The Hunger Games Trilogy: Catching Fire and the Purpose of Men

Thanks to reader V.’s recommendation, I have spent another sleepless night reading the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire. I found it to be a lot better than the first. The model of “one hero and a bunch of pathetic people and nasty evildoers” does nothing for me. In Catching Fire, though, that model is abandoned for the sake of a much more interesting model where people resist, cooperate, and there is no single hero who is a lot better at everything than everybody else. I have always been bothered by the “Superman plot” which revolves around the idea that we all need a hero with superhuman powers to save us all from our pathetic weaknesses.

What I find disconcerting in the novel, however, is how the male protagonist, Peeta, is presented as a person whose only goal and overpowering interest is to serve the needs of the “fair lady.” How would we feel about a 16-year-old female protagonist who tells a boy that her entire life is about him and that life has no meaning if he isn’t there? A female protagonist who shows no interest in her parents, siblings, or even pets, who has no friends of her own, who disappears when the boy she likes dismisses her and reappears as soon as he shows some interest or has need of her services? A female protagonist who tells the boy she wants to die so that he can go ahead and marry some other girl?

I think we  would all passionately condemn the novel as extremely patriarchal and promoting the image of women as subservient to men and as having no value of their own apart from male needs. Doesn’t it make sense for us, then, to feel equally bothered by a book that denies a male character any other role as being an uncomplaining and unquestioning servant of a girl?

The inhabitants of Panem at least manage to rebel against the authorities that enslave them. I hope Peeta does the same by the end of the 3rd novel in the trilogy.

Is The Hunger Games a Feminist Novel?

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.

Want to Self-Promote? Call Yourself a Feminist!

It is now so prestigious to call oneself a feminist that people do it simply to self-promote. Remember how all of those spurious feminists who supported Sarah Palin suddenly cropped up? And then there were those weird Ukrainian “feminists” who ran around naked because, according to them, feminism is all about women having the right to get their naked bodies ogled in public spaces.

Here you can see these idiots defiling which is probably the most important cathedral in all of Russia

Now, there is a group of stupid little fools in Russia who try to self-promote by claiming they are feminists:

Anti-government protests in Russia are taking many different forms, from mass rallies and marches to defiant street art and music.

Just recently, members of a feminist punk group were arrested in Moscow’s Red Square after they performed a song ridiculing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The group, which calls itself Pussy Riot, says it’s planning more stunts before March’s presidential elections.

What this gushing article (and the gushing posts in my blogroll) forget to mention is that these “feminists” have defiled a church and insulted the feelings of believers by offering an unsolicited performance of a song whose lyrics are extremely offensive to religious people. I have many very serious issues with the Russian Orthodox Church (to put it very, very mildly) but defiling places that people consider to be holy is just not on. And it definitely has nothing to do with feminism.

The only good news is that money-hungry self-promoters see the feminist label as something that can bring them popularity. Only 15 years ago, producers of a certain TV channel in Russia wondered if the word “feminist” was decent enough to be pronounced on screen during prime time. And now people are using it to self-promote.

And This Is Yet Another Example of Feminist Writing That Annoys Me

Imagine if I told you the following: “At my university, Jews are expected to fill out endless paperwork proving that they do their job right. They have to narrate in painstaking detail exactly how they implement the strategic goals of our institution in every aspect of their teaching. Every Jew has to calculate the number of hours he or she spends on each job-related assignment and submit the paperwork. Then, the Chair meets with every single Jew and discusses his or her progress. Jews are also required to take long ethics training because it is assumed that Jews don’t know how to behave ethically without such training. During college events, Jews have to wear a sign on their chests identifying them.”

Pretty offensive, eh? When I imagine that sort of a work environment, I want to go and destroy such a university immediately.

Everything I have written about the treatment of Jews at my university is absolutely true. I just forgot to mention that everybody else is treated exactly the same way. And that changes the picture somewhat, doesn’t it? We might be an overly bureaucratized place but we are not anti-Semitic.

