“Mockingjay” shows us a Revolution in Gender Roles. What’s the next revolution?

Summary: The previous post discussed violent revolution as a possible future for America, of the kind seen in “Mockingjay” (3rd film in The Hunger Games series). Today we we looks at a different aspect of The Hunger Games,  social revolutions of the kind that have repeatedly reshaped America. Women using violence against men (for good or evil), revolutions of the past and present — pointing to the possibility of a radical revolution in the future (with unimaginable effects).

Love revolution


  1. Revolutions of the past
  2. Revolutions in the present
  3. Revolutions of the future
  4. For More Information

(1)  Revolutions of the past (now stereotypes)

“What intrigued me most, however, was the role gender played in the books, and now the movies. With her bow and arrow, inability to talk about or express her feelings, and her lack of respect for the laws and government of Panem, Katniss Everdeen is far from your stereotypical female protagonist. She isn’t weak. She isn’t in distress. And she sure as hell doesn’t need a boy to save her.
— “does ‘The Hunger Games’ really subvert traditional gender roles?“, Kelsey Sejkora, 24 April 2014

Ms Sejkora writes an interesting review (well worth reading), and here states the consensus wisdom of film critics — but she and they are wrong. These features of Katniss are those of today’s stereotypical female protagonist, and have been for a generation. That revolution began in the 1960s.

Diana Riggs as Mrs. Peel
Diana Riggs as Mrs. Peel

Since we spend more time watching TV than films, let’s look at that history for the extreme examples of strong capable women who don’t need saving: action women (i.e., they fight and defeat guys). One of the first on US or UK TV was Dr. Cathy Gale (actress Honor Blackman) in “The Avengers” (1963-1965). She was followed by Emma Peel, and a few imitators, such “Honey West”, and the “Girl from UNCLE”. In the 1970s we watched less-violent action women, such as “The Bionic Woman”, “Wonder Woman”, “ISIS”, and “Charlies’ Angels”.

In the 1990s we marveled at “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (“Xena” had Joxer, the first instance of The Chad character: a obsequious male subordinate to the lead woman). And in our century scores of women kick-ass every week on TV, such as  Ziva David  (“NCIS”), Kensi Marie Blye (“NCIS: Los Angeles”), Kate Becket (“Castle”), and the dozens in “Arrow”.

We can see the breadth and depth of the action girl role by consulting the Ur-enclycopedia of American culture: the TV Tropes website. The sub-categories and indexes of “action women” make this section only slightly smaller than the Britannica. And these don’t include the scores of strong women in crime procedurals who don’t kick ass (or do so less frequently), from “Police Woman” and “The X-Files” to the dozens playing today. And the hundreds of strong women professionals in medicine, law, and other fields — commonplace since the Mary Tyler Moore show (1970-77)

Sixty years of the same revolution, endlessly recycled, each time proclaimed new!  In the 1960s independent women, especially as action heroes, violated social norms. They were transgressive, hence shocking. There’s another revolution running today…

Soul on Fire

(2)  Revolutions in the present

Some revolutions occur in the light, like the introduction of the Bikini on 5 July 1946, and the first and second waves of feminism. Most surface quietly, unnoticed in the shadows because they’re transgressive. Their change agents risk becoming outlaws (e.g., Napster, the breakthrough website in the information wants to be free revolution).

Others evade notice because we prefer not to see them. Like the revolution we see in “Mockingjay”, the third of The Hunger Games films: a unisex world in which men and women talk and act in the same way (with the exception of narrow biological matters). It’s easy to test. Imagine holding the script. Substitute numbers for the character names. Re-read it, and assign genders. There are few gender cue, for Suzanne Collins has invented a world almost without gender (until the epilogue of Mockingjay). This is common in modern young adult stories.

Hollywood being conservative (as most people become when risking vast sums of money), the film shows some of the women in the Districts wearing skirts (the Capitol retains gender differentiation in dress, since everybody does cosplay every day). That’s a detail of small importance. (For example, are the women in Katniss’ prep team women or transgendered men? Does it matter?)

Let’s go deeper. Listen to the voices on the page (the voices of the script, not the actors on the screen). How many of the characters sound like men? Like women? To me the voices usually sound neutral (no obvious gender) or like guys. The exception in the Hunger Games stories are Katniss’ mother and daughter, behaving as traditional women so that Katniss can take the traditional male role of protecting them.

This use of a male voice as women goes back to the first TV action woman, Cathy Gale. In her first episode on “The Avengers”, her dialogue was written for a man; the staff didn’t have the money to re-write it when the cast changed the role to a woman.

It’s not just in speech. In my 16 years as a youth leader I seldom heard a father sound prouder of his daughter than when describing her as being like a boy (e.g., doing activities stereotyped as male, especially when aggressive). More broadly, it’s a commonplace value judgement of our cultural gurus. Increasing the value of some male behaviors is an unexpected and revolutionary fruit of feminism. We’ll see the effects of these changes in the next few generations.

What lies ahead as the next revolution?

Daisy Duke kicks rude customer
Daisy Duke gloats over a defeated foe

(3)  Revolutions of the future

“If you hit somebody, you cannot be sure you are not going to get hit back. You have to teach women, do not live with this idea that men have the chivalry thing still with them. Don’t assume that that’s still in place. Don’t be surprised if you hit a man and he hits you back.

If you make the choice as a woman, who is 4′ 3″ and you decide to hit a guy who’s 6′ tall and you’re the last thing he wants to deal with that day, and he hits you back, you cannot be surprised.”

— Whoopi Goldberg on “The View”, ABC, 28 July 2014 — Stating facts, a transgressive act in rapidly changing societies. See the video.

