Pressed Writer: "The Hunger Games is no feminist manifesto"



If you know anything about The Hunger Games books and movie, you know the protagonist is a 16-year-old girl who hunts and fights at least as much as she swoons and gets rescued. This has been hailed, in reviews and in the blogosphere, as revolutionary. (A New York Times review recently called Katniss Everdeen "a brilliant, possibly historic creation" and "a new female warrior.")

Having been raised on Pippi Longstocking, Robin McKinley's Damar novels, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I'm less than gobsmacked by Katniss Everdeen's femaleness. If the mere fact of a female action lead is still such a big deal for Hollywood, it's a good thing the movie's doing so well. But please, let's not invest the books or the movie with too much feminist significance.

The books can't carry that responsibility. They're interesting pageturners with some truly imaginative flashes, but no one should ask them to be manifestos. There's nothing in the books to challenge orthodoxy or give patriarchal parents the slightest bit of discomfort at finding it on their kids' reading tables.

Those who portray Katniss as a feminist icon enjoy contrasting her with Bella Swan, the heroine of the Twilight series. Bella's main decision is whether to hook up with the sensitive vampire or the brooding werewolf. Katniss faces a similar dilemma: will she choose the sensitive artist or the brooding hunter? Hunger Games fans insists that the romantic plot is not central, but Team Peeta and Team Gale are nicely strung along from beginning to end. The choice between Peeta and Gale is never incidental for Katniss; it's defining. Romance exists in the Harry Potter books but it's never linked to Harry's character arc as tightly as it is for both Katniss and Bella.

There's nothing wrong with Katniss having these love interests, but there's nothing challenging about it, either.

I can hear the Hunger Games fans cry out: But Katniss doesn't want to choose either of them, for the longest time! She doesn't want to get married!

Right. She tells us, over and over, that she doesn't want to get married because she doesn't want to have children. Love, marriage and child-bearing are all inextricable in Katniss' world view, and all associated with an absence of choice. There's a thin, tedious plot device about Katniss needing to keep up her pretence of a relationship with one of the boys, to convince everyone that it was real in the first place. The notion that a girl might genuinely fall for a boy, then later, end the relationship never seems to occur to her, or her friends, or her enemies.

For most of the trilogy, as she moons about how she doesn't want to bring a child into the world and therefore can't marry, there is no indication that Katniss is even aware of the possibility of birth control. This is weird, since she lives in a future world with advanced medical technology. Much of it is not readily available to her class, but her mother and sister are healers, and even in primitive societies, such women have tended to have a few tricks up their sleeves. Is it credible that Katniss would have grown up without the slightest inkling that women could make choices about reproduction?

Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight novels, is a strict Mormon. Much has been made of the chastity theme in her books. But a parent with conservative social values who liked Twilight for those reasons would have no trouble with The Hunger Games. There is very little mention of premarital or extra-marital sex other than prostitution. If there is birth control, nobody talks about it. Ditto for abortion. If any of the characters is gay, it's never mentioned.

(Some characters are black, though, which became obvious in the movie and horrified some fans who hadn't read closely and took to social media to express their disappointment. This makes me sad.)

Suzanne Collins had every right to write The Hunger Games as she chose. It's her story and it's a good one. Between writer and readers, that's all that matters. But if we're looking at the books as social barometers, I don't think it's coincidental that this highly successful young-adult fiction has plenty of gore but very little sex.

Katniss has no ambition, no interest in politics beyond a personal vendetta. She's motivated by love for her family. She might be kickass but she isn't threatening to our social order. There's no controversy over women taking up archery or martial arts. There is controversy these days in the United States over access to birth control. The relationship between female power in The Hunger Games and the real feminist battles of 2012 is comfortably remote.


idt this person can separate marketing and the actual book. also  i loved how she couldn't understand why in a technologically advanced world, katniss wouldn't have access to BC...i mean district 12 isn't the capitol
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