If you know anything about The Hunger Games books and movie, you know the protagonist is a 16-year-old girl who hunts and fights at least as much as she swoons and gets rescued. This has been hailed, in reviews and in the blogosphere, as revolutionary. (A New York Times review recently called Katniss Everdeen “a brilliant, possibly historic creation” and “a new female warrior.”)
Having been raised on Pippi Long-stocking, Robin McKinley’s Damar novels, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’m less than gobsmacked by Katniss Everdeen’s femaleness. If the mere fact of a female action lead is still such a big deal for Hollywood, it’s a good thing the movie’s doing so well. But please, let’s not invest the books or the movie with too much feminist significance.
The books can’t carry that responsibility. They’re interesting page-turners with some truly imaginative flashes, but no one should ask them to be manifestos. There’s nothing in the books to challenge orthodoxy or give patriarchal parents the slightest bit of discomfort at finding it on their kids’ reading tables.
Those who portray Katniss as a feminist icon enjoy contrasting her with Bella Swan, the heroine of the Twilight series. Bella’s main decision is whether to hook up with the sensitive vampire or the brooding werewolf. Katniss faces a similar dilemma: will she choose the sensitive artist or the brooding hunter? Hunger Games fans insists that the romantic plot is not central, but Team Peeta and Team Gale are nicely strung along from beginning to end. The choice between Peeta and Gale is never incidental for Katniss; it’s defining. Romance exists in the Harry Potter books but it’s never linked to Harry’s character arc as tightly as it is for both Katniss and Bella.
There’s nothing wrong with Katniss having these love interests, but there’s nothing challenging about it, either.