Hungering for a Tale of True Female Empowerment

Photo: Murray Close, Lionsgate

I don't consider myself a 24-year-old curmudgeon, but the opening night of "The Hunger Games" at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland was the first time I felt justified using the word "whippersnapper."

It was an eye-opening experience - a bizarre middle-school dance where the adults felt awkward and the kids acted as perverse but experienced chaperones to an alien planet of hormones and violence.

I do understand the appeal of these fantasy movies: Ordinary kid grows up thinking they're totally normal, only to discover they're the savior of a new world.

But "The Hunger Games," along with a slew of other popular new teen franchises, has a twist: sexual desire as female empowerment. Despite its popularity, this theme (often employed by Baby Boomer female authors) has little in common with my generation.

Bella from "Twilight," an ordinary girl caught between two supernatural phenoms (a vampire and a werewolf), is powerful only as an object of sexual desire. Katniss Everdeen of "The Hunger Games," despite her lethal prowess with a bow, survives because she's the love interest of two hunky boys, not by her own cunning. Joan, the buxom redhead in "Mad Men," runs the office with a velvet glove of lust.

I don't recognize the women of my generation in these franchises. The women of my generation are forces to be reckoned with. My generation has quietly passed major milestones in not just American, but human history. For the very first time, women aren't just the professional equal of men, they are exceeding them.

According to studies by Reach Advisors, the American Sociological Review and more, a woman my age gets paid more than I do. She's more likely to get into college than I am, and more likely to succeed. I believe it.

Most of my female friends have jobs and goals and are going after their dreams with a tenacity that's inspiring. I don't know a single woman my age sitting on her parents' couch - something I cannot say for my male friends.

Yet here we are, citizens of the 21st century, making leaps and bounds in social evolution that previous generations could only dream of, stuck with same old entertainment archetypes of every previous century.

The common denominator remains objectification. If the men in these stories weren't struck dumb by their uncontrollable lust/true love, these women would be powerless. They all perpetrate the same idea: Desire is currency, so get as many boys on the hook as you can.

For a 14-year-old girl, this is a terrifying message. As a 24-year-old man, it's even more terrifying. More than terrifying, it's incorrect. It sells young people short and harms their potential.

Sexual power isn't actually empowering because it's rooted in someone else. In reality, it's only a reflection - you're only as powerful as the thing that wants you. The dangerous part is how much a young person feels they need to give up to be "empowered." Instead of believing in yourself, and trusting in what you can do, you leave it up to what someone else perceives of you.

Calling all young writers: Write what you know. Cast aside these tired archetypes and let's tell a story that's never been told before.


Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle