Monday, November 26, 2012

Is Katniss Really Better Than Bella? Feminism in Present Day Literature

In order to know what is considered hip these days all you have to do is take a look at what the social media is blabbing about. There will be haters and lovers to everything under the sun but when a fad sweeps by, the loudest side will be the one to direct the sea of opinion. With the final Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn, setting box office record, the fad sweeping the entire country is hating the Twilight brand. All of it. Movies, books, author, actors, not a soul gets out unscathed by the masses brought together in their common disdain.

There are pictures in Facebook, reviews in Goodreads, and punch lines with pictures in Pinterest (some of them are quite funny, really). And though Twilight seems to be at the butt of every joke, a few would argue that the joke's really on the haters, since none of Meyer's, Lautner's, Patinson's, or Stewart's checks seem to be bouncing. All part of the Hollywood game. 

I tend to agree. You see, I'm a Twilight lover (the books, not the movies AT ALL) but, as a long time horror fanatic, I see why Edward Cullen’s sparkling, lean, lovin' machine has made every hardcore vampire lover retort in disgust. Then, there's Bella. The pathetically insecure teenager that can't help but fall for the broody vampire has faired even worse in the court of public opinion, taken the blunt of the hatred. And what is it about this character, you may ask, that has offended the delicate taste of the crowds? Well, Kristen Steward's uninspired acting (let's call it that) hasn't helped, and her clearly uncomfortable stance against the media does nothing for her either, but it goes deeper. In fact, the character--even the actress herself--has come to equate everything the Feminist Movement fights against.

Fast forward to the release of The Hunger Games movie. As always, the books were widely popular way before the movie broke out, but the simple knowledge that a movie was about to be made drove thousands of new fans to the saga and soon the inevitable happened. Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan were at forefront of every discussion, not jokes anymore, but true symbols of what our youth is and admires. Katniss, whose prowess with a bow was a long shot from the whiny starstruck Bella, became her the antithesis and, therefore, the image that defines Feminism for the present generation.

Now, I have a bone to pick with this. I get why Bella is such a nightmare for many women. She is whinny, insecure, and unable to stand for herself. I’m an unapologetic fan of Meyer's books and even I wanted to choke her sometimes.

But let’s check Katniss’ character through The Hunger Games Saga: 

The sole provider of her family in a post-apocalyptic world where you need to fight for every morsel of food.
Regular teenager trying to find her place in the lives of her divorced parents.
Katniss starts strong and, though Bella’s problems are much more relatable for our teens, I’ll give this to Katniss.
Knows how to handle a weapon and isn’t afraid to do so.
Irremediably clumsy. She can’t play ball to safe her live and constantly injures herself.
Once more, point to Katniss.
Unknowingly, becomes the symbol of rebellion; yet, she fights hard to show the world she is, in fact, in favor of keeping the status quo.
She falls in love with a vampire and fights hard to become one herself.
Here Katniss’ character starts to fall through. When the stakes are raised, she proves to be a run-of-the-mill, insecure, scared teenager. Bella is improving, though very slowly, she has made clear she will get what she want, even if those closest to her don’t approve.
Completely uninterested in having a boyfriend, first because she doesn’t want to have a family in that messed up world, and second because she isn’t sure if she would pick her best friend or the boy who saved her life.
Bella, too, is torn between the love of two boys. Oh, but she’s into it. Even though she says she isn’t.
Teenage drama, plain and simple. Both the same, neither comes above.
When it becomes clear no one’s stopping the rebellion, she not only doesn’t embrace the movement, but lets everyone use her image the way they please and becomes a puppet in the power struggle that ensues.
When the powers that be threaten the safety of her family, she decides to fight against them, even if it means her life. In fact, she and her immortal family lead a rebellion against the oldest, more powerful vampire clan.
Katniss becomes a sad figure, broken and damaged beyond repair by the third book while Bella has found herself. I will give it to the Twilight haters, it is merely a few thousand words in a four book saga and hardly the theme. Then again, Twilight is a Paranormal Romance, THG is a Dystopian Adventure. So I say point for Bella…

Fact of the matter is Katniss spends half of the saga breaking to pieces and most of the third book literally hiding in a closet. I fail to see how this is any better than Bella’s obsession with her boyfriend.

