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.