The Likable Damsel in Distress

The Likable Damsel in Distress

Do you always play the competent female when you need something? Or do you ever play the damsel in distress?

This question was on the table one night long ago, at an ordinary dinner with friends. That conversation has bothered me ever since, but until last week, I couldn’t have told you why.

I said that I used to always play the competent female, which is how I typically think of myself. But I’d found that in many situations–think negotiating bank charges, or pretty much any conversation with the mechanic–this approach didn’t get me anywhere. If I owned my competency, I’d get talked down to (if I got any help at all), and rudely.

I finally realized that I got a lot farther as the damsel. If I pleaded ignorance, the man (and the occasional woman) would carefully explain the situation to me, provide actual help, and be really nice in the process.

I wanted to be respected as a competent woman. But it didn’t work.

I hated it. But there it was.

My friend was aghast. She quickly shamed me (I recognize that now, thanks to Brené Brown) for betraying my fellow women. We’ll never get anywhere if people like you keep acting like that, she said.

(People like you? That hurts.)

But that wasn’t my experience. I didn’t advance womankind’s cause an inch by acknowledging I knew what a spark plug was, but I sure guaranteed myself an unproductive conversation with the mechanic.   

I’ve thought about that old conversation a lot.

Over the past year or two, I’ve read that for women, competence and likeability are inversely correlated. I didn’t realize that’s what was going on in my own life, and I certainly didn’t realize that’s the topic we were dancing around in that old conversation.

But Sheryl Sandberg finally helped me see it. I read Lean In last week, and she discussed the phenomenon of women and power and likeability quite a bit. But it wasn’t until I watched her TED talk that it clicked: “Success and likability are positively correlated for men, and negatively correlated for women.” 

That old conversation didn’t have much to do with success, but it had everything to do with being treated badly when I was perceived as competent. My competency made me unlikable. But I apparently made a very likable damsel in distress.

How depressing. 

Sandberg makes clear that there are no simple solutions here: cultural change takes time, and fixing deeply ingrained perceptions won’t be simple. Things won’t change in her lifetime, yet she’s hopeful for the next generation.

As she says, “I want my son to have a choice to contribute fully in the workforce or at home, and I want my daughter to have the choice to not just succeed, but to be liked for her accomplishments.”

Yes. Me too. 

Do you resonate with my experience, or are you aghast like my friend was? Talk to me about owning your competence and playing the damsel, about women and likability.

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53 comments | Comment

53 comments

  1. Kate says:

    Great post. I, too, have been in that dilemma. I think of it not so much as being a damsel in distress (as I know that I am neither) but as being savvy in approaching the system. Plus, I think many people honestly want to feel they are being helpful and this allows them that satisfaction.

    • Anne says:

      “I think of it not so much as being a damsel in distress…but as being savvy in approaching the system.”

      Yes, that’s how I try to think of it, too.

  2. Sarah says:

    This is interesting. So was that book worth reading? I keep hearing “lean in” everywhere these days.
    I’d say that yes, though I’ve totally noticed the competence/likability thing. I’m a doctor so I think my patients, however, like me to be competent. And the nurses I’ve worked with have generally preferred me to appear competent as well. But there were some occasions…I recall the male surgeon looking down his nose at myself and another doctor-in-training “I can tell from looking at you two that neither of you are going to be surgeons” (really? By looking at us? Incidentally we both did go into primary care, but seriously.) and then there was the terrible night I was running the ICU and had patients overflowing into other ICUs in the hospital, including the surgical one. I tended a spiraling patient down there all night, and the nurses acted like try couldn’t hear me when I asked for tools, assistance, lab samples to be sent, anything! I found out later this group simply wasn’t used to working with female doctors, and the best solution others found was to bring a nurse from the medical ICU down to help! Ridiculous! Maybe I should have just acted more like a typical surgeon and yelled and thrown things? (Ok they aren’t all like that…)

    • @Sarah – wow, that’s really sad that those nurses had internalized a bias against female doctors. But yes, I would imagine that most people wouldn’t want their doctor to come across as a damsel in distress!

