Working Women & Feminism: Katniss Everdeen

13 Apr

*SPOILER ALERT*

So in case you lovely readers weren’t aware, The Hunger Games is the hottest thing in Hollywood right now. Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays protagonist Katniss Everdeen, has been featured on the cover of pretty much every magazine in existence and her career has essentially blown up. FemOnFire and I even did a recent Bitchin’ Table about the films and some rather unfortunate audience reactions.

But I’m not here to talk about the Katniss Everdeen of the films today. I want to discuss how The Hunger Games has given this generation of readers a wonderful, feminist role model to look up to. And to top it off, Katniss is decidedly a working class hero.

First, I’ll start off with why I consider Katniss a feminist role model. A lot of people are trying to compare these books to Twilight, but frankly, there’s no comparison. 90% of Bella’s actions are motivated by either Edward or Jacob-her love interests. Katniss is motivated by her family and/or survival. She volunteers as tribute to save her young sister from having to endure what would surely have been a brutal death in the Games. She struggles brutally in the arena, motivated not by “love” for Peeta, but by her obligation to survive for her family and her District. This is probably one of my favorite things about Katniss-she never does anything motivated by romantic love.

Even her personality traits reek of feminism. After her father’s death in a mining accident, Katniss took the burden of caring for her family onto her shoulders. While her mother succumbed to depression, Katniss persevered and honed her hunting skills. Because she lives in the most impoverished District in Panem, just getting by is a daily struggle for most people, but she manages to feed her family and bring in a little money. She takes on the “man of the house” role unassumingly, and by all accounts excels at it.

However, the thing that really makes up Katniss’ feminist street cred is that her sex/gender in no way affects the story line. She is asked to be the face of the revolution-not Gale or Peeta. It is her intelligence and cunning that wins both her and Peeta the 74th Hunger Games. As this article points out, if you went through the books and changed the pronouns to their masculine counterparts, the story would make sense 95% of the time.

But what makes Katniss fit into this series on working women? Her politics. District 12 is described numerous times as one of the poorest districts in Panem. Katniss lives in the Seam, which is the poorest part of 12, where the miners and their families live. Even after she wins the games and is moved into the Victor’s Village, she feels completely uncomfortable in the large, decadent house, and often returns to her family’s one room shack to settle her thoughts.

As someone who grew up in a working class family, I can tell you that I never feel comfortable in wealthy homes or surroundings. Much like Katniss, I feel like I don’t belong in places like that. Reading those books was so amazing for me because for once there was a character who felt the same way that I did about those kinds of things.

As the series progresses, Katniss unwittingly becomes the leader of the resistance movement. But she always feels an obligation to her family and District above all else. One of the most emotionally compelling scenes in the series occurs in the final novel, Mockingjay. The leaders of the resistance, including Gale and Katniss, are formulating a plan to destroy the Capital’s military base in District 2. Because the base is housed inside an impenetrable mountain fort, Gale suggests causing an avalanche to trap the workers inside. Katniss balks at the idea. As the daughter of a miner, she cannot fathom a worse fate than being trapped inside an underground stronghold, and makes it clear that she wouldn’t wish it on anyone. She understands that many of the people in the mountain are working class people like herself and Gale, and that they have a common enemy, the greedy Capital. The empathy she exhibits toward these people, and her willingness to stand up for them, is very reminiscent of the connections felt by people in unions and workers in general throughout labor history.

I’m so excited that a new feminist role model has been produced for a younger generation of girls. I was lucky enough to have Hermione to look up to growing up, but part of me wishes The Hunger Games had been published when I was younger. Having a young woman like Katniss to look up to, who is smart, strong, and comes from a staunchly working class family, would undoubtedly have made me proud to come from a less than well-off family, as I’m sure it does now for many young women.

7 Responses to “Working Women & Feminism: Katniss Everdeen”

  1. Mark 04/26/2012 at 1:16 pm #

    She is NOT a feminist

    She is not a role model for just women she is one for anyone. As a man I admire her incredible bravery and strength enormously in looking after her family and those she loves. (As do her male counterparts incidently)

    She is not a feminist because she doesn’t get by on her look, hunger for the next pair of Manolo Blahniks, fret about getting a six figure salary, live only for money and whine about the “patriarchy”.

    • femistorian 04/26/2012 at 7:52 pm #

      Mark,
      Thanks for the comment. However, I think you’ve got a few things confused. I never said Katniss is a feminist, but that her character traits and the actions she takes are feminist. I don’t really think feminism exists in Panem, people are too worried about trying to eat to worry about patriarchy.

      Also, I never said Katniss was just for girls. She embodies values and traits that anyone can look up to. I’m just excited that she does all of this while being female. Young girls do not have that many great role models to look up to, and I”m glad the media finally gave them one. That doesn’t mean boys can’t enjoy it as well.

