Sexuality In The Hunger Games

Awhile back, less than a month ago actually, a quote from an interview Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), did with The Advocate Magazine, started making the rounds. See, Elizabeth was asked, “have you ever played a lesbian?” And her answer was this, “I don’t think I have — although Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games might be gay.” And then the world did something amazing, at least amazing coming from the point of view of someone who’s been on this planet for longer than 16 years, the world didn’t have a hissy-fit. The world’s having a little bit of a hissy-fit right now though, not over Effie Trinket being possibly gay, but over a former Disney kid coming out on Twitter. But back to what Elizabeth Banks said, because I’d rather not scour Twitter and come across any negative spewings over today’s revelations. Elizabeth went on to say something that I’m personally rather keen on as a near constant student of history, and sociology, “my vision of the Capitol is pansexual like ancient Rome, where everybody’s doing everybody.” Astute assessment of the Capitol, that’s what I’d like to say to Ms. Banks, but then another part of me is just itching for her to say more– or simply for the trilogy to say more having to do with that reading of that world. I’m not an expert on Ancient Rome, I’m also not an expert on human sexuality, hell– I’m not even an expert on The Hunger Games trilogy. I’m not one for labels, unless they’re on food, and they’re telling me what I’m potentially eating. I am however a believer in the Kinsey Scale, and a proud eye roller at Freud, and Jung, ’cause those guys were fuckin’ crazy, yo. url

Sexuality, or sexual expression I think in the world of The Hunger Games is kind of a luxury. Now, lemme explain that point of view without totally pissing people off! In the world that Suzanne Collins envisioned I see an even greater divide between the haves and the have nots other than the socioeconomic. In the Capitol you have choices, you can wear what you want, eat what you want, and of course sleep with whomever you want, including former Victors of The Hunger Games, but likely only if you pay… of course. However, in the Districts sexual freedom is well, restricted, much like almost all aspects of life are in that world. True Katniss states that she at least gets to choose whether or not she marries at all, but in her saying that she also is saying, at least to me, that she only had two choices: Marry and pop out babies, or not marry and not pop out babies, because she’s saying without words that she’ll live a celibate life for the rest of her life. Essentially Katniss, before she got all conflicted over Peeta and Gale and developed a sexuality, was going to live the life of a nun, because that’s how you don’t have babies in the Districts. Ugh, sad lot in life, no? The juxtaposition on this sadness is the all out crazy sex lives I’m now imagining the people of the Capitol were having, and also how strange their up front sexuality seemed to the people of the Districts or the Tributes, and then the Victors, I mean think about it… the undergarments alone must have been nightmare inducing to behold.

Oh well, I guess we’ll never know unless Suzanne Collins writes a trilogy from the point of view of a Capitol citizen.

 

Them There Eyes

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21 comments

  1. Although sexual preference isn’t made an issue in THG, one thing I noticed was that after Finnick’s revelation in Mockingjay, Suzanne never referred to his “lovers” as male or female. I’m pretty sure that he was bought by both, and only the prostitution was the shocking part. If there’s one good thing you can say about the Capitol, it’s that they have no issues about sexuality or preference. But of course, being the Capitol, they tend to go overboard: buying victors, sexualizing and using nudity for underage tributes, etc. Piggybacking on what Elizabeth said, it’s definitely a “the more the merrier”, “anything goes” type of society.

    I also got a kick out of her response to the drag queen question: “…so she’s probably a woman.” 😀 She may evoke images of drag to us, but that’s just normal attire and makeup in the Capitol. Now I really want to go down to West Hollywood this Halloween just to see if I can find any drag Effies in the weeks before CF comes out…

  2. I love that Elizabeth went there, because it does make lot of sense. It’s one of the most interesting thing about these books, that Suzanne rarely mentions race, sexuality or even gender disparity. For Katniss it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, and apparently nor does it to Panem. Of course the Capitol would adapt the excessive ancient Roman approach to sexuality, and I know that a lot of people assume that the Districts didn’t even acknowledge homosexuality, but I disagree. Just because it’s not mentioned, and Katniss never considers it in the series, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist there.

