The (A)sexual Politics of the Hunger Games

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I’ve been resisting the pressure to post about The Hunger Games phenomenon, but I can resist no more. I’ve discussed Katniss a couple of times on this blog. She’s a seminal character up there with Harry Potter and a useful tool for examining he idea of heroism, and heroines in particular so I can’t help but refer to her once in a while when I discuss writing.

But I’m feeling a bit political lately. My previous post on the Trayvon Martin affair has put me in a fighting mood I guess. And there’s plenty of political to be discussed with regards to The Hunger Games. Of course many, maybe even most bloggers on THG (as it shall be henceforth known) have highlighted the irony of the youth exploiting hoopla surrounding a violent movie media event based on a book which examines the irony of the hoopla surrounding a youth exploiting violent media event. Writing that sprained something deep inside my head, by the way.

Can I  tie this THG mania into the Trayvon Martin affair? Certainly I can. We live in a society which views babies and children as tiny gods and goddesses who need to be nurtured into their own precious, snowflake like identity,  but treats teenagers like a criminal underclass while attempting to train them as mindless automatons.  I will say no more about that, today, except to say read Neal Shusterman’s UNWIND for an even more disturbing picture of this paradoxical catch 22.

But the other big news story of the last few weeks is the American Right’s “insertion” of its various appendages into the various orifices of American women. “Medical rape” is a term I thought I would never have to learn. Can I tie THG whackadoodle together with this? Just watch me.

THG is one of many dystopian novels monopolizing the best seller list right now. THG is certainly the vanguard of this trend, and for good reason, It’s a powerfully affecting  tale of violence and coercion, fascism and oppression. It also firmly fixed the idea of a “kick-ass heroine” into the public consciousness. Follow up novels such as Matched, Divergent, Delirium and Wither further explore these dystopian worlds wherein teenage girls are manipulated and controlled, only to bite back in variously hostile and inventive ways.

So here’s my question: if THG is a comment, as all good books are, on the current state of society, and the current state of society, at least for girls and women is focusing most of it repression and control on the twelve inches between the navel and the top of the thighs, then where is the sexual repression in THG? Where is the state’s interest in Katniss’s  sex life? More specifically, where is Katniss’s FEAR for the privacy and personal sanctity of her sexual organs? For a book brave enough to take on the sickness of reality television and the growing chasm between the haves and have-nots, THG is surprisingly devoid of commentary on the topic of sexual politics and sexual violence.

In book 2 Katniss certainly feels the despair of having no choice but to marry and have children with Peeta. But is she ever scared of being forcibly penetrated? Sure there’s a kind of metaphorical rape when Peeta invents a pregnancy (and a false sexual history, coyly framed as “marriage”) for her prior to the Quarter Quell Games, but the truth of real dystopian societies is that one of the first cultural norms to break down is the sexual safety of young women. Just ask a Sudanese girl (or boy for that matter), or a Serbian, or any girl living in a refugee camp. Rape gangs pop up in fractured or displaced communities like fireweed after a brushfire. Rape is a common, almost universal tool of warfare and repression. Rape is a big part of gang life and the socially unfettered world of the homeless and addicted.

WITHER, by Lauren DeStefano certainly smacks more of the sexual violence and interference growing in our society. It’s sort of romanticized though, which I find in a way, much more disturbing, though I did like the book. There’s no disguising or justifying away the fact that the protagonist and narrator,  Rhine develops feeling for this pedophile who has imprisoned her and impregnated her thirteen year old “sister wife”. Is this Stockholm Syndrome? Or something else?

While THG is a violent book and WITHER is a sexualized book, neither of them seem brave enough to face the real threat of sexual violence, coercion and control that all young women face in OUR world. Let me put it another way: there would be rape in the Hunger Games arena, and the capital viewers would love it. Also, was the Quarter Quell the first time a “pregnant” tribute had gone into the arena? Come on. Surely the Game-makers would have some kind of policy in place about this. Maybe even thrill at it. My feeling is that author Suzanne Collins tiptoed over this whole issue like a coal walker, rather than face it and be burnt.