What revolutions in social roles lie ahead? For example, normalizing prohibited behavior, breaking unquestioned ancient mores — such as that men should not hit women.

This rule limits the action in film and TV. Good guys can fight bad guys but not bad women, except lightly. Even fights by good girls often are limited because girls hit by guys seems too violent for many viewers (too see example, go to the TV Tropes page, and the far fewer exceptions on this page).

Perhaps even more corrosive to this rule is grrl-power, women casually hitting men in fiction and reality. It’s become a commonplace on the screen for women to hit men, often for trivial reasons — while the guy can only cower before her righteous rage (striking back would be wrong).  Daisy Duke kicks a rude customer in the “Dukes of Hazard”, Hermione Granger hits Draco Malfoy “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”. And scores of others.

Although seldom mentioned in the media, girls hit boyfriends and wives hit husbands, with less force but at higher rates than vice versa. In America life imitates Hollywood, so the incidence of these might have increased during the past generation. Here’s a hint: “Women: hitting your man is not cute; it’s abuse“, Jennifer O’Mahony, The Telegraph, 15 March 2013 — “A new US survey indicates that young women are three times as likely to admit hitting their partner than men, but the normalisation of intimate violence is a disturbing trend with miserable implications for both genders.”

Much of this will change. In the future the idea that violence should only go one way, women to men, probably will seem daft, anachronistic.

The current system seems unstable. We can only guess how will tip as a new generation of men grows up experiencing women using force on men, not just on screens but in real life. My guess is that violence between men and woman remains illegal — but without the mores prohibiting men from hitting women.

How will this change society, and the relationship between the sexes? Post your thoughts in the comments.

A note about right and wrong

You probably have a church down the street, and a college nearby. All of these have pastors or philosophers qualified to discuss right and wrong. Here we discuss what was, what is, and what will be.

Gender equality

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about women and gender roles, about The Hunger Games, and about revolutions (of all kinds).

Posts about women’s changing role in our society:


4 thoughts on ““Mockingjay” shows us a Revolution in Gender Roles. What’s the next revolution?”

  1. A few thoughts on this topic.

    1) I don’t think Sejkora was disputing the fact there are lots of “action girls” in today’s movies. Rather her point was that slapping masculine traits onto a female character doesn’t change the fact that feminine traits are considered bad and/or weak – also, gender roles work both ways. A male character, like Peeta, who in any way doesn’t fit into the “masculine” stereotype is met with derision.

    2) I do think Hunger Games is fairly unique in its depiction of characters based on a female gaze, rather than a male one – which by definition makes it more realism-based than a male gaze. There is a difference between a male fantasy and a feminist icon. The vast majority of action girls fall into the first category. Buffy is the hot girl from high school we didn’t have a chance with. Wonder Woman is a BDSM fantasy. Ziva is the sexy Jewess who of course knows martial arts, as do all Israeli women in fiction. The “warrior woman” fantasy goes back thousands of years, even to societies with extremely strict gender roles. The Xena tv show isn’t much different than old paintings of naked Amazons massacring droves of male opponents. I do think Hunger Games is fairly unique in its depiction of characters based on a female gaze, rather than a male one. Compare Katniss crawling around in the dirt with hairy legs and wearing a baggy parka – to Buffy slaying vampires in a tube top.

    3) “Don’t hit girls” is, and I think has always been, a two way street. I’m sure it would be unthinkable for a Victorian woman to strike a man with a closed fist. Most of the girls (that I know at least) would agree with the statement that the rule applies to both parties. Naturally this doesn’t apply to male fantasies like Daisy Duke – because nobody wants to see Daisy Duke with orbital fractures and missing teeth.

    4) Emma Peel is one of the most commonly cited feminist characters – but what of the other two girls in the show? Rarely mentioned. Mostly forgotten. Could it be that it wasn’t so much the role itself that was good, but the way Dianna Riggs projected herself on the character that is extremely difficult to replicate – even today?

    On the same note – John Steed shares many of the same problems as Peeta. Mrs. Peel is smarter and a better fighter than him. If I recall correctly she’s even taller than him, which is usually a big no-no in casting couples. But none of this bothers him, and it doesn’t bother the audience. Steed is also extremely immoral for a TV hero – he compulsively lies and cheats even when there’s nothing to gain from it. He will actually go out of his way to avoid a fair fight, winning through trickery. Steed would never even think about giving up an advantage or giving the enemy a fair chance, like 99% of most movie heroes do.Of course that’s just good sense, but doesn’t fit in with the usual movieland morality.

    What does Steed have that Peeta doesn’t? Maybe he’s the character from the Avengers we should really be paying attention to.

    1. Joe,

      All good points!

      “Emma Peel is one of the most commonly cited feminist characters – but what of the other two girls in the show?”

      Cathy Gale was quite famous from her role, which she leveraged into a film career starting with “Goldfinger”. She was one of Steed’s 3 partners in season two and his sole partner in season 3.

      Mrs. Peel was there longer, 3 seasons, and Diana Rigg was by most accounts the more accomplished actress.

      Tara King was not as path-breaking a character, nor was Linda Thorsen in the same league as her predecessors. She was the producer’s girlfriend.

  2. Also on the same note -its worth mentioning that stereotypes are unfair, but that’s just the way they are.

    A black man can play (most) white roles. But a white man usually can’t play black roles (except as a blackface joke, like in Tropic Thunder).

    A woman can play most male roles, but a man can’t play female roles (unless its a deliberate distortion or parody – like the gay version of Swan Lake in the ’80s.)

    Nature of the world.

  3. Pingback: Rise Against – It's an Amber Thing

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: