice to read, interesting etc. Unless you seriously overdo it, it's just part of the suspension of disbelief that any fiction entails. If you think that "guy rescues girl" is misogynistic... well, that's seriously deflating the seriousness of what misogyny is.
    – Luaan
    Jan 16, 2019 at 11:06
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    @Stilez There's a big difference between society and evolutionary biology. The idea is to replicate reality, not society's views of reality. For example, the average man is stronger than the average woman, and the average woman has superior balance skills than the average man. Replicating that in writing is being realistic, not being misogynistic. After all, facts are not misogynistic, people are.
    – forest
    Jan 17, 2019 at 9:26

I don't find this scenario misogynistic, but it might be a missed opportunity. Recently, in my own work, I've questioned why my heroes are often white and male, even though I'm a writer of color. I do have reasons (I'd like to cast a new point of view on members of the majority culture, and build a mainstream audience, and I don't like feeling "required" to write characters that resemble me demographically) but at a certain point I have to question why I would choose to tread such a well-trodden path. It's an especially acute question, given that strong protagonists of color are dramatically under-represented in my chosen genres.

You might find yourself writing a much more original story --one there might be unmet demand for --if Lily were the cyber-spy, and Edward were the one who got kidnapped.

It sounds like something in this basic concept isn't sitting right with you at a certain level. Maybe you should ask yourself the question I've started to ask myself: If this was a book someone else had written, would I be excited to read it? And would I see myself in its pages?

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    It's even a good opportunity to subvert the trope. Edward is a small-time leaker who it turns out was motivated in his actions by his sister Lily, an accomplished cyber-spy. In his efforts to save Lily, he attempts to use information as leverage and ends up getting kidnapped himself. It turns out Lily wasn't kidnapped at all but was actually hiding, and she ends up saving Edward. Jan 15, 2019 at 15:47

Misogynistic or sexist is a soft judgement - there is no clear yes/no criterium. So the answer can't be "yes" or "no", it is more likely that on a spectrum between extreme misogyny and extreme equality of sexes, your work will be somewhere inbetween.

Different people and cultures rate these things very differently. My wife, for example, is a very strong woman who doesn't take shit from anyone, but she loves it when a man holds the door or helps her carry things. In her eyes, these are small priviledges of being a woman. In the eyes of a more feminist person, these things might be patriarchially oppressive behaviour.

There is nothing wrong with a strong male character and a female character in need of rescue. The best test I know for sexist bias is to reverse the roles in your head and check if you would consider that somehow wrong. If the sexes are interchangeable, then you aren't being sexist because your characters need to be one sex or the other and you simply happened to pick them the way you did.

It also helps if secondary characters break up the stereotype. If all the men in your story are strong hero-types and all the women are rescue-me-princesses, you probably have a gender bias issue. If your world is reasonably mixed and believable balanced, and just the main characters happen to be in this particular configuration, you probably don't.


Sexism is by definition, "prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination on the basis of sex."

So, yes, technically the use of the Damsel in Distress trope when played straight can fall under sex-based stereotyping. At the same time, Tropes Aren't Bad and it's only because this is a trope that is Older Than Dirt that it gets put into such a critical light, because it has had more opportunity to accrue more examples of men saving women as opposed to women saving men or even same-sex salvation. But one trope a sexist story does not make. Take that trope and think of all the different ways you can play with it. Does Lily play the part of the helpless girl? Is she kidnapped because they wrongly believe SHE was the white-hat who foiled them? Perhaps she pretended to be the hacker so that she could protect her brother knowing he would find her. Or she isn't actually kidnapped at all, but went with them willingly because she agrees with their ideology, and it was her idea to convince her brother that she's in trouble to trick him into being coerced into working for them, or at least that was her plan before they decided to actively use her to make Edward behave regardless of her cooperation. You can even make it so Edward doesn't want or need to save Lily because she's also a talented spy, but he hid part of an important cipher to an encrypted program he designed in a necklace he gave to her for her birthday and he doesn't want to risk the bad guys getting their hands on it, so it's less about saving Lily who is capable of taking care of herself and more about giving her some backup so that she doesn't lose the necklace to them.

Just because a trope can be seen as sexist, the work it is used in should not be seen in that way unless the purpose is to show and enforce prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination on the basis of sex.

Please forgive the abundance of TVTropes links. I find Wiki Walks are great for aiding in research on these kinds of dilemmas.

  • You really should warn people about the fact that the links (all seem to) lead to TV Tropes. That site can easily result in loss of several hours' worth of quality writing time.
    – user
    Jan 21, 2019 at 18:21
  • lol I find that to be a funny guideline, but ok. Jan 22, 2019 at 4:53

It's not sexism, sure. It's a story where one person saves another person. Change roles - let the girl save the boy, and nothing will change. Bad people are stealing the main character's relative, if Edward had a brother, bad people would steal boy, right? Talking about the main idea of the plot - right you are, the topic seems to be canonic. But. It usually depends on authors skills and other plot features like unexpected situations, dialog etc. You are to make the story being not boring and add something innovative - and no one will say the plot is already used and the story is a duplicate. That's my opinion.


Mostly this would depend on how well its done, and how much sense it makes. Typically in writing if you can answer the question of "Why?" then you have a case to include that element or whatever it is that was in question and that certainly applies here.

Don't make Lily seem like someone who doesn't need saving in whatever situation she finds herself in and make Edward seem like someone whose incapable of saving someone in the given situation. As long as you can provide an answer as to why Lily needs Edward to save her, you shouldn't have any problem at all.