Would you know that from my story, though?

Now, read the following excerpt from a feminist article:

Women exist in a legal state of permanent consent.  Consent is an automatic defense to a charge of rape and unless there is sound evidence that consent was withdrawn, it is frequently assumed that it was not.  If a woman did not actively withdraw her consent, there is no case to answer – the legal status of a woman is that of consent to sexual intercourse.  Furthermore, the presumption of innocence over guilt in effect means that it is insufficient for a conviction to be upheld purely on the basis that a woman asserts that she withdrew her consent in the absence of such evidence.

For some women, the withdrawal of consent becomes in effect a legal non-option.  Crimes of sexual violence against sex-workers are notoriously difficult to prosecute, as the assumption is that they payment has brought the agreement not to withdraw consent.  Any evidence that a woman may not have withdrawn consent, is evidence of the innocence of the accused. Such evidence may include payment; sexually arousing dress; prior sexual activity; drug or alcohol use; being asleep; being sexually unattractive, or being insufficiently aware of danger.  Up until 1991 the majority of women lived within a formal legal state which denied her the right to remove her consent: a woman could not withdraw consent to sexual intercourse from her husband; marriage was an automatic defense.*

This is all pretty incendiary. And it’s completely true, too. Except for one small detail. All of the above is just as true for a man as it is for a woman.

When we pretend that implied consent only has to do with women, we cannot even begin to address the real issue. This is not about women being singled out by unjust legislation and an anti-feminist culture. This is a problem that we all face. Men and women alike exist in a state of implied consent. Can anybody really claim that a male sex worker will find it easier than a female sex worker to bring a charge of rape in court? Does anybody really think that being sexually unpopular, having a rich sexual past, being inebriated, etc. do not make it as hard for men as it is for women to prove they have been raped? Really?

I think it would be a great idea to discuss the concept of implied consent because it’s a very complicated issue that needs to be explored. But we will never get to explore it if we get stuck on this one-sided approach to the subject.

* The rest of the article is even more egregiously stupid than this, if you can imagine that.

Can a Feminist Criticize Women?

Spanish Prof writes:

If I can’t make a negative comment about Madonna’s performance during the Superbowl because it would be considered sexist and ageist, then feminism in this country is kind of f**ed.

I agree with Spanish Prof completely. Time and again, I hear this strange suggestion that being feminist is supposed to preclude one from being critical of women. What I find especially funny is that people don’t realize that when they defend the idea that women are always above reproach just because they are female, they actually buy into the patriarchal mentality that only afforded women the roles of a saint and a whore. Women’s humanity and human fallibility is denied by this approach.

One’s criticisms become sexist when one criticizes women (or men) as women (or men). If you say, “God, Madonna’s performance was so awful”, you are not being sexist. But if you add, “Well, who could have expected anything better from a woman?”, you are sexist.

Being held to a higher standard because one is female is as damaging as being given a free pass because of it. Both of these attitudes are sexist because they are based on treating women as representatives of their gender and not as human beings.

What Have You Done for Women Lately?

I love these posts from pseudo-feminists so much, I think I need to start collecting them. Here is one I just found:

When men call themselves feminists, my suspicious are automatically raised. A lot of times “I’m a feminist” is shorthand for “I’m not an asshole.” Not being an asshole should be the default and not something you get a cookie for. It’s okay to ask, “Really, what have you done for women lately?”

‘Cause, you know, women need stuff done for them. Feminists are people who “do something for women.” I just wonder what the blogger who came up with this litmus tests for feminists has “done for women lately.” Legalized female voting rights? Passed Roe versus Wade? Single-handedly destroyed the gender binary?

Do you remember the definition of pharisees? “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”

So in order to avoid transforming all feminists into pharisees, I suggest that every person (irrespective of gender, because that is kind of the feminist goal par excellence, to make gender irrelevant) who claims to be a feminist provide us a list with what they “have done for women lately.” And I mean, lately. Ten or twenty years ago doesn’t count. You need to have a recent and documented record of doing things for women.