I understand that this is a book for young readers – I know ten and eleven years olds who are reading it – so perhaps sexual content was not deemed appropriate. This from a book that describes, in vivid detail, a tribute being eaten alive over a period of hours by a pack of mutant wolves genetically engineered to resemble other dead tributes. Nice. But at least we never saw Cato’s peepee.

Ironically (THG trilogy is nothing if not ironic) when we finally get a realistic portrayal of the sexual politics that would certainly pervade the world of Panem, it comes from Finnick, male, and in his twenties when he joins the story. Do we know when he started to be sexually coerced? Was it when he was 14, just after he won his games? Or was he over the age of consent? Did it happen to Annie and Johanna too? It’s an affecting scene when this is revealed, but it smacks of too little too late.

When you’re dealing with young heroines in societies such as this, the threat of coercive rape would be constant. With all the talk of vaginas and uteruses in the American media right now, these sexually sanitized dystopias just don’t ring true. The young readers aren’t ready for this, you say? Well perhaps it’s up to us YA writers to help them get ready. Because this is real, people.

Thoughts?

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43 thoughts on “The (A)sexual Politics of the Hunger Games

  1. I had a completely different reading of THG than you did, it seems. I saw women kicking ass and being important in all levels of society, from Katniss supporting her family in District 12 to what’s-her-name (creepy purple lady) in the Capitol. I also saw lots of sexual freedom in the Capitol — at least in the movie (since the movie triggered this post), where they show a few LGBT couples and transvestites, out in public holding hands etc. with no fear.* They also pick an equal number of girls and boys for The Hunger Games. And while I don’t know if there’s rape in the arena** — it’s never touched upon, like you said — I think sex definitely happens. Or at least, was implied in the movie (didn’t the blonde girl go to sleep with Cato? and what do you think happened in some of those Tribute apartments)?

    It was interesting, in that it was a kind of “at least we’re too enlightened to be sexist — look how fair the government really is!!! How can you say we’re a dystopia?!?” Or as I read it, “Dear America, this dystopian society is so f/ed up in every way BUT EVEN THEY AREN’T AS SEXIST AS YOU ARE. Sincerely, SC.” It fits with the world because this is not an *anarchic* dystopian state like the examples you mentioned. This is a highly controlled dystopian state that works by everyone pretending it’s all ok, we’re so cultured and enlightened in the Capitol, we’re free because we can do whatever we want mostly, that messy revolution is over with, and it’s all fine and dandy and the poor people deserve it because they rebelled.

    Also, you talk about THG as if it’s a current novel. It is, but it’s not as current as the women’s health and safety issues being debated right now. The entire trilogy has been out for years; even if it was fresh off the shelves it still would have been written before this sexual privacy debacle. You are asking why it doesn’t tie in to “the current state of society, at least for girls and women is focusing most of its repression and control on the twelve inches between the navel and the top of the thighs,” but that’s reading it out of context. It wasn’t nearly as huge of an issue when THG was written as it is right now, certainly not enough to make it into a MG/YA book. Oddly, we used to be more civilized and are now trying our hardest to regress. :/

    *although that made me uncomfortable for a different reason. It was like the decadence of the Capitol was working to be subtly anti-LGBT.

    **It would also be rather more difficult to rape your opponent if she was combat-trained, armed, and ready to kill you because she knew you’d kill her after raping her, and you didn’t know what the other contestants and/or the arena were going to throw at you next. Also there’d be the risk that while some people would love watching rape, on the other hand it might lose you sponsors.

  2. Ah! Another thought! I understand the reasoning behind: “The young readers aren’t ready for this, you say? Well perhaps it’s up to us YA writers to help them *get* ready. Because this is real, people.” But I don’t like its other implications. Is any book with a teen girl protag and no/minimal threat of sexual abuse invalid? It sounds a little like, “Authors should put this in books because you should expect to be raped, girls. Otherwise it’s not realistic enough.” Not as harsh as that, obviously, but if taken a certain way — or written a certain way in a book — it could go so far as to normalize rape. It also assumes that young readers aren’t ready, or don’t understand the threat of rape. Sadly, many do. That doesn’t mean they want to read about it; fantasy, sci-fi, and strong heroines provide an escape for most readers. For some reason, the general consensus is that there are set genres for these things, and fantasy/SF/paranormal etc. don’t deal with “teen issues.” I’m not saying I agree with this idea — it smacks of the opinion that “these genres are just fluff/for fun” — but you focus on THG in this post and end up ignoring the many other novels out there that do deal with issues. Issue novels purposely explore issues most fantasy/scifi novels don’t.

