Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Peeta is no Girlfirend

Minor Spoilers Ahead for Catching Fire/Hunger Games

Catching Fire came out last week.  It's great.  I loved it.  I'm not here to review the movie unless you count the first three sentences of this blog post minus the spoilers disclaimer.  What, or I should say is who, I want to talk about is Peeta.

Peeta is the leading male role in the Hunger Games.  He's picked at the reaping for the 74th and then volunteers for the 75th Quarter Quell.  (They take the pool of tributes from existing victors.)  Peeta has genuine feelings for Katniss though she only allows herself to be more or less indifferent to the boy.  Their romance is only to help them get sponsors for the games.

My roommate and I were talking about how Peeta is more or less the perfect boyfriend.  Katniss really lucked out by having to be stuck with this guy for the rest of her life because if she wasn't, her actions in her first Hunger Games would have been seen as a revolution.  Then, the Capitol would be in trouble and kill all of Peeta's and Katniss' families.  I mean, Peeta gives Katniss a locket of her mother, sister, and Gale. (His competition.)  Peeta does so much for Katniss because he loves her despite the fact that she only lets him in emotionally in small amounts and never returns his affection.

I mean, dang, what is Katniss' problem?  What more could she possibly ask for?

The other day I read this post on NPR that called Peeta Katniss' girlfriend.  They're totally right too.  Katniss is more like a knight in shining armor than she is a damsel in distress.  Katniss is cynical with a watchdog mentality.  She is emotionally detached from killing and does what she needs to in order to survive.  Gale is the stereotypically more manly of her two suitors.  Gale even kisses Katniss just because he feels he had to.  Peeta is often the one needing to be saved in the Arena.  He's also an artist and bakes bread.  (Contemporarily speaking, effeminate jobs.)  So yeah, Peeta is the perfect boyfriend and also the contemporary movie girlfriend.  Weird.

So why does a masculinist like me love Peeta?  Why do I like this guy that does not reinforce traditional gender roles?  Shouldn't I, an avid proponent of masculinity, hate this guy?

No, a character like Peeta is exactly what I think men and boys need to see.

Peeta may be rescued by his girlfriend but he's still a hero in the comfort he gives her. That's a man to me!
Peeta is actually quite masculine.  He's not masculine in our contemporary understanding of masculinity.  He's masculine in the archaic understanding of masculinity.  Peeta is masculine because of his virtues.  He's patient.  He's hard working.  He's loving.  He isn't stoic and expresses his emotions but at the same time doesn't let them control him.  The said cannot be same of Katniss.  Though Katniss is Peeta's superior when it comes to combat (when she has a bow) and survival skills, Peeta has an emotional resiliency and initiative that Katniss does not have.

It seems from about the 1960s that boys have been taught to not cry and to not show emotion.  Somehow, culinary and visual arts were also labelled as effeminate.  I remember in elementary school that I was teased for being artistic which was seen as girly by my peers.  This would be after class when learning that in Michelangelo's time, all artists were male.  Were they even paying attention?  Peeta may not be the sports guy.  He may have a great build and can throw a huge weight and then be rescued by his girl from time to time.  That doesn't make him weak or effeminate.  (And effeminacy is definitely not weakness.)  To me, it's obvious that Peeta is masculine in what masculinity really is.

We need more Peetas in the world.  Peeta would have never written a sexist blog post I read a week ago that argued that skinny women with eating disorders made great girlfriends.  (I will not link you to the blog because they don't deserve the pageviews.)  This blog post reinforced objectification of women and shallowness in attraction.  It furthered stereotypes of men being cheap, shallow, arrogant, and unintelligent.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  The rest of the blog just finished a "fat shaming" week in which they posted hurtful posts pointed towards overweight women.  (They didn't even focus their attention on overweight guys.  The irony.)  They called anyone that went against them fat-enablers.

Is obesity a problem in the United States?  Yes.  (My opinion on obesity for another day.)  Is shaming overweight people the answer?  No!

Shaming has NEVER been the answer.  Peeta never shames Katniss for being emotionally shut off.  He expresses how he feels and asks to at least be friends but he never shames her for being a bit of an ice queen.  The sad thing is that there are guys out there who cling to hatred, objectification, and prejudice of women as what masculinity is when women don't even come into the definition of what being a man is.  (Though will often be a reflection of it.)  They cling to shallow ideas of masculinity like multiple sexual conquests, athletic performance, beer consumption, and beard length.  They may not even necessarily be bad things but shallow and untrue ideas.

One of the manliest guys I knew was a district leader in my mission named Elder Hyde.  Elder Hyde was so cool.  He had a scar that went over his head from extreme water sports.  He hunted, rode bike, and did crazy things.  Elder Hyde had a sense of wildness about him that could only be admired.  All that was cool but that wasn't what made him a man. For the last district meeting he bore his testimony.  He said in tears, "Elders.  Being a man isn't about doing crazy stuff or macking with girls.  It's about the testimony and love that you have of the savior."  His words stuck with me ever since because I realized how manly I am like I hadn't before.

Beowulf, Captain Kirk, Wolverine, and Batman are manly characters, for sure.  These characters aren't bad at all.  (Well, they have character flaws like anyone.  Depending on which story you read they can vary in scale of manliness.)  The reason why characters like Peeta and Simon Tam from Firefly are great is that they show you don't need to be a cigar chomping, emotionally constipated anti-hero, in order to be a man.



  1. Based on the title of this post, I thought you would be mortally offended and refuting the original post that talked about Peeta as a Movie Girlfriend. Imagine my delight when I found a much more thoughtful, nuanced approach to masculinity (love the Simon Tam parallel, by the way). I'm ok with you being in world, fighting the good fight for what can be considered real masculinity.

    1. The funny thing is that when most people hear "traditional masculinity" they immediately think of gender roles we recognize from Leave it to Beaver and typical machismo tough guy sort of stuff. The thing is, that idea of masculinity is relatively young. Societies have usually attributed masculinity not to survival skills or proof of testosterone but to virtues. The word virtue even comes from the latin word for man. (vir, viri)

      To me, that's what real and traditional masculinity is. It's not power but what you do with it.

  2. Stephen, this made me so ridiculously happy that I cried. This is so thoughtful and so eloquent, I couldn't have put it better myself. It's all of the reasons that I loved Peeta when I read the books. As a girl, all of the men that I admire most are the ones who have a quiet stability, a constant love and acceptance, and a judgement-free mindset, where these virtues (I love the use of this word rather than qualities!) are expressed freely to those around them. Even within the church, I fear that sometimes young men get caught up in the idea that being masculine means that they have to be strong, and capable of taking care of the physical and spiritual needs of their families (although, lets be honest, most young lds men are significantly more in touch with their so called "effeminate" side than much of the rest of the world...thankfully).

    Stephen, thank you so much for this post. I'm frequently blown away by the things you think and say on this blog and elsewhere. Truly, you're one of the men I admire most, and I hope with all my heart that I end up with a man as amazing as you (whoever you end up with, goodness, they're lucky!). I'm SO PROUD to call you my cousin! :)