The Phoenix Files: She’s Not a Man, Baby

by Devin

Rita Skeeter is not a man in disguise. Rita Skeeter is probably not part troll. Rita Skeeter is not a Voldemort supporter, and she is certainly not the missing Death Eater. She is a woman with manly features and a capitalist nature: her essence is making money, not selling an ideology. And as to her alleged use of Polyjuice Potion: no. There is nothing to suggest this in the text. Nothing. If she did use Polyjuice Potion, why would she retain her (his?) manly hands? Nobody else has retained characteristics of their original selves, so neither would she. Additionally, the fake Mad-Eye Moody was always seen with a flask, and JKR made a point of stating this on multiple occasions—a subtle hint to the truth. There is nothing like that with Rita. She would have to take it every hour, and it seems like it would be difficult to fly around with a flask of the potion while she was in her insect state. Finally, what motivation would a man have for spending many years—at least fifteen, since the original trials—of their life in the body of a woman? Unless he was a wizard convinced he was born in the wrong body, and should have been a witch; but I highly doubt that JKR is going to introduce the concept of sex changes into her books. One more point before moving on: no, Rita Skeeter is not a man.

Harry’s dislike for Rita begins not because she reeks of evil, but because she made him feel uncomfortable—which is understandable, considering she pulled him into a broom closet to conduct an interview and published lies about him. However, the lies were not malicious, she did not slander his name–she did the exact opposite. She portrayed Harry as a strong young man who has overcome adversity. In fact, her article made Mrs. Weasley love Harry even more, as evidenced by her statement that she never knew Harry still cried over his parents. While this is not true, it is a lie of relative insignificance. And the motivation for her lie is not to disparage Harry, but, of course, to make money.

Rita’s later articles, about Harry’s mental state and Hermione’s two-timing nature, are more malicious. While she may have been motivated in part by dislike for the two of them—particularly Hermione—she was also probably right: it was time for a new angle on Harry. Her readers had probably had enough hero-worship, and desired some scandal. Sex, psychoses, and scandals always sell, and Rita was certainly attuned to that. The reason she stopped writing, and later wrote Harry’s account of Voldemort’s return, was also monetary: one can’t write very well from Azkaban, and if she can’t write, she can’t make money. Hermione’s one-year forced hiatus was certainly more attractive than Azkaban for monetary reasons, and, of course, for health reasons: dementor’s are a drag. Which brings us to the final point: Rita’s appearance at the bar in Order of the Phoenix.

Her hair is messy, her glasses are missing a few jewels—clearly she must be on the run, probably from Lucius Malfoy and his pet lapdog! Or, perhaps, her personal appearance has suffered due to her lack of funding. An unemployed, unemployable writer would be less meticulous about her appearance than one still after the next big scoop. Hence Rita’s appearance in Book Five comes from a lack of concern, rather than too much concern: she is not on the run. She is merely biding her time before July(ish) of the next year, when she will be free to write once more. While she may still harbor a grudge against Hermione, with Death Eaters on the prowl again she could well have better luck selling stories on the incompetence of the ministry than on the romantic choices of Ms. Granger. Time will tell–in a little less than six weeks, to be precise.