Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

Katniss Everdeen: The First Post-Girl Power Hero

I loved this thoughtful article about Katniss from Rebecca Hains, a media studies professor who writes about children and media. I have cross posted it with her gracious permission. Rebecca’s point is that Katniss is not sexualized, she’s a normal girl who’s attractive in a normal way struggling with big issues of life and death. This is a powerful construction of a female hero. Read on and then let me know what you think, is Katniss the first post-girl power hero?

Posted on April 9, 2012

By Rebecca Hains

When I saw The Hunger Games on its opening weekend, I was really struck by something:

Although the sexualization of girls and women is rampant in the media, Katniss Everdeen is not sexualized. Not at all.

Take a look at these images from the film:The fact that Katniss is presented as heroic and strong without being made sexy is a big deal. Previous mainstream girl heroes have been defined by their sexiness. Consider the heroes of girl power, on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed. With dedicated fans of both sexes, their producers seemed intent on making the girls’ strength less threatening by presenting them as sexy and sexually available. Here are a few images from such shows, featuring heroines who–unlike Katniss–are impeccably coiffed and revealingly dressed:

In my analysis, the concept of “girl power” seemed to hinge upon the idea that girls could be strong AND pretty at the same time. It broke the binary that suggested “strong female” is an oxymoron, almost normalizing the idea that being girly doesn’t equal being weak.

But.

Girl power media targeting audiences of teens and adults presented strong-and-pretty as strong-and-sexy, with “sexy” narrowly defined (as illustrated by the above images). This link was so constant that it seemed you couldn’t have strength without sexiness, and that sexiness came to seem a natural part of being a strong female character on screen.

When Katniss appears in The Hunger Games in fancier, more feminine, more revealing attire, she looks uncomfortable. The performance of normative femininity is completely unnatural to her. It is an act, something she is forced to do–not a choice, and certainly not something she finds empowering:

This is probably why Hunger Games critics and fans have complained that Jennifer Lawrence is too “fat” for the role of Katniss. Because, seriously, by no stretch of the imagination is the woman shown above fat. She’s not as thin as Sarah Michelle Gellar or Alyssa Milano, but she’s nowhere close to being overweight.

No, they’re just not used to female lead characters who aren’t dished up to titillate a male gaze. If she’s not scantily clad in a super-sexy way, then she’s not attractive, which means she’s fat. Sigh.

In short, Katniss Everdeen is arguably the first post-girl power hero to grace the screen. Her presentation as a strong character who is not defined by her sex, and who is not sexualized, is a nice contrast to the message that “girls can be strong AND pretty/sexy,” in which pretty/sexy is ultimately obligatory.

Katniss Everdeen is a girl, and she is strong. But not in a girl power way.

And that’s a good thing.

 If you liked this article, check out Rebecca’s blog at http://rebeccahains.wordpress.com/ and her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaHainsPhD
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7 comments on “Katniss Everdeen: The First Post-Girl Power Hero

  1. Pingback: Disney Princess flowers: coming soon to a garden near you. | Rebecca Hains

  2. That Unique* Weblog
    April 20, 2012

    Great breakdown. I haven’t seen the film, but I did read the first book recently. And while I am a fan of both Buffy and Charmed and Xena, I was conscious of the blatant attempts to sexualize. This, I believe is to court both mail and female viewers of all orientations. :)

    Thanks for opening my eyes to the part of Katniss that I didn’t notice because it wasn’t there!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      April 20, 2012

      That’s what I loved about this post from Rebeccah, because the blatant sexualization is missing, you almost don’t realize why you don’t have to feel uncomfortable for loving this hero and watching with your tween/teen daughter. I like Buffy and Xena too, but when I watched Buffy recently with my middle school daughter, all the sexualization jumped right out at me. It was so refreshing to see a strong female hero that could just be a normal person, no super sexiness needed.

  3. Pingback: My Two Cents On The Hunger Games | Lynley Stace

  4. naomi@thekidscoach.org.uk
    April 24, 2012

    Yes that is a good thing. Of course girls can be pretty, strong and yet not sexualised. I know of many beuatiful girls on the inside and outside but they do not even recognise it because they just are who they are.

  5. Pingback: song recording: “sexy damsels in distress” « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

  6. What's the frequency, Kenneth?
    August 18, 2012

    When I saw the film in the theater, I almost literally fell in love with Katniss Everdeen. I was so struck by the character that I had to watch it again, the day it came out in stores. It hadn’t occurred to be that she wasn’t beautiful, but to me, it was the character that I found beautiful, not the body she inhabited. I’ve got nothing against sexy heroines, but I guess you could take my observation as (I’d like to think, anyway) a pretty objective male point of view. I’m sure it’s expected that men and women see the character, and in particular, the treatment of the character in fiction, subtly differently. I could, perhaps, connect the insights you’ve shared and my own by saying it’s possible I would not have “fallen in love” with the character if she was sexually alluring. Then again, my most meaningful relationships have been with women I didn’t initially “swoon” over.

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