In my “Play of Ideas” course, we spent a couple of days talking about Henrik Ibsen’s plays, mainly A Doll’s House and Ghosts. My professor suggested that the representations of women in these plays were a representation of “the new woman” whom Ibsen might have imagined as sexless. I think it’s an interesting concept for a women to be “sexless.” What exactly does that mean? Does it mean she stays away from any notions of romance? A review for Ibsen’s Ghosts suggests that his characters represent the new woman, an “unwomanly woman, the unsexed female.”
If we think about The Hunger Games trilogy, it’s not about a love triangle. It’s not about a damsel in distress. It’s about a girl trying to stay alive. But Hollywood media has made these films largely about who Katniss will choose. Team Peeta? Team Finnick? It’s as if the film’s take on inequality, war, violence, and pain aren’t enough. We have to make them about love too.
For those who haven’t read The Hunger Games trilogy or seen the movies, be warned. Some spoilers below. Although at this point if you haven’t read any of the books then….well. Okay.
Like I mentioned, Katniss is a girl trying to survive. She isn’t interesting in having kids or falling in love. In Catching Fire, she tells Gale that all she can think about every waking moment is how afraid she is. President Snow even asks Katniss when she first realized that she was indifferent to Peeta. He knows she has no interest in him, but he threatens to kill her family and friends if she doesn’t convince him and the districts that they are in love. Katniss is trying to stay alive, so she agrees to put up this act.
And this is where she starts to lose herself. She didn’t want to be in love! She just wanted to protect her family. Now, she has to convince the world that she loves Peeta. Then you have Gale back in District 12 asking Katniss if she loves him. In the film, he kisses her out of nowhere because “he had to do that.” This idea of romance was imposed on her, which made me think: Why isn’t the answer to “Peeta or Gale” as interesting as the question itself? Think about it. The question operates under the assumption that she HAS TO pick. What’s interesting about the question is that Katniss isn’t given the option to be alone. She couldn’t possibly be this sexless woman. She absolutely has to fall in love.
I’m not arguing that Ibsen is right in saying that the new woman must be sexless or unromantic. A woman should be free to do whatever she wants, but Katniss isn’t given that opportunity. At the end of the series, she ends up having two kids with Peeta. TWO! In the first book, she said she never wanted kids. Granted she said this because she thought they would be reaped and now circumstances are such that the Games don’t exist anymore, but still! She lets herself slip into a romantic relationship with Peeta out of circumstance, not out of love. It’s ultimately destructive because love was imposed on her. She wasn’t given a choice to fall in love, or not at all.
Check out this great quote from this article on why both Peeta and Gale are terrible options for Katniss.
But no, as Katniss juggles being an icon of revolution and the violent repercussions of pissing off President Snow, both of her men are playing games of jealousy. Katniss isn’t to blame for her indecision. It’s the men in her life who can’t admit to themselves that they’re torturing this young woman. Katniss later tells Gale that she wants to run away with him into the woods, to completely disappear from the chaos of the Districts. He insists that it’s not possible. The world needs her (code for: “I’m still not happy that you had to kiss another boy during the equivalent of a school play”). He’s not wrong that the Districts need a hero like Katniss, but he’s not expressing that emotionally. He has tunnel vision for his own wants. This is pyschological mistreatment 101 and no one — fictional or real — should have to put up with it.
She shouldn’t have to put up with the pressure these two men are putting on her. Katniss shouldn’t have to deal with sad sack Peeta or revolutionist-type Gale.
The Capitol is trying to play up this love story in the book series. In a similar manner, our media/popular culture chooses to emphasize this love story over the more interesting themes of the series. I laugh at the fact that the media is doing exactly what Collins’ book is criticizing them of doing: downplaying the murder, violence, war, inequality, and pain, and instead focusing on a BS love story.
I envisioned this post as a response to the NPR article, “What really makes Katniss stand out? Peeta, her movie girlfriend.” This reversal of gender roles is a long conversation for another day, but I saw the title of the article and thought, “REALLY?” What makes Katniss stand out is her bravery and willingness to do anything to protect her loved ones. What makes her stand out is not a romantic story, or of how she lovingly saves Peeta every time he trips over a shoelace. I know that these are fictional characters, but reducing Katniss down to just her relationship with these two guys really bothers me. Especially when one of these guys is a short, boring, one-dimensional, generic white boy. Can we also just talk about how the movies keep portraying Peeta as being as tall, or taller, than Katniss? Josh Hutcherson isn’t taller than Jennifer Lawrence in real life, and Peeta isn’t taller than Katniss in the books.