On Women and Katniss and Society

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I’ve been verbally nauseous the past week just pondering what left I have to articulate about The Hunger Games. Part of that has been my own fault; at this point I’m not sure why I haven’t already subscribed to a Panem RSS Feed or set a Google Alert for ‘The Boy with the Bread’ because every other half hour I’ve been fine-tooth combing the net for the freshest critique on ‘Catching Fire.’ Indulge, indulge, indulge. What goes down must come up.

I’ve been starving to put my own thoughts to a page, me with my smorgasbord of unfocused convictions that I never know how to pare down or to tame or harness or whatever other equinal metaphor describes my wild thought process. I’m fairly certain that there’s nothing that so turns me on–on an intellectual level at the very least–as Young Adult dystopian literature with a protagonist in whom I encounter glints (and gleams?) of myself.

Actually, I don’t want to risk being overly honest with myself but potentially it’s merely admiration. In this case–most of that veneration lands at the feet of Suzanne Collins.

Why?

So much cyberspace has been devoted to dissecting the type of stuff that makes up our alleged heroine Katniss Everdeen. She’s a complex female protagonist who seems not overly transfixed on embodying any stereotypical feminine characteristics. I have mixed feelings about whether she deserves the bravery accolades so often assigned to her–and not because bolting into the center of a public square to save a loved one from passing out from a whipping or voluntarily electing to die and die a death that dehumanizes and scrub’s off one’s soul in the first place are not good evidence.

Yet. I have reservations. There are some times where I am afraid that the public’s gushing, oozing delight with Jennifer Lawrence’s rambunctiousness laugh and gleeful potty humor mouth and the fact that she gives a emotionally-jarring performance as a female heroine in a violent and ugly reality ends up artificially inflating how we feel about the emotionally complex and broken Katniss character.

We like Jennifer Lawrence. We like Jennifer Lawrence’s ability to infuse her portrayal of Katniss with a teenager who coos and wails when a nine-year-old is stabbed in the stomach, who brusquely chastises her mother the moment after she was tenderily stroking her sister’s arms, and makes the grueling and deadly decision to let the mutts ravage Cato to pieces. We like Katniss.

Please no.

Here’s my fear. In the society in which we live, we shower accolades on women we deem “likeable.” This is not be to be confused with bland or subservient or mild. But it lives quite uncomfortably with abrasivetough, and insular. “Likeable” women emanate warmth. They hug, they make eye contact, they verbally acknowledge, they goof off. “Likeable” women understand the art self-deprecation and make jokes about their inability to grasp a volleyball serving technique and how their relationship status relates to a whirlpool. And when they seek power and influence, “likeable” women graciously and self-consciously ask permission before cutting lines or edging another out.

Kristen Stewart comes to mind as unlikeable.

Katniss Everdeen also does. Indeed, her indecisive yet calculating and possessive yet indifferent demeanor in tandem with the latter books’ portrayal of her mental volatility, her myopia, and her willingness to ask others to bear her risks–none of that amalgamates into charm.

So why must the press still keep treating her like she has some? Katniss Everdeen is the anti-hero whom Suzanne Collins wrote to be exactly that–one to gnaw at our conceptions of who that vague and prestigious and vacuous term actually fits.

And we don’t. So we foist superlatives on Katniss like “courageous,” “self-sacrificing,” “resilient,” and the fact of the matter is that those are all only true sometimes.

You see, even Katniss knows that. My abridged version of a quite cutting Mockingjay comment follows:

All those months of taking it for granted that [Peeta? The Press? Critics? Fans? Mothers? Women? Men? Teenagers? The Public?] thought I was wonderful are over. Finally, he can see me for who I really am. Violent. Distrustful. Manipulative. Deadly.

And we all know all of that is true. Sometimes. Katniss, with a likeability quotient that matches the 21st Century’s is dead. Long live the girl who subverts not only the Capitol’s conformist conceptions but also gives a middle finger to our own.

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4 thoughts on “On Women and Katniss and Society

    • Thanks for your note! It’s just hilarious to me that rather than own up to Katniss is–and being okay–really, okay with the fact that she’s not on her way to being our best friend or the person we might ACTUALLY want as a big sister or even on our team (let’s be honest) people just ignore these things about her in really shameless ways.

      Please media and adoring fans, let Katniss (and women) be unlikeable and let it be okay.

  1. Absolutely agree; this is why I love Katniss, and her trajectory as a character throughout the whole trilogy. I am now desperately hoping that the films don’t try to make Katniss ‘likeable’, whether it’s to capitalise on Jennifer Lawrence’s (not inconsiderable) charm or not. I absolutely love Jennifer Lawrence, and I think she could very well be the woman for the job if she is allowed to be, but I kind of doubt she will.

    • I think you will appreciate this review. These lines are positively terrifying.

      “There is much to appreciate about this franchise, maybe enough to forgive how it is sold and how it is apparently perceived by its core fan base. But what good is nuanced and thoughtful moralizing if the vessel has become a prime example of what it condemns? What good is the franchise really accomplishing in an artistic sense if the core values are being lost among its biggest fans with the emphasis instead being on the sex appeal of the leads and the fashion sense of the characters?”

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2013/11/20/review-the-hunger-games-catching-fire-is-just-too-ironic/

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