Single-Minded: Do Women Secretly Want to Be Rescued?

Maybe the Cos was right: Women (sometimes) want to be rescued. But you can be an independent woman and still harbor fantasies of being saved by Liam Neeson. After all, we're talking Liam Neeson.


The scene: the "Bookworm" episode of The Cosby Show, circa 1988. It's the first time men have been invited to Clair's very deep "book discussion group." Cliff, whose wife (and the audience) doesn't believe he has read the book, ends up being the only guy with the courage to show up.

"I'd like to know how a man feels about the book," asks a book-club member.

Soon an overconfident Cliff, who has the living room full of women turning pages at his every observation, trips over his own literary bravado. "I felt that what the author seemed to be saying was that a woman can be equal to a man but at the same time can fulfill a subconscious need to be rescued." And the crowd of women -- two of whom are played by Angela Bassett and S. Epatha Merkerson -- goes silent. Clair tries to rescue her husband with a subtle pinch to the arm. But he's lost. 

"Ah, did I hear you say that a woman has a subconscious need to be rescued?" accuses a flame-haired book clubber, genuinely flabbergasted. "I definitely heard you say that," challenges another member (played by Bassett).

"Rescued. I said rescued," emphasizes Cliff, totally oblivious to the gaping hole he's dug for himself. He grasps at a few other adjectives: "attended," "liberated" and "equal." None of them work as lifeboats.

Now, this is the late '80s. The episode aired two years after the Supreme Court ruled sexual harassment a form of illegal job discrimination, and three years before Anita Hill testified about soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' penchant for pornography and pubic hair in his 1991 Senate confirmation hearings.

Like a lot of girls in my generation, raised in equal parts by a liberated woman and marathon viewings of The Cosby Show, 7-year-old me was determined never to need to be rescued, subconsciously or otherwise. If Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett and S. Epatha Merkerson didn't need to be saved, attended, liberated or equal, then those adjectives didn't apply to my life, either.

This in no way explains my -- and scores of other women's -- obsession with Liam Neeson in Taken. Or the fact that, just a month ago, I explained said obsession (I've seen the movie at least four times and refer to Neeson as my imaginary dad) this way: " 'Cause in the end, every woman secretly wants to be rescued."

For anyone unfamiliar, Taken is the story of what would happen if a retired Jason Bourne had to save his teenage daughter from sexual slavery using several different languages and knives and stuff.

True, almost all the women need bailing out in the film because they are, in a word, stupid. What kind of mother lets a naive 17-year-old go to Europe to follow a rock band around with nothing but a credit card and an idiot friend? And what kind of fool tells a stranger that she's staying in the house all alone? But the spotlight is supposed to be on Neeson's masculinity; he's given to grave announcements along the lines of, "I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you."