I won’t beat around the bush and will just give you my answer instead: no, of course, it isn’t. There is absolutely nothing feminist whatsoever about it. I can’t say that it’s actively anti-feminist either, though. The novel is simply not about that at all.
It’s funny that so many people think The Hunger Games is some sort of a feminist manifesto. For instance, Katha Pollitt, who is usually a very insightful journalist, gushes about the “feral feminism” of both the book and the movie like a teenage fan. These “female warrior” narratives that have become so popular in the past 25 years keep trying to sell us the belief that the most admirable girl of all is the one who has managed to turn into a boy. And I fail to see what’s so feminist and progressive about that idea.
The novel’s protagonist keeps repeating that she is much smaller and weaker physically than her male opponents in the Hunger Games. Yet, because of her great people skills, her capacity to sell her sexual favors successfully and fake sexual desire, her intelligence, her fast running and archery skills, she defeats them all.
I’m sorry, folks, but that’s a load of baloney. In terms of height, girth and muscle strength, women lose to men without a shadow of a doubt. Rare exceptions do not change the general rule. In any competition where brute strength or any sort of athletic abilities are involved, I can guarantee to you that I will lose even to the least athletic of men.
The good news, however, is that this doesn’t matter any more. The world has changed, and the brute physical force means nothing. People who used to make their living by lifting and moving heavy objects are being rendered unemployed by the physically much weaker folks who design the smart machines that can do these jobs much better. The muscle tone and the height are completely irrelevant to how successful and comfortable one will be in life. We, the women, have no need to prove that we can run, shoot, jump and kick ass as well as men. Because even if we can’t, it’s completely unimportant.
The “female warrior” narratives try to sell us some sort of a feminized version of a nerdy teenage boy’s Spiderman fantasy. “I will discover superpowers and will beat up all the men boys on the playground.” When that fantasy is projected on a female protagonist, silliness ensues. Let’s remember that the only battle that Buffy, a far more interesting and complex “female warrior” than Katniss, never manages to win is the one over the right to practice her sexuality as she sees fit. As a woman, i.e. a person who owns her female body, Buffy is a complete and utter failure.
For as long as I’ve been a reader, I have been searching for a female character I could identify with. Male characters like that abound. In The Hunger Games, for example, I feel a lot of affinity for Haymitch. Katniss, however, is as removed from my way of being Bella Swan is. The only real difference between the two is that Katniss is a little clumsier at performing patriarchal female roles: she mothers, albeit reluctantly, both children and adult men, she gradually learns to sell sex, and her entire existence belongs to her family.
And she can shoot a mean arrow. Whoop dee do. How very feminist of her.