Of course, I have to recognize that I’m definitely not a feminist according to this definition because I can’t claim I have done anything as huge as to benefit all women, lately, recently or ever. But then who can?

A Disgustingly Sexist Campaign: Boys Suck, Girls Rock

I thought I’d seen every stupid sexist idea anyone could come up with. This website, however, just takes the cake. It publishes admittedly fake stats and slogans to convince people who are expecting a child that they should not want this child to be a boy. Basically, it’s a “boys are bad, gross and useless” campaign. It publishes stories from parents who report on how their sons suck and stories from other parents on how their daughters are a total joy. As opposed to those useless sons, you know. Here, I snipped a small portion of the disgusting website for you (press on the pic for a larger view):

The vile, nasty and stupid (sorry, but I just have no patience with people who unburden themselves psychologically at the expense of children) creators of this stupid, nasty and vile campaign say that their goal is to combat the prejudice that many expectant parents have against giving birth to a girl. Having a daughter needs to be promoted as something good, they say.

Of course, the easy solution here would have been to start a campaign saying, “If you care about your child’s gender, then you are a flaming idiot who isn’t prepared to have a child in the first place.” Or, “I just hope that my kid is healthy and happy. Gender? Why should I care?” But no, these sexist jerks have chosen to reaffirm the most stupid gender stereotypes instead.

Mind you, people can’t control the gender of their child. So what is supposed to happen when a person who spends time on this idiotic website and wishes passionately for a girl, then gets stuck with one of those stupid boys who pee in fish-tanks, destroy furniture and set things on fire (these are all examples from the website in question, of course)?

What’s more, there are already even bigger fools who celebrate this perversion as. . .  a victory for feminism. I mean, the stupid campaign constructs the male identity as aggressive, violent and destructive and female identity as beauty-salon-visiting, obedient and docile even BEFORE the kids are born. A boy who is “a bookworm” is described as a disappointment to his parents because that makes his masculinity somehow faulty. The website uses pink for girls and blue for boys. Yes, this is a definite milestone of feminist achievement.

I also want to remind everybody that at least one person is born every day in this country whose biological sex cannot be determined as either male or female. People who have been brainwashed by the idea that the gender binary is to be maintained at all costs then do horrible things to these children in order to make them fit into a preconceived notion of definitive maleness or femaleness. I have been reading up on intersex recently and let me tell you, it’s horrible to see how often people inscribe gender on the bodies of newborns in very violent ways.

I also wish that people tried to keep in mind the plight of transgender folks who discover later in life that they were born into a wrong gender. It is that much harder for them to confront their families about who they really are if their parents believe in a very strict definition of gender. A definition that this campaign reinforces.

This is why the last thing we need is yet another stupid website pushing the pink versus blue dichotomy. We especially don’t need this garbage to be sold to us under feminist auspices. Countless people suffer every day because of the gender binary. It is a task of feminists to dismantle that binary, not to reinforce it. Why is this so hard to comprehend? Why, people, why?

Sheesh, folks. Do I really need to have my mood spoiled and my blood pressure raised by these vicious child-haters, stupid pseudo-feminists and brainless sexists so early on a Saturday morning?

Why Should My Partner Want to Have Sex With Me?

I have to confess, folks, the following line of argument scares the living bejeesus out of me:

The great sex therapist, David Schnarch, writes in his Passionate Marriage (the best sex advice book for couples in long-term relationships I’ve ever seen) that we do well to avoid the question “Why doesn’t my wife (or my husband, or my bf, gf, what-have-you) want to have sex with me?” The whole structure of the question, Schnarch says, misses the point. It assumes a strong libido is the default setting in any romantic relationship. Rather, we should ask “Why should my partner want to have sex with me?” And also “Why do I really want to have sex with him or her?”

