Strong Female Characters? In Twilight and The Hunger Games?
Thanks to the wonderful guys at Rifftrax, I managed to sit through the entirety of Twilight. Somehow they made it possible for me to sit through the entire movie. A week earlier, I also managed to read through the entirety of The Hunger Games. Or at least, the first book, which was an ordeal by itself. Enough of an ordeal to stop me from reading any further into the trilogy.
I’m at a loss as to how these two things ever became popular. Or how young girls spin role models out of the main characters.
Okay, Katniss Everdeen is a much, much better rolemodel than Bella Dullface, but I still have a problem accepting her as a positive character of any kind.
And she still fails as a relatable or good character.
Let’s start examining Bella first. Just because it looks Katniss look good.
Then again, Bella makes everyone look better in comparison.
Bella arrives in town, carrying a cactus. During her first week at her new highschool, a group of kids forgive any and all awkward and weird behaviour from Bella and go out of their way to be kind to her. Bella instead ignores them all in favor of that one pale guy in class who make puking motions when he laid eyes on her and then disappeared from class for a week. While talking to her mother on the phone, she pretends she’s made no friends at school and everything has gone terribly wrong because pale kid reacted badly to her.
After that we get a series of scenes where Bella refuses to recognize her friends while thinking about the pale boy who has been missing.
Once the boy comes back, she invites him over to come to the beach with her friends. For a whole scene she pays attention to her friends as the pale boy is a no-show.
Skip a few creepy stalker scenes later, and Bella’s dating Edward, the pale creepy vampire boy. Why? Because he can’t read her mind. Finally she’s found someone she can relate to about… that thing… like… jumping from tree to tree. And watch him sparkle in the sunlight. An hour into the movie, and we still know nothing about their interests or personality outside the possibility that they absolutely have none.
Bella’s a horrible main character. Everyone in the entire movie keeps going out of their way to protect, shelter, befriend, and love her. Constantly. All she does in response is sigh, grunt, stutter, and avoid any responsibility to her situation. Within her first two days at school, three different guys show interest in her, which isn’t important because pale boy avoided her.
The only thing harder than justifying her actions is accepting people who relate to her.
Katniss Everdeen on the other hand at least tries to keep some control over her situation. I say some here, because she still falls for a lot of the same pitfalls as Bella.
Coming from District 12, poorest of all twelve Districts spread around the Capitol, Katniss is a hunter with a bow who had to provide for herself and her family since the day her father died. She does this by illegally breaking outside of the barriers that contain the District to gather and hunt for food. Which she then illegally tades to the officials who overlook the fact they could hang her any moment for this because she’s bribing them with her quality goods.
In fact, because of her work as a hunter, most of the District treats her favorably. Her family loves her. And she has a great lifelong friend who loves her and wants to run off with her into the woods and have kids with her who possibly couldn’t love her and she’s not sure what to think of it?
I’m sorry. It’s very hard write about The Hunger Games without going off in the same questionably teen dialogue writing style.
When her younger system is chosen as a tribute for The Hunger Games, she rises up to take her place. Then the book turns into Battle Royale with a popularity contest thrown in. A popularity contest effortlessly wins because everyone loves her. In turn, she keeps trying to act like the underdog in the arena.
The kid who has been hunting with a bow, a lethal weapon, all her life. Who scores the highest rating from the officials before the Games begin. Same kid who immediately is chosen to be the most favored and popular person out of all 24 tributes. The underdog.
While fighting for survival in The Hunger Games by being constantly helped by the other contestants and out-of-game sponsors, she keeps up her me-against-everyone underdog vibe in the narration. To make matters worse, she still keeps thinking of her love life, the confusion she feels about the affection of two boys on her mind frequently in between the constant threat of death and hunger.
She’s not as bad as Bella in terms of being able to somewhat fend for herself, but with both these characters, everything is given to them without them being mature enough to realize this. And the narrative overlooks this.
Being a big fan of authors like Robin Hobb and George R.R. Martin, it just has me hoping for that moment where the narrative becomes three-dimensional by having other characters points how nearsighted the main characters have been in their dealings with them in the past. That moment where they realized how much better they had it in the past when they felt like they didn’t have anything at all.
Sadly, those moments never come. I’m hoping for these books to actually be responsible for themselves and the ideas they put in the heads of the kids who read them. Instead they’re just crude justifications for the worse behaviour of the target audience in a hope of hitting that “you just don’t understand” spot. And that they must be doing succesfully. Considering their success.
Speaking of Robin Hobb…
Let’s talk about Althea Vestrit from the Liveship Traders. She is a great example of a strong and independant female character done right. In fact, most of the female characters in Robin Hobb’s books tend to be strong in their own way. For now, Althea’s a good contrast to Katniss so I want to focus on her.
After Althea’s father dies and she’s all but sure to have control of the family’s trading ship, a Liveship that requires someone of the family’s blood to be on board. Her brother-in-law makes a powerful move, taking control of the family and have Althea cut off from the ship in favor of his own son to meet the ship’s requirement of having someone of the right blood on board. All with the excuse of Althea not having what it takes to captain a ship, but with the true intent to keep tradition and enforce the gender roles that doesn’t allow his ego to suffer being in an inferior position to a woman. Althea runs away from home, working on other ships pretending to be a male to prove to her brother-in-law that she has what it takes to not only work on board of a ship, but to rightfully work her way up back to captainship.
She’s not confident and strong because the plot demands it. She steers the plot in the direction she wants it to take. During the course of the trilogy, she makes her own choices, her own mistakes, and she pays and is rewarded in the way every character, male or female, is in Robin Hobb’s work. In case you’re not familiar with Robin Hobb, she’s a brutal writer who excels in character driven trilogies where nobody comes off easy.
Besides Althea, there’s Malta, her sister’s daughter, who is a selfish, and manipulative brat whose main angle is to be with boys in order to create a sense of higher status towards her peers. To all the other characters in the series this seems completely inappropriate and wrong, especially since she’s still too young to fully understand the responsibility of being married to someone for the rest of her life. Her choices and the way she deals with the people in her life seems almost painfully similar to Twilight’s Bella. Except Malta’s actions often cause more complications for everyone around her, and they rarely have a good outcome.
Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black’s another great example of female characters who actually is all the things popular Young Adult fiction writers like to claim their female leading characters are. Cursed with the ability to see how the people she touches die, she tries to find a place for herself in a world that’s already messed up enough by itself. She might be even less of a lady than even Althea Vestrit, but not every female character has to be girly.
In fact, if we can stop identifying female characters simply by attaching them to the men in their life and actually give them some personality, that would be a gigantic improvement. Miriam’s all about personality. In fact, most characters she meets would probably point out she’s got too much personality sooner or later.