Katniss Everdeen is as Much a Woman as Princess Leia
And therein lies a lesson: Only God makes a woman.
The Federalist published an article on Friday praising the late Carrie Fisher’s Star Wars character Princess Leia for being “The Archetypal Strong Woman Female Leads Can’t Replicate.”
Author Eric Sammons praises Princess Leia for “display[ing] her strength as a woman, whereas most of the lead action females today are simply trying to imitate the strength of men.” I get the point he is attempting to make. But sometimes when people criticize a modern trend, they go too far.
In Defense of Katniss Everdeen
Sammons is right: Modern pop culture tends to focus on making women like men instead of celebrating their unique femininity, and this is a problem, because it tells women they have to be a certain way, rather than telling them they are okay just being who they are. But he ends up committing the same crime: telling women they have to be a certain way, rather than telling them they are okay just the way they are.
As examples of unfeminine Hollywood female leads, Sammons criticizes Marvel’s Black Widow and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games. Since I’m not a Marvel aficionado, I’ll focus on his critique of Katniss:
[Katniss] is a great warrior and can overcome any physical obstacle put in her path. Her abilities with a bow are superhuman, and are meant to show her strength and toughness.
But both Black Widow and Katniss lack a feminine aspect to their strength. You could easily interchange a male for either character and not have to make any significant changes to the script other than the love interests.
What Sammons seems to suggest first is that Katniss’s adeptness with a bow is unfeminine, a point with which I take issue. As someone who loves the sport of marksmanship (I started training with firearms at age 9), I’ve outshot several males.
My shooting coach once told me that most of the girls he trained had a better natural ability for marksmanship than boys. And if you’re about to say that it’s easier for a girl to shoot a gun than bow because of her natural physical strength, I know plenty of girls who are trained with a bow as well.
So to criticize Katniss’s natural ability with a bow as unfeminine or unrealistic is unfair. (Side note: since the story itself is fiction, her ability is undoubtedly exaggerated — just like Legolas’s ability with a bow was quite exaggerated in the Lord of the Rings films.)
Sammons also says Katniss’s strength lacks “a feminine aspect.” How then, do millions of girls, even those who don’t shoot a bow, identify with her? Maybe because her strength has a human aspect.
Katniss’s Sacrificial Love
Katniss’s story begins with a display of sacrificial love for her younger sister. She is outwardly tough, but internally afraid. She has a hard time opening up to people. She is cunning and compassionate. Later in the series, she deals with a myriad of personal emotional struggles and decisions, which she balances against her passion for justice.
In Sammons’s eyes, these strengths and emotions aren’t feminine enough. Does that mean, then, that they are masculine? Again, I would argue that these strengths and emotions are simply human.
And no, the story wouldn’t be the same if Katniss were switched out for a male, as Sammons claims. Why? Not because Katniss acts “like a girl.” But because she is one.
Masculine and Feminine … Or Human?
Another somewhat troublesome quote from Sammons:
Men can do things a woman can’t (such as bench-press more than 300 pounds), just like women can do things a man can’t (like give birth or go to the bathroom in groups). Yet the culture warriors on the Left will happily depict women as masculine in movies to continue to ingrain their fantasy into young heads.
Yes, I agree with Sammons, there are certain physical strengths that most men possess and most women don’t. And no, a man definitely can’t give birth (though the going to bathroom in groups point is debatable).
The troubling part for me is when he seems to equate strong female leading characters like Katniss with masculinity.
What about the woman who does possess, or enjoys honing, physical strength? What about the woman who is really good with a gun or a bow? Or the woman who has studied martial arts for years and could best the average dude — are they “masculine?” Are they not worthy of being represented in a female leading Hollywood character?
The truth is that these women can possess all these abilities and still be womanly. Not because they act however society (on the Left or the Right) thinks women should act, but because God created them as women — and also as unique individuals with distinct talents and purposes to play a one-of-a-kind role in His plan.
Only God Makes a Woman
I agree with Sammons that there shouldn’t be a stigma against femininity in female leading characters. I don’t have a problem with the knight on a white horse riding in to save the damsel, or a woman who leads with her emotional fortitude rather than her physical strength, as Sammons says Princess Leia does. In fact, I like those characters, because they are realistic, and they do represent a lot of women.
The fact that I can outshoot a guy doesn’t make me a woman any more than the fact that I exclusively buy waterproof mascara because I tend to cry a lot.
But I also don’t have a problem with the damsel saving the knight when she has to, or herself, for that matter, because that’s realistic too. (Men won’t always be around — and even when they are, they sometimes fail in their roles and get replaced by a woman. Deborah from the Bible, anyone?)
So by all means, defend the woman who doesn’t want to be a warrior. She brings a unique strength to the table and has just as much value any other person, male or female.
But also stop criticizing the girls, women, the tomboys who are warriors, to whatever extent that may be. Stop reading so much in to every Hollywood female lead. In attempting to attack an agenda pushed by popular culture, you may just be attacking a lot of girls and women out there who identify with characters like Katniss and Leia.
Here is the Crux
Here is the crux: I am a woman. The fact that I can outshoot a guy doesn’t make me a woman any more than the fact that I exclusively buy waterproof mascara because I tend to cry a lot.
I am a woman because that is how God made me. Every day, I don’t strive to be a good woman. I strive to be the woman that He alone made me to be, regardless of how the Left or the Right says I should act.