Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence form The Hunger Games to Campus Rape by Kelly Oliver.

 

Kelly Oliver examines popular culture’s fixation on representing young women as predators and prey and the implication that violence–especially sexual violence–is an inevitable, perhaps even celebrated, part of a woman’s maturity.  (Taken from Goodreads page)

Pros

  • Used films I know really well
  • Brought up an important issue.
  • Well written

Cons

  • Not sure the film examples actually backed up point
  • Don’t agree with how author viewed the films mentioned
  • Doesn’t bring up how young adult heroines can partially be role models till the conclusion

 

 

As I said the book brings up an important issue – rape in colleges, especially with unconscious women. I can’t say I have any personal experience with this. I don’t really hear much about it here in England, I’m sure it does happen I just haven’t heard it. Oliver is brilliant at showing how bad the problem is from how the law – and the college – treats the victim, and almost protects the perpetrator to how it is almost a desired thing for the men to sleep with unconscious women. Oliver even makes a good argument for social media having been “created for and by men who denigrate women”. I may not completely agree with it but the argument was pretty persuasive.

It is brought up how YA heroines like Katniss and Tris can provide positive role models since they show women successfully competing with men. My only problem with this is that it only spends a couple of pages on this idea and then only in the conclusion. The rest of the book is more about showing how girls, real life and the heroines in books, always fear and are at risk of being beaten and sexually assaulted, hell how it’s almost promoted.

 

The main idea I think this book is trying to promote is how the media – whether consciously or not- is promoting women, specifically young women, being beaten/ raped:

“our culture encourages the denigration and assault of girls and women, from fairytales, to Hollywood blockbusters, to party rape on campus”

This is the last thing that I highlighted in the book. While I can almost see it with the fairytales, and again Oliver makes a good argument, and with real life party rape on campus with the evidence that Oliver gives, I just don’t see it with Hollywood blockbusters, or even TV. The vast majority of films and TV that I’ve seen that involve rape have the perpetrators as the villain and help get vengeance or justice for the victim, which Oliver suggests is opposite.

She does start the book with a compelling argument that media sexually exploits the look of dead and unconscious women – even using America’s Next Top model- but my problem is I’m not sure if these represent the media as a whole since I haven’t seen much of it, or of they are isolated instances.

TBH that was my main issue with the book, I don’t think the films used actually back up the point very well, that and it feels like things are taken out of context. I’m just going to go though the main films used:

 

Hunger Games

In all the films Oliver comments that the leading males are dangerous and the heroine “won’t tolerate sexual assault” or have “the real threat of rape in the lives of the girls” but as far as I remember no one attempted to sexually assault Katniss, so she had nothing to tolerate. Peeta was dangerous but only  after he was tortured and brainwashed, and that’s only in the last part of the last book/ film. The book was written when only part 1 of Mockingjay had come out so there was less than a minute of Katniss ever being in danger of him, the rest of the series has shown Peeta as harmless, again he was tortured to do this.

Oliver tries to back her point by commenting that rapists often excuse themselves by saying they would never do such a thing if they were sober, equating being physically tortured and programmed with being drunk.

What’s worse is sexual assault is mentioned in both the books and the film – the film I think almost trivialised it with how it was mentioned- but Oliver doesn’t mention this anywhere, probably because it is a man it happens to.

There’s a whole idea that nature is good and technology is bad throughout Hunting Girls. The author actually states : “in these films, technology and loss of virginity come together.” Now nature good, technology bad can definitely been seen in the Hunger Games, but technology and loss of virginity… really? Katniss does not lose her virginity till after the Games have finished and its when she’s away from the Capitol and technology. There’s a bit where it says that Katniss’ first kiss with her boyfriend Peeta is replayed for all the world to see like videos of real life rapes but I feel the need to mention that Katniss is well aware that the cameras are there, it’s why she kissed him.

