Friday, May 10, 2013

Cleveland: A Damsel in Distress?

photo credit: Alan Cleaver via photopin cc
By now, you've probably heard of the news out of Cleveland, Ohio:  three women, kidnapped at different times, had been held in captivity for about ten years before being rescued by an African-American neighbor, Charles Ramsey, who helped one of the women force open the front door and call the police.

For his actions, Charles Ramsey is being called a hero, and I agree with this assessment.  His refusal to be a bystander is both admiral and necessary for the safety and dignity of anyone, though especially women, who would be trafficked or victimized.  For an enlightening and inspiring discussion on the importance of men's action in creating a safer society for everyone, check out this TED Talk: 

Much of this media attention has been positive for Mr. Ramsey, though he has also become a sort of internet phenomenon, which is often a mixed bag.  Here is an article questioning whether or not the attention has been totally respectful:  Are We Laughing with Charles Ramsey?

This is all a part of a very important discussion, and I'm glad it's happening.  However, I can't help but notice that the rhetoric had been sadly typical in one specific way.  All of the focus has been on Mr. Ramsey as the rescuer, the man of action who swooped in and delivered this poor woman, Amanda Berry, from her prison (which led to the rescue of the other two girls).  Basically, it's the same old "damsel in distress" narrative in which the woman is helpless and the man is victorious.

But Mr. Ramsey did not save the day alone.  You know who started the whole rescue mission?  Amanda Berry herself.  Mr. Ramsey says he heard Amanda screaming and trying to get out the front door.  She was the one who persevered in terrifying captivity for ten years.  She is the one who held out hope and saw an opportunity and took it.  She is the one who sent out the SOS when she saw a chance.  If it weren't for Amanda Berry, she and her other women (and a little girl) would still be in captivity today, no matter how good of a man Mr. Ramsey is.  

Amanda Berry is not just a damsel in distress (though that would be convenient to the usual narrative).  She was in distress, but she also played an active role in her release.  It was her action and agency that freed her.  And fortunately, Charles Ramsey was willing to follow her lead and respond to her call.  

Mr. Ramsey did not rescue Amanda; he aided her in her own escape.  She is the catalyst. It was her actions that led to this outcome.  In short, she is the hero of this story, and I wish there was more focus on how she, the victim, is also the victor.

1 comment:

  1. Hope, what an amazing commentary. This is such a valid point, and I never would have stopped to think about it - it is so easy to get swept away in the general tide of what society thinks or how they react. Thanks for taking the time to write something so truthful.