    The whole subject was left pretty open for interpretation and I’m okay with that. 😛

  3. See, I’m very happy that Collins did not go there with the Capitol, if she wasn’t going to go there with the Districts as well. I would really hate it if she had made it seem that the Capitol people are “Depraved Bisexuals” while the Districts are all about true heterosexual love. That would be a terrible message and an awful throwback to the old stereotypes of LGBT people as a product of “decadence” etc.

    I like to think that homosexuality and bisexuality is nothing shocking or unusual to people in Panem, in general.The Capitol may be about “everyone doing everyone”, but in the Districts, there are no raised eyebrows when someone is in a relationship with a person of the same sex, or when someone is transgender.

    I think we should separate the attitude towards promiscuity and marriage from the attitude towards LGBT people. Even if some districts, or some of them, value commitment over promiscuity, that doesn’t mean they would have anything against same sex couples committing to each other.

    Furthermore, although most people in District 12 probably do marry, there is no evidence at all that anyone in the Districts has any problem with people having sex outside of marriage or that they dictate that everyone must be married. At the very least, there’s no evidence of any negative connotations attached to the teenage make-out sessions on the slag heap between Gale and the anonymous girls.

    Katniss’ thoughts about her options are not reliable evidence about sexuality in District 12, let alone all the districts, because Katniss is pretty clueless about sexuality. She has had few friends growing up, and has been focused on survival throughout her adolescence (she noticed that many girls wanted Gale, but it didn’t occur to her that he and they may be doing something other than talking to each other); we can be pretty sure she ever discussed sexuality with her mother (considering their relationship), or with Gale, and she certainly didn’t talk about it with strangers. I don’t think she spent time listening to people’s gossip. And what other source of info does she have? I doubt that there’s extensive sexual education in school, there are no TV programs or Internet or magazines or whatever else kids today use to find out about the adult stuff. She seems to have an idea what sex is, but has no idea that what sexual desire is – before she experiences it herself for the first time (the way she describes “hunger” suggests that it’s a completely new concept for her). She thinks of sex in two ways: as something that goes along with marriage and having kids and having the kind of love her parents had, which may leave her broken the way her mother was after her father’s death; and as the prostitution that starving women in District 12 are forced to in order to feed themselves and their families.

    If we took Katniss’ thought as objective reality about the life in District 12, we’d conclude that there are no contraceptives of any kind available, and that having (heterosexual) sex can always result in pregnancy. But let’s look at the District 12 families we know. True, the Hawthornes had 5 children; but the Everdeens had only two, at the space of 4 years – and at least a few years after they started their relationships (since Mr. Mellark managed to have 3 sons with his wife by the time his old flame gave birth to her first), and then did not have another child for 7 years – and that was a couple very much in love. The Mellarks had 3 sons, but for all we know, that may have been another case of wanting a daughter after having had one or two sons. Neither of these couples went on to pop up babies every 2 years, and there is no mention of District 12 families being typically huge with lots and lots of children. Yes, they live in harsh conditions, but in real life that never stopped people from having sex, and having lots and lots of children if there is no contraception or abortion. Of course, D12 didn’t have manufactured products such as pills and condoms, but there have been various makeshift contraceptives since the dawn of time. And I think that Mrs. Everdeen, as a pharmacist’s daughter, had knowledge about contraception (which would account to her having just two children in a marriage that lasted over 13 years). It’s possible that some people in D12, especially in the town, but also some who came to Mrs. Everdeen for medical advice, used some form of contraception, while others did not. But I don’t think that Katniss would really know about it, since she seems to have never had the “talk” with her mother about sexuality, love, relationships etc.

    Also, Capitol is more conservative on the surface and there’s a hot of hypocrisy. The fact that the rich people* sleep with whoever they want doesn’t mean that it’s what they are officially promoting. The Capitol people did gossip about Katniss and Peeta sleeping in the same room on the train, they were obsessed with a wedding, and Peeta made sure to mention he and Katniss were married before he made the baby announcement – which I don’t think was just for the benefit of the people in the Districts. Now, it’s true that the fact they gossiped didn’t mean they were judging them, but the very fact that it was a subject of gossip in the first place suggests a somewhat conservative attitude. Would our gossip mags run a news that a young celebrity couple who are supposed to be madly in love are rumored to be sharing a bed? I think everyone would assume that to begin with. So, either the Capitol is more conservative in attitude than in what they really do, or they assume that the ‘barbarians’ from the Districts are.