    Maybe that should change. Hopefully we will see more novels of various genres coming out in the next couple of years that address the issues of today’s war on women.

  3. Wow, fantastically thoughtful response Laura. You make some valid points. Of course THG pre-dates the current sexual privacy “meme” but it certainly doesn’t predate the issue of sexual privacy being under threat, or sexual violence.

    I guess my point is that in any society as f*cked up as THG, the idea that they would be somehow MORE sexually liberated than “us” is a science fiction trope. The fact is that what we call “civilization” (ie the ideals of freedom, choice and personal safety that we all value) is directly proportional to the emancipation of women and the removal of both the state and the patriarchy from their affairs. So it stand s to reason that a society like THG would see a de-emancipation of women very quickly as part of the general moral decay. Moreover, in a society where women are completely in control of their sexual and reproductive destinies, this kind of moral decay is very unlikely.

    In the most regressively dystopian cultures in the world (Afghanistan under the Taliban for example) this is easy enough to see. But in in so called “advanced” dystopias (China for example) the most hostile of their policies and practices are always directed towards women and girls (one child policy, sex selective abortion and female infanticide etc). And of course, sexual assault and child abuse is rampant.(see this for example: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zeng-jinyan/sexual-assault-china_b_1073693.html)

    So in that sense we agree. I saw THG world as sexually liberated too – strong women etc – that’s exactly what I am challenging.

    And of course, you suggest some logical reasons why there might not be rape (there is implied consensual sex, or at least an appetite for sex among the viewers in the capital) in the arena. I just wish SC had touched on those. It feels like she shied away. There are ways of revealing this enough to older readers without confront younger readers too much.

    I also agree that this is escapism and I don’t think that rape needs to figure in every story, but if this is a story about violence, in a broken and morally corrupt society, and there are girls in it then…it just feels sanitized, that’s all. what galls me the most is that this extreme violence is not only tolerated, but celebrated by those who would seek to ban a book like Judy Blume’s FOREVER because it contains teen having loving sex.

    I wonder where the frank accusation of The Chrysalids or The Handmaid’s Tale is in all this dys-lit. That’s all. I wonder why we’re fine with kids reading ultra-violence but afraid of them reading sex.

    • It seems to me that the sex issue just wasn’t the one that SC chose to tackle. I think she was specifically attacking violence on television and in modern culture, so she focused more on the aspects of extreme violence. (And I wouldn’t describe THG as hyper-violent, even compared to some other YA I’ve read.) If you look at most TV shows, they can get away with any amount of violence, but only special/blocked/etc. channels can get away with sex. Similarly, highly violent movies get PG-13 ratings but as soon as you say “fuck” or slip a sex scene in (ha, ha) then it’s R. For such a sex-obsessed culture, Americans are weirdly prudish.

      I agree that the sex was glossed over in THG, but I didn’t have a problem with that. Speaking of which, is Katniss a virgin? I don’t remember. I would guess she’d have to be, because if she’s too poor to afford food then how could she afford contraception? Unless she used rue (an aborticant herb)? How does her mom only have two kids if they’re too poor for contraception? Well OK don’t answer that I know there are ways, lol… :/ It’s like how JK Rowling mostly glossed over sex in Harry Potter (they have no sex-ed at Hogwarts!! also, don’t tell me Harry and Ginny didn’t have sex during all those long hours in secluded corners of the Hogwarts grounds :/).

