Saving the Damsel in Distress

David Larson

By David Larson

David Larson is associate editor and a politics reporter for North State Journal, the managing editor for Stanly County Journal, and a writer in other respects. David lives in Durham, NC, with his wife and daughter.

Sleeping Beauty
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Gina Carano is currently the darling of conservative media. While I am in agreement that her canceling was another example of the totalitarian Left’s cultural cleansing, I also have to admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of her character on “The Mandalorian.”

Don’t get me wrong; she did an excellent job at acting the part of a female equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but female Schwarzeneggers don’t really do much for me. And not just because it is unrealistic and silly, but also because it warps our cultural storytelling in a way that harms both men and women. 

In one early scene of this new Star Wars saga, “Mando” finds Cara Dune (Gina Carano’s character) in a bar in some far-flung part of the galaxy. When he exits the bar, Dune stealthily jumps out, tackles him and is clearly bettering him in hand-to-hand combat. He’s saved when they both pull out blaster guns and call it a draw.

You only have to look to what is likely the other most-talked-about show of the year—“Cobra Kai”—to see this isn’t just a one-off. Miguel is the best fighter at the karate gym and dominates the other boys in tournaments. However, somehow when he faces girls, whether it is the first-timer Aisha or his skinny love-interest Tory, he ends up getting bested. 

I know. Many defenders will say there are women, including the real-life Gina Carano, that can beat up men, and I’m just guarding my insecure male ego. But outside of a TV screen, if an extremely strong male who is an expert fighter fights a female who is also extremely strong and well trained, it isn’t a tossup; the man is at an astronomical advantage. As we’ve been told repeatedly by yard signs this year, “science is real,” and, unfortunately for Hollywood, science isn’t silent on the topic. 

Joe Rogan, a podcast host and MMA commentator, objected to males who identify as women being unquestioningly accepted into women’s divisions, saying, “I’m a martial arts expert, and I’ve been doing it my whole life. Like, I know the difference. I’ve trained with women world champions and watched them get mauled by men who are not very good. It’s just a fact.”

The reason for this is simple—physical power. In terms of grip strength, which is often used as an analog for overall physical strength, a U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, with a sample size of 7,064 people, found that 89% of men have better grip strength than 89% of women. So, in a room with 100 men and 100 women, the most elite 11 of those women will be stronger than the weakest 11 men. But none will approach the elite men. No woman will ever be competitive with a LeBron James or a Conor McGregor.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Matthew Boling recently broke the high school boy’s record in 100 meters with a time of 9.98 seconds. The women’s world record for 100 meters is 10.49 by Florence Johnson, which has stood since her legendary performance in the 1988 Olympics. This was certainly a major accomplishment, and it’s possible that no woman will ever break her record…but HUNDREDS of high school boys do every year. This also goes for weightlifting, where untold teenage boys smash the women’s world records every year, and any other sport that has to do with raw power, speed, and strength. These are world records—meaning, elite (but not particularly exceptional) teenage boys are stronger than the strongest women ever and faster than the fastest ever, and can certainly fight better than the toughest women ever. 

So, if Tory from “Cobra Kai” and Cara Dune are elite-of-the-elite, once-in-a-generation female fighters, they would be fortunate to reach the level of an average male fighter. Mando and Miguel’s stock as elite fighters, which makes their stories more believable and engaging, then tumbles the second they lose to, or even struggle against, a Cara or a Tory.

I have some sympathy for the argument that in fantasy and superhero films, they inhabit worlds where women are simply equal, or even superior, to men in their physical power, like Wonder Woman, for example. But Hollywood is really not reserving the physical dominance of women over men to superhero films, as we have seen in “Cobra Kai,” and really most action shows and films recently.

The dynamic is part of the general idea of “equity” that has saturated all parts of the culture. If there are ways that the X group has an advantage over the Y group, it must be “fixed” and leveled. And to this crowd, showing men always as the heroes and women always in need of male physical help just shout for a “fix.”

But what if females already have their own symbolic superpowers and don’t need to co-opt violence from males? The female powers of beauty, nurturing, life creation, and—especially relevant for hero stories—the role of choosing which men are worthy to partake in these treasures she possesses, are no less potent than the male capacity to assert himself physically. 

The hero proves himself worthy of her by showing he is willing to lay down his life for her, their future offspring, and the community they will inhabit, just as St. Paul instructed. Eliminating the power of one sex eliminates it for both, because if men are no longer needed to lay down their lives, women no longer have any use for the power of choice. They’re just left with a bunch of wimps that they can beat up and who are too scared to even talk to them. Without worthy men to give their beauty to, women’s power diminishes too.

In the movie “The Guardian,” Ashton Kutcher’s character (Jake Fischer) tells one of his tough military buddies who is interested in a girl across the bar, “You gotta make a move!” His buddy responds, “I can’t. I get nervous.” Fischer replies, “You’re telling me you can jump out of helicopters, but you’re afraid to go talk to a girl?” His friend says, “Uh, pretty much. Yeah.”

The character is a warrior who is trained to kill, to jump out of a helicopter into frigid waters and re-emerge ready to fight. He has the courage to face all that, but not to say hello to a girl. Why? Because women are often more powerful with their beauty than men are with their strength, like Helen of Troy, who had “the face that launched a thousand ships.”

The equity crowd may see the male’s strength and initiative to be more valuable than female beauty and choice, but couldn’t the male just as easily complain that his life is the one being devalued, since he’s always encouraged to lay it down to save the woman? Is dying in battle so obviously preferable to having children? Or is it just a modern, individualist aversion to needing help from anyone, ever? There certainly has been “toxic” masculinity, to co-opt a term, repeatedly in history, where a man forces the woman to make the choice in his favor, using his physical power to eliminate her choice. But this is not what the damsel in distress represents.

In reality, a woman’s beauty is a power so potent that men have cowered before it since the dawn of time and died for a chance to be chosen by its possessor. The damsel in distress being saved by a warrior does not diminish female power in favor of male power. It lifts high the power of both, displaying their highest forms for all to see. 

For the Christian, this female power can never be diminished. There’s a reason that mystics throughout the centuries have said we are all symbolically female in relation to God. He initiates with grace, and we choose. He lays down His life, and we follow Him. That’s why the highest example of a Christian will always be Mary. She was presented with a choice, and, on behalf of humanity, said “yes,” just like her symbolic predecessor Eve chose “no” by listening to the Serpent.

Saving the damsel in distress, therefore, would be a major step in redeeming our culture’s storytelling. It will not only make movies less corny, by retiring the high-kicking, 100-pound model who knocks out 250-pound bad guys left and right, but it will also do the job of true culture—passing down wisdom. A man will know that the highest use of his power is to lay down his life for his family, friends, and community, and a young woman will know that the highest use of her power of beauty is to say yes to creating and nurturing a family and future with a man who proves himself worthy. And most importantly, both will see an echo of the ultimate hero story, where Christ lays down His life for the Church, who then chooses to be His bride.