Swoon: Gender Themes in The Hunger Games
A lot of fuss has been made about the general "ballsiness" of Katniss Everdeen, the hero/heroine of The Hunger Games. Her heroism goes beyond that of other female characters we single out as "not your typical chick," from Lizzie Bennett (aw no you di'nt tell me not to go walking in the rain!") to Jo March ("I'm wearing ink on my hands and I don't care who knows it!"), but there is an interesting debate afoot that goes a bit further than recognizing Katniss's role as hunter/provider/kickassery specialist for her family. Over at NPR, Linda Holmes focuses on the unconventional role that Peeta plays in the series, characterizing him as the "movie girlfriend":
He encourages her to talk about her feelings. He encourages her to share herself with others. He promises her, falsely but selflessly, that her indifference doesn't hurt him and she owes him nothing. If she ever wants to come to her senses, come down from those fences, he'll be there.
He's better than she is, but softer. He's less knowing than she is. He's less cynical than she is. He's just as tough and as brave as he can possibly be with the skill set he has, and she's responsible for mopping up when that's not enough. To fail to protect him is to betray her, because that may well be the only job she gives you.
Basically, Holmes is arguing that part of the tough-Katniss equation is the constant need for Peeta to be rescued. At the same time, Gale represents the "movie boyfriend," with all the tough, big male characteristics we're used to—where Katniss withholds her plan from Peeta, so too Gale withholds his plan from Katniss. Gale is the kiss-instigator with Katniss; Katniss is the kiss-instigator with Peeta. And here's where it gets more interesting...
Dr. Mimi Schippers wrote a response to Holmes on Jezebel, in which she went a step further, arguing that the Peeta/Gale female/male partnership "choice" for Katniss actually impacts the gender role that Katniss herself plays:
When Katniss is with Peeta, she does a form of masculinity in relationship and reaction to his behavior and vice versa. Because Peeta "calls out" protection, Katniss steps up. When Gale calls out nurturing, she plays the part. In other words, not only is gender a "doing" rather than a "being," it is also an interactive process. Because Katniss is in relationship to both Peeta and Gale, and because each embodies and calls out different ways of doing gender, Katniss oscillates between being the "movie boyfriend" sometimes and the "movie girlfriend" other times and, it seems, she's facile and takes pleasure in doing all of it.
The article then gets into some next-level commentary about monogamy and the idea of partnership that I won't bog this caravan in just now. I thought the discussion of gender roles was a super interesting way of looking at the series, not least because of the "role" that "Katniss and Peeta The Couple" play in the Capitol's progaganda. Katniss's wedding dress is presented as a concession to President Snow's wishes, and the desire among the audience (both in the Capitol and in theaters) to see Katniss dolled up in a gorgeous Steve McQueen-ish creation. However, as fans of Catching Fire know, Cinna uses the dress to subvert the expectations/will of the Capitol and turn it into a symbol of dissent. Likewise, Katniss is not going to play the role of little wifey in this series—part of her dilemma in choosing between Peeta and Gale.
Both Holmes and Schippers are talking largely about Hollywood movie conventions, but obviously these same ideas about how female and male characters work in binary apply to books too. And there are an abundance of tough female characters in The Hunger Games as a whole—Effie, Johanna Mason, Prim, Rue to name a few—while the first book focuses in part on Katniss's fury at her mother's ability to keep it together after her father's death.
What are your thoughts on how the gender spectrum is represented in film and in the books?