The Hunger for more female leads

By: Andrea Alarcon

hunger games
Katniss Everdeen, protagonist of The Hunger Games. Photo: Illinois State University.

Finally, someone figured it out.

Lead character Katniss Everdeen, the 16-year old girl who is unapollogetically strong, self sufficient, and overall kicks ass, is what I believe stands behind the recent Hunger Games insanity.

The story, where Katniss is forced into an arena to battle another 23 kids to the death, was bound to be addictive. The themes and plot: the effect of war on youth, the eventual self destruction of humanity, and the rebellion against an oppressive regime ring bells, specially with the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement.

Reviewers credit the bloodshed, the love triangle, the humor, the elegantly simple language and page-turning plot as the reasons behind the addiction to the books and the film’s record success. Yet none of them, not even the plot line, (eheeem Battle Royale) is unique to the series. Katniss, on the other hand, a strong female lead that appeals to everyone and their mother (and of course, their father), is surely a novelty. There have been others, but not of this magnitude.

Suzanne Collins obliterates gender roles without ever bitching about them. She does it in such subtle and matter of fact way that you may not even realize it, getting male readers (finally!) into a female head. For example, in District 12, where all is misery and survival is all that matters, Katniss and Gale, the rebellious, sexy male, are equal hunting partners providing for their families. They each have their strengths: she can shoot and he can snare, she can climb trees and he can jump high. She feels safe with him watching her back, but she most certainly does not need him. If anything, he may need her more.

Once in the arena, Collins talks about size and strength, which is only physical, brute force, but every single female participating in the games is as much a competitor as the men. In spite of always insisting that he has to protect her, Katniss spends much of her time protecting her male co-lead, Peeta. Katniss is cool-headed, a “survivor”, a huntress and of very strong character, but she is never portrayed as masculine. Quite the opposite, she’s a heart breaker without being particularly beautiful or sexy. Peeta is the other face of the coin, with excellent qualities that tend to be typically given to females, like a love for aesthetics, compassion, devotion and caregiving. Yet we never see him as weak or feminine.

The key is showing that all of these characteristics, whether it’s compassion or strength, are a hero’s make, regardless of the gender of the possessor.

Comparing the Games to its blockbuster predecessors, Harry Potter and Twilight, we find that they were also written by women and aimed at young adults. Yet J.K Rowling’s strongest female is Hermione, who although brilliant and essential is decidedly not the hero. On the other hand is Twilight’s female lead, Bella: a helpless, weak teenager needing protection from the strong, sexy manpire.

The main Potter fan base is equally male and female. Girls have always liked male-leading stories; after all it’s all we’ve ever known. Classic heroines are not the ones battling the dragon to save the prince. According to the production studio’s numbers, Twilight had 20 percent male audience (many which we can assume to be dragged-in boyfriends) while The Games had 39 percent.

Collins has no primary feminist agenda or message in the book, yet it may be the most effective way of showing children that girls can be heroines too, without it being something unusual or extraordinary. It’s a matter of fact. I wish I had more stories like these growing up instead of the Disney princesses. The closest one was Mulan, but then she had to act like a man to be able to kick ass. If anyone else knows of female leads in good action books please do tell!

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