Katniss Everdeen: The Perfect Antidote To Twilight’s Limp Bella Swan
I am told little girls like pink things—Disney princesses and tiaras. I am told that when my daughter is older I will have to bribe her to brush her teeth with Princess ™ brand toothpaste and tell her stories about how the princess is always rescued and always wears mascara and always lives happily ever after. “This is just the way girls are,” I’m told. I don’t believe it. After all, even when I was a little girl myself, I always enjoyed the wicked stepmother a little better than Cinderella.
It’s over a decade into a new century and we are still bullying girls into fairy tales. Even dressed up with vampires and prom, the heroines we’ve chosen for our daughters are interesting only because of the men they love. Without Edward or Jacob, Bella Swan would just be another vapid teen, upset because she’s skinny and pretty and has too many men interested in her. Rough stuff indeed. Or if these characters do happen to be smart and strong they are sidelined to minor roles, am I right, Hermione? Or worse, like Rapunzel in the movie Tangled, they are strong, smart and still limited by the tropes of happily ever after.
I grew up with Anne Shirley, Pippi Longstocking, Jo March, and Elizabeth Bennett. And each one let me down. Anne lost her spunk when she married Gilbert. Same for Jo March who marries that boring Professor Baer. And Pippi lived in a world that, while charming, was small and I grew out of it so quickly. Elizabeth Bennett’s social revolution falls flat when we realize, she’s nothing different — just another female
I had a daughter this past March, and in the 28 years that separate us, I’m disappointed that no one has managed to come up with a better hero for her.
Enter Katniss Everdeen.
Katniss is the hero of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. Katniss is both likable and extremely frustrating; inspiring, brilliant and also really annoying. She is both warrior and pacifist, insightful commentator and confused teen. In sum, Katniss is irrepressibly human.
Collins has Katniss easily sidestep the trappings of other female leads. She is not sentimental. She kills to survive. While she is part of a love triangle that smacks a little of Edward v. Jacob, Katniss is also fiercely independent of both men. In the third book of the trilogy, Katniss steels herself for Peeta’s death, even preparing to kill him herself, should it come to that. [tagbox tag=”princess culture”]
Katniss has agency, strength and skill and she uses these tools to fight her way through a post-apocalyptic world obsessed with image and stymied by inequality. The books begin when Katniss’ sister, Prim, is chosen to fight for her life in a gladiator-turned-reality-TV-series called “The Hunger Games.” Katniss volunteers in Prim’s place and is immediately thrust into a world of image and a scripted reality that is as deadly as it is entertaining. Forced into a role of a star-crossed lover to win the Hunger Games, Katniss still manages to subvert expectations and rebel against the image thrust upon her. In the second and third books, Katniss’s rebel image is appropriated by a resistance movement, just as cold and calculating, if not more so, than the society they fight against. And here too, Katniss manages to become more than just a role model, more than a lover, more than a fighter, more than a hero. She manages to become human and I love her for it.
And perhaps that’s the lesson of Katniss that Collin’s so expertly weaves. Forcing our daughters out of fairy tales is just as damaging as forcing them into one. Sometimes the rebellion is worse than the status quo. And as I search so hard for role models for my daughter, perhaps I’m looking too hard. Isn’t it best to just let my daughter be human even if that means Princess ™ brand toothpaste and roughhousing? Nerf guns and tutus? All girls are so much bigger than the roles we have set out for them and like Katniss, every attempt we have to push them into the image of our movement—vices, hang ups and baggage—will ultimately backfire. In the end, we just have to let them be and watch them catch the world on fire.