Feminist or Not?: ‘The Hunger Games’

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?

Feminist!

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.

Maybe Not…

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.

 


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Author: Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.
About Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.

Comments

  1. Roxanna says:

    As a huge fan of both book series’ I have to vehemently disagree with the premise that these depictions are exploitative. The Hunger Games books are dystopian young adult fiction, not female targeted fantasy fiction.
    The Hunger Games is not a story about a pretty girl in peril, it’s a story about poverty and oppression. Katniss Everdeen is a strong, conflicted character, who fights for survival in the world in which she was born, and it’s a grim, believable world. Likewise the world of Lisbeth Salander, who, like one in four women, has experienced sexual violence. There’s nothing titillating about the sexual violence in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; it’s unfortunately intensely realistic. Both characters respond appropriately to the situations presented to them. An honest depiction of rape should not be compared to torture-porn; as a survivor I find that analogy disturbing. Nor should The Hunger Games be compared to movies like the Saw series.

    Both Katniss and Lisbeth are survivors of horrific experiences who manage to strike back at their abusers. Not many people, particularly women, have that opportunity. I think that’s one of the reasons both of these characters resonate so deeply with such a wide and diverse audience.

    I don’t think having female lead characters makes a story women targeted anymore than I automatically assume a story with a male lead is meant for a male audience, which is not to say that I don’t think Katniss and Lisbeth are of course feminist characters.

    And to quibble, neither series features swordplay. When she doesn’t use her fists, Lisbeth is quick with a broken bottle or golf club, Katniss is skilled with a bow and arrow.

  2. The Sexy Feminist says:

    This is a great argument, Roxanna. Thanks so much for sharing. It’s a polarizing, conflicting issue and there has been a lot of debate about both of these characters online lately. We wanted to extend the conversation from a feminist perspective and you’ve helped us do just that.

  3. Lauren says:

    Our blog is doing a chat about these exact questions later this week. Overall, though, I think HG is a win for women.

    • Heather Wood Rudulph says:

      Awesome, Lauren, we’ll tune in! And we are definitely Feminist-leaning in this debate, but it’s one worth having for sure.

  4. Lucy says:

    What is the point of being a sexy feminist? I ask genuinely and I mean it not as in: ‘feminists can’t be sexy’, but rather that being sexy is totally irrelevant to being feminist. Not, of course, in the eyes of blatant misogynists who depict feminists as butch, manly, jealous of femininity, and sexually unappealing by media standards – but presumably you are not catering for those types. It just seems like a really strange, arbitrary and pointless name for a blog dedicated fairly intelligently to empowering women. Who gives a fuck if we’re sexy? The whole point is that it is not supposed to matter either way! And what is ‘sexy’anyway? Surely we all know that it’s amounts to subjective preference?

    • The Sexy Feminist says:

      Yes, Lucy, we always say our name is actually redundant. We don’t really mean it in a male gaze sort of way. We are not, of course, expecting misogynists to read our site, but the point of the name is that we speak out against those very stereotypes. If you look at our content, much of it addresses these exact areas. Thanks for stopping by, and for thinking we’re fairly intelligent! We meant the name to be a little provocative. These are the exact kinds of debates we were hoping it would inspire. And “Feministing,” alas, was already taken. :)

  5. Claire says:

    I think the movie was less feminist than feminist. Yes, we got a strong(ish) female lead, but she still sold out for love and lost independence. I am told the book does not end this way.

    Is Hollywood ruining a premise for profit? Perhaps.

  6. Lucy says:

    Thanks. I wil read on!

  7. Momo says:

    Well, I don’t think the movie was “less feminist” … I think it followed the book very closely (maybe it seems so because we don’t get to see into Katniss’ mind like in the book and can only speculate on what she is thinking).
    And where did she “sell out” ? She is constantly on TV, so she acts accordingly to give the audience a ‘good show’ (so Peeta and her have the the sponsors on their side) . This is shown with Hamish sending messages and also the pretend star-crossed lovers thing before the game.
    And where did she lose her independence?
    I think the movie was well done and I really liked that they didn’t prettify Katniss.

  8. Jenna says:

    I liked the books more by a lot. I felt like the movie softened Katniss, among other things. Although, I didn’t feel like the violence was sexualized in either the book or movie.

  9. I adored these books and the movie. I think the violence was portrayed in a way to show its very senselessness, not for exploitation purposes like so many contemporary action films. It was a dystopic vision, much in the way that Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” showed the immorality that humans descend into. Not exploitative, rather, holding a mirror up to the meaningless violence of our own society. I love Katniss’ interdependence with Peeta. They protected each other, as she told him at the end of the final book. Brilliant.

  10. I loved the books, and the movie was great as well. I thought that it was definitely feminist, and I can’t wait until the other two come out.
    The thing I had a problem with though was the casting of the characters. In the book, it is specified that Katniss and most people of district 12 have olive skin and straight black hair, however, I felt like the movie worked it’s Hollywood whitewash magic, and casted white characters where poc should have been casted.
    This is more an issue of ethnic inclusiveness, rather than one of gender, but I still think it’s important.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] guidance to make up your own mind, check out this round-up of feminist analyses, this post entitled ‘Feminist or Not’, and/or watch this [...]

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