      To get back on topic, it made sense to me in THG because so much of what goes on in that society is about keeping up appearances — the Capitol has to set themselves up as benevolent, enlightened, liberated, etc. Even the violence itself is civilized, sanitized, controlled. What I find most disturbing is that the Capitol’s sexual liberation, including for LGBT people, was associated with their moral degeneration. We also didn’t see many women in actual power positions in government — sure there were techies, scientists, stylists, trainers, contestants, shop owners etc. but where were the politicians?

      I’m trying to figure out my own thoughts here. I guess I’m saying that I don’t think sexual abuse necessarily has to feature in dystopia — even when there is violence and girls — because as we’ve seen, it’s not the sole province of dystopian and oppressive societies. Also, the reasons such oppressions come about are varied — you mentioned China, where it’s all about containing overpopulation. It would have to make sense within the story. I’m just afraid of it becoming a stock trope for dystopia, used for nothing more than shock value. You could argue that it already has (I’m thinking of The Handmaid’s Tale). Margaret Atwood can get away with the shock factor because she did it first, but…everyone after her? Imitating Atwood is not enough. (Also, she didn’t write YA.)

      • I think Katniss is a virgin. Harry and Ginny? I don’t know. Ginny might have held out on him. She comes from a pretty traditional family.

        I don’t own DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth, but I’m pretty sure there’s a scene where Tris gets beaten up, where she’s aware at least that she’s in danger of being raped. Maybe I imagined that. That’s really all I ask for in THG, that I didn’t get (I loved it! Haven’t seen the movie) was an acknowledgement that sex and sexual violence are out there.

        These teenage “kick-ass heroines” are sex objects to readers after all. They are fetishistic objects/role models – “girls with guns (or arrows)”. I don’t object to that – it’s entertainment – and SC made her choices and I respect them. I just think if this “teen girl in jeopardy” trope continues, I would like to see it made a bit more real.

      • Katniss mentions that when she kisses Peeta in the cave, it’s her first kiss, so it’s safe to assume that she’s a virgin until the end of Mockingjay.

        Her mother is a healer, so it’s quite possible she knew how to come up with methods of contraceptions with her herbs. (Also probably a necessity for a population that has such limited supplies.)

  4. I want to point out that there is a mention of how the Peacekeeper of District 12 has a taste for young women, and that they prostitute themselves out in exchange for food/things for survival. Katniss mentions that had she been only a couple years older after the death of her father, she would have ended up taking that route.

    • Yes, the peacekeeper of District 12, which is certainly an indicator that this society is not completely free from sexual inequity and coercion.

      Maybe I’m being to hard on the whole thing. Maybe the faked relationship between Peeta and Katniss is a metaphor or something.

      • That’s right where my mind went when I read this. I really think that the forced relationship between Peeta and Katniss can be likened to rape, just more on a spiritual level vs. physical. She loves Gale, and doesn’t feel the same for Peeta, especially at first. She is basically prostituted out on television and then forced through the series to stay with Peeta. In the end it seems natural that they be together, but it is not her wish in the first book/movie. Great conversation.

      • See I disagree, which is why I’ve always been on team Peeta. I think she DOES love Peeta from the when they were kids and Gale has never been any more than like a big brother to her.

    • Perhaps Katniss doesn’t think about it as much because she just takes it for granted as a part of her life, then? Or, more likely, she never seriously considered that as a viable option; that would make sense. Also, if she’s fairly sexually innocent/romantically clueless, maybe that’s another reason it doesn’t clock for her. Another narrator — like one of the girls who did use prostitution as an option — might pay more attention to it. I think there is prostitution and rape in the series but that it functions as metaphor. Different readers will pick up on it more or less than others, probably depending on their age and experience.