      Now, I’d like to address these misconceptions you have about feminism. Firstly, where did you get the idea that feminists get by on their looks? We’re diametrically opposed to a system that rewards people because of beauty. And I can’t think of any feminists I know or have heard of that hunger for Manolo Blahniks. Yes, some of us enjoy fashion, but we’re aren’t a bunch of knock-off Carrie Bradshaws. And I’m not sure why you think feminism equates capitalism, there’s a large Marxist feminist movement, and I personally am a socialist. A six figure salary is the last thing I’m striving for, and I certainly don’t live only for money.

      I recommend reading Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, the blog feministing.com, and ShoutOut! to clear up these confusions. Thanks!

      • Mark 05/02/2012 at 3:05 pm #

        Hi,

        I appreciate your reply, and I’ll try to respond to your points since I know you mean them sincerely.

        The thing with feminism is that many men see it from a very different perspective. To understand that perspective, you have to see it from a man’s point of view.

        1. Invariably, what men see is those pushing the feminist agenda on the media, in business and in politics are those who try to make being power-hungry, utterly materialistic, wealth-obsessed and self-centred a moral virtue – and justified through an endless, unchallenged narrative of perceived victimhood allied to an blatant hatred or denigration of men.

        2. What is conspicuously absent from feminism is actual equality. Equality becomes a punchline rather than any kind of outcome. In the UK, for example, witness the press that devotes pages to the supposed absence of women from boardrooms of corporations (the 0.01%) and little concern for the men and women struggling to put food on the table of their families (the 30%).

        3. Politicians and the media – in their hunger for the organised women vote – appeal to the most extreme elements and opinions and routinley ignore or denigrate men. A classic example being in the British family courts where 90% of the time women win custody, and are not punished for flouting contact orders let alone making allegations of abuse which are subsequetly never proven. (Incidently, this has not happened to me nor do I have children).

        4. Equality in the workplace for vast majority of people is largely accepted in principle by most reasonable people even if it is felt – by both sides – that there is discrimination against one gender or another. Ironically, the people who discriminate against men are the very ones who pretend they are victims and use their wealth and looks to get ahead (many people I know, male and female, can attest to this)

        5. Lastly, Feminism has become essentially exclusive to women. Men are not allowed an opinion on the subject unless its complimentary because they are….yes, men. Feminism connotates exclusivity and victimhood all in one go. I mean, if feminism was really what it was intended then why would it not go under a simple name that embraces everyone: equality.

        And ironically, this is really what sticks the most. The very name feminism has become about women and women’s interests – not about equality. What need is their for feminism if the real goal is equality. For everyone. Man or woman, black or white or whatever.

        The thing I admire about Katniss – and indeed the place where she is from – is that equality is essentially not in question. Everyone is equal (albeit enforced by poverty) and Katniss is not on some quest to defeat an evil, mythical patriarchy. She is not on some man-hating or wealth-obsessed ego trip. Nor is she teaming up with women as an example of how women don’t need men.

        She exists as she always has: to protect her family and friends (male and female alike). And that is precisely what makes her so compelling and why I wouldn’t use the name feminist to describe her.

        • femistorian 05/02/2012 at 3:40 pm #

          Mark,
          Thanks for what I can only call an awesome response. It’s always great when readers really flesh out their arguments, and I’m so glad we’re having this discussion.

          I think you make a point that many men view feminism differently, and it’s a perspective I should consider when reading comments. I’m going to just address each point you made as best I can:

          1. I totally get what you’re saying about this issue of feminism portraying women as always in the role of victim. Of course, not all schools of feminism contribute to this, and I do not agree with it at all. By portraying women as victims we’re still removing agency from them. And yes, there are some feminists who want nothing to do with men. This stems from the radical feminism that developed as an off-shoot of the New Left movements in the 1960s. Many of these women wanted absolutely nothing to do with men, much like those in the Black Power movement wanted to allegiance with white people. The whole idea behind that being that men were the oppressors, instead of equally damaged by patriarchal attitudes. This idea of not allying with men is something I don’t agree with. I wish there were more men who joined the feminist movement.

          2. You make an incredible point here. As a working-class feminist, this is something I can totally relate to. While I think it is important to address issues of women’s equality in the boardroom, I believe that more attention should be paid to the labor class and women’s issues within that. I actually just wrote a post about this, you can read it here, and please leave your thoughts, I’d love to know what you think. https://jmuwomensstudentcaucus.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/working-women-and-feminism-final-thoughts-and-frustrations/

          3 & 4. Again, you make good points here. I can’t necessarily address them now, as I don’t have much knowledge about this (and it’s finals week and I don’t have time for extra research). I’ll try to look into that next week.