    • Anne says:

      Sarah, that situation you describe in the ICU boggles my mind. Seriously??? That’s horrible.

      And when you mention the “typical” surgeon, yelling and throwing things, all I can think about is Scrubs. (I miss that show!)

    • Anne says:

      Whoops! I forgot about Lean In. I went in kind of skeptical but I really enjoyed it. Sandberg’s personal story is interesting, and she goes into detail about the issues addressed in this post, like how women can negotiate without being perceived as unlikable.

      Her TED talk is also great and only 15 minutes if you want to test the waters.

    • Nora says:

      Wow Sarah, that’s awful.

      As for me personally, I like my doctors and surgeons to be competent and own it, but also recognize that I know my own body, and not treat me like my opinions are stupid/don’t matter. Strangely enough, I’ve found that the most expert surgeon I’ve ever met was also the most willing to explain things to me and validate what I was telling him. (It was a him, but I feel the same about women) I actually stopped going to a female ob/gyn because she was incredibly rude and condescending to me even though she seemed like she knew her stuff.

      Anne, this post is really depressing, but also rings true. I don’t have any answers, but you’ve given me a lot to mull over.

  3. Katie says:

    Wow, what a great post. I work as an elementary school teacher in a primarily female-dominated building, but it still comes up at work sometimes, which frustrates me a lot when our only focus should be what is best for the kids.

    I’m interested in that Brene Brown book as well. Do you have a review of that somewhere?

    • Anne says:

      Katie, I’ve mentioned that Brené Brown book in twitterature, but I haven’t given it a full review. I would definitely recommend it. I loved it and Daring Greatly, and I’m working my way through her first, I Thought It Was Just me , right now.

      Brené’s recent interview with Oprah for Soul Sunday was also completely fabulous and covered a lot of the same ground.

  4. I go round and round on this one. I think one of the best messages in Lean In was it’s okay to be a woman at work, not a woman trying to act like a man. Which meant to me, it’s OK not to act like I know it all all the time — be a little vulnerable if I’m feeling that way. But on the other hand, be strong (lean in I guess) on things that I am good at and don’t allow people to dismiss me.

    The funny thing is now the I’ve read Lean In & another book — Pitch Like a Girl — I’m more in tune to these issues, and I’m realizing that it’s another woman in my office who is very guilty of not thinking fellow women can do math. I’m a programmer in a male dominated environment, and we’re all pretty equally smart nerdy types. But whenever there’s an administrative job she picks me or the one other woman programmer, and whenever there’s a math job she picks a man even though the other woman has a degree in math and I have a degree in applied physics and four years of college level calculus.

    It’s been interesting.

    Anyway it’s funny you posted this today because one of our young new hires joined a linked in circle and I am about to go ask her about it.

    • Anne says:

      “But whenever there’s an administrative job she picks me or the one other woman programmer, and whenever there’s a math job she picks a man even though the other woman has a degree in math and I have a degree in applied physics and four years of college level calculus.”

      How incredibly frustrating! But how typical. Grrr.

      I read Pitch Like a Girl a couple of years ago and I’d forgotten all about it! Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Katie says:

    Ooooh this makes my blood boil. I honestly don’t know the first thing about cars, so I play the damsel there, but I always worry the mechanic is taking advantage of me. 🙁 I think personally since I’m so shy I don’t come across at competent because I tend to just not say anything, ever.

    BUT. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother bother me when I run into it. You may know I used to teach at a private school. Most of the teachers for the younger grades were female, but a lot of the ones for the higher grades and for more prestigious subjects (Greek, rhetoric, philosophy, Latin–it was a classical education school) were male. The male teachers would congregate in the lunchroom or wherever and discuss things like politics and philosophy and that sort of thing, but whenever I or one of my female coworkers came in, they would stop talking and try to awkwardly change the conversation to children or food or relationships. Even if we had overheard part of the conversation and tried to steer it back to the more intellectual topic (not that you can’t have very intellectual conversations about children and food and relationships, but these weren’t), they would refuse to talk about it and usually just left the room.