      What I found telling was how it was all related to money and getting food. Peeta tells Katniss that his father’s first choice was her mother, but she chose a coal miner over a baker — an unusual decision in that a miner would be less able to support her. Yay true love, and all that. Then he dies, and Katniss’s independence/badassery comes directly from her having to take up the role of “man of the house” and hunt food. She may be so used to acting as the “man” of the family that she doesn’t consider her own sexuality and the threats that come with being a girl in a dystopian world. It’s all very biased, because it’s in first person…

    • Yes, I think this is an important point. As well as the fact that Katniss is being forced to be intimate with Peeta and be vulnerable to him in order to be saved in the arena. How is that not an allusion to the control men have over women in the workplace, etc.? Though I agree that THG may be lacking in “reality” in some ways in regard to the possibility of rape, I must say that if that had been included, then I couldn’t have read this book with my freshmen. The violence, oddly enough, I can justify because SC doesn’t dwell on the way characters are killed so much as just being killed. Yes, the Cato scene is gut wrenching, but I still think SC handles it in an appropriate way. It allowed me to talk with my students about violence in the media and reality shows and the exploitation of people and class systems, etc. etc. I wouldn’t have been able to have that conversation in that same way without THG.

      I also caution this push toward reality with sexual assault because I think it would desensitize an already sensitive issue. The last thing our society needs is teenagers getting used to reading about rape. We need to face the fact that rape IS different from murder. Sex IS a precious thing that, once exploited, can be detrimental and repulsive for the victim. There is a difference between being punched and being sexually assaulted. There is just something so much more intimate and personal about it and that’s why it’s not suitable for YA lit. I greatly appreciate the way Roth handled the issue in Divergent because she acknowledged it, had her character acknowledge it, and then dealt with it in a realistic way. Rape is prevalent enough in TV and movies without the need for it to be pervasive in lit. I just hope we as a society are able to have this discussion in an intelligent and sensitive way in the future.

      • I think you have a point that its not a good idea to desensitize kids to sexual assault, but I’d argue that, depending on how you write about it, reading about sexual assault can actually sensitize kids to it more than just ignoring it.

  5. “When you’re dealing with young heroines in societies such as this, the threat of coercive rape would be constant. With all the talk of vaginas and uteruses in the American media right now, these sexually sanitized dystopias just don’t ring true. The young readers aren’t ready for this, you say? Well perhaps it’s up to us YA writers to help them get ready. Because this is real, people.”

    I agree, completely.

    I just read the book, and may continue to read the rest of the trilogy. I enjoyed it, and think it is a good book, even a brilliant one. But there are things in the society that don’t add up to me.

    The fact that Collins was willing to address cannibalism but not rape in the Games, let alone more than that one brief mention of the Peacekeeper in District 12 for sexual exploitation in the larger society of Panem, was jarring for me. The way I remember it, there were two direct references to cannibalism: The first when Katniss mentions the one tribute who had tried eating the bodies of the other tributes he had killed; the second she mentions that there were only two rules in the Games – Don’t step off the pillar for the first sixty seconds, and the unspoken ban on cannibalism. By my memory that’s exactly the same number of mentions of sexual exploitation that I can recall from the book: The first with the mention of the Peacekeeper who likes teen girls; and the second when it’s mentioned that her post-game interview dress had a padded chest as a compromise when the alternative would have been forced breast enhancement.

    Somehow that doesn’t seem to me to be a treatment that matches the current situation in the US, nor even any historical situation that I can think of, for the relative risks of the two events.

    In the end, I think that it’s likely that was a decision driven by marketing and the decision to write the book for a young adult audience. Certainly I question whether a book could have been written with the level of sexual exploitation I’d expect from the society in Capitol and still be able to be marketed to the YA market.

    For that matter, I was pleasantly surprised to see what seems to me to be a reasonable addressing of the liklihood of cannibalism in the situation described in the Games, in a YA title.

    Like you, I don’t believe we do our youth any favors by deliberately hiding that sort of ugliness from them, and if one can’t begin to address those issues in YA fiction, where is the place to begin that?

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  7. Came here from Veronica Roth’s blog… very interesting discussion.

    I do think the Capitol had some rules regarding sexual exploitation. We find out in Catching Fire that after Finnick won his games, the people of the Capitol had to wait for him to get older but once he did, then he was free game. That struck me as interesting because of the bizarro-morality. Violence / Death / Starvation ok, sex with a minor not.

    • Yes, I found that odd and unlikely too. Cultures that devalue children routinely use them as sexual objects and trade, as well as slave labor and targets for violent entertainment. These things go hand in hand.

