The Gender Games

Many of you may not have seen “The Hunger Games” in theaters or have read the books series, so I won’t spoil it for you. However, I would like to use this as an opportunity to think about how the young adult (YA) fiction genre might be the newest site for re-conceptualizing the way we think about women as protagonists. Could it be that the same entertainment market that gave us Twilight could now be paving the way for strong female leads in books and movies, or is Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games, just an anomaly?

I went to see The Hunger Games during its opening weekend without having read any of the books, and I was pleasantly surprised. Rarely do you see an action movie with a strong female lead who isn’t sexualized in some way. Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the film, is depicted as a woman whose sexuality is clearly a part of her identity; however, what we do get as far as romance goes leaves us guessing about her true desires and motivations, which adds a certain complexity to the film. Without giving too much away, I felt that the portrayal of Katniss, at least in the film, avoided reducing her to the object of men’s sexual fantasies.

Of course, that’s not to say that the movie was without its flaws when it comes to gender. Still, I’m reminded of a Women’s Week event that I went to where young adult fiction writers discussed the way that ideas about gender inform their writing. What I came away with was this idea that books featuring male protagonists have a universal appeal, while books with female main characters tend to appeal more to young women (and often repel male readers). “The Hunger Games” has a very broad fan base, but still explores how life in the universe of the franchise is complicated by gender.

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4 thoughts on “The Gender Games

  1. lindiwerennert

    Don’t even get me started on Twilight (said while rolling eyes and sighing with disgust)!
    I think you hit on an excellent point here: “I would like to use this as an opportunity to think about how the young adult (YA) fiction genre might be the newest site for re-conceptualizing the way we think about women as protagonists.” Interestingly enough, it might actually be one of the oldest sites for depicting female protagonists that appeal to all genders of readers! Several female writers in the YA science fiction(ish) genre have been creating leads that are not at all characterized by their sex appeal or desirable cardinal quality. Susan Cooper, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Wylie Blanchet were writing in the 40s, 60s, and 70s of young females with supernatural powers. Today’s female leads in literature and beyond are centered around their powers OVER men. Oh how the genre has suffered since Cooper’s day! While the Twilight character Bella Swan would have these females writers of the past up in arms, Katniss, I agree with you, might give them renewed hope.
    Let’s face it, towards the end of the Harry Potter series even Hermoine (the smartest of the lot) was reduced to a sideline player who did more cheering on, kissing, and nervously worry about Ron than thinking of clever spells to help Harry…
    Hopefully more authors within the genre think as Suzanne Collins seems to…

  2. sbobadilla

    Oh fantasy and feminism… How I wish you could be more compatible! I think it’s really great that the Hunger Games shows how female protagonists are awesome and I can’t wait to see the movie myself!

    A quick LOTR digression–I had a solidly “Lord of the Rings” obsessed childhood. I read all the books, saw all the movies, and even may have indulged in Sky Mall LOTR inspired products. But as a burgeoning feminist, I had these awkward moments in my make-believe scenarios when I realized that even if I managed to head back to Middle Earth, I would probably be excluded from the Fellowship. For one, it was all men; secondly, there were only white hobbits/humans/wizards/elves/Gollums. There are about four women in LOTR: one is Sam’s girl hobbit crush (who smiles and serves beer), the other is Arwen (the elf we are supposed to admire as she gives up her mortality for her boyfriend), next is Galadriel (the elf who freaks out at Frodo for having a ring, but otherwise kinda stands there and just glows), and Eowyn (the human who is in love with Aragon, gets rebuffed, but then becomes a BAD ASS she dresses in drag and kills a ringwraith who’s all ‘you can’t kill me, no man can kill me’ but then Eowyn is like ‘haha wait! I am a woman!’ and kills him). Eowyn was the closest I got to a mad-empowering LOTR figure, until there’s this weird moment at the end when you see her flirting with this other Prince and suddenly THAT is what we should be proud her for. It certainly left a bad taste in my mouth; Eowyn you are a baller especially since you are a single lady!

    And thus my digression ends.

  3. Suzanna, my childhood was Harry Potter-dominated, and I really identified with Hermione, until the last few books (as Lindiwe highlighted in her comment). Still, she wasn’t “cool.” She was smart and fairly independent, but teased and portrayed as ugly.
    I also enjoyed several of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, especially A Wrinkle in Time, which has a young female protagonist.
    So, I appreciate Bradley’s post this week for making me think a bit harder about the messages in the books we read when younger. I have not read The Hunger Games, but perhaps I should. YA fiction does seem to hold promise, especially for fighting back against the negative images most media pelt at girls and young women. Any creative writers out there? I’m talking to you!

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