Written by Victoria King

Voices

Why I ❤️ not being a damsel

Victoria King is a practical, pragmatic woman who can look after herself, thank you very much. Sure, sometimes she’s yearned to be rescued, but she’s not very good at the whole damsel thing.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Confession: I’ve never perfected the art of being a damsel in distress.

I can only presume this was taught the day I was off school, having chickenpox or that perm for my auntie’s wedding that we never talk about (the perm, not the wedding).

I was the girl at school the boys wanted for help with French or chemistry homework, and not the same French and chemistry the other girls received behind the bike shed with their netball skirts around their necks.

In a way I was seen as one of the lads.

I have been brought up to be strong and independent, doing things for myself and learning to be the equal of both women and men around me. The women I relate to, whether fictional or real, are strong and determined characters: Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennet, Hillary Clinton and Queen Victoria, who I am named after – and yes, I do a great ‘we are not amused’ look.

There are times, though, when you simply feel a little pathetic and maybe a man could help you. In all honesty, as much as I like being an equal, a bit of gentlemanly chivalry can still have an effect on my knees, momentarily of course.

There are times I have tried and failed at acting the damsel. I cannot carry off the eyelash fluttering like the Cadbury’s Caramel Bunny and I can’t squeal or giggle three octaves higher than Mariah Carey.

Once when meeting a friend in my local city on a Saturday, I was walking up a steep street. It was full of restaurants and takeaways, the pavement coated with the remnants of last night’s taken-aways. I was wearing new, leather-soled shoes, one of which made contact with a small piece of pizza. A split second later, I was kneeling Madonna-like on the street. I sniffled, emitting purest essence of genuine damsel. Two men were passing on the same side of the pavement… and proceeded to climb over me, breaking neither stride nor conversation.

“Should Russell Crowe in his Robin Hood guise come into the garage on his white charger and ask if I want any help with my tyre pressures, I will kindly decline.”

I was really shaken. But I stood up, looked down at my new shoes, went into the nearest pub, cleaned myself up in the loos and ordered a drink.

Over the years I have tried to analyse this further; it’s not that I want to be seen as a damsel – no way – but I would support anyone, woman or man, when in difficulty. But maybe it’s a tool of femininity that’s missing from my arsenal.

When I said to a male friend, “I’m vulnerable at the minute,” he shot me a wry smile and replied: “You, vulnerable? Never. You couldn’t spell it, never mind know how to be it.” His smile said, “you don’t believe that crap any more than I do” – and he was right.

Nicknames over the years have included: Boudicca, Joan of Arc, Lara Croft, Miss Moneypenny and my personal favourite: Steel Balls.

This is all fine and admirable and I’m very happy with these nicknames, but it leaves me with those tricky situations when I am still a bit pathetic: tyre pressures, technology and carrying heavy things. This will not do. I am taking action.

Tyre pressures baffle me and I have this irrational fear I will over-inflate them and they will simply burst, or my car will look like some obese Tonka toy. For this I have always had the perfect gentleman: my dad. The man who knows his eldest daughter is allowed a couple of foibles.

In order to conquer this irrational fear and to rechannel my inner Joan I am currently undergoing training with Dad and I have already pumped up my tyres to perfection. *self five*

Technology baffles me. It’s moving too fast – a sign I’m getting old. I needed to change my phone; friends had been nagging me and I am the sort of person that with training will learn. So off I went with sweaty palms, a list of questions and my stock phrase: please treat me like an idiot.

Who knew you need a PhD to change your phone? I played honest idiot, I attended all the courses and spent some time changing over from one to the next so I could learn all about my new phone. And now? Now I dazzle my family by Googling presenters off of the telly and saying, “How old do you think they are?” (Trust me, they’re DAZZLED.)

“When I said to a male friend, ‘I’m vulnerable at the minute,’ he shot me a wry smile and replied: ‘You, vulnerable? Never. You couldn’t spell it, never mind know how to be it.’”

Issue two = sorted. The final hurdle… but this one’s more delicate.

Though I could be described as a gutsy female, anatomically speaking I have very little guts due to lots of surgery. A great waist, sure, but no guts.

This means I have to be very careful with what I carry, and this becomes apparent when going away on holiday. Particularly as I am not good at capsule packing, I have learnt to leave the kitchen sink but with more than a couple of days of stuff, I need assistance.

Again I have good family and friends who support me but there are still times when you’re on your own. Having a mam in a wheelchair you learn all there is to know about accessibility support.

I have over the years used a great service on trains where my case is simply put on and taken off, recently more often than not by young women who are keen to support other women. They know why I can’t lift and they have no issue helping a fellow woman.

My motto is: if there’s anything I can’t do I will find out who can help me. I am proud that I am a strong independent woman equal to any man.

All of this means that should Russell Crowe in his Robin Hood guise come into the garage on his white charger and ask if I want any help with my tyre pressures, I will kindly decline. I will, however, offer to help him with his French and chemistry homework behind the bike shed.

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Written by Victoria King

Victoria is working on her first book. She is also a flag-waving survivor of Crohn’s Disease. And she loves a Mr Whippy.