  8. Wow. Your post, and the comments, made me just sit here and think. I read The Hunger Games a few days ago, to be ready when I go to watch the movie. I have so many different opinions, it’s difficult to explain myself.

    I think it’s ok to say Katniss is being exploited…but maybe not everyone realized it. Didn’t female tributes get more sponsors for being pretty? What about her relation with Peeta? Didn’t she have to kiss Peeta to receive ‘gifts’? When I was reading the cave scene, I thought they were going to have sex…but Peeta was almost dying so I don’t know. But wasn’t that what the public wanted?

    I don’t know. I’m 25 now…but when I was a teenager, I’d still have thought about it.

    Anyway, what about Peeta? Wasn’t he being exploited too?

    It’s a difficult subject, and I believe it’s very difficult to write about it in YA books… but anyway, I recommend you to check out XVI by Julia Karr, maybe you’ll like it.

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  10. This post and discussion brings up something I’ve been thinking about since finishing the amazing “Finnikin of the Rock” by Melina Marchetta a few days ago. I’m honestly still a bit scarred by the levels of sexual violence and abuse in that book and I’m nearly 34. Nothing is graphically described, but it was still a bit overwhelming and I just don’t see how it’s appropriate for young readers. That book has a very realistic portrayal of what you describe, how rape is used in wartime (and in prison) and reflects how fantasy & sci-fi comment on today. Though personally, I like my escapist fiction with a bit less rape, and, while I take your point, I didn’t miss it at all in THG.

      • I don’t know how far you got, but it’s worth another shot. Evanjalin is one of the most bad-assed female characters I’ve ever read. Hands down. Not for her fighting skill either, purely based off the strength of her character.

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  12. I think we are forgetting Finnick Odair being forced into prostitution and other tributes who were attractive enough to prostitute and if they refuse President Snow would kill every body that person loves example Johanna Mason when she refused. SC does address sex in THG triology

  13. I’m glad to see someone had the same thought as me. I found your post (and am now subscribing to your blog) because I was googling for discussions of the lack of sexual violence in The Hunger Games. The whole thing just seemed bizarrely sanitized for a book that’s all about grim violence and starvation and death. It bothered me all through the book that there was absolutely no mention of sex, sexual violence, or pregnancy. Logically, these would all be issues in this situation. I wish there had been some payoff at the end of the book so that it would be an indictment of how our society is fine with kids watching violence but not fine with them knowing about sex… but there was no payoff so I think the author just actually didn’t think about the logical consequences of a society like this. It was dystopian, but also bizarrely utopian that Katniss can get into the scariest situations but never have any worries about rape. I actually really want to discuss this more, but I’m not sure if these comments are active anymore…

    • That’s an interesting parallel that you’ve drawn about society being fine with violence but not with sex. This is certainly the motivation behind the chastity of THG but not narratively, simply pragmatically from the author/publisher’s point of view. Too much sex and books will not be purchased by middle school or primary school libraries, even high school libraries. It’s peculiar that they would be fine with the violence but there it is. To my mind TWO forms of sexual repression were missing from THG, both sexual violence, like rape as a form of destabilizing Katniss (Cato would have had a go almost certainly) and /or sexual repression and invasiveness. Maybe the female tributes would have been fitted with some sort of protective device or forcibly sterilized – in other words STATE interest in the sexual privacy of women, akin to the current situation in the USA, but blown up to dystopian proportions.

      • I honestly wonder how much of the lack of sex (either consensual or not) in these books is because of the publisher being worried about people buying it for kids, and how much was just the author’s choice to avoid the issue. Part of me thinks its typically American for people to be fine with kids seeing or reading about all sorts of violence, but freak out at the slightest mention of sex or whether or not contraception is feasible, or whatever. But the other part of me notes that there certainly are good YA books that deal with rape, either as a side issue or as the central issue of the plot. None of them are so spectacularly popular as THG, but it isn’t unheard of.

        Anyway plot-wise, I see two separate issues, but related in that the both involve ignoring the realities of sex, biology, and human violence.