          5. I’m really really sorry that the feminism you have encountered is so exclusive. When I came into feminism, what I loved most about it was how inclusive it is. Now that I’m older and more involved, I have seen first hand how it can become exclusive. I think that’s an issue that should be addressed. There are things that some feminists do, like declaring men the enemy and ignoring things like class issues, or trying to say that all women have equal experiences, that are very off-putting, even to me.

          You also bring up some thought provoking points about identifying as feminist and not just saying I’m for equality. It’s something I’ve been struggling with lately. I often find myself asking why I don’t just call myself a Humanist, because I do believe in equality across the board. As this article from thefbomb points out (http://thefbomb.org/2010/07/why-dont-teen-girls-identify-as-feminists/) maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about how we identify, but about our actions. At the same time, I want to identify as feminist. I want to help break the stereotype that feminists are man-hating perpetual victims, and show that we are all unique and come in many forms with many different beliefs. I think to not identify as feminist when you believe in feminist ideals is almost cowardly, because you’re just running from the controversy associated with the word. It has to be called feminism because it is about women. There are two sexes on this planet, and one of them has held all of the privilege and power for a long time. Feminism is, ultimately, about equal distribution of power and privilege, across sex, race, gender, etc. lines. It’s a shame that some people have distorted this goal, or made it seem that feminists only want to promote women’s dominance over men.

          But I do have to disagree with you about Katniss. There are some very clear class distinctions in her world, and not just between the Capitol and everyone else. Just in District 12, people from The Seam are looked down on by the people from the inner part of town. People from District 2 are better than those from District 12 and are afforded more privileges. No, she doesn’t fight against mythical patriarchy, but she does fight for equality. She and Peeta very clearly believe that the people of the Districts all deserve an equal chance at life, away from the fear of the Games. The distinct lack of equality in Panem is exactly why Katniss is terrified of having children. And as I said before, I never said Katniss is an identifying feminist, but that she provides a positive role model for young women who also possesses qualities that align with feminism.

          • Mark 05/03/2012 at 1:11 pm #

            Hi again,

            Thanks for your reply, I read it with interest!

            I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on Katniss – while I agree she ultimately (in the revolt) fights for equality, in the first two books she is fighting just to keep everyone alive,

            However I must try again to convince you that you are wrong in your assertion that Katniss is “feminist” – and by extension, why the generalised labelling people as “feminist”, “misogynist” etc. is just plain wrong.

            Again, by labelling Katniss “feminist” it makes it sound as though somehow the characteristics Katniss owns/ displays are a) somehow a feminine trait and possesion when its not and b) that by owning them she is concerned only with women’s equality with men (which she’s not; she’s concerned with everyone being equal).

            By the same token, its a bit like saying courage and fortitude are male characteristics when, as anyone with half a brain should have worked out by now, men and women can and do own them!

            But this shows the danger of stereotypes and sadly, not only has feminism become a self-inflicted stereotype (i.e. if you have the following characteristics you are “a feminist”) but also feminism has essentially stereotyped women by projecting/ attributing characteristics to them that essentially are human ones and belong to everyone.

            In essence, by labelling things “feminist” feminists go against the very thing they claims to represent: equality and treating people as individuals on their individual merits. This is why I would argue that feminism is essentially redundant (and why I am so angy at seeing how a lot of wealthy people playing the feminist card are not so much interested in equality as their own advancement and the denigration of others).

            The journey for equality cannot be accomplished by essentially being a cheerleader for just one party. You’ve got to be there for everyone’s equality (whether it’s your gender or not or your colour or not) or otherwise it is just an exercise in hypocrisy. For those who genuinely believe in the former, “Egalitarian” rather than feminist is a more appropriate, and more inclusive description. (Or as I noted you descibed yourself: humanist).

            Anyway,getting back to my rather longwinded analysis(!). To argue Katniss is a feminist, is essentially to both hijack her and stereotype her as having a set of values and attributes that are somehow uniquely female – or intended for females – when they aren’t (they’re intended for everyone). And here’s why: at the end of the day, Katniss and Peeta are noted for not wanting to be “owned” or “labelled” by any regime, movement or ideology that wants to use them to demonstrate a particular thing or make a particular point or co-opt them into a group. They want to be simply judged as themselves. As do we all.

            Good luck with your finals, incidently.

  2. femistorian 05/12/2012 at 11:21 am #

    Reblogged this on Femistorian.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Hunger Games. When the commentary becomes more interesting than the books themselves. « thescarletapple - 05/09/2012

    [...] Working Women and Feminism – Katniss Everdeen. @ShoutOut! JMU [...]

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