Two more points on Hunger Games. One: Katniss apparently has an “uncanny ability to distinguish fantasy from reality”, no she doesn’t she just knows more than Peet, that’s it. Two: Oliver points out that Katniss is similar to Cinderella, even being associated with ashes. To prove this point she says that there are even “Fanfiction called Ash and Beneath the Ashes”. There are thousands of Hunger Games fanfiction, why single these out, what point do these make and why is fanfiction never brought up again?

 

Twilight

This I think was one of the better examples used, in all fairness. Edward is a dangerous leading male and Bella has been in risk of being raped – like when she is corned in an alleyway by men, which Edward saves her from.

I actually think Oliver missed some opportunities from the series that would have strengthened her arguments like that Edward likes to watch Bella sleep, which shows men like unconscious women. Also there are characters that have been raped in the series like Esme and Rose, but none of these are brought up.

There is a really god point that in both Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray loss of control is a sign of love.

 

Divergent

This one I’m in two minds about its use. I don’t know if things are taken out of context or I’m just biased or saw things differently. Yes Four has the potential to be dangerous, which is explored more in the books but not to Tris. The only time he tried to hurt her was when he was brainwashed like Peeta, same argument applies. Oliver says that Four repeatedly abuses her but other than the brainwashing scene I don’t see it. He helps her learn how to fight and defend herself, is that what the author means? I’m not sure.

It’s also questioned why, while he was brainwashed un the serum, Four chokes Tris. Oliver questions it because she says the serums only show fear responses and seems to forget – or decides to leave it out – that it’s a different serum. The film even says – I checked when I read it, but don’t remember where now writing the review – it made him view everything differently, almost the opposite, so lover becomes enemy.

There is some very good references to Divergent / Tris being like Sleeping beauty but Oliver suggests Tris doesn’t like to sleep – or I guess being under simulation – for fear of rape, and it’s true that that there is an sexual assault in the film – not the book. The problem is that the assault isn’t real, it’s a hallucination from the serum. Throughout Hunting Girls it says Four forced himself on Tris or the like, but it didn’t actually happen, which the author knows since at times it is mentioned. The fact that this hallucination is shown on screens to the other Dauntless is shown as a similarity to people watching real life party rapes or videos of them does make a great point for her argument but I feel the need to point out that the Dauntless watching don’t know that is what is going to happen and they know it’s not real, just a hallucination. Though the fact that it’s not in the book does help her point, even if I think its the film writers oversimplifying or misunderstanding some of book Tris’ un-simulated fears.  Worth noting that Tris doesn’t really have a problem with them seeing this but book Tris has an issue with people watching her – including possibly losing her virginity- in the last book, against her will and knowledge, which isn’t mentioned in Hunting Girls but would have strengthened the argument.

Also I thought Tris’ fear of sleeping had more to do with her guilt over killing her friend and the death of her parents. Speaking of which Oliver tries to equate this need to forgive and be forgiven for killing her friend with rape victims misplaced “internalization of blame”.

 

 

 

 

Just in general I think the film are misused or don’t work really. I think television might have helped better. Some of her issues worked better with series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Game of Thrones, or even Lucifer, which I just finished watching.

Even when talking about issues of consent or mixed signals these series would have worked better but instead Kingsmen – among others – is mentioned with the princess at the end which lacks either consent issues or mixed signals.

 

My last point that I want to end with is that while a reasonable argument was made – whether I agree with it or not is irrelevant – the author doesn’t offer alternative theories or comparisons. It says that we just like seeing girls hurt – sexually or not – and that’s what YA is made up of but that would suggest that men in films don’t get beaten up in YA, even in series where the main character is male, say Maze Runner, which I know isn’t true.

Even within the films mentioned no comparisons are made. The book says that Tris and Katniss fall in love with traumatised boys, heal their wounds, help them overcome their fears so take on the traditional female nurse / caregiver roles. What the boys do for the girls is not mentioned here at all. Don’t the exact same boys referenced here do the exact same things for the girls?

Anyway, despite disagreeing with parts of the book I did like it. It provoked a reaction in me and that’s always good.

 

 

 

Goodreads Link:

 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27781446-hunting-girls

Advertisements