For a long time now, I’ve wanted to rewrite my review of The Hunger Games
so that I could tell you why I don’t just love this series, but why I also think it’s important. It is beautiful for the unflinching way it shows you, as a reader, your own willingness to disregard people who are different from you - how you are the Capitol audience. But, it is important as a story about girls. I had not initially thought about articulating that point because it seemed so obvious to me, and I am bad at recognizing my own assumptions. Lately, though, I have seen so many people, both men and women, acting as though this remarkable book is a piece of fluff that I realized maybe what I love most about The Hunger Games
is not as obvious as it seems. To me, this series is important because it is a landmark departure from the traditional story about girls.
Too often, stories objectify women. But the word “objectify,” I’ve realized, has almost no meaning for someone who has either not experienced objectification or who hasn’t really recognized it in her own life, so I’m going to be more descriptive here. When I say stories objectify girls, I mean they talk about girls as though they are fleshlights
that sometimes have handy dandy extra gadgets such as an all-purpose cleaning mechanism
and food dispensing function
Sidebar: if you are inclined to now google the word "fleshlight," I encourage you to consult the urban dictionary definition here
before doing that, as the google results will probably be NSFW and also NSF those of you whose parents might check your browsing history. Do parents know how to do that? Sorry for the sidebar, I am just intending to make an explicit point, and now I am feeling uncomfortable about what that explicit point might mean to the target audience of this book. Girls, you are probably badass like Katniss, and you are definitely not
Back to my rant about typical objectification in storytelling: often the girls fleshlights have fancy outer designs because it makes the fleshlights happy to be fancy
. Sometimes they have skeeeeeery castration functions
, and other times they work as helpful databases
or video games
or whatever UR into
. A lot of times, I will hear people refer to this type of objectification as treating women like they are just a vagina, or a pair of boobs, but I think there is something to the stories that is less human and more sexbot machine than that complaint covers.
So, in all of those links, I have tried to include books written by men and by women because I think that women think of ourselves this way almost as often as men think of us this way. The link from The Ugly Truth
, for example, shows both a man and a woman treating women like fleshlights. I have also included both books I love and books I hate because, ultimately, I do think girls adopt this story about themselves, and I also think we can pretty easily identify with a male protagonist and disregard female characters who look nothing like humans. For example, The Sun Also Rises
is one of my favorite books in the whole world, even though it does not contain any women who resonate with my experience of humans. And I don't think it's necessarily bad that I can enjoy stories where women are only fleshlights, as long as I can still be whoever I want to be without a positive role model. I think it's good to enjoy stories and take what we can get from them, and so I don't regret that I love The Sun Also Rises
In seeing some male reactions to The Hunger Games
, I am reminded that most men do not identify with female protagonists the way women have been trained to identify with male protagonists. This seems like a huge disadvantage for men to be in, to me, and if you are a man reading this review, I would ask you to check out your bookshelves. How many female authors are on your shelves? How many of the books those authors wrote have no central male character? If you have a minute after that, check the shelves of a woman you are friends with and see how many of her books were written by men or have no central female character. Odds are the results will be pretty different.The Hunger Games
is such a groundbreaking and deliberate example of a woman’s perspective on war and family and even men that it floors me. I think it partly floors me because, other than Buffy
, I can’t think of another example of a female character who really fights for herself in such an obvious and hopeful way. Katniss is strong and broken, and powerful in her brokenness. Collins’s image of a woman’s perspective is not, admittedly, as effortless as Moira Young’s in Blood Red Road, but its deliberateness has its own value.
It is not an accident that the story shows Katniss’s emotional growth and that Peeta, as a more emotionally whole person, facilitates her emotional growth. It is not an accident that the story does not discuss the effect Katniss has on the erectness of Peeta’s and Gale’s penises. The first is not an accident because in reality, men do not have to be the emotional cowards that the stories I’ve linked to above make them out to be. Masculinity does not have to mean emotional cowardice. The second is not an accident because the story is not from Peeta and Gale’s perspectives. Despite widespread rumors to the contrary, it is my experience that women pretty seldom think about their effect on men’s penises. Hopefully, we never
think of our primary purpose in life, in the way so many stories think of it, as making penises erect. Hopefully, we never think of ourselves as gadgets that are super fun for other people.
There are so many reasons I love The Hunger Games
series, and all of this is one I wouldn’t have initially even thought to say. I saw this Eleanor Roosevelt quote earlier this month, and it said, “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.” I think The Hunger Games
is a candle in the overall dark narrative of girls’ perspective on life. Yes, it is also a poignant critique of reality TV and Western callousness about the catastrophes caused by industrialization in the developing world, but that, too, resonates with me in many ways because of its remarkably feminine voice. It absolutely makes sense to me that this book is not for everyone because of its violence, but I still think that it is objectively important because it shows a perspective that seems authentically feminine to me – that talks like a girl, not like a sexy, fancy gadget. I’m not saying that in my opinion girls don’t or shouldn’t ever think about being sexy or erect penises, I’m just saying that it is my experience that we think and care about many, many more things than penises, clean houses, and food, and very, very few stories are willing to tell you about that. The Hunger Games
is one that does, and it does so in way that is beautiful and important.