Prompt: Write a critical reflection on one of the presentations you have seen this week. Make sure to be objective and very constructive in your criticism.
One of the presentations from this past week that I found fascinating was Danielle’s, which centered on the topic of Gender in the Hunger Games. I believe this is such a relevant topic to this series because of the widespread analysis of the Hunger Games series as a feminist novel, and especially the reception of Katniss as a feminist hero.
One point that really struck me from Danielle’s presentation was her analysis of several different types of female heroines throughout the past few decades. I agree in her classification of Katniss as a completely new type of protagonist. She is not over-sexualized like the Charlie’s Angels type of heroine. She is not preoccupied with shopping and typically feminine pursuits like the 90s “girl power” figures. She is simply a character doing what she must do to survive. Truly, the story would change very little if Katniss were male and Peeta and Gale were female. This is absolutely remarkable in media terms–The Hunger Games is a rare glimpse into the nebulous concept that gender doesn’t really matter as much as society likes to think it does. The characterization of Katniss, not as a girl, but as a person, is a bold move by Collins that has had far-reaching effects. We can only hope that other authors, film-makers, television writers, etc., will follow suit.
Danielle’s analysis of the different settings and characters in the books was likewise enlightening. While gender roles do still exist in this future society, it is truly a breath of fresh air to notice how seldom they are ever relevant. Unsurprisingly, the traditionalistic District 12 retains much of what we would think of as traditional gender roles, with men working in the mines and women typically being homemakers. This is not, however, a strict division. Katniss is the provider for her family, something that might be called a more masculine task. Is it because there is no man in the house that she must adopt this role, or is it simply because she is the oldest child? Katniss’ mother and sister do no such work, but Collins clearly explains that it is their gentle nature that makes them suited to healing work, not their gender. Furthermore, an important distinction is made in that the reason that the Everdeen family falls on hard times after the death of Katniss’ father is not because they no longer have a man to support them, but because the catatonic state of Katniss’ mother left her unable to care for her children.
Katniss is perhaps more traditionally masculine in character and behavior than many of her peers, but neither is she anti-feminine. She does not wear dresses because they serve her no purpose during her hunts, but when the Reaping requires one, she makes no comment and dons her dress as if it were–radically–simply a garment and not a reflection of her character. Similarly, Peeta has many traits that make him traditionally more feminine than, say, Gale, but his femininity is never remarked upon. His love of painting does not make him any less a man, just as Katniss’ skill with a bow does not make her any less a woman. To Collins’ eternal credit, she allows her characters to act like people with a variety of responsibilities, interests, and personalities without commenting on how this makes them strange or different.
The thing that is so refreshing about the Hunger Games series is that gender doesn’t really matter as much as it does in so many other books and films. Characters of both genders exist in positions of great power. Both genders can be seen caring very much about their appearance, as well as not caring very much at all.
Both genders can be sensitive, cold, strong, weak, selfish, caring, and any other trait you could imagine. The beautiful thing about Collins’ books is that any and all of these differences are treated with no value judgement or recognition that this may be unusual. Nobody once comments on the fact that Coin, a woman, is the leader of an entire district, and the head of a revolution at that. The Everdeen family exists with no one wondering how they get along without a male head. Collins has made one of the crucial first steps toward truly advancing gender equality. By refraining from commenting on these situations, she does not ignore gender. Rather, she allows nontraditional gender definitions to exist without so much as batting an eye. In fact, she challenges the concepts that readers may have of what men and women can do, and she does it so flawlessly that none of it seems the slightest bit out of place. The Hunger Games is one of the best examples of the ideology that neither men nor women need to behave in any certain way. Instead, it acknowledges that people are individuals that can have any number of personality traits. Gender is a part of their characters, but for the vast majority of people it is not the most defining facet. And truly, the whole idea of gender equality is founded on the concept that neither gender is better than the other and neither gender need behave in a prescribed way. For successfully supporting this idea, I think the Hunger Games deserves a round of applause for its truly progressive values.