It’s rare that I want to give a standing ovation in a movie theater – rarer still that it’s at the end of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. But that is exactly how I felt on a recent rainy Sunday afternoon in Manhattan after watching The Hunger Games. It wasn’t that the movie itself was anything special – it was Katniss Everdeen, a heroine who young girls can finally look up to.
Young girls in the 21st century are in dire need of strong female role models. In my native UK, a report from the Girl Guides (equivalent to Girl Scouts) released last week found that 55 percent of young girls feel there are not enough positive role models. They are more likely to list a character from The Only Way is Essex (the UK version of The Hills or Jersey Shore) as a role model versus a sports star, politician or business leader. Thank goodness for young adult fiction.
No discussion of female protagonists in young adult novels/ mega movie franchises would be complete without reference to Ms. Bella Swan – the heroine of the Twilight saga. For me, neither Stephanie Meyer’s original character, nor Kristen Stewart’s sulky screen incarnation, present a positive role model for young women. Bella’s entire life is defined by her love for Edward, her overprotective (I would say controlling) vampire boyfriend. She has no interests, ambitions or dreams of her own. Edward and his werewolf rival, Jacob, lie to Bella and make decisions for her, all ostensibly because they want what’s best for her.
Katniss is a fitting idol for young girls and it’s not because she can wield a bow and arrow as well as any of the boys. Yes, she is physically strong, but she’s emotionally strong too. She is the breadwinner in her family and also the provider of emotional support and stability. Further, (spoiler alert) when Katniss triumphs in the arena, it’s not because she’s some badass action hero, it’s because of the relationships and alliances she has built with the other tributes. Katniss is a winning combination of masculine and feminine traits – she shows girls that you can succeed by being yourself. She demonstrates that you don’t have become “one of the boys” or rely solely on your feminine wiles to get ahead.
The part of Katniss Everdeen’s character that I really hope teenage girls take to heart is the belief she has in herself. She knows her strengths and is not afraid to use them to succeed. This is where the contrast with Bella Swan is really stark. Bella doesn’t believe in herself, she thinks she needs someone else to save her and someone else to make her dreams come true. Now I’m not anti-love, but if young girls grow up thinking that a man (even Robert Pattinson) is the answer to all life’s problems they are sure to be disappointed.
And finally, a word on Hunger Games’ star Jennifer Lawrence – as an Oscar nominated and critically acclaimed actor known better for her work than her love life or wardrobe and a natural beauty with a healthy, athletic body shape – she could turn out to be a pretty great role model herself.