Prof: Audiences 'hungry' for strong heroines; sci-fi tales deliver

March 19, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The heroine in the popular "The Hunger Games" novels represents a trend of physically strong and independent women taking center stage, especially in fantasy and science fiction films, says a Purdue University expert.

"The science fiction genre has really been ahead of the curve in offering strong female characters," says Dorsey Armstrong, an associate professor of English who studies gender issues in literature related to the legend of King Arthur and teaches science fiction literature. "By its nature, the science fiction genre must imagine what is beyond our present reality, and so it is not so surprising to have female characters like Katniss Everdeen in 'The Hunger Games.'

"Our society today is more equal, and consumers want to see powerful portrayals of female characters. Exposing young women to these stories and nontraditional female characters is positive, and hopefully will influence other genres of media to offer more complex characterizations of women characters."

"The Hunger Games" film opens Friday (March 23). Other upcoming films that appear to recast females in leading action roles include "Brave," "Mirror, Mirror" and "Snow White and the Huntsman."

Armstrong says science fiction has historically captured the evolution of heroines, such as in the films "Alien," "Aliens," "The Terminator," and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," but how women are depicted continues to change.

"Back then, the impulse was to shock the audience with images of these strong, athletic women," Armstrong says. "This is especially true with the Sarah Connor character in the 'Terminator' series who was portrayed in the first film as weak and needing to be rescued, but appeared in the second as surprisingly self-confident and physically strong.

"The characterization of 'The Hunger Games' heroine has evolved to show how she adapted to survive and provide for her family, but not so much that her femininity is compromised."

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Dorsey Armstrong, 765-494-8576, darmstrong@purdue.edu