Banner: Anh Noel
The 2010s were a dystopian golden age. Following the success of The Hunger Games and Divergent series, many authors were quick to jump on the bandwagon – to the point of oversaturation. People were quick to critique the low-hanging fruit; it just wasn’t realistic to have teen girls as the face of anti-totalitarian uprisings.
But, I disagree. The teen girl dystopian protagonist archetype is not only realistic; but has positive real-world consequences.
Looking at The Hunger Games, due to its cultural impacts, I’d like to prove that the critics and misogynists were wrong.
These fictional female protagonists are the best representation of contemporary female activists who are in adolescence. At 15 Greta Thunberg started the ‘School strikes for Climate’ movement. In 2019, at the U.N climate summit she called out the world leaders’ for their negligence towards climate change, which has robbed her of a childhood. Malala Yousafzai was also an unwilling female teen activist. Although she continues to fight for women’s education rights, she never chose to become the face of this movement at 15. For teen girls wanting to make smaller scale changes, dystopian protagonists mirror the boldness seen in the real world.
Dystopian texts amplify real world issues to a fantastical level. They can be a vehicle in helping teen girls understand politics. Since the beginning of civilization, young women have been excluded from the political sphere. This rejection is exacerbated for teen girls, who are often dismissed as being too naïve to engage in the conversation. The inclusion of teen protagonists actively engaging in politics is so important, as it gives young girls a platform to see someone like them navigate politics. Girls are most likely to drop sports activities during their teens. The sporty and active nature of the teen girl dystopian protagonist somewhat counteracts a facet of gender inequality and could lead to a greater focus on physical and mental health.
Following the first Hunger Games movie there was a spike in archery participation in the U.S. due to Katniss’ iconic bow and arrow. The Archery Trade Association reported that participation in the sport increased by 14% between 2012 and 2014, which correlates with the trilogies release. A survey of U.S. archery members found 48.5% of women U18 citing Katniss Everdeen as the influencing figure that led to them taking up archery.
With the target demographic being young girls, they too grow up with the characters as each installment of the series is published. These books generally show the teens growing into adulthood, one way or another. Katniss Everdeen is 16 at the beginning of the series and 18 by the final installment. In the epilogue she is 33 and this is arguably the most important part of the series. It shows that even though she survived being hunted, leading a revolution and losing family all while being a teenager, she still had to deal with the resulting trauma. It shows that even if you overcome all the challenges in your life, you have to address the scars that they leave. These stories reassure young girls that they are not alone in the fears and anxieties they experience as they grow up.
Katniss’ struggles throughout The Hunger Games trilogy encompass heightened versions of the struggles associated with moving into adulthood. Katniss is highly protective of her sister Prim and continues to enter the games in order to help look after her family. Although the exact scenario isn’t a common experience, teen girls do begin shouldering more family responsibilities as they grow up, and as a result often have to make sacrifices.
Fiction has always been a powerful tool to inspire mass audiences. These strong female characters have resonated with young girls, and allowed them to take a piece of them into the real world. No matter how ‘oversaturated’ the genre becomes, strong female protagonists will always be necessary to inspire the next generation.
Editor: Rahemma Azwar