Escaping the Tower: Why Calling Bioshock Infinite’s Elizabeth a Damsel in Distress is Misguided and Problematic, a Rant

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I get so annoyed when people call Elizabeth a damsel in distress.

There are two times in all of Bioshock Infinite where Elizabeth is in peril, alone, and Booker has to come rescue her: once at Fink Manufacturing when she gets nabbed by the Founders, and once when she gets taken to Comstock House. Even then, those two situations require a disclaimer. In the first case, she was getting the hell away from a man who was trying to abduct her (after taking him out with a wrench to the face), and she just had a little trouble escaping an army of Founder agents for whom she was Person of Interest #1. (Let’s also not forget she saved Booker from getting tossed off Columbia during the whole ordeal, not that that’s going to be a reoccurring thing.)

The second time, she was abducted by the most feared creature in all of Columbia, tied into a chair with a giant spinal tap stuck in her back, had siphons draining her powers and, oh yeah, Comstock’s scientists started conducting experimental, anesthetic-free brain surgery on her. Oh well pfft what a whiny bitch, not being able to get out of that, right?

Whiner.

I mean, we all know big, strong, badass Booker DeWitt would never get into a situation where he’d need to be saved—except for, you know, that time Elizabeth gave him CRP on the beach when he almost drowned, or that time she caught him with a blimp to save him from falling off the city, or that time she gave herself up to Songbird to save his life (and was subjected to horrifically painful torture and mutilation as a result, did I mention that part?), or all those times she tossed him ammo or health packs or salts, or maybe every single time his health bar runs out and Elizabeth revives him. But naw, we’re not going to call Booker a damsel when Elizabeth sticks a needle of adrenaline in him for the gazillionth time—but when Elizabeth, for once, requires his help to escape a truly perilous and horrifying situation? Oh my gaaaaawd can’t this bitch take care of herseeeeelf?

Pictured above: useless princess.

Yes, I get it, damsels in distress are annoying as hell, and I hate it just as much as the next person when female characters sit around and whine and need saving every five minutes. That’s not Elizabeth. In fact, that doesn’t describe a myriad of female characters that people call damsels, for the crime of needing a freaking hand once in a while. A female character who is a virtual automaton never allowed a moment of failure or vulnerability isn’t better that a damsel in distress. It’s just the other extreme, and they both enforce this really unfortunate idea that women are one-dimensional constructs and not, you know, people with strengths and weaknesses and feelings and ambitions and highs and lows. Why is the choice between a construct that’s always weak, and one that isn’t ever allowed to be? Why shove truly dynamic female characters off the table like that?

Does Booker rescue Elizabeth during Bioshock Infinite? Yes, of course—she owes a lot to him. But does Elizabeth rescue Booker right back? You’re goddamn right she does, frequently and with gusto, and even when she hates Booker’s guts she still busts out the gauze and patches him up. That’s one of the great things about these two: they’re a team. Not since Alyx and Gordon from Half-Life 2 have I seen a video game team that works together so dynamically and so well, with each truly playing an equal part in making the partnership work. They support and take care of each other in pretty much every way, and it’s that partnership alone that keeps them alive. Just because Elizabeth isn’t totting a Winchester around doesn’t mean Booker would be any less screwed without her, and doesn’t discount the amount of times she rides in on a metaphorical white steed to save him. And the one time—the one freaking time—she legitimately needs him to come save her (not even by killing the scientists, not even by tearing her out of the chair and running off into the sunset with her, but by flipping a switch so she can do it herself) some people have the audacity to call her a damsel in distress?

I don’t even have a proper snappy conclusion to address that much bullshit, so let’s just—

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Yeah girl, I feel you.

For further reading on the subject of Elizabeth and the Damsel trope, see this awesome article: Covert Damsels 2: Elizabeth’s Revenge on GeekQuality.

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