    I double majored in English and German with a history minor. I studied philosophy and literature in Germany. I taught Latin. My friend had studied at Oxford, of all places. She taught Spanish and drama (which included some pretty intense Shakespeare study in the upper grades). There was absolutely no reason on anyone’s part to assume that we couldn’t hold our own in an intellectual discussion. But they did. Because women are only interested in children and food and relationships. Obviously.

    I would like to give those male teachers the benefit of the doubt. Some of them were young and single, and my friend was also young and single, so conceivably they were just uncomfortable. Except that younger men with good educations should FREAKING KNOW BETTER. And anyway, that was just one symptom of the sort of institutionalized sexism that ran rampant at the school. My mother-in-law still teaches there and she wants so badly for her grandson to attend, but she doesn’t seem to understand that I cannot allow my son to be educated in that sort of environment. Because the only hope for fixing this sort of thing is with the next generation, and if you start teaching them in so many subtle ways that women are not as good as men, that most of the rules apply only to the girls and not to the boys, that it’s okay to demean women and girls or ignore them or treat them as less than, than things will never change.

    I’m finding it hard to reconcile that statement with also telling you that it’s okay to play the damsel sometimes in the meantime. But I guess sometimes you have to work the system that exists and sometimes you have to work to change the system. Pick your battles and all that.

    • Anne says:

      Katie, that lunchroom anecdote blows my mind (although maybe it shouldn’t?) You’re so right, they should FREAKING KNOW BETTER. (As you so eloquently said. 🙂 )

      “Because the only hope for fixing this sort of thing is with the next generation, and if you start teaching them in so many subtle ways that women are not as good as men… then things will never change.”

      Yes.

      “I guess sometimes you have to work the system that exists and sometimes you have to work to change the system. Pick your battles and all that.”

      And yes. Or at least I think so. I hope so.

      • Katie says:

        Right? I had never, ever been treated that way before, by anyone. The majority of the students in the honors classes in high school were female (this includes the math and science classes). I had never encountered this sort of thing at home or church or university or various other activities. I wish I had had the courage to call them out on it.

  6. I am so glad you wrote this!

    I know exactly what you are talking about, although I have never looked at it through that lens before. I think because I was on the floor customer service for years and years, I see it more as coming off as nonthreatening in general (not gendered) for the people who have been taking crap all day long. I would get off the wall crazy comments from people demanding things, getting in my face, threatening me, you name it (and this was an every day occurrence). Because of that, when I go into any shop or situation where I want something rectified, I try to be really sweet off the bat. They are tired and get yelled at all day and I know it’s a nice change of pace to have someone not come at you guns blazing. With that said, if I don’t get the answer I need (or if they are lying, not telling me the truth, withholding proper customer service) I will then be very “knowledgeable” and “business-like” until I am treated properly.

    If I take the concept further and apply it to my work life, I can see how that came into play. When I worked in retail, although my boss was a man and I worked alongside other men, I was both liked and respected – it was a blessing. It wasn’t until I worked in ministry that I found that success and likability didn’t coincide.

    • Anne says:

      “It wasn’t until I worked in ministry that I found that success and likability didn’t coincide.”

      That is so sad. And not at all surprising, which is even sadder. Sigh.

    • So much of what you wrote, Brenna, is my response, too. My years in retail made me so sympathetic to people in every profession. I’m always friendly and polite, ask questions for clarification, and if I’m frustrated by a response or lack thereof, I try to remain calm. I also try to joke around or ask them questions about their day, just to let them know I SEE them. This usually leads to great service. If they treat me differently because I’m a woman, that’s on them. When I’m in a situation where I feel dismissed or like they’re trying to upsell, I set the boundaries and let them know I’m not one to be messed with. I am smart and even if I don’t know the particulars, I will find out. Woe to the person who tries to take advantage of me, not because I’m going to rip them a new one but because they’ll lose my business. Simple as that.