The tricky part of making sure you can do that is to make sure you dont over do it. For example theres no need to make Lily some crybaby who cant lift her shoes and her feet off the ground at the same time, but she shouldnt hold all the necessary cards to get herself out of the situation without Edward.

If you worry that the trope is too sexist try looking for other stories that the trope is also in. Just to pull one out of the air here: in Mario Princess Peach is taken by Bowser and for whatever reason Mario can eat things and get superpowers. Princess Peach in this situation cannot escape on her own, but its justified because Bowser isn't just a normal person. If you dont see common examples of the Trope as sexist, you're probably just suffering from your own criticisms getting in the way of your writing.

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    Hmm. Most would say, I think, that Peach is a prime bad example because she has no agency whatsoever (at least in the early games, and the more modern platformers I've played), and is just an object for Mario to rescue. She could be swapped out for Mario's family heirlooms and nothing would change. Jan 14, 2019 at 18:23
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    It's interesting to note that in a lot of the later games, Peach aids in her own rescue (first two Paper Mario games), escapes/nearly escapes on her own (Super Mario 3D Land), has to think about others that can't escape on their own (Super Mario Odyssey), uses trickery to avoid capture (Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga), is rendered incapable of doing anything whatsoever (Super Mario 64), and/or is under Bowser's constant watch (Odyssey again). They try to show that it's less that she's an object to rescue, and more that she just can't fight Bowser and his entire army together.. Jan 14, 2019 at 18:26
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    (Note that Bowser is also supposed to be skilled with dark magic, and is also able to fight off Peach's entire royal guard at the same time (although, since they're just Toads, that's not too much of a difficult task). While Peach has magic powers, too (mainly floating & telekinesis/telepathy), she seems to be the only good guy with them, while Bowser has magic himself and a force of magic-using minions (including his most trusted advisor, usually). Later games actually give the impression that it's less that Peach is helpless, and more that the Mario bros. are insanely badass... Jan 14, 2019 at 18:34
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    That's very true, @AzorAhai, thanks to cultural osmosis. I honestly think she's going to remain the example of the "damsel in distress" stereotype in gaming for a very long time, no matter how interesting & developed the games make her; there are much worse examples, though, such as Elise from (*shudder*) Sonic 06, who gets kidnapped as many times in one game as Peach does in... somewhere around 10-15 years' worth of games, IIRC. And the overalls vs. dress thing was simply a comment on how practical their clothing is for fighting/escaping an army (Mario's helps, Peach's gets in the way). Jan 14, 2019 at 18:54
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    @AzorAhai It's somewhat justified in the early games because they only had so much space to fit the game in. You could also ask why all the toads had been kidnapped (i.e. they were in the same position as Peach) and why Mario had problems finding the right castle in the first place, but it's somewhat futile as the early games were created for gameplay, not story. Arguably they could have chosen objects instead of toads and peach, but would it have been as rewarding? A gemstone wouldn't thank you for rescuing it.
    – Pharap
    Jan 19, 2019 at 3:09

Coming from a different perspective, IMHO, a better story is how a man and a women save each other. A strong man and completely helpless woman is boring and unrealistic. The other direction, think if the Simpsons is great for comedy, but would also be boring in a drama or action flick.

A cheesy way to do this is for the man to face several opponents, and beat all but one. As that villain is closing in to deal the death blow to our hero, the heroine musters enough courage/know how/strength to deal a death blow to that villain and save our hero. Yay!

What weakness does your hero have that the female lead can save him from? What weakness does your female have that our hero can save her from?

To me that is what makes an interesting story in real life and in fiction.

  • Letting her defeat one bad guy while the badass hero defeats several bad guys doesn't seem like gender equality to me. How about letting the damsel contribute in other ways to the rescue than just in form of combat? Maybe she has some technical skill which saves the day? Maybe she has better emotional intelligence than the badass action hero, allowing her to solve a problem through deception or persuation which can not be solved with violence?
    – Philipp
    Jan 16, 2019 at 12:51
  • 3
    The idea that gender equality depends on keeping a score of people you've knocked unconscious just goes to show how impossible it is to have a rational discussion. Gender equality is not about everyone having the exact same experiences and abilities.
    – barbecue
    Jan 17, 2019 at 19:46
  • Gender equality is about having the same opportunity, not the same outcome. Fate/Apocrypha gets a lot wrong (imo), but one thing it does well is the dynamic of Kairi and Mordred. Kairi is a buff old dude (really 32, but looks older,) and Mordred is a young, frail-looking woman (who can still kick Kairi's ass). While Kairi is fighting people, though, Mordred is wrecking the face of hecking golems. They both can be equally badass, but it's because Mordred is more capable that she IS more badass. Just for example. Dec 22, 2019 at 0:43

The trope itself isn't sexist, but there are ways of doing things that can make a given instance sexist. You should be fine if:

  • The female rescuee isn't shown to be totally helpless or incompetent (mistakes are fine, infact mistakes can be good, but it should be outweighed by, or at least balanced out by, things they do right). This should be addressed in the capture scenario too.
  • The rescuer isn't saying or doing misogynistic things during or before the rescue scenario
  • Romance/sex is involved in your story but isn't introduced here or made to seem like it is a reward or sole motivator for the rescue. Or if there is no romance/sex aspect at all.

Obviously adapt this to your story and the plot points you have already decided on.