I know there are huge fans of Schnarch hanging around this blog (wink, wink), but, with all due respect, seriously? To me, this entire paragraph sounds like all shades of crazy. What is this “strong libido” thing even supposed to mean?

The way I see it, the only possibility of coexisting happily, joyfully and peacefully with another person is predicated on a profound mutual sexual attraction. If that overpowering physical desire is not there, people will just eat each other alive because of their small quirks and differences. (Or will become so emotionally distanced as to turn into de facto roommates.)

I know I’m super annoying as a partner. I blab on the phone with my sister for hours every day, I’m messy, I cover every area of the apartment with cups of unfinished beverages, I overspend and go on and on about how guilty it makes me feel. Probably, one could see N. as annoying, too. He plays Call of Duty until very late at night every night and then he is cranky and exhausted on the next day.

We never get annoyed with each other, though. Everything he does looks indescribably attractive to me. And he feels the same about me, of course. The reason why we cherish every aspect of each other’s being is our boundless sexual passion for each other. There hasn’t been a single moment in our relationship when I did not passionately desire him.

Desiring a person doesn’t, of course, mean being able to perform sexually at every point. Everybody is human. People get sick, exhausted, whatever. But incapacity to perform right at this very moment does not translate into an absence of desire.

So to answer the title question of this post, “Why should my partner want to have sex with me?”: because if he doesn’t, this means he doesn’t love me. If this ever happens to me in my relationship, I will know that it’s time to move on and let him find a person he will really love.

I believe that if it comes to the point of “Why doesn’t my wife (or my husband, or my bf, gf, what-have-you) want to have sex with me?” (emphasis mine), as opposed to “Of course, he desires me passionately but just can’t perform a traditional, full-blown sex act right now because of health / exhaustion / whatever else”, this is the end of a romantic relationship as I see it.

If you want a really stupid piece of writing on the subject from one Amanda Marcotte, however, here is an excerpt:

It’s an indicator of how male-dominated our society is that the fact that women have diminishing libidos and don’t seem to care that much about it is treated as the problem, when in fact it’s merely the symptom of a larger problem–that women feel overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, understimulated, and shamed about their bodies. If we treated the actual problems that women face, higher libidos would be the happy result, I’m sure.

Got it? Women feel sexual desire in response to being paid more money and being given more help, encouragement, and compliments. From men, as far as I can gather. This is what passes for mainstream feminism this days, folks. Give her a huge cash gift, pay for a nanny and a housekeeper, praise her, and her desire for you – or for somebody – will shoot straight up. The possibility of women experiencing sexual desire as a basic human need is not even discussed. Just substitute any other basic physiological necessity for sexual desire in this paragraph (eating, sleeping, excreting, etc.) and see how much sense it makes to analyze one’s hunger or need for sleep in terms if one has been “appreciated” enough.

As I said before, I’m yet to meet a male chauvinist pig who can manage to make me feel as humiliated as some feminists do.

Kicked Out of Feminism

The recent hullabaloo that people with nothing better to do in their lives are creating about Hugo Schhwyzer has populated my blogroll with endless posts discussing who should or shouldn’t be “kicked out of feminism.” Here is a prime example of such post:

Is there any other social movement whose members regularly and publicly kick people and all of their ideas out for not being perfectly acceptable to all people all the time? And what about the voices of non-white men that are regularly kicked out of feminism. For instance, how does it help or hurt feminism to cite Mary Daly’s transbigotry, for instance, as a reason to reject her criticisms of the Catholic Church’s misogyny?

In spite of this blogger’s suggestion that Mary Daly was a non-white man and her extremely confusing writing style, she is echoing what seems to be a wide-spread sentiment. Namely, that feminism is some kind of a club where people come together to blab endlessly about whose privilege-itch is the itchiest and who can use more passive voice constructions per each short paragraph of writing. And you can be kicked out of this club if other members find you lacking in how abjectly apologetic you are about your numerous privileges.