      I don’t know that I’ve ever pulled the “damsel in distress” card. Maybe being nice translates as that but I don’t view it as such. And if it does, that’s a shame. I will admit to being given what I call the Pretty Girl Upgrade from time to time but never because I’ve asked or felt I was entitled to it.

        • Jeannie says:

          I didn’t intend to comment again, but this got me thinking: I had actually wondered whether looks have anything to do with this whole question, but I was a bit hesitant to bring it up. And maybe age, too. Several giant cans of worms could be opened at this point! — but as someone who is nearly 50 and ordinary-looking, I find I get immediate respect from younger tech guys at places like Future Shop etc. if I seem to know what I’m talking about, whereas older tech guys are much more “Meh” toward me. But I just tell them “Oh, go reboot your router” and that seems to work…. 😉

      • Anne says:

        “I don’t know that I’ve ever pulled the “damsel in distress” card. Maybe being nice translates as that but I don’t view it as such.”

        I think I’m always nice in these kinds of situations. (Well, almost always.) So is Will. But I sometimes have to be nice in a very specific kind of way in order to get help. He doesn’t. Nobody rolls their eyes at him because he understands compound interest or what a spark plug does. I can’t say the same for me.

        Also, my 6 months waitressing after college made me wonder if humanity would be the better for it if everyone had to do a mandatory server stint at some point in their lives. 🙂

        • Tim says:

          Mandatory server? Yes please. I spent plenty of time busing tables and cleaning rooms in college. Opens up a whole new view on life.

  7. Tina B says:

    I experienced this when I purchased my last car. I went to the dealership having done my research and knowing what I wanted. The men sent me away and told me to go get my car elsewhere. I was furious and I took my business elsewhere. They clearly did not like a woman who was prepared. I’ll be buying another car soon and I’ll do the same again – that’s one of the reasons I now like to do most of the process online, where I can be anonymous and genderless.

    • Anne says:

      Oh, what a terrific example. I can’t believe they literally sent you away! I would be furious, too!

      Good point about online research (or online anything) being anonymous and genderless.

  8. Deborah says:

    I do this all the time. And I never really thought of it as a disservice to my gender, I don’t usually think that way ever, I just saw it as getting things done. Just the other day I was in Home Depot with my dad and needed to get something cut. My dad said he didn’t think that was their job and they probably wouldn’t do it. I just smiled at him, and told him to stand off to the side. Standing RIGHT next to a big, employee only saw, I asked an employee how I should cut my material to the size I need. He explained what to do and what to use. I listened thoughtfully, then asked if it was possible for him to cut it for me? He looked around at another customer, and when I offered to wait , he agreed. After helping them, he quickly cut what I needed and off I went, thanking him and stunning my dad.
    My mom is famous for making cookies as thank you’s to people or just to be nice. That has gotten her exceptional service and actually free service calls from electricians, car services, bank fees waived. She doesn’t play a damsel, just a nice person. I think some of it is just politeness that will get you farther these days. And that can be gender neutral.

    • Anne says:

      I hope your dad was impressed. Sounds like it. 🙂

      “My mom is famous for making cookies as thank you’s to people or just to be nice. That has gotten her exceptional service and actually free service calls from electricians, car services, bank fees waived. She doesn’t play a damsel, just a nice person. I think some of it is just politeness that will get you farther these days. And that can be gender neutral.”

      Love this! That’s a great thing to be famous for….with a nice bonus of the occasional free service call. 🙂

  9. Tim says:

    Here’s how I see the damsel in distress: “Ooh, you’re a big strong man! And so smart about all those complicated things. Can you help poor little me?” (Eyelashes bat up a storm.)

