(Don’t worry, there are no spoilers ahead! Also note that this post discusses the movies not the books.)
Last week I was outraged by an article I’d read. This lovely bit of prose was titled “The Maze Runner Review: The Hunger Games for Boys” and can be found here (it’s very short for those of you who find long articles daunting—I do at times). The review reasons that The Maze Runner is a so-called boy movie because it’s “chock-full of male bonding, homemade weapons, robot battles, [and] even a tree fort.” (Oh boy, a tree fort, guys! Evidently boys are the only ones to have spent time playing in tree forts.) Basically this article infuriated me to the point where I knew that I had to see the movie immediately so that I could sufficiently address and, as I suspected, whole-heartedly disagree with its claims.
I could go into lengthy detail about how male bonding, homemade weapons, and robot battles are not inherently male, but I think a few short lines will suffice. Anyone who has read Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass can attest to Celaena’s intelligent use of a homemade weapon made from hairpins and string. And let’s not forget the famous (and now super rich) Cassandra Clare, whose Clockwork Angel has many exciting battles with robots. And need I even give an example of a supposed girl book or movie that contains a bromance?
So if the issue isn’t that girls can’t enjoy The Maze Runner is this review’s main point that boys can’t enjoy The Hunger Games? Why would boys show any interest in a story in which the characters have to survive in the wild, flee from deadly creatures, participate in bloody battles against their competitors, and win a game that will test their physical and mental prowess? I know many boys who have read, watched, and enjoyed The Hunger Games and many girls who have read, watched, and enjoyed The Maze Runner. Why then does this article feel the need to say that “The Maze Runner is the first dystopian teen movie in a while that offers boys a room of their own”? I dare you to find one showing of The Maze Runner in theaters that doesn’t have a single girl in the audience. Are boys so unwilling to share their movies? Or are they unwilling to be seen anywhere near a showing of The Hunger Games?
The movies have so many similarities. Both Thomas’s and Katniss’s inciting incidents involve selfless actions to protect someone else. Thomas rushes into the maze to help Minho and Alby stay alive, and Katniss volunteers to participate in the deadly Hunger Games to save the life of her sister. Both protagonists show extreme bravery, cunning, and a willingness to do what they believe is right despite how difficult the path ahead may be. They feel a need to protect those around them. Katniss quickly forms a bond with Rue while Thomas befriends Chuck, both the runts of the stories. Our heroes feel responsible for them and a deep need to protect them. Katniss makes it her mission to save Peeta and get him through the games, and Thomas makes it his goal to get everyone out of the maze and to freedom. Both characters have to resist a higher power that is trying to control their lives, and while this last example is a trope typically found within dystopia, the other examples cannot be attributed as such. So we can’t say that the movies have these similarities simply because they fall within the same genre.
Why then is one for boys while the other is for girls? Perhaps we need to look at the differences between the two movies to understand. Most obviously, we can say that The Hunger Games has a romantic subplot while The Maze Runner does not. Ah, that must mean that all stories with romances must be for girls. Clearly Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and most super hero movies must be exclusively for female audiences. Or we could say that The Hunger Games is heavier on character conflict and development while The Maze Runner mostly relies on the mystery of the maze to drive its plot. Are mysteries for boys then while books with round characters are for girls? Perhaps it’s the painfully small female cast that makes The Maze Runner a boy book. Only two girls in the movie have speaking roles, and both play minor parts. In fact, Teresa really doesn’t even need to be in the story. Everything that she adds to the plot could easily have been accomplished by Thomas’s character. With the way Teresa’s character was handled in the movie, you’d think she was just randomly thrown in as an afterthought. “Sure, why not have a girl in the story? We don’t want to have too many though, boys might get the wrong idea and not understand the story is for them.”
As far as I can tell, the article’s only reasoning as to why The Maze Runner is a boy movie while The Hunger Games is a girl movie is that one has a female protagonist
while the other has a male protagonist.
One was written by a woman
while the other was written by a man.
One has an equal male to female ratio
while the other is lacking in female characters.
I’m still waiting for the world to realize that we can have more than one female character in a story. Because women’s personalities are just as diverse as men’s. Being a woman does not make the character have a distinct personality, and we should stop crafting women in stories as though this were the case.
Why should we fear that girls and girl things in stories would dissuade boys from touching them? Girls can like boy things but boys can’t like girl things, is that it? Boys are mocked for liking things that are girly, and as a result, we as a society are treating feminine actions, ideas, and items as though they’re lesser than masculine things. That stories featuring girls are not as important as stories featuring boys. That it couldn’t possibly be worth a man’s time to observe a story in which a woman displays courage, skill, compassion, sympathy, or any other worthy quality. Because if it’s a woman exemplifying those traits instead of a man, then it can’t be as important or as entertaining. The problem isn’t that boys can’t enjoy girl stories, it’s that they’ll face social suicide if they were even to try.
Honestly, I find this truly disturbing. Is this article inadvertently claiming that girls won’t enjoy The Maze Runner? Or, worse yet, that boys should feel less manly and ashamed of watching and enjoying The Hunger Games?