        1. In a violent dystopian situation like this, its completely unbelievable that there would never be rape or threats of rape. It wouldn’t have been that hard to mention that it happens in general but that Katniss is good enough with the bow that guys haven’t bothered here specifically, or something, if the author didn’t want to write about it directly. But absolutely no mention of it is unbelievable. I thought the scene near the end where the girl pins down Katniss and threatens to slowly and sadistically cut her to death, starting by cutting off her lips, was at least as disturbing as a rape scene would have been. Why is that ok in a middle school book? We can see our main character nearly get sadistically tortured to death, but if she nearly got raped that would be over the line? I guess that fits with Lord of the Flies being required reading in 9th grade, but sex ed being a big controversy.

        2. The basic biology of sex, even without any violence, is missing from this plot. Throughout history, in every society, there are going to be at least some teenagers who have sex even if they aren’t supposed to. So, what happens if a tribute is pregnant? Does it get you out of being a tribute? If it did, everyone would always be trying to get pregnant. More likely it doesn’t, since they didn’t excuse small girls or crippled boys. So if there are pregnant teens being put in this battle to the death on a regular basis, there should have been some mention of that. Also, Katniss explicitly plans to avoid having children by avoiding getting married, so that makes it sound like there is no contraception in their world. That would imply to me that there should be an even more significant number of female tributes who are pregnant. Plot-wise, its clear that Katniss and Gale get to wander around by themselves all day hunting. They might not be inclined to have sex, but if teenagers in general get that amount of freedom, there’s no way there aren’t at least some of them having sex. That’s an important world-building aspect that was completely missing from the plot.

        One way to fix that would have been to say that the people in the capitol, with their genetic engineering abilities, somehow fixed things so that the population can’t become pregnant until after they’re 19 or whatever. That fits with your thought of protective devices from the state. But I guess that would have involved explicitly discussing sex.

        Oh, and we’re supposed to believe that a population that gets their main entertainment by watching teenagers actually kill each other is going to be satisfied with a few kisses as their main romance?

      • Completely agree with you, Rosetta. Have you read the whole series. The issue of pregnancy in the arena is dealt with in book 2, but in an unsatisfying, way to me anyway, because it is implied that this is the first time it has happened and that as we agree is unrealistic.

      • Having thought about it a bit more, I agree with you about the STATE interest in sex and reproduction, which I hadn’t thought of much at first (except as a way of plugging the pregnancy plot hole). This is an extremely totalitarian regime, specifically geared at demoralizing people through their children. This state would definitely be interested in controlling when and if people have children, and they clearly have no qualms about controlling people’s intimate day to day lives.

        Here’s a couple things I would have liked to see, to complete the dystopia:

        – A mention that the state controls reproduction somehow – for example, implanting birth control devices into children and then removing them when they turn 19 (avoids pregnant tributes), after which people are forced to rely on the rhythm method and other things that don’t work that well, so that its not feasible to just stop having children even if you don’t want to worry about them going to the games. Abortion is a crime punishable by becoming an avox. Every now and then, some desperate parent kills their child to spare them the pain of going to the games (and then is severely punished, or kills themselves).

        – A mention that, along with cannibalism, sex is against the unspoken rules of the game. Because, say, the people in the capitol like having their children watch the games, but don’t want their children to know about sex. That would have made an interesting point about our current society, without requiring any detailed sex or rape scenes. Because without such a rule, there’s no logical reason the contestants wouldn’t be having all sorts of sex. You know you’re probably about to die – for some people, enjoying sex when given the chance would be like enjoying all those last meals they were given. And for others, enjoying the power and control and sadism of raping someone would also be worth it, now that they’re going to die anyway so there’s no consequences to avoid. Sure, there are plenty of teens that wouldn’t be interested in sex one way or the other at that point, but on average there would also be plenty who are.

    • No, I only read the first book – just finished it a couple hours ago. I’m not sure if I’m going to read the next two. I don’t feel like they’re worth my time in and of themselves, but they might be worth it just as a cultural phenomenon since they are so popular (same reason I read Twilight, but could only get through the first one). So I don’t mind reading spoilers.

