In Suzanne Collins’s, The Hunger Games, the theme of gender is prevalent throughout the novel and film series. Collins provides the characters Katniss and Peeta as a dynamic duo where both challenge gender roles. Not only does this provoke the reader to think critically about gender in society, it also strongly supports gender equality. Through personality traits and behavior, these characters participate in gender role reversal within their special relationship and challenge modern day gender stereotypes. Katniss and Peeta both balance between masculine and feminine gender roles and use both gender traits equally in order to survive the brutal games.
Katniss is the strongest character to support this idea since she is the main character. She carries both masculine and feminine traits in a gender fluid manner. Peeta also supports this idea with his emotional, feminine qualities.
Katniss and Peeta prove that challenging gender equality will ultimately support equality for all. Their pairing is the strong foundation of gender equality within the novel. Collins creates all of this within the novel and shows the strengths and weaknesses of each gender in order to support gender equality.Perhaps Collins began writing this novel with an agenda of challenging gender roles. It as if she knew beforehand that she wanted to accept that challenge and create a world in which it is accessible. In the society of Panem that she creates within the novels, we see that within districts, gender roles still survive. In the lower districts men are working hard labor and women are in charge of cooking and taking care of the children.
In contrast, the people in the Capitol and high society all portray femininity through costume, drama, and glam. Both men and women wear makeup, dress daily in vibrant attire, and live lavishly. The best character to represent the colorfulness of the Capitol is Effie. We first see this as she presents the reaping for district 12 and Katniss observes Effie to be “fresh from the Capitol with her scary white grin, pinkish hair, and spring green suit” (17-18). Meanwhile, Katniss and Peeta break from the traditional gender roles within their district and wish to also avoid the flamboyance of the Capitol. In their district, Katniss is the head of her household, doing whatever she can to make ends meet for her mother and sister. Alternatively, Peeta works at his family’s bakery making baked goods and doing chores.
Peeta is not your typical macho man that we see in most love stories or on battlegrounds. While Katniss plays the masculine role, Peeta plays the feminine one. “Peeta fulfills this role by playing damsel in distress, pursuing the love story and portraying purity and self-sacrifice” (Berlatsky). Peeta sees that his only chance of survival is to accent his feminine qualities. He publicly professes love for Katniss and captures the hearts of Panem (and the readers) in order to guarantee himself sponsorship during the games. From the beginning of the novel “Katniss does the stereotypical, manly heroic thing” (Berlatsky): with her father deceased, she instinctively fills the role as head of household. When Katniss volunteers as tribute after her sister’s name is drawn from the lottery, she declares, “In some districts… winning the reaping is such a great honor… but in District 12, where the word tribute is pretty much synonymous with the word corpse, volunteers are all but extinct” (22).
By volunteering, Katniss proves herself to be the lionhearted heroine of the novel. In Panem, although most men and women play traditional roles in society, both a man and a woman must be sacrificed to enter the games and forced to survive equal hardship. And for a long time, only one survived and became victor, until Katniss and Peeta came along and prove themselves as equals.Kill, or be killed, is the reality of the tributes participating in the games. As for citizens living in the Capitol of Panem, this show is for entertainment; for the tributes and citizens from lowers class districts, the show is formidable.
Regardless, tributes must survive the games if they want to escape the oppression of Panem. Katniss and Peeta prove that there is no better way to do so than by creating a love story, playing on gender equality and suggesting equality for all. In Beyond Bombshells, Brown points out that “These characters interact with feminism and postfeminism, they adhere to principles found in both ideologies, but they move beyond both, to a more all-encompassing status as not just a female heroine but a revolutionary hero not defined by gender” (172). These are Katniss’ and Peeta’s roles in the series, and it becomes clearer and fully developed later, when Katniss becomes the Mocking Jay in the novel series.
Typically, readers see a male figure in novels being the hero, saving his community from corruption. Collins, on the other hand, gives us Katniss, who equally portrays masculine and feminine capabilities and further supports that equality for all is of utmost importance. Powerful female roles in novels and film are typically “catsuited, sexualized and supernatural” (Maio). Katniss is none of those and is never sexualized. Being a huntress and heroine, she radiates a balance between virgin-like innocence and seasoned survivalist throughout the series. Katniss is not the normative, feminine character readers are used to.
Collins intent behind this portrayal is to break away from the stereotypical misogynistic culture we live in, where women are seen as objects in male-dominated media, literature, and film. While reading the novel, Katniss takes the limelight and the readers nearly forget all about Peeta. As Katniss explains after being stung by tracker jackers, “Peeta! He saved my life!” it is again made known that Katniss cannot succeed or survive without him, further supporting gender equality (196).
Once they enter the games, there is a shift within the main characters. Where Katniss once utilized hunting in order to gather food for her family’s survival, she is now forced to hunt for other human beings in order to ensure her own survival in the games. Her survival instincts are deeply rooted in hunting and the protection of others. She is then forced to choose between moral instincts and survival, which can be seen as a symbolic choosing between her masculine and feminine instincts. Collins surely captures the reader’s imagination with Katniss Everdeen whilst challenging the concept of gender roles and stereotypes – this is why Katniss is so important. There is also a shift for Peeta.