    No thanks. I like competence whether of the female or male variety, Anne. But you probably already knew that. I’ll help out those who need help, of course, and appreciate it when others help me. When speaking to a mechanic/contractor/financial advisor, for example, I just ask them what they can do and how it will help. If I tried to fake competence in those areas, I’d be shown up for a fraud in short order anyway.

    In my profession, there are plenty of women and men who do the job well. I like working with them, whether in discussing judge stuff or working on committees for administering the third branch of government. For crying out loud, the Chief Justice in this state is a woman, and she is one of the most competent jurists I know! (A friend of mine too, and as you can imagine that means she’s a very nice person to boot.)

    You’ve done a great service for us all in airing this today, Anne. Thanks.

    Tim

  10. Jeannie says:

    It’s so frustrating when we feel pressure to Further The Women’s Movement in every encounter we have. I think it’s important (as suggested various times above) to figure out what the actual goal is in a particular situation. It might be just a short-term goal like getting a car fixed, or it might be a longer-term goal like establishing respectful working relationships.

    I also think it’s important to distinguish between the competence-likeability equation and the success-likeability equation. Competence is somewhat easier to measure, whereas success may be more subjective. And in the example you gave, you were more successful when you downplayed your competence; the reverse might be true in another situation. Again, what is our goal: to succeed in achieving a particular short- or long-term thing, or to feel and appear competent? I don’t think anyone else can really answer that for us! I hope I’ve succeeded in making sense here …

    • Anne says:

      “I think it’s important (as suggested various times above) to figure out what the actual goal is in a particular situation.”

      Yes. This.

  11. Jaimie says:

    I don’t know that I’ve noticed this too much in my own life, although it makes sense. I generally like being able to do things on my own, and definitely take over a lot of things at home (much to my husband’s chagrin, sometimes…he’s as competent as I am at most, if not all, household activities). I guess I don’t mind having to ask for help. And I don’t normally do the eyelash-batting or that bit…I just ask. Like the other day at work (I work at a college library), one of the printers wasn’t printing and I didn’t know why, or how to fix it. So I went to get my boss–who’s a man–explained the problem, and asked politely for help. No “damsel in distress” act. Just a request for help. No biggie.

    I figure, there are plenty of things I DO do well, and sometimes even better than other people. I’m a good writer, so my husband asks me for help with paper-writing, and he’s great at studying for tests, so he helps me study. So I don’t feel bad when I can’t do something on my own.

    I like being a woman. I like being different from men, and not having the same talents. But I also just like being a unique person, having my own unique skill set, and being recognized for that.

  12. I actually had to take several minutes to think about this before I had anything to say. It’s just an issue that has SO much wrapped up in it, good and bad, straightforward and confusing, that it’s hard to pare down my thoughts to combox-appropriate length.
    I think that I get the best results in both service and relationships if I act honestly: competent (but not bossy) when I truly am, and “damsel in distress” (but truly desiring to learn) when I need help. I think you’re right in saying that it’s a problem that’s a little more removed when it comes to my generation (I’m 16), at least in my experience. I haven’t noticed any sort of discrimination or bad attitudes towards me when I step up to take a leadership role (as long as I’m not bossy about it), because the people I’m with understand that that’s something I’m competent doing. Perhaps I’m an exception, but I like to think not. I truly don’t think that any of my peers mind being led by/working with a woman in charge as long as she’s competent to do so. It’s just not so much on our radar.

    • Anne says:

      Magdalen, the issue is not on your radar, and your peers don’t seem to care? Glory hallelujah! I’m hoping this will be typical of your generation and not the exception.

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective as a 16 year old!