      From my googling, I’ve gathered that Katniss is fake-pregnant and sent back into the arena in the second book, but if they’re claiming that’s the first time its happened then it just highlights my complaints from above. I also gathered there is some mention of a male winner being exploited sexually after he wins, but again, that highlights the lack of mention of females being exploited, or some plot device / reason why they wouldn’t be. I kept expecting there to be a scene where Cato tries to rape Katniss, and she realizes this must happen on a regular basis but they just don’t air it because it doesn’t play well in the capitol (like cannibalism).

      Or, there could have been a mention that she has seen it happen in past games, and so she’s careful to be on guard, but it just doesn’t happen this time. Statistically, take 12 teenage boys, force them into a violent situation with 12 teenage girls – what are the odds one of those boys decides to turn the violence sexual? I’m not saying it would happen every time, so its legitimate to have it not happen in this round. But overall, if you do this every year, I don’t think it would be unheard of.

      I’ve also been wondering – if this society were real, how many people would refuse to have babies? In real life, people continue to have children even though they know they might die, or be drafted into a war, or something like that. But this being so much more explicit and random and up close and horrible – wouldn’t it stop people from wanting to have kids? Katniss sure thinks so. So I am seriously seriously wondering about the availability of birth control, in a way that I usually don’t wonder during fantasy novels.

      • I think THG takes a fairly high degree of suspension of disbelief for sure. The other books are worth it, as a cultural phenomena at least. But I agree that there would have been ways to address the issue of sexual violence without it being too explicit for younger readers. I would recommend you read UNWIND by Neal Shusterman for a dystopia that takes reproductive politics to horrific (and pertinent) levels, although, like other teen books, this one is also surprisingly “safe” for the young people who are being exploited in every other possible way.

      • The funny thing is, based on the plot, I went into this comparing it to the movie Battle Royale (which I didn’t like, but saw years ago). And so one of my first thoughts was that THG was actually more believable than I had expected, because it was more believable than Battle Royale. But I guess that’s not a very high bar, so yeah, there’s still a lot of suspension of disbelief needed.

      • Actually Finnick wasn’t the only prostitute forced by Snow there are assumed to be other victors that were forced example Johanna Mason again was asked and by asked I mean that it’s either you sell yourself or we kill your family and anyone you love she refused Snow killed her family for refusing to do what Snow wanted her to do. Also it’s assumed that BC is available to people of the Capitol or anyone who could afford it with that being said district 12 being the poorest district was the most malnourished district which could have prevented some people from having kids and since the Capitol have their citizens starving on purpose with the only exception being they signed up for tesserae which allows them to get food for exchange of their name being entered in more times which even though that district had a high rate of tesseraes entered the tesseraes wasn’t enough how does all that ties malnutrition can effect the reproductive system. Also about rape in the Arena again since it’s told in Katniss’s POV we won’t know but it’s assumed that there could’ve been rape in the Arena or other district between peacekeepers taking advantage of the citizens in various districts. Also sex in the arena when it comes down to it I doubt that any one would be worrying about sex especially if it a death match and everyone is out to get you and kill you. And as for the pregnant tirbute she falls under the same rule unless someone volunteers to take her place she enters in the arena. There is debate amongst the fans whether they abort the baby or she goes in pregnant either way she’ll get a lot of sponsers.

      • “THG is surprisingly devoid of commentary on the topic of sexual politics and sexual violence.” I’ll go with everything but “surprisingly.” This kind of wishful thinking about women and reality is common. http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/12/03/the-5-most-overrated-pop-culture-heroines/?singlepage=true&replytocom=300803#respond
        I will definitely have to pick up Unwind. And gspendergrast is right, these tough topics can and have been dealt with in a way kids can both understand something wicked this way comes without need for gruesome detail.
        As for Rosetta and the birth control wonderings, the central government would likely want/need the service districts to keep reproducing so would outlaw—not merely restrict—birth control.

  14. I’m actually surprised that District 12 still actively reproduced. 90% of the population was starving and once a girl’s body fat percentage goes down low enough, she loses her period.

  15. Pingback: “Girl” Books for Boys | Gabrielle Prendergast

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