He knows that he lacks hunting skills and does not have a chance of survival against his opponents from other districts. The shift clearly happens when he realizes this, and chooses to set aside his masculine dignity by professing love for Katniss on live television. He accepts all vulnerability, and challenges the stereotype of being a male fighter in the games. Katniss cooperates with Peeta’s love proposal and “enacts being in love with Peeta in order to survive the Games by appealing to the Capitol viewers” (Guanio-Uluru). By exposing her feminine side to the viewers in the Capitol, Katniss intentionally reveals herself as desirable to further her possibility of survival. Both Katniss and Peeta expose themselves as carrying both masculine and feminine traits. Therefore, Collins creates duality both amongst and within the characters, maintaining an intricate balance between gender, gender roles and supporting gender equality.When both Katniss and Peeta survive and go on to win the Hunger Games, Collins supports the idea that both genders are equal by showing their strengths through different gender traits.
This comes as a shock to the people of Panem, as the rules are bent, and there is hope for equality in the districts. There is a bigger message seen in Panem from this unusual happening. The citizens begin to see that not only is gender equality attainable, but equality for all is an attainable human right and is being unequally distributed amongst the districts. According to critic, Jessica Miller, “Collins has given us characters who invite us to reflect on the categories of sex and gender and what they mean in Panem and what they might mean for us” (Miller 146). What does it mean for us, the readers? As we look at society today, one might note that we have come a long way from the previous gender social norms. While reading The Hunger Games, however, readers might realize this is far from true. Coming a long way does not mean that gender equality thoroughly exists.
Traditional gender roles still have a stronghold in cultures around the globe. Many women would rather not endure what Katniss endured in the story. Most don’t want to hunt for food, kill each other, or practice extreme survival skills. Statistics show that we still live in a male-dominated world.
For example, militaries around the world are heavily male dominant, but the number of women entering the military is on a steady rise. Women are empowered by the idea of Katniss but few actually pursue her lifestyle. No matter how women and men choose to express their gender, there should be equality for all. This is Collins’s message.
The binary social construct of gender roles has been prevalent in literature for centuries. On a sociological level, men and women have held separate, distinct roles in society for even longer. The Hunger Games series has a progressive approach that challenges gender theories. Katniss doesn’t adhere to sex-typing in society and rears an androgynous persona.
Readers can see “Katniss’s discomfort with her makeovers stems from her resistance to girlhood as a cultural construct” (Morrissey 118). The heroine can see how society works and she rejects gender social norms. Ultimately, this makes the readers wonder “What makes someone a woman or a man, feminine or masculine? Is it biology or culture or both?” (Miller 146). As readers analyze Katniss and Peeta, they can see these roles are interchangeable through behavior, wardrobe, characteristics and interests. Anatomy is used to determine sex but sex does not necessarily determine gender.
Through creating intricate characters such as Katniss and Peeta with whom the reader can identify and further support gender equality in modern day life, Collins proves that gender roles are not determined by one’s sex. Gender equality will allow people of all sexual orientation and gender identification to receive equal opportunities, to live without prejudice, and to not be limited by stereotypes that society deems as ‘normal’. Clearly Collins supports this notion, as she implies all of the above within the novel and entire series. While many characters within The Hunger Games novel series defy gender roles, Collins allows for Katniss and Peeta to take center stage. They both completely demonstrate gender role reversal in Collins’s creative literature as she challenges gender roles. The best way to see this is to compare Katniss’s masculine traits with Peeta’s feminine ones. Katniss is the hunter while Peeta is the gatherer and baker.
Katniss is emotionally reserved and Peeta is emotionally expressive. Katniss kills more often whereas Peeta only kills one tribute intentionally but kills Foxface by accident with poison. These are just a few ways that display the gender differences between them. Furthermore, The Hunger Games was one of the first blockbuster film series to take gender equality to the next level, thanks to Suzanne Collins. She helped write the screenplay in order to make sure her message was accurately translated from literature to the big screen.
For the first time a female protagonist is not portrayed as a sex symbol, as seen in films such as Charlie’s Angels, and the lead male character is not portrayed as a badass macho man, as in movies such a James Bond. In both film series, women are sexualized while men are expected to be invulnerable. The message here is that it is okay for men and women to not align with gender role stereotypes in society. In modern Western culture, there is still pressure to fit social norms. The best way to support gender equality is to break those social norms, as Collins has done with The Hunger Games. Collins presents gender fluid characters that show the way for generations to come. Readers are prompted to examine gender roles in relationships, society, family and other aspects of life. By driving readers to think critically about gender roles in society, Collins is promoting gender equality both within and outside of the novel.
Collins encourages the audience to consider their conceptualizations of gender roles and, most importantly, Collins proves that gender roles cannot be defined or socially constructed whilst working toward deconstructing stereotypes within literature.