This attitude, of course, is completely ridiculous. Feminism is a philosophy that has existed for centuries. It cannot be appropriated by a bunch of self-righteous folks who have appointed themselves the guardians of its ideals on some website or other. One’s feminist worldview belongs to that person and to nobody else, no matter how much some community-worshipers want to transform a philosophy into a clique that grants and denies access at the will of its most vocal screechers.

This is precisely why I flee from any group that start envisioning itself in terms of a community. A collective identity always needs both an external and an internal Other against which those who want to belong can measure themselves. A community cannot exist without conducting such public spectacles of bashing and then banishing transgressors. It cannot exist without scapegoats. There cannot be any “us” unless there are those who are obviously and visibly “not-us.” And there cannot be a greater pleasure for a community than to find “a traitor in our midst” and reaffirm its own identity by persecuting this invented traitor for as long as possible.

Jill at Feministe says that:

There have been calls in the comments here and elsewhere for Feministe to preemptively ban Hugo, and for me to email my internet feminist friends and form a united front against Schwyzer to take him down, and to make sure that he never teaches or writes about feminism again.

This is, of course, a classic definition of bullying. The ideologically pure need to make a public spectacle of their purity because, otherwise, the tenuous fiction of their identity will fall apart. A collective identity is always a myth, an artificial construct with very little basis in reality. In order to convince themselves that their identity actually has some meaning, members of such an artificially created community (be it a nation, a gender, or a sports fan club) constantly need to stage the boringly repetitive spectacle of their identity.

This entire debacle has nothing to do with feminism, of course. I’ve been studying the mechanisms of identity-formation for many years and I can tell you that all collective identities work this way. All of these folks who are now writing passionate diatribes about whether Hugo Schwyzer needs to be “kicked out of feminism” or whether his privilege is too privileged for him to be included into their community have no interest whatsoever in feminism. They just want to belong. And in order to experience the sweet feeling of belonging, they need to protect the borders of their group form being crossed by foreign elements.

False Feminist Issues Versus Genuinely Feminist Issues, Part III

– Pay equity has not been achieved yet. This is a crucial issue which will not be resolved by promoting the belief that “men conspire to keep women down by paying us less.” We will not achieve pay equity, in my opinion, until the male identification with professional realization and money-making is weakened and the female identification with them is strengthened to a point where they meet somewhere in a healthy intermediate point. (I can go into more detail in another post if people are not sure how this is supposed to work.)

– Gender discrimination in the workplace should stop. And it’s up to all of us to stop it. A man who believes that women should not be doctors, firefighters and soldiers are as much of an idiot as a woman who believes that men should not be massage therapists, secretaries, and daycare workers. There is nothing in anybody’s anatomy that makes one incapable of performing well in any job.

And the most important thing that, I believe, would help us resolve all of the above-mentioned issues:

Let’s stop fixating on genitals so much. As progressive and enlightened as we are, we still allow the biological sex (of others as well as of ourselves) to matter to us way too much. As long as we see the world in terms of men and women, men versus women, female interests against male interests, we will be stuck in this gendered universe that hurts all of us forever. Just imagine the freedom we will all experience when people will read as little into the shape of our genitals as they do into the shape of our ears and the length of our toes.

Last week, in my Spanish 102 class, I handed out an exercises with pictures of people practicing different professions (we are studying the vocabulary of the workplace). Immediately, several students raised their hands.

“There is a mistake in the handout,” they told me. “Here it says that this person is called Carlos and that doesn’t make sense.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Well, he looks like a girl. And besides, this is an elementary school teacher, so it’s got to be a woman.”

I started getting hot behind my ears, especially because the students still don’t possess the kind of command of Spanish that would allow me to explain to them that it’s nobody’s flapping business how Carlos looks and what profession he chooses to practice. And also that we should not be policing anybody’s gender identity in a Spanish class or elsewhere.