Warning: This story contains spoilers for the recently-released movie, Catching Fire.
In Hollywood, there is a typical gender normative that we see in couples. Relationships usually consist of a man who comes to a woman’s rescue, fights to save the day, and shows very little emotion. The woman acts as an emotional support character who needs to be saved. Catching Fire has the exact opposite dymanic, with Peeta assuming the tradition female role, and Katniss acting as the male.
Peeta Mellark is the son of District 12’s baker, and is the typical Mr. Nice Guy. Physically, he is strong and can easily throw 100-pound sacks of flour. He is one of the most eloquent of the tributes, as we see during his speeches throughout the victory tour. He is also a skilled liar, such as when he falsely announces that Katniss is pregnant.
Katniss Everdeen is the daughter of single mother, the provider for her family, and the maternal figure for her little sister, Primrose. Katniss is a great bow hunter and fighter, but has difficultly in social situations. This is why she is focused as a tribute, but constantly coached on how to behave in the Capitol.
Peeta and Katniss are the survivors of the 74th annual Hunger Games, due in no small part to a trick played at the end–and the Capital citizens’ love for their “star-crossed lovers” story. Earlier in the story, Katniss saves Peeta from eating deadly berries, which had already killed Foxface from District 5. Katniss proposes that the pair eat the berries and die together, rather than killing each other.
The beginning of Catching Fire shows how their lives have changed since surviving the Hunger Games. Katniss is coming to terms with killing in the arena and no longer being needed by her family. Peeta is trying to come to terms with the fact his muse, Katniss, is in love with another man. Things become increasingly complicated when President Snow threatens Katniss, and she has to convince him that she actually loves Peeta.
This is where we start to see how Peeta functions as the stereotypical female in their relationship.
On the train, Katniss and Peeta are conversing with Effie Trinket, their capitol representative, and Haymitch, their mentor. At one point during this conversation, Katniss storms out of the room. Peeta later finds her in the end car, and starts trying to get to know her better. This includes asking Katniss about her emotions and her favorite color.
In the Capital, Peeta does everything he can to help Katniss deal with the shallow residents. He also uses his skill at lying to win over their hearts, and hopefully receive support from viewers. He agrees to accept Mags, the elderly tribute from District 4. In these situational examples, Peeta is the emotional and comforting person in the relationship.
Once the couple gets to the arena, Peeta starts his “damsel in distress” routine. Right at the start of the games, Peeta is about to die. In the book, he can’t swim and is rescued by Finnick Odair, the male tribute from District 4. In the movie, though, he is attacked by another tribute and mysteriously wins the fight. This event sets the tone for the rest of the games.
Throughout the game, Peeta is saved by somebody else in just about every action sequence. In both the book and the movie, he is saved by other tributes, who are in alliance for the rebellion.
In the final moments of the movie, viewers find out that Peeta has been taken to the capital, while Katniss was rescued by the rebellion.
In the beginning, Peeta is portrayed as Mr. Nice Guy, but he turns into the Damsel in Distress. He provides emotional support for Katniss, is constantly being saved by other tributes, and finally, he is kidnapped. These three situations can all be found in other movies, but they normally all happen to the girlfriend or wife of the hero.
In many ways, this role reversal is refreshing, because we see a strong female character in a major action movie. Although other movies, such as The Avengers, have strong female characters, they still act as support characters for the men. Catching Fire, on the other hand, has Katniss, a strong woman, as the lead. This gender switch has caused problems for readers and viewers.
Most people have a hard time getting through the story because Peeta’s less helpful traits are frustrating. As a society, we have become accustomed to men in the position of power, and we struggle when presented with a weak man. Though this role reversal is a good lesson for our culture, because it forces people to look at characterizations differently, the animosity people feel towards Peeta for being a “damsel in distress” is precisely why we need more purposeful role reversals in the entertainment industry.