Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
The popularity and increasingly wide-spread exposure given to the Hunger Games has very exciting and positive implications for the future of various forms of media, especially literature, directed at young girls. Hunger Games does not simply have a “strong female protagonist” in the sense that the female lead does not display emotions, can physically hold her own in a fight, and generally imitates typically masculine actions and mannerisms. Instead, Katniss has been given three-dimensional, compelling and relatable characteristics and has not been forced to act according to a restrictive and unrealistic gender binary. In other words, Collins wrote Katniss without thinking of her primarily as a girl, but as a hardened survivor, a loving and supportive sister, and a child of a broken home who has experienced loss, but deals with said loss as best she can. As a result, she has both “masculine” and “feminine” characteristics, all of which make sense for her personality and brutal position in life. For example, Collins early on in the novel establishes Katniss’ physical strength and intelligence by describing her skill as a hunter and the natural aptitude she’s had for it since birth. She also draws attention to her taciturn nature, a trait coded as masculine, but which makes sense given that for most of her life she has had to repress her own emotions to a certain extent in order to provide for her much younger sister and her incapacitated mother. Yet this willingness to provide for her family both practically and emotionally make her a much more maternal figure than she lets on. In addition the fact that she sacrifices herself for her sister-out of duty, but much more out of love-exemplify a loving and nurturing “feminine” side to her as well. I find Collin’s refusal to characterize Katniss as overwhelmingly male or female refreshing, as it normalizes the idea that girls, do not need to perform actions coded as feminine exclusively in order to feel secure in their identities. Through Katniss, Collins does something books like Twilight fail to do: she acknowledges girls and women as human beings whose personalities, interests and capabilities are not limited by their sex or gender, and that no template for a “proper” girl exists.
In addition, Collins expresses a preference for girls and boys that do not fit neatly into society’s template for either gender. All the main characters-the ones Collins intended the audience to relate to-have a mixture of male and female characteristics like Katniss. Peeta for example, despite his gender clearly possesses a nurturing instinct that he displays early on in the novel by providing bread to a young, starving Katniss despite the harsh consequences he later faces. Yet he also has a large, “masculine” build and great amount of physical strength, making him somewhat of an ideal candidate for a brutal survival game such as the Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta’s combined ability to collaborate and emphasize with each other as well as their physical and tactical skills allow them to survive conditions of extreme violence and emotional stress. Characters like Mrs. Evergreen however, who Collins portrays as extremely feminine, loses all ability to function or take care of her children after her husband dies. She appears to embody traditional notions of femininity to the extreme: emotionally delicate, frail, and incapable of taking care of herself or others unless she has a man to rely on. Through her contrast of Katniss and her mother, Collins supports a more liberated idea of femininity for girls, one not restricted by traditional ideals and can incorporate traditionally masculine traits without compromising one’s identity as a girl or woman.