There’s no doubt that The Hunger Games is helping prove to the world the power of women. This film, based on a book by a female author, and revered with cultlike obsession by millions of women around the world, just set box office records previously reserved for boy wizards and a sinking cruise ship. But is The Hunger Games, and its bow-and-arrow-wielding heroine, Katniss Everdeen, a pro-woman feminist powerhouse or another example of oversexualized, uberviolent excess? We have mixed emotions about the whole thing, so here are the two sides. What do you think?
Katniss Everdeen is a badass. The Hunger Games is often compared to Twilight because both are female-targeted fantasy fiction, written by a woman with a female lead character. But Katniss is no Bella Swan. Rather than moping and brooding after an aloof, abusive guy, er, vampire, Katniss is a little more focused on saving the world. She’s the hero of the story not because she’s a woman but because she’s brave, loyal, determined and human. She fights for good, stands up to evil and the focus of her character is that she’s a warrior, rather than a sex object (we say a big thank-you that Jennifer Lawrence’s breasts weren’t forced to be a supporting character like so many other action ladies’ have been—yeah, like, all of them.) One feminist blogger even noted that the gender of this character could be exchanged without changing the story at all. That’s pretty revolutionary.
While it’s a major score for feminism that we can now, hopefully, move beyond the vapid co-dependence of boy-crazy Twilight characters, this new brand of female hero—Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games and Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo before her—takes badass perhaps a bit too far. The gore and guts in the former and sexual violence in the latter are akin to something we might see in the latest torture-porn flick. That’s not to say women-targeted action adventures can’t and shouldn’t include fighting, swordplay, blood and conflict. Girls like this stuff too. But perhaps The Hunger Games walks a little too closely to the line of exploitation. Our hero, Katniss, is a pretty girl in peril (Hollywood loves those), literally fighting for her life. The titillation there is the threat of her death, which she narrowly escapes, not without scars, on more than one occasion. Wars need fighting and women leading the way is imagery I hope we see more of in entertainment. But perhaps we can find a way to project this without also adding to the overabundance of violent, abusive depictions of women.