FEMININITY IN FILM: Katniss Everdeen

The teenage heroine from The Hunger Games is one of the best female protagonists I’ve seen on the modern screen. I say the modern screen because I think on the whole (and this is very likely my own bias toward classic films coming out again), female characters in older films are portrayed with more dignity and grace – more feminine genius, if you will – than the women we’ve seen in any post-1970 film.

The Hunger Games is an action movie. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most action movies have a male protagonist, and the ones that have a female protagonist have a tendency to masculinize her in order to make her “strong.” The first example that comes to mind is Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider films. I haven’t seen any of them, so maybe it’s not fair to judge, but all the marketing seemed to paint the character as cold, stoic, super badass, and completely invulnerable. Not so with Katniss.

On first glance (especially at the poster), Katniss might look like the same kick butt kind of heroine that Lara Croft is. But anyone who’s seen the movie or read the book will tell you differently. Katniss is a true action movie heroine without compromising her femininity.

She tries to put on a tough front, but underneath is all emotional turmoil – and because she’s a teenage girl, a great deal of that turmoil is over silly boys. That’s not to say that to be feminine is to be in constant emotional turmoil (though from my own experience as a woman, emotional turmoil is pretty common). But Katniss has a heart, a woman’s heart, that is not impenetrable and not invulnerable.

Another thing that drives me crazy about most action movie heroines is that they glorify the (false) idea of independence. They have become so much like men that they don’t need men. (One of my greatest beefs with the feminist movement is that rather than celebrating the dignity of their God-given femininity, they want to be just like men – but doesn’t that just perpetuate the idea that woman are somehow inherently inferior?) Again, not so with Katniss.

Sure, Katniss can wield a bow and arrow like nobody’s business, and she provides for her family like her father did before he died. But throughout the story, Katniss is never able to accomplish what she does on her own. In fact, most of her help comes from men. Katniss owes her very survival of the Hunger Games to men – Peeta, Haymitch, Cinna, Thresh. The little girl Rue helps Katniss survive as well.

To be sure, Katniss isn’t totally helpless, just a damsel in distress. If it weren’t for her efforts, Peeta wouldn’t have survived the Games either. But the point is that Katniss’ heroism doesn’t come from some exalted idea of absolute independence. Katniss needs the protection of the men in her life. And that doesn’t make her any less heroic. It does make her more feminine.

I think I’m just scratching the surface here, but I want to hear your thoughts too. What do you think of Katniss as a female protagonist?