    1. *I also forgot to add: I don’t think that everybody in Capitol was free to have sex with the Victors, or that everyone belongs to the same socio-economic class. I always assumed that it was just the rich and influential people,.those that could afford it and that Snow wanted to have some dirt on, in order to use their secrets against them. If Capitol is like Rome – there were always patricians and plebeians in Ancient Rome. Naturally, an average person in Capitol lives in better conditions than the majority if not all the people in the Districts, but they can’t be all equally rich. We also know that many of them are in debt and some are forced to become Peacekeepers as a result.

      Another thing I wanted to add to my musings about the contraception: in District 13, they probably didn’t use it because they were encouraging everyone to have more children. But I think that contraceptives were much more available all across Panem under the new government. Or they were at least available to Katniss and Peeta, but I’d like to think it was the same in the rest of the district, rather than Katniss getting regular shipments of pills from her mom or something, 😉

  4. I also suspect that Suzanne Collins meant for the Capitol to be sexually hedonistic in the way ancient Rome was. Also, note that slavery did exist in those times, and masters were given free reign to have sex with their slaves, and this was totally socially acceptable (as opposed to other regimes in which sex/rape of slaves certainly happened, but wasn’t considered a topic for polite conversation). I’m sure that sad fact helped inspire SC. However, while it seems to have become fanon that the Districts are extremely conservative when it comes to sexuality, we really don’t know one way or the other. (I’ve griped before about the Arranged Marriage fanon, because that even goes a step further from what Katniss stated in canon).

    I agree with the OP that *Katniss* believes “that she only had two choices: Marry and pop out babies, or not marry and not pop out babies”. But Katniss is certainly NOT meant to be a typical District citizen, and for much of her story arc, she really hasn’t had to deal with sexual temptation, because she’s pretty much shut down that part of her because she’s more concerned with survival. I also think that Katniss had many reasons to fear sex, not just because “sex = babies = kids I could lose in the Hunger Games”, but “sex = powerlessness = being abused by jerks like Cray” and “sex = love = a lover who could die or leave, leaving me as depressed as my mother”. Note that Gale brags about kissing many girls, but he doesn’t seem to have a “reputation”, and I don’t think it’s just about double standards, as Panem is portrayed as a society where traditional gender roles have been abandoned long ago.

    Also, District 12 is located in Appalachia, which tends to be more traditional than other parts of the country even now, so even if D12 was socially conservative, doesn’t mean that extended to the other Districts. I can see “official” marriage being not as important in large Districts such as D11 or D7, in which travelling to the Justice Building to sign the license just wasn’t practical, but there were traditional wedding ceremonies to bless socially acceptable relationships. (I’m pretty sure that D11 preserved or revived the “jumping over the broomstick backwards” marriage rite that slaves once used, when their masters often forbade them from marrying.)

    1. I agree wit Satsuma and the others talking about how Katniss viewed herself having 2 options in life.

      As far as all the other stuff, I think it is conjecture. Collins didn’t write about it, which leads me to the conclusion that a) she didn’t want to or b) it wasn’t part if Katniss’ story. It takes a lot of thought and creativity to build a world. There is no way that every single aspect of society is going to be addressed.

  5. Another caveat to the speculations of sexual mores on Panem, is that there is no such thing as a monolithic culture in which everyone has the same beliefs and behaves the same way. Not only are there people from sexually “conservative” cultures who break the rules and have “illicit” sex, there are also people in sexually “liberated” cultures who only have sex with one or two people in their lives, or don’t have sex at all, for various reasons. I’m sure even in ancient Rome, there were men who were faithful to their spouses and didn’t rape their slaves, visit brothels, or keep mistresses and male lovers. So I don’t think “everybody doing everybody” would be a 100% accurate description of the Capitol. I also got the feeling that Book!Effie wasn’t promiscuous either, since she’s the only person who really seems offended at all at Peeta and Katniss sharing a bed (the prep teams gossip about it too, but seem to think it’s cute.

