Leading Ladies

The recent movie release of The Hunger Games has reignited the craze over the three book series, and deservedly so. There is much in both the books and the film that is alluring, entertaining and magnetic. As with any film that explodes in pop culture, it is healthy to consume it with a critical eye and our brains turned on. The Hunger Games has successfully created a powerful cultural moment, which we can use to find some common language about things like race, violence and class.

As a woman, I am also interested in the gender questions the film raises. What messages will young women who go see The Hunger Games get about what it means to be a young woman? This movie does indeed pass the Bechdel feminist movie test. Criteria to pass this test includes:

  1. There are more than two women in the film who are named
  2. Those named women talk to each other and
  3. Those named women talk to each other about something other than men.

Katniss, Rue and Primrose are all strong female characters in The Hunger Games. Katniss is a great lead character that successfully complicates stereotypical gender roles.

The lack of named women with interesting roles is also a limitation that I see in Biblical stories. Unnamed women show up from time to time, and there are a few stunning and powerful women in the Bible. There is no denying that the Biblical world is male dominated. We address this limitation by looking at the culture in the time that the Bible stories were written. Men were probably writing the stories. Men were more active in public life. Yet in 2012, the problem still exists in Hollywood. It is really stunning to me how few movies pass this simple test. Why don’t more women get dignified by being named in film or given roles that are not purely romantic? Young women deserve to see women on screen dignified with names, allowed to talk and allowed to talk about interesting things.

My friend Mara remembers coming home from kindergarden one day very upset. A boy at school had told her that she could not be Batman. By age five, she was already experiencing her gender as an obstacle. Her parents assured her that she could be anything she wanted, but there were few leading characters in pop culture who looked like her. Today, young women can look up to Katniss if they choose.

Think about your favorite movies. Do they pass the Bechdel test?

Who are your favorite female movie characters?

What characteristics does Katniss have as a lead that both young men and women can look up to?

Photos courtesy of Michi (Creative Commons License)

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