Damsels in distress are so old school!
A hilarious twist on a traditional medieval fairy tale, Princess Ida tells the tale of a Princess, who eschews her marriage obligations to the Prince of a neighboring kingdom (made when they both were infants) to run a women’s university. Prince Hilarion has been waiting for his wedding day for twenty years. He is about to meet Princess Ida to whom he was betrothed, as a baby. Unfortunately, Princess Ida has decided that she does not want to honor the commitment, and has, instead, gone off and started a women’s college. But Hilarion does not give up hope! In an attempt to woo her, Hilarion, dresses up as a maiden and sneaks into the women’s compound, accompanied by his friends, Cyril and Florian, who are forced to dress up, as well. Once the “maidens” are in the compound, various girls attending the college discover their secret. These girls attempt to keep their knowledge from Ida, but eventually Ida discovers and apprehends the intruders. It looks like violence is sure to erupt, but Ida finally relinquishes and agrees to marry Hilarion.
This was during the Victorian era and in 1884 when Gilbert and Sullivan created Princess Ida and Castle Adamant” and when women’s education was a new and controversial subject. At that point in history — the height of the Victorian era — these topics were timely and easy to satirize. Today, feminism has moved from fights for equal rights in marriage and betrothal to equal pay at work and equal treatment in the workplace, both which are still hotly contested subjects in many parts of the world. This was also a time where the industrial revolution was changing the landscapes all across the planet. Gilbert and Sullivan provided a healthy dose of distractions as the people began moving into new roles and responsibilities.
The American audiences didn’t take to the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, but they were inspired by them. In the 1959 film, Some Like it Hot, by Billy Wilder, a pair of musicians need to leave town in a hurry and sign up for an all-female jazz band bound for Florida via the train. Dressed as ladies, hilarity ensues. In this case it wasn’t damsels in distress but given Wilder’s brilliance, he made it work.
All through history, women have stepped up whenever the need arose. They also lead by their hearts desires. In previous posts, I’ve mentioned a few, as in Deborah Sampson who enlisted in the Massachusetts infantry during the revolutionary war. They would not be held down nor told no! When there is a will, there is a way. And men knew they could hide beneath their “petticoats” and did so often, just as women hid under men’s clothing to hide their genders and so to push forward without judgement’s otherwise. Women dressed in men’s clothing to take up arms all throughout history. Men, on the other hand, did not need to. Both examples here are done in humorous plays.
No distressed damsels. We’ve got this, always have and always will. The dialog has changed, the culture is changing and the future is ours. Look out, here we come, while making the planet a better place for all, in whatever clothes we wear.