Why don’t we have stories about women sacrificing themselves for the men they love?

Note: This article is also available in Romanian.

Spoilers ahead!

A comment section at my blog, www.judgybitch.com turned into an interesting conversation about women and their capacity to feel love for men the same way men feel love for women.

Men will go to the battlefield for love, to die for it, to fight and kill other men for it. Its a form of deep desire that women if they can feel that at all will only have this for their own children.

This led to a discussion about cultural narratives – stories, songs, movies, poems – that depict women sacrificing themselves for the men they love. It was rather a short discussion, because we could only come up with one story, and it happens to be a story I absolutely love, and have written about here and here: The Hunger Games. In the Hunger Games, 24 kids between the ages of 12 and 18 are sent into an arena to battle to the death. Last person standing wins the Hunger Games. The heroine of the story, Katniss Everdeen ends up in the Hunger Games with the boy she loves, Peeta Mellark. Peeta is injured and an infection threatens to kills him, so the gamemakers give Katniss the opportunity to retrieve the medicine that will save Peeta’s life, but in doing so, she will face two large teenage boys and a girl who throws knives very, very well. There is a good chance Katniss won’t get the medicine and will be killed instead.

Peeta lapses unconscious and Katniss knows that without the medicine, he will die.

She goes to get the medicine, knowing that she risks the very real possibility of death. She does it to defy the gamemakers, to resist the social structure, to demonstrate to viewers that her essential humanity cannot be destroyed, and because she loves Peeta.

She survives. They both survive. So even the one story I could think of in which a woman dies to protect the man she loves, she doesn’t actually die. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet takes her life, but not as a sacrifice that will save Romeo. She doesn’t want to live without him. Shakespeare was quite fond of women killing themselves, but I cannot think of a single story in which a female character dies to protect the man she loves. Does this story exist? Can anyone think of a song, story, poem or movie in which a woman gives her life to protect a man she loves from harm?

The inverse, of course, forms the basis of hundreds upon hundreds of stories. Men routinely sacrifice their lives to protect not just women they love, but women they don’t even know. How many war narratives offer ‘protecting women and children at home’ as the primary motivation for men? Men receive the message in hundreds of iterations: Protect women. That is your function. And it is very common to see women willing to protect children with their lives. The famous scene in Aliens sums up the deadly maternal trope: get away from her, you bitch.

 The narrative of women, willingly risking and sacrificing their lives to protect men, is absent. That says an enormous amount about our culture, the value we place on men, and the expectations we have of women. If men need an additional reason to say ‘no’ to women, let it be this: she would not die for you.


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