Katniss Everdeen is a girl with a useless twat of a mother who goes into crippling depression when her husband dies and is fully prepared to let her children starve to death. So Katniss has to take responsibility and become a mother and in doing so, she models for young women what a mother should be. Her own mother is self-absorbed to the point of catatonia, and when she DOES finally get her shit together, she pays more attention to her “job” than her children. Nice.
Katniss can’t do it alone, of course. This is no “strong single mother” narrative. She has not just one, but two men who help her. Peeta goes first, tossing her some bread and then Gale, who helps her hunt and teaches her different techniques, like snaring. She is never alone. She lives in the woods with Gale. Peeta lives quietly in her heart, until the Reaping. When Katniss’ daughter/sister Primrose is selected to fight to the death, Katniss does what any good mother would do – she offers her life in exchange for her child’s. Exactly what Katniss’ mother did not do for her two children.
And when Peeta gets chosen as the boy tribute, it sets in motion a story that is all about protecting a husband and children and family and being prepared to kill anyone who threatens that family. Katniss’ own desires are secondary to protecting and caring for others. Her love for Prim puts her in the arena and she kills only to protect her other child, Rue. When Katniss is unable to save Rue, she spirals into grief, but it does not cripple her. When the gamemakers announce that two tributes can be crowned victors if they both originate from the same district, Katniss is determined to save Peeta. Peeta becomes her husband at that moment, whether she sees it or not. She ACTS like a wife, and shows young girls what it means to be loyal and strong and brave and to put family above all else.
Katniss nearly loses her life when she goes to get medicine for Peeta. Clove, a mentally deranged psychopath with a penchant for throwing knives battles with Katniss and very nearly kills her. It is not an accident that Clove is a young woman. Woman are always the cruelest to other women. And once again, Katniss is saved by a man. Thresh kills Clove and lets Katniss live as a reward for her kindness and care towards little Rue. The message is clear. Care for children and love them properly and men will love you. Spend your time perfecting your skills (like throwing knives for fun and murder), attack women who are willing to sacrifice everything for their husbands and families and you will have your neck snapped like a dry twig.
When the gamemakers rescind their rule and try to get Katniss to kill Peeta, she reacts with a great big FUCK YOU. She would rather die with him than triumph with her own life. And she wins. By putting Peeta above her own desire to live, she wins the game and goes on to take down the whole system that would punish her for loving a man and children more than her own life.
Katniss Everdeen is truly a hero for young women. Young women are growing up in a culture that tells them they should always put their own needs and desires first. That it is a moral triumph to live only for yourself. Your needs, your desires, your goals, your ambitions, your own personal fulfillment should trump everything and everyone else. Even your husband. Even your children. I hope young women who read the Hunger Games get the message and respond to the wider culture with a great big FUCK YOU. Choose Peeta, girls. Chose Primrose. Choose Rue. Choose love. Choose their lives over yours. You just might find it the most fulfilling thing of all.