The problem when talking about Feminism is that getting married and tending a home was the only career path available to us back in the days, hence its present bad rep. We look for specific traits in our females in order to select them as our new standard of ‘Girl Power’ like physical strength and open disdain (or disinterest) for men. Katniss is both, lethal and uninterested in boys, but is she truly the incarnation of empowerment? I don’t think so.

Let me tell you it was hard to come across a female character in modern literature that met my idea of Feminism, which is very sad and goes to show you why it is that our teen girls hold so hard to the few outstanding female characters they have available, however faulted these might be. But I finally found it: Hermione Granger.

Think for a moment. She is intelligent, determined, strong, and she might not be able to take a life with her magic wand, but she is powerful nonetheless. Her power comes not from magic, but from within. She is strong because she knows what she wants, what is good for her, where her weaknesses are, and she has a great moral compass. All these traits make her, in fact, a much better symbol of Feminism. A role model for our youth they can actually hope to become.

When we decide to bash a fictional character such as Bella Swan because of its interest in having a boyfriend, we are sending the message that worrying about boys is a sign of times past and a weakness. When we sing praises to characters like Katniss Everdeen for her physical strength we tell our teen girls that this one trait is so positive, it actually compensates the clear shortcomings the character shows in other areas.

Do you think I am being ridiculous? Giving way too much importance to fake and clearly fantastic novels? Well, yes! And therein lies our main trouble. We read too much between the lines. Teenage girls will worry about boys, that’s just how it is, very few of them are the actual providers of their household, and even fewer know how to shoot a gun, forget about a bow. Let’s not make the mistake of confusing physical prowess with strength of character. They like Bella? Sure, why not. Then, show them a book where the female character is worthy of being emulated and talk about it. That will take you a lot farther that trashing the latest fad. Communication is the ultimate way to empower our youth and help them travel the murky waters of adolescence and external influences. It is the final weapon that trumps even books and that’ll make of our kids true Feminists.


Nicole said...

Amen to all of this! That chart is epic. ;)

If I'm judging based soley on who pissed me off more while reading, it was Katniss hands down. She had such potential and, by the third book, I wanted to slap her.

And, yes, Hermione is indeed awesome!

Melissa Bradley said...

Excellent essay, very thought-provoking for sure. Hermione is an excellent female character for girls to look up to. She is well-balanced between the strength, the intelligence and the teen angst.

Georgina Morales said...

Nicole, I knew there was a reason I liked you! I wanted to slap the book and throw it to my dog, I was so mad at Katniss and the little she amounted to. I'm Hermione all the way. =)

Melissa, thanks for your nice words. I do think that Hermione shows a balance between what teen girls experience and how the character over comes her obstacles, thus becoming a better inspirational source. Glad to see you here. =)

Heather Murphy said...

These are excellent comparisons. I think Bella was annoying because it took her so long to "grow" into her strength and Katniss had it from the beginning

Michael Pierce said...

Hermione is one of my favorite female characters. You have some great comparisons, though I've never liked Bella. I also really like Tris' character in the Divergent trilogy. She's strong and finding herself, but not without fault.

Lexa Cain said...

I love that you're not afraid to be an outspoken fan, but that you've devoted a lot of time and attention to explaining and defending your view. Your points were very well expressed and thought-provoking. Great post!

Georgina Morales said...

@Heather, if a person has only read the first book in the series, one might be tempted to say Katniss is stronger but by the end, she has clearly fallen down.

@Michael, I haven't read the Divergent trilogy. I tend to stay away from serial YA books, they all seem to follow the same path. But is this trilogy really good? I actually like the genre, so I'll read it if it is any good. Others on my list are the City of Bones, and The Forest of Hands and Feet.

