Welcome to this week’s installment of Geek Girl Authority Crush of the Week. Here, we spotlight ladies in genre culture who inspire us. Our crushes range from fictional female characters in our favorite genre shows, movies and books … to women behind the scenes in geeky media.
DISCLAIMER: The following contains spoilers for The Hunger Games franchise.
The facts of Katniss Everdeen’s life vary a bit, depending on whether you’re reading the books by Suzanne Collins or watching the movies starring Jennifer Lawrence. But what holds in either case is that she is a teenage girl living in Panem, a dystopian future version of North America. Her home is District 12 (roughly the current Appalachian Region).
Katniss’s father was a miner who died on the job, and ever since, she’s been caring for her mom and sister, Primrose. This gets turned up to 11 when The Capital announces the arrival of the 74th Hunger Games: A yearly death match where each district must send one boy and one girl to tribute to compete. Nominally punishment for rebellion, winning also guarantees food security for the district for a year.
When Katniss’s 12-year-old sister gets selected as tribute, in a moment of panic, Katniss volunteers in her stead. Through sheer will to live, Katniss saves herself and her district’s boy tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson in the films). And that’s just book/film 1!
The Real Deal:
Katniss wins the Hunger Games by gaming the system. She threatens that both she and Peeta will eat toxic berries, realizing The Capital will prefer to have two winners over none. However, this “eff you” to those in charge sets off a chain reaction. Also, however, like most of what others see as Katniss’s bold moves, this is an in-the-moment decision. Whatever “bonus effects” there may be, Katniss’s true motivator is her survival instinct.
But, as with any true inciting incident, there are repercussions. On the one side, it sets off a rebellion among the downtrodden districts, who see and use Katniss as a symbol. On the other, The Capital sees Katniss as the instigator of this rebellion and seeks to punish her. Punish her, they do. Both sides do, in fact. For every “win” Katniss has, she loses another liberty, luxury of childhood or loved one.
All this to say, Katniss is not a traditional heroine. She acts only when forced to, and even then, she’s only about 75 percent effective. When you really look at it, most of her story is how other people use her. But that doesn’t make her weak.
Why She Matters:
Katniss never meant to start a rebellion. She only wanted to live and save those she loved. Katniss didn’t even do much in the uprising itself. To that end, she suffers immensely from PTSD and spends most of Mockingjay, the third book/film, drugged out and passive.
In the world of Young Adult fiction, so many teen heroes are thrilled to save the world. In contrast, Katniss’s reluctance and the fact that she’s flat-out manipulated by the adults around her highlights how seriously messed up war is.
Being a child soldier isn’t cool or fun. It’s not something to aspire to. And yet, Katniss is super admirable. Both things can be true. I’d imagine her story resonates with people who’ve grown up in similar situations. And it is a good lens for the more privileged to understand the horrors of war. It’s not glamorous.
So, be like Katniss Everdeen. Stand up for those you love, but remember that it’s OK to curl up in a ball and hide in a closet sometimes. You don’t have to do something just because it’s expected of you. The important thing is that even when you lose and lose and lose, you find a way to live.