  13. Kara says:

    I’ve struggled with this idea, too, and thought a lot about the kind of example I want to set. I found this post really interesting…
    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2013/01/07/how-to-pick-a-husband-if-you-want-to-have-kids/?fb_action_ids=861043290727&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=timeline_og&action_object_map=%7B%22861043290727%22%3A266055586855737%7D&action_type_map=%7B%22861043290727%22%3A%22og.likes%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D

    A female friend with a law degree from Harvard shared it on her facebook wall. One point that stood out to me was that whether someone will thrive as a business executive or a stay at home parent depends more on personality than gender. Gotta love Myers Briggs. 🙂

  14. Jennifer H says:

    I liken your friend’s comment to one I hear often, something along the lines of “public schools will never get better if the parents who want to be involved keep sending them to private school (or homeschooling)”.

  15. Rebecca says:

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/the-benefits-of-being-stupid-at-work-190339721.html I am a swiss army knife. . . I am a swiss army knife. . . I am a swiss army knife 😀 Looking forward to the TED talk, as this is one of my pet peeves.
    Damsel in distress is right up there with being able to effectively cut a woman off at the knees by complimenting her on the opposite skill set. In other words, I can effectively reduce the chances of a woman getting hired by referring to them as “sweet, friendly, and thoughtful” in a reference call; or smash a gal’s chances at relationships by chatting up their discipline, work ethic, and organizational skills during a party.

    • Anne says:

      Oh, what a great link. I love the Swiss Army knife reference. I can’t believe I’d never heard the google home page explained like that before!

      Very interesting about the detrimental effects of complimenting the opposite skill set. I wish it wasn’t so, but it sure rings true.

      My favorite quote–and the one that’s most germane to the damsel in distress discussion–is this: “Stupid works if you’re smart enough to know when not to be.” Although, ouch.

  16. Anne, you’re so brave to post about this! In my circles, the damsel-in-distress card is one played often by women when we want or need something, though it’s a subject I’ve honestly never discussed with anyone before, not even my sister! I’m sure most women do it to a degree, even if they aren’t truly aware of it. There’s also the potential for misuse which I’ve seen on several occasions (by girls who consider themselves to be exceptionally pretty).

    I consider myself to be an emotionally strong, physically capable person, and am well aware that many people can feel intimidated by that in certain situations or environments. Over the years I’ve learned when and how to play the damsel or the strong independent woman to make the best of a situation, whether it be something I need for my advantage or just to ensure the company I keep are not removed from their comfort zone.

    The “aha” moment came for me when I watched the movie Hancock – I can’t remember the name of the female (secret superhero) lead, but the scene where she asks her husband to open a jar lid really stuck in my mind. Some men (and indeed, many women) like to feel their skills are needed in order to be appreciated, even when the “damsel” is perfectly capable herself.

    Thanks for posting such an excellent, thought provoking post. It’s been wonderful to read your insights in this post and also in the many comments above =)

  17. Carrie says:

    Anne this is the first post you’ve written that pissed me off! My mom used to tell me that I needed to learn how to develop my “feminine wiles” in order to get what I wanted from men. I railed against it now and I still do. ARGH!!!!!

    (Not angry at you of course!)

  18. Amy says:

    I have noticed this in my own life too. Being the damsel gets things done a lot faster. And I feel super manipulative when I act like the damsel but its usually easier.

  19. Erica says:

    I’ve noticed this myself. Sometimes I have people want to be more helpful (Type-A husband pointed out that other Type-A people tend to be nice to me because they think I need help), but other times I’ve had people try to take advantage of me. That is an upside to being “the damsel”. You can catch people being dishonest.

    Now, I must go to the mirror and practice widening my eyes innocently. 😉

  20. Interestingly enough, my husband has a book on influencing people and getting what you want. The author {a man} actually addresses that people should play the damsel {he doesn’t use that word, but the concept of “helplessness”}. He talks about how when you go into a situation acting as though you know more than the other person {who ultimately you need help from, be it a mechanic or bank teller} they will shoot you down. Why? Because you’ve threatened them. But, if you go in as the damsel, they are more willing to help you.