    Now, time for my obligatory GOT mention; casual fans may see Westeros as a promiscuous society in which all men visit brothels, but actually, most of the main characters are NOT promiscuous in the sense of having a different partner almost every night. About the only major characters I can think of who really were very promiscious, were King Robert and Theon Greyjoy. And some of the men described as going to brothels, have reasons other than mere lust for doing that (thinking of Tyrion and Sandor here, both who are considered “disfigured” and have major issues about women).

    As for the women, some major characters are virgins, others are married and monogamous, some are married and not monogamous, some are single and have sexual partners, but I really can’t think of any “promiscous” women there either, at least not among the major characters.

  6. It also occurs to me that in GOT, King Robert obviously had power (though not that much money, the Crown was deeply in debt), and Theon thought he had power (he was the supposed heir to the Iron Islands), and they were both mostly sleeping with women who were “lower” than them, and some of their actions are rather coercive, even border on assault. To correlate that to THG, I agree with TTB that in the Capitol, the people who are rich and powerful are likely getting a lot more sex (and not just the paid kind) than the average Capitol citizen.

    Also, I do respect SC as presenting Finnick as a victim of sexual exploitation by women. (Technically, it’s only the women who are mentioned as swooning over Finnick, though I’m sure that if you asked her if he was sold to men as well, she’s say yes). Because the traditional sexual double standard tends to minimize the idea that men can be sexually abused and exploited, or even deny that it can happen at all.

    I recall seeing on the Internet last year, one guy posting in response to a news story about a female teacher having sex with a male student, that if that happened to his own son, he’d slap him on the back and congraulate him. He even stated that if the son seemed upset about it, he’d laugh at him, and wonder if he was gay. Not only that, I don’t remember anyone actually disagreeing with the guy! It was shocking to me. Hopefully, when Finnick’s story hits the movies, this will raise awareness about this issue.

    1. “it’s only the women who are mentioned as swooning over Finnick”
      Are you sure? Because in CF and MJ Katniss only refers to his admirers as “citizens”, “lovers”, “they”, “those”, and “people”. She even describes them as “Old or young, lovely or plain, rich or very rich”, but doesn’t mention gender. I could be forgetting or missing something, but if not I don’t think there was any mention of gender in relation to Finnick’s fans or “lovers”. Which is what led me to believe they were most likely both, and Suzanne was just being subtle about it, since sexual preference isn’t a huge thing in Panem.

      1. You’re right, I’ve also noticed that she never specifies the gender of Finnick’s Capitol lovers. And Finnick says that he had to have sex with *anyone* who wanted him. It seems natural to assume that there were some men among those people who wanted him.

        But it was very smart of Collins not to include any mentions of gender. I suppose that some people will simply assume that those “people” were women, and ignore the existence of homosexuality, but if you assume that there were also rich Capitol men who were sexually drawn to Finnick and wanted him for their lover, this would mean that nobody, including Katniss, finds this particular fact shocking, or makes any difference between Finnick sleeping with men or women, or being abused by men or women. If men were specifically mentioned, SC would have ran the risk of people saying “Oh, poor Finnick, it must have been awful for him to be forced to have sex with men” and possibly assume that being forced to have sex with women wasn’t that bad for him. This way, it’s just established that it was ALL traumatizing and awful for him, because he was sexually abused, period.

      2. I looked up quotes about Finnick in CF, and you (and TTB) are right, Katniss never mentions the sex of Finnick’s “lovers”. For some reason, I’d thought that she referred t a 100 women fainting when he reads his poem to his “one true love”, I guess because I can’t imagine men fainting, but the actual text just says “about a hundred people faint because they’re sure he means them”.

        So, sorry for making heteonormative assumptions (which is ironic, because I’ve seen some critique of SC for making that very same error and being exclusionary for not having any openly non-heterosexual character in the text). Agree with TTB that one reason she might not have specified the sex of Finnick’s clients, is to avoid controversy by referring to both men and women, and also, avoid people making the assumption that “being forced to have sex with men was horrible, but I bet being forced to have sex with women was probably ok”.

