In the twenty-first century television show Dark Angel, nineteen-year-old Max Guevara dispenses street justice, all while protecting her friends and seeking her divided family. In Katniss’ world, she would be called a mutt, a human creature re-engineered to be a supersoldier serving the government’s will. However, like the mockingjays, she escaped and found a way to thrive outside the government’s control. Becoming another Katniss, she rescues children and young women in danger.
In both stories, the females are active and males more passive—intriguing as the action and science-fiction genres are traditionally marketed to boys. In fact, with their constant action, clever comments, and bravery, both heroines have strong male followings. Romance is difficult and treated as secondary to hunting down the villainous patriarch—the traditional goal for the male hero. The post-apocalyptic setting lets the heroines escape traditional gender roles, Katniss as a poacher and Max as a thief before both become freedom fighters.
Though lawbreakers, the protagonists owe allegiance to a higher morality: Max lets a woman walk away after murdering her own father, but destroys the payoff she was given. She covers for her cheating friend but assures him he’ll be dangling from a window if he does it again. Katniss fights to save the prep team who, though Capitol citizens, were kind to her, and insists on saving the brutal career tribute Enobaria because it feels wrong to let her die. In today’s shifting world, with often no clear right choice, teens are guided to seek a deeper wisdom. Both young women contend with an uncertain life on the cusp of poverty, which is nonetheless preferable to the institutionalized violence and near-certain death of the Capitol’s Hunger Games or Seattle’s Project Manticore. This fight to survive, while entertaining, also reminds the audience of the many types of cruelty in existence – some crimes of neglect and others more purposeful. Both are means of subjugating a population, which the true heroine must battle.
Both women prefer to dress androgynously, but are often forced into alluring dresses by society. Max and her friend Original Cindy act like sultry feminine airheads in a gambling club, complete with an offer to wager lapdances. Katniss spins in a glittery red dress, thanking her audience for giving her such an opportunity. Thus, they conform to expectations while revealing the artificiality of traditional femininity. In fact, the girls lack female role models and define themselves outside of conventional society, focusing on earning money to support their chosen families rather than looking beautiful or staying at home. Without traditional family structure, they bond with friends, venturing into the forest or onto the streets to keep them safe. Back home, their domesticized boyfriends are the ones who cook.
The message for teens is clear: Katniss and Max are strong, clever, creative young women who always save the day. As they struggle against the patriarchy and at last discover the stronger female who has been the true enemy, their stories emphasize that women can be just as powerful as men, if not more.