    I see my husband do this all the time. That man is FAR from being a damsel. He can very well do most anything on his own. But when he wants something done for him {car repair, roofing, etc} he will play down his knowledge in order for the other person to feel empowered. And this strategy all most always leads to us getting a discount, getting more than what we expected from the deal, and so forth, all because of playing damsel in distress and allowing another person to “help” or “educate” us, even if we didn’t really need it.

  21. I don’t think we have to love or hate this situation– and it doesn’t necessarily have to be manipulative. Women and men play a lot of roles to get what they want/need and we let parts of ourselves shine through when it is most appropriate. I know I’ve done the damsel thing, but usually because I was feeling a bit “damsely” anyway (which sounds really lame now that I’m reading it!).

    My grandpa always said that the most powerful phrase a person can use is “I need your help” and I think that’s true. Acting as if you need help– which sounds way better than “acting helpless” but kinda means the same thing– is powerful because it calls people to action. It sends a cue to the person you’re interacting with like “hey! you! you’re needed here!” I myself am more likely to help someone who seems like they need it.

    Pretending I’m dumb? Not a fan. Playing up my helpless side when I actually need help? Totally cool with that.

  22. maya says:

    The Damsel in Distress act is not limited to women. I have seen my dad play down his knowledge whenever he needs help with something. Now, he is a brilliant successful doctor working in public health but he has to repeatedly deal with red tape, government officials from various countries, bureaucracy and what not and work with people who are far less experienced and educated than he is. But they hold the key to many things so he charming and social and plays their wonderful qualities no matter what and invariably people not only help him but overextend themselves. He himself is extremely helpful always and sees how he can make things better for others on his own initiative. This has made him tremendously successful and well-liked. Even in social situations, he lets others do the talking, show off their knowledge, while putting himself “below” them. He is friendly to staff and the big boss. So everyone likes him and he wins!
    Personally, I believe that it is best to be honest. No matter how competent we are, we DO need help sometimes because no one is super man/woman. No matter how strong we are, we are also vulnerable sometimes. So the best thing is to acknowledge and accept our need and vulnerability, express it without expectations or manipulation and see who steps up. Sometimes people will, sometimes they won’t. I really don’t see the point in pretending to need help when clearly you don’t need it. People can see through that sort of stuff. Plus it is fake, even if it works. What also doesn’t work is when you have a chip on your shoulder that you are better than others and then ask for their help. Well, if you really are better, then why ask for help? So it is best to be honest.
    In my experience being the damsel has not worked always. Sometimes I have been seen as incompetent and not respected. Many times when I have been genuinely in distress and asked for help, people have not stepped up to help me. They have also tried to take advantage of my vulnerability. Men especially find the damsel attractive but then they are the kind of men who like to dominate and think less of women. So having attracted such men, I have often wondered later on if it was really worth it. Some people feed off your weakness and they are not the ones you want around because they can become resentful and abusive once you outgrow them.
    As others have mentioned, I have often seen women play this card to the hilt and really misuse it. They get others to do their work and beautiful women are especially good at this manipulation and get a leg up on others who won’t stoop to such levels. But somehow I feel that somewhere they lose their self respect whether they realize this or not. So I don’t think PLAYING anything–damsel or others works.

  23. Emery says:

    Loved reading this post. I feel many of the same frustrations. I have never been one to cry to get out of tickets, act dumb at the mechanic when I’m not or in general play the “damsel.” I remember many times as a child a friend’s grandmother,who used to watch my brother and I a lot with her grand kids (a mix in which I was the only girl), would often tell me to the let boys do things and then pretend I needed their help. She is also the first person who told me I was gregarious and she clearly valued that in me. Somehow those two didn’t correlate in the end.
    I have found that people are nicer when, on the rare occasion, I have acted the damsel, but it never sits well with me.
    Why should I act less intelligent or competent than I am? Than I know I am? There is no reason. We are all valuable and acting as less than such does not forward the cause of equality.

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