  7. I know ancient Romans held orgies, but I doubt it’s correct when people try to paint ancient Rome as this bloody, pansexual sex-fest. Yeah of course it was bloody, and yes I’m sure there was orgies and nudity, but (I believe) probably not as much as what people would like for it to be. I’m sure there were some bi people back then, but I don’t think it’s correct or appropriate to label every ancient Roman as such.

    People try to paint Rome as this blood and sex god of empires, but there was obviously more to it than that. Like with the gladiators—-there was more entertainment than that, like watching and betting on chariot races. Or how every gladiatorial match was “last one standing wins”. It wasn’t like that. I’m sure there were matches like that, but you also hand to obey the hand signals. If you didn’t, as in killed someone without being signaled to, you could be tried for murder.

    1. It would be like say everyone is bi today, when that is not the case. It actually really irked me when Elizabeth just assumed. “As pansexual as ancient Rome”? Oh please. I am not a historian, but I do enjoy learning about history and these things. And I like sharing what I know when it’s called for.

      1. Yeah, I do think Banks was being a bit unfair to ancient Rome. I’m sure there are people from more traditional cultures that assume all Americans indeed are bisexual or at least open to experimenting, all get married 2-3 times, all have kids out of wedlock, etc. That certainly wouldn’t be accurate. (I also find that ironic, because we also have people from very liberal cultures, who look down on Americans as sexually repressed!)

        Also, from what I understand, ancient cultures did not have the same concept of a fixed “sexual orientation” as we do, anyway. As for hedonistic Rome in general, even SC herself seems to be using mythical Rome, more than actual historical Rome, as inspiration for her Panem. For example, the idea that rich Romans deliberately used binging and purging as a way to hedonistically enjoy more food, that SC uses as inspiration for a certain CF scene, was also a myth.

        Apparently, a “Vomitorium” was not actually a place people go to eat and then vomit, but an architectural feature used in stadiums as crowd control. That even made wikipedia (though I know wikipedia is not always legit either.)

        All that being said, I’ve never seen actors and actresses as a reliable source for historical information, anyway. So I assumed EB was talking about the popular concept of Rome, not claiming what she said was totally historically accurate.

        1. Never said she was supposed to have been accurate. But a lot of people like to pick and choose what to believe. And you’re right when saying the vomitorium wasn’t actually about vomiting. But from what I read from that interview, it seemed like she “knew more” about what people “naturally” assume about Rome than the actual facts/truths. =/

        2. I agree with your Americans thing, too. It’s so easy to say all those things, when in truth they haven’t a clue about America or its people! A lot of people, even some Americans themselves, come across very anti-America and anti-patriotism. Like the ideas that: Americans are stupid, Americans are lazy, Americans are fat, Americans are warmongers, Americans, this, Americans, that.

          Because we all know that there aren’t fat, lazy, or etc. people in all these other countries, right? -_- People are too quick to assume, and would instead rather have their assumptions than the truth. Or how people think we’re all arrogant and think we all believe we do everything the best. One time, a came across a guy on the Internet who actually wrote that he “had problems with patriotism, but won’t start on that”. I scratched my head and wondered what was so wrong with having pride for your country.

  8. The one thing that’s absolutely clear in the Hunger Games books is that most people in the unfavored Districts are severely malnourished, in some cases to the point of starvation. One of the first symptoms of even mild cases of iron deficiency or scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) is extreme fatigue or lethargy. But in those who are suffering from extreme malnutrition, the body begins to break down its own tissues to stay alive, muscles start to waste away and people become too weak to move or even eat. In women, menstruation generally ceases. Victims of starvation typically show little interest in or awareness of their environment, as damage to the nervous system takes its toll. Children who do manage to be carried to term by severely malnourished mothers often die in infancy because their mothers’ produce too little breast milk. In the Districts, in short, sex is largely irrelevant; survival is everything.

    It seems too that most medical knowledge has been lost in the Districts, including knowledge of contraceptive methods. It might also be that the Capitol deliberately prohibited contraception to ensure that population levels stayed high enough to meet production goals (not to mention enough Tributes to keep the Games interesting).