Thanks Lexa. When I read the books, before it was fashionable to hate them, I told everyone within an earshot how much I loved them. Now it would feel like a really low thing to go with the haters simply because it isn't high literature, so I stick with it. ;)

Anonymous said...

Really cool post.

I've not read or seen any of the Twilights, but it has bothered me how passive Bella apparently is in them.
I've read all 3 HG books, and I think Katniss is a really cool protagonist for the most part (pretty clever in the first book as well as being tough) but I found myself wishing she'd make a choice, be decisive, in both the war plot and the love triangle.
Though in her defence, I read Katniss as going through a form of PTSD in the third book.

You've got a really well argued post here!

Georgina Morales said...

Hahaha. I do think that PTSD would explain Katniss changes in the third book, and who could blame her. I just wished she had grown into herself to realize all the possibilities. Thanks again for your nice words!

Paige Lollie said...

I will say I am not a fan of Bella, but it was not necessarily a point of feminism that made me really dislike her. I feel like people have a very, very narrow view point on what makes a strong female character and if she simply picks up a weapon she is instantly a fantastic heroine who does more than cry (as if crying is a sin of all women and the ultimate sign of weakness).

I will actually say I couldn't read the Hunger Games because of Katniss. She didn't sound powerful to me, from reviews and the summaries (yes I was bad and am making a judgement without reading) she sounded well...witchy with a capital B. And I don't think power, toughness, or the ability to do something for a woman should instantly turn her into someone who sounds like she might use people and be cold.

For me, it feels like most (certainly not all) women in books are about one of three things; super hard core, powerful, but are emotionally closed up and come off a bit unappetizing to read about with all their amazing "anti girly fluff" being thrown at us. Or they are the women there for romance, who moves with the story rather than doing anything for it. Their purpose is to be the prize and even if they try to change it, it still doesn't work out to their favor. Or they are the background character who has one of these as their personality.

What's wrong with awkward females (Big time Hermione fan here)? Or physically weak but has something more to them than another's plot? It might just be me and i might just be picky, but I don't seem to find enough books with something a bit more to the female. But for some reason either authors, the media, or the readers don't want or can't yet handle a woman-character with something just a little bit more to them.

I hope that has made sense!

Georgina Morales said...

Paige, your words make loads of sense, actually. I do find it sad that showing vulnerability has become so negative and that, in order to be cool, a female character has to seem cold and hard to get. The Hermione kind of characters are so rare, it pains to read YA literature. The good thing is that more and more series are developing female characters and with the number of books out there, eventually one is bound to hit the nail and give us our next Hermione.

Thanks for commenting and pitching in this debate that I think needs to be talk more about. I truly value your input.

Ia said...

I am so glad I found this. I know it's been a year since the Hunger Games came and the whole Katniss for Feminism phenomena has died down but I still cannot shake off the eerie feeling of having people identify Katniss as a symbol for feminism.

I liked how you compared her with Bella and how, despite liking the Twilight Saga, you presented a fair and balanced comparison of the two.

What bothered me was the fact that people did not notice how there was no agency present within Katniss' character to embrace and take responsibility for the role she unconsciously created for herself. Granted, her life was full of traumatic events, she did not rise above them and succumbed to them by the end of the book.

Plus, although somewhat unrelated, she annoyed me to no end. I have no problem with selfishness, but her selfishness and apparent aloofness to those around her save for her family (I'll give her that; she loves her family more than anything and I respect that) was what got to me. I expected her character to assume the role she made for herself so as to add more facets to what I found to be her bland personality.

I was once in a phase of admiring it blindly, but after the movie came out and after digesting the events, I came to realize that Katniss, although realistically and understandably flawed, is not a symbol for feminism and should not be used as such.

Anyway, amazing article and beautiful comparison of the two characters.