Bella Swan vs. Katniss Everdeen — What does empowerment look like?

If you’re a fan of young-adult fiction, you know that the current No. 1 book in that category is Mockingjay. The eagerly awaited final volume in The Hunger Games trilogy offers a fitting finish — at least for now — to teenage heroine Katniss Everdeen’s story.

In case you haven’t read any of The Hunger Games books (no spoilers), it’s set in a dystopian future, where 12 districts of Panem are ruled by a fascist government centered at the Capitol. To remind the districts who’s in charge, the Capitol holds annual “Hunger Games” and each district has to send a boy and a girl, determined via drawing, to fight to the death. Katniss’ little sister Prim is selected and Katniss volunteers to go in her place.

The Twilight tales are the story of a clumsy, insecure girl, Bella Swan, who falls for a glow-in-the-light vampire. It’s your basic teenage love story, except for the whole undead dreamboat thing.

Which of these young women is the best example of female empowerment? Salon.com’s Laura Miller decided to compare Bella and Katniss to see who exhibits the traits we’d like to see in the next generation of women. Her conclusion is a bit surprising.

Bella is mostly helpless, Miller notes, with Edward and Jacob competing to take care of her — and win her heart in the process. Katniss is tough, competent and smart; she is the one who takes care of her family. Bella is ready to give up her family to be with Edward forever; Katniss will do anything to protect her mother and sister. Bella is a “quivering bowstring of frustrated lust” while Katniss is ambivalent to the two seemingly perfect guys in love with her.

While The Hunger Games are all about power, the Twilight books are all about angst and love. Yet, Miller writes that Bella knows what she wants — and goes for it — but Katniss only takes action when she has no other choice. “For all her irritating flaws, Bella, at least, has the courage of her desire. For what, besides a well-earned vengeance, does Katniss Everdeen truly hunger?”

Well, freedom, for one thing. I’m not sure what books Miller read, but in my copy of the Twilight series Bella is sort of a wimp, subject to the wishes of Edward. She will literally give up her life to be with her man. True, Katniss is subject to the will of other people, but she has no real choice in the matter. When she realizes that she can actually be an inspiration to people, she steps into the role, albeit reluctantly. Katniss is willing to die to free her fellow citizens from the tyranny of the Capitol.

Granted, The Hunger Games is quite violent. After reading the first book, I wasn’t certain I would read the rest. And, as Miller points out, one of Katniss’ main drivers in Mockingjay is revenge. But is that any worse than the violence we get in Twilight?

I don’t know about you, but I would rather the girls I know grow up to believe that family and freedom are worth fighting for — even if a cute vampire is waiting in the wings.

What do you think? Are you Team Katniss or Team Bella? Who is the more empowered heroine?

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