Why We Crave Rescue Fantasies


by guest blogger Maya Rodale, author of smart and sassy romance novels

In Pakistan, people watched as a pregnant woman was stoned to death by her own father for marrying the man she loved.

In India, two girls were raped and hung from a tree. The police are accused of failing to respond.

In Nigeria, nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from their school. No one prevented their attack, and attempts to retrieve them have been lackluster. They are still missing.

In America, a boy went on a killing rampage, fueled by his hatred of women.

Is it any wonder that women read and watch stories we call rescue fantasies? From a young girl’s obsession with Disney Princesses to the mass-market romance novels millions of adult women read today, women crave stories in which a hero comes to save the day before something really bad happens. According to an informal study of romance readers, “protective” was cited as the #1 most desirable quality of the hero. Not surprising, given that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced intimate-partner violence and non-partner sexual violence.

The industry of rescue fantasies is BIG: Romance novels alone are a $1.4-billion business, and Disney Princesses help to generate $3 billion globally. Are people capitalizing on our fear and desires? Or are rescue fantasies fulfilling a primal need to feel safe?

Often, these rescue stories are ones where marriage for love is celebrated and accepted. Where women’s sexuality is theirs to explore and enjoy, not something to be used once and destroyed. Where women are to be loved, listened to, and cherished—not chastised, degraded, or stoned in public. Where men also explore their sexuality, relationships with women, and definitions of masculinity. Given all the heartbreaking stories on the news, where often no one comes to save the day, it’s not hard to see the appeal of romance novels, Disney Princesses, or even Kardashian weddings.

These stories are often dismissed—by men and women alike—as fantasies rather than dramatic descriptions of reality. Instead of asking ourselves why they are written and read in such massive quantities, or what these ancient, endlessly retold stories are trying to tell us, we simply dismiss them as dumb. And girls of all ages are told they’re stupid for believing in them…for daring to dream about a world in which men help instead of harm.

These stories shouldn’t be fantasy.

Women shouldn’t want to be rescued, we are told. Too often we criticize these heroines and the women who read them as helpless, lazy, foolish. We shouldn’t wait for a man! And yes—every individual should be as self-sufficient as possible.

But would you really tell those Nigerian girls that they should save themselves from an armed mob of delusional, violent maniacs? What about those two young girls in India, who just went outside to relieve themselves? Don’t you think they tried to escape? Don’t you think women are trying day in and day out to keep themselves safe and secure in a world that often sees them as worthless and disposable?

We are all trying. What’s wrong with a little teamwork?

When we scoff at rescue fantasies, it sends the message that women should never expect help from men and should live with threats to their safety, that Prince Charming doesn’t exist, and men shouldn’t overexert themselves in protecting women.

That snarky attitude toward rescue fantasies suggests we should just accept the status quo and not try to create a better world.

This serves no one.

As an author of those “rescue fantasies” who avidly follows the news, I tweaked the typical formula by writing a novel, What a Wallflower Wants, in which something bad does happen to the heroine—and no one comes to save her.

Instead, her love story begins in the aftermath, when she learns to live and love in a world that would dismiss her as worthless if what happened to her became known. I wanted to give her—and all the women like her—a happy ending in a world that so often doesn’t have one. But it still is a rescue fantasy, in that her self-discovery and personal transformation don’t happen on their own but with the love of a good man—whom she saves, too. Because what these rescue fantasies show is that not all men are bad and that true happiness occurs when men and women are united.

There’s no shame in wanting to be rescued, or in crying out for help when you need it. There’s no shame in protecting women or championing their rights, their choices, their equality. (And no, legislating away their choices is not being protective). It’s OK to be Prince Charming—aristocratic title, white horse, and tights not required. It’s OK for men and women to unite in making the world a safer, happier place. And it’s OK to enjoy stories that show how men and women can accomplish that together.

MayaRodalephotoMaya Rodale is the author of multiple historical romance novels, as well as the nonfiction book Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained. She has a master’s degree from New York University and lives in Manhattan with her darling dog and a rogue of her own. Visit her online at mayarodale.com, or say hello to @mayarodale on Twitter.


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7 Responses to Why We Crave Rescue Fantasies

  1. Alice Green June 6, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    Thank you for giving the other side to the story. You really have given this a lot of thought and I am grateful that you are willing to spread the word. It just hits the nail on the head to read this and know that someone out there reading what you are sharing, will immediately condemn you for saying what is very, very true. Women the world over have to stand together – not only with other women, but also with the men of the world who do believe we are equal and have the right to be who we are, no matter where we live or what religion is in control of our society. Thank you, Maya, you certainly are your ‘mother’s daughter’!! Yea!

  2. Maya Rodale June 11, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Thank you so much Alice!

  3. J BEE January 25, 2019 at 6:46 pm #


  4. J Bee January 25, 2019 at 6:51 pm #

    One more time for EMPHASIS! You FEMINIST nazis have beaten men down. Shamed us and treated us like garbage but still want us to treat like you like sugar and spice??? NO NO NO FUCK YOU. Welcome to the real world! Welcome to a MANS LIFE. no more special treatment since you demand equality. Wake the fuck up you fake “princesses”! The gender war is ON! #MGTOW!!! #VAGINAISWORTHLESS!!

    BTW, We won’t save you from incels. You’re stuck with that problem,

  5. 101 April 29, 2019 at 1:38 am #

    A typical liberal progressive repose that you would see on twitter and facebook, no reasons given or arguments to make with facts backing it up like an adult, just name calling and shouting like a child throwing a fit…

  6. Matt June 21, 2022 at 8:48 pm #

    I found this because I googled whether or not girls also like stories of men rescuing girls. I miss these stories, which used to be part of every major movie and now seems to be forbidden in Hollywood. I think that both men and women like these stories because it’s a deep part of our identity as human beings.

    The truth is that a small percentage of men (1-2%) ever commit violent crimes compared to the numbers who serve as policemen, firefighters, or who are just generally decent people. Men are more likely to be victims of violence than women, and women commit as much domestic violence as men (more than men when directed at children), although both are overwhelmingly nonviolent. These facts and more are all verifiable by a simple Google search, but it is obscured by a media that portrays all abusers as male and has become allergic to the idea of a male hero.

    I hope that I live to see our movies start giving men and women what they want, an honorable man rescuing a virtuous woman. This paradigm of girls rescuing themselves and Disney princesses that don’t need no man that is undeniably the result of feminist authoritarians, and from this article it is plain to see that not even other feminists like the results.

  7. Max January 2, 2023 at 4:42 pm #

    To the last comment… now that’s a reasonable argument.

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