    1. I don’t think it’s absolutely clear. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that *most* people in the impoverished Districts are severely malnourished. If they were, they wouldn’t be able to work, and they’re supposed to work for the Capitol to have its goods – – in the fields, the mines, the factories. It wouldn’t make sense to literally starve everyone. And Thresh certainly wouldn’t be so big and strong if he were and had been malnourished since early childhood. The districts are poor, much like Third World countries, the districts may be reminiscent of ghettos, but they are not concentration camps. Severely malnourished people can’t be the work force that an entire nation’s economy is based on.

      Katniss’ narration suggests that most people in District 12 are poor and few have food and pounds to spare, but it’s only *some* people who are literally starving: the old, the crippled (unless they find a way to sell liquor like Ripper did) and the ill and infirm who don’t have anyone to take care of them, the families that have lost their provider (like her own when her father died), probably the families with too many children etc. There is a black market economy going on in the Hob, people buy Katniss’ game and she can buy other food stuffs, Greasy Sae cooks her wild dog soup and similar “specialties”, etc. They have a very low living standarrd and they are struggling to put food on the table every day, but most of them are not concentration camp victims or the emaciated Ethiopian children from the news reports. Some are, but not most of them, or else Panem’s economy would have collapsed years ago.

  9. Just dug out my copy of Paul Veyne on A History of Private Life — the section on the Roman Empire. Pretty definitive stuff. So here’s the real story:

    In the days of the Roman Republic marriage was considered a civic duty, and girls (at least those of high birth) were expected to remain virgins until marriage. Boys were allowed a period of indulgence for ‘youthful passions’ and allowed to chase prostitutes or take a slave concubine. All that was ideally supposed to cease with marriage.

    By the second century AD, Romans gradually adopted a new moral code that viewed the pleasures of youthful love (like alcohol) as dangerous to one’s health and virility. Tacitus admires the German ‘noble savages’ who “know love only late in life, so that the strength of youth in them is not drained.” Marcus Aurelius was proud of having touched neither his slave Theodotus (a man) nor his servant Benedicta (a woman), though he desired both. Physicians prescribed gymnastics and philosophical studies to cool the sexual energies of young men. Even within marriage sex was hemmed about with all sorts of taboos, such as avoiding sex during the daytime, or with the lights on, or completely unclothed.

    However the Romans were pretty inconsistent about sexual strictures, at least for men of the ruling classes; the one thing they really cared about was who was the dominant (non passive) partner in sex. To quote Veyne: “Machismo was a factor….To be active was male, regardless of the sex of the passive partner.” To be the passive partner was was considered infamous (impudicitia);pederasty was not at all uncommon, but was tolerated only if it involved a slave or person of no account. “Roman love was defined by macho domination and refusal to become a slave of passion. The amorous excesses attributed to various tyrants were excesses of domination.”

    The sex lives of slaves (including arranged ‘marriages’) were entirely determined by their master and/or overseers.

    Now that really does sound a bit like the Capitol!

    1. “Roman love was defined by macho domination and refusal to become a slave of passion. The amorous excesses attributed to various tyrants were excesses of domination.”

      I think that in any society (including ours), the rich and powerful have always had more sexual license than the average citizen, and to assume their excesses are copied by everyone else, is to assume too much. I’ve also read that socially acceptable sexual conduct for most people in Rome was much more restrictive than what many emperors engaged in. This is probably true for the Capitol as well.

      Note that when Finnick reveals his secrets in Mockingjay, it’s part of a deliberate effort to distract Capitol people from the tribute rescue mission. I doubt Plutarch would have asked Finnick to do this, if the truth about his encounters was an open secret and considered “business as usual”. So, the average Capitol citizen probably assumed Finnick was just a celebrity playboy who engaged in these acts completely of his own free will. They may have assumed that about other Victors, like Gloss and Cashmere, as well, perhaps even thought such promiscuity was par for the course for the barbaric, backwards Districts.

      I have noticed, though, that many people judge whole cultures by what their most powerful or famous representatives do. I’ve seen many people use the late President Mitterand (who had both his wife and mistress attend his funeral) as proof that ALL married men in France keep mistresses or have open marriages, for example. I doubt that’s the case, anymore than all married men in the US have their subordinates “service” them under the table, frequent prostitutes, or send sexually explicit texts to numerous people (even though many US politicians and celebrities, mostly married, have been caught behaving that way).

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