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  • Writer's pictureT. Kearny Vertner, III

I'm a Damsel! I'm in Distress!

Inspiring words from an unexpected source.

Hercules © 1997 Disney Studios
Hercules © 1997 Disney Studios

I know I'm late to the party on this one, but I had to share an amazing inspirational quote by the character Megara, from Disney's 1997 animated film, Hercules. Ever the hero, the titular Hercules stumbles upon Megara fighting with Nessus, the centaur, and steps in to rescue her. Much to his surprise, she brushes him off, telling him to "keep moving, junior." We watch as the simple-minded young strongman wrestles with this challenge, asking, "but... aren't you a damsel in distress?" To which Meg smartly replies:

"I'm a damsel. I'm in distress. I can handle this. Have a nice day."

Disney Studios was this close to successfully challenging 74 years of common female tropes before Hercules patently ignored her request, saved her anyway, and later stuffed her character in the proverbial refrigerator. Oh well, let's focus back on why that quote really made my day.

When Hercules asks Meg if she's a damsel in distress, what he's expecting is that her situation defines who she is. People use the damsel in distress trope to describe an object (not a character) in a story that is utterly defined by her desirability, her struggle, and her relationship to the protagonist. Think about Princess Peach (or Toadstool, if you're as old as I am): she has almost no identifiable characteristics other than some vague common notions of femininity and her constant capture by Bowser. In game after game, her sole role is merely to drive Mario and Luigi towards their goal of rescuing her. At a certain point, you just have to wonder if Mario's just a terrible boyfriend.

Meg's correction to his assumption is remarkable. She breaks it into two statements. She agrees that she's a damsel and that she's in distress, but she refuses to let one define the other. This explicitly allows for her distress to stand alone and apart from whether or not she's a damsel. After cleaving the two ideas apart, she powerfully asserts, "I can handle this."

What I really love about this moment is that we've all been Meg. We've all been in distress. We each wrestle with personal and professional challenges and sometimes come close to breaking under the stress and challenges of whatever we're facing. That's perfectly normal and we should never let it define us.

I may sometimes be a man that's depressed, but I am never a depressed man. Like Meg, I can handle this. Handling it sometimes means getting professional help, and that's fine. A good professional won't just magically fix your problem for you like Hercules ultimately did for Meg; they will hand you the tools to fix it yourself. Imagine how differently Meg's situation might have played out if Hercules had simply tossed her a bronze gladius? She could have handily defeated Nessus and emerged and even more powerful woman that easily defeated her distress on her own.


I confess that I used to be a big Disney nerd, but as a student of history, they really lost me at Pocahantas and I completely missed this one. The rest of the story is pretty standard Disney fare, but when I came upon this quote the other week, it was delightful! I was a little let down that the rest of the film didn't follow through on the promise of Meg's character from this pithy exchange, but that's Disney in the nineties. I mean, they literally did an entire film about Stockholm syndrome and people still think Gaston is the bad guy? I mean, he's got an unhealthy level of self-confidence, but he never once imprisoned anybody over it. While we're ranting about Disney's nineties movies, just what did that little patricidal monster of a lion cub think was necessary for him to get his crown as he crooned about how he "just can't wait to be king?"

Sorry. I got a little off track, there.

What do you guys think of this quote? Does it rock your socks? Are there better ones? What are some inspirational quotes that help shape your values and keep you moving forward! Let me know!


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