“If I won’t protect myself, what right do I have to expect another person to risk his or her life for mine?” – Sunni Maravillosa
When Sunni Maravillosa wrote that sentence back in 1996, she was talking about an important moral principle. In part, she addressed the disconnect between calling a police officer (armed with a gun) to protect you, but not being willing to pick up the gun directly to protect yourself. And that’s valid. But the moral question goes a lot deeper than that.
For instance, lately I’ve been thinking about the “white horse fallacy,” this sneaky little idea we take from childhood where we think it’s someone else’s job—and only someone else’s job—to swoop in and rescue us from danger. We have no responsibilities for ourselves. Or to ourselves, for that matter.
We cherish little-girl fantasies of a romantic stranger on a white horse who will sweep us off our feet, solve all our problems, and make our dreams come true. It’s a beautiful dream, isn’t it? But real life—adult life—turns out to be more complicated than the little girl fantasy. We soon learn that someone has to clean up after that horse!
The romantic stranger eventually turns into a beloved but imperfect life partner, who can’t actually slay all your life’s dragons because he has a bad knee and an aching back and because he needs to be away from you 10 hours a day just to pay the mortgage. It turns out, in fact, that he sometimes needs you to help him slay his dragons.
But too many women still cherish the childhood fantasy, this idea that some other person should risk his life to protect her, without her doing a single thing to help.