The movie Frozen was a major box office hit, rocketing back up to the top of the chart at the first of the year (after a November release and a weekend at the top in early December) to become the most successful movie of all time from Disney Animation Studios. This, despite the fact that the marketing of the movie made it seem like it was going to be an average movie about an affable, iffy snowman. Wanna know why this movie was box office gold? Two words: rescue fantasy.
Many women have the traditional rescue fantasy in one form or another—you know, the prince on the white horse, swooping in to save the day. We’ve been sold this idea so many times, and in so many forms, that the archetypes are imprinted on our collective subconscious. And our stories are chockfull of submissive or delicate females waiting for rescue, being rescued, or—in the worst cases—suffering for lack of rescue. But this fantasy has a flip side, one that is beginning to be articulated in movies like Brave and Frozen. We want to rescue ourselves.
In fact, we need to rescue ourselves. We know we can do it. We’ve done it before, and we’re doing it now—every day. This, my friends, is the rescue fantasy we have yet to fully articulate, but we are beginning to tell stories that do just that. Frozen has some issues—the heroines are stereotypically tiny, conventionally beautiful, and predictably white—but it debunks the idea of loving someone you don’t even know, and it is the best kind of rescue fantasy. When I realized the love that was going to save the princess in peril was not romantic love but sisterly love—well, I teared up a bit. And I leaned over to my daughter and whispered, “We save ourselves in this one, sweetie! We save ourselves!”
This idea is so important not because we need to do away with male heroes, but because women need the inner message of validation that comes with being our own heroines—and with rescuing others. If we see ourselves as the ones who can save the day, we’ll take swifter action in our own lives. We’ll raise our hands in class, learn to ride a horse, apply for the dream job, and apply for another when we don’t get that one. We’ll stop waiting for external validation and instead take action based on internal faith.
For what is rescue but action based on faith?
I had this thought recently as I was watching the final episode of one of my favorite shows, Burn Notice. I’ve written before about my admiration for the show’s female lead, Fiona Glenanne—she fights alongside CIA agent Michael Westen, rescuing him as often as he rescues her. In the show’s final episode, Fi must rescue Mike from his worst enemy: himself. Mike has lost his way during an undercover mission, and Fi risks her life to ask him to return to her. Mike’s love for Fi is what brings him back to himself. Now that is rescue, and it is why I love this show: Mike and Fi are true partners, saving one another countless times. Here, there is no shame in being rescued and no glory in being the rescuer: it is simply what you do when you work together.
You save each other.
What I believe we need, in our stories as in our lives, is this paradigm for rescue: partners who take turns saving each other. The hero doesn’t have to always save the day, and the heroine doesn’t have to always make it alone. But to be the one who does the rescuing, you first have to conceive of yourself as capable of rescuing anyone—including yourself.
The more stories we have that portray girls and women who rescue themselves, each other, men, and children, the closer we will get to that paradigm. Our rescue fantasies won’t disappear, but they will shift, showing us the hero or heroine within while simultaneously allowing us to rely on someone else every once in a while. This, my friends, would be more box office gold—the question is, will our storytellers capitalize on it? Or will they rely on the old paradigm because it is less threatening, and leaves the princess safely in her tower?
I think, to find out, we’re going to have to start running toward the fire of our own lives.