Harry Potter and the Nerdy Feminist
Abstract: The writer explores to what degree Harry Potter can be read as a feminist text, analyzing such characters as Ginny, Hermione, Molly, and Bellatrix.
“I’m three years older than you were when you fought You-Know-Who over the Sorcerer’s Stone, and it’s because of me Malfoy’s stuck back in Umbridge’s office with giant flying bogeys attacking him!” – Ginny Weasley (OotP 761). Reading the books for the first time, one would think that Ginny Weasley is just Ron’s little sister who has a crush on Harry. But if you take a closer look, she is so much more than that. Being the youngest and only girl of 6 siblings, you would think that her brothers would control her life. But on the contrary, Ginny does and says whatever she wants despite what her brothers and others around her say. We are first fully introduced to Ginny in Chamber of Secrets. Throughout the book, Ginny has a crush on Harry and can barley function when in his presence. But then we see Ginny standing up to others that are older and of opposite sex when she yells at the school bully, Draco Malfoy, to leave Harry alone. It is noted in the book that this is the first time Ginny spoke in front of Harry (CoS 61). This is an interesting first look into Ginny’s character. Despite being too enthralled by hormones to speak to Harry normally, when Ginny sees someone doing something wrong or hateful, she does something about it. Ginny continues to show her defiance towards discrimination and hatred in Order of the Phoenix when she fights against oppression and ministry interference in her school by joining an underground, activist group called Dumbledore’s Army (OotP 347). She is quickly recognized for her very powerful Reducto curse and when Sirius Black is captured by the evil Lord Voldemort, Ginny is quick to volunteer to help save him, even though that means risking expulsion, imprisonment, and even her own life (OotP 761).
Later in the series, Ginny has grown into a strong, independent and sexual woman. In Half-Blood Prince, Ginny’s older brothers Fred and George accuse Ginny of, “moving through boyfriends a bit fast” to which Ginny defiantly replies, “It’s none of your business” (HBP 121). Later on in the book, Ron and Harry walk in on Ginny and her boyfriend, Dean, making-out. Ron is extremely angry because he’s worried that everyone in the school will think she’s promiscuous. Ginny immediately defends herself by saying that Ron is just mad because he has never kissed anyone (HBP 287). This is a deep look into the gender dynamics of some of the main characters. Ginny is not afraid to be sexual despite her brothers lack of approval. She will do what she wants with whomever she wants and hex her brothers if they try to stop her. Looking at Ron, he is obviously self conscious and self aware that he is the only one out of his friends and family that has never been kissed. He almost ends his and Hermione’s friendship in this book because she kissed a boy two years previously (HBP 289). Ron is struggling to be perceived as masculine and the only way he thinks to accomplish this is to make out with the first girl who is willing. More examples of Ginny’s independent sexuality are shown later on in Half-Blood Prince when Harry and Ginny finally get together. Ron said he would revoke his “permission” if he saw them display any form of PDA. Ginny then tells Ron he is a hypocrite for saying this because Ron and his ex-girlfriend used to frequently (and rigorously) make out in public. “Since when do I need your permission to do anything?” (HBP 536).
Ginny also doesn’t take discouragement from her brothers. In Order of the Phoenix, Ginny’s brothers were surprised to find out that their little sister was a skilled Quidditch player despite her brothers never letting her play with them. “She’s been breaking into your broom shed in the garden since the age of six and taking each of your brooms out in turn when you weren’t looking” (OotP 574). This kind of behavior shows that Ginny does not let her brothers push her around, even at a young age
Quidditch is a magical sport that is a combination of basketball, soccer, dodge ball, and football all played fifty feet in the air on broomsticks. You don’t need a full description of the rules to tell that this is no easy sport. In our world, there would naturally be separate men’s and women’s teams and separate playoffs. In the wizarding world however, the school teams and the international teams are of mixed gender, there is even a famous all-girls team called the Holyhead Harpies (Rowling 34). The interesting thing about these mixed gender teams is that in the wizarding world, their existence is a passing matter. The women play just as hard and get hit just as hard as the men on the team and no one stands up and defends them. This is a prime example of how gender equality has been reached in the magical world. On the other hand, the hated team of Hogwarts, Slytherin, is the only team without any women. The fact that this team is hated by the whole school is a sign that Slytherin may not only be bigoted towards people of different blood status, but that they also discriminate against women.
Salazar Slytherin (one of the founders of Hogwarts) has always been known to discriminate against anyone who is not pure-blood. People who embody his ideals and morals are sorted into his House at Hogwarts. In fact, the only victim of domestic abuse, along with her abusers, mentioned in the Harry Potter series are descended from Slytherin. Merope Gaunt lived with her abusive brother, Morfin, and father, Marvolo, in 1926. She was terrorized so badly that her magical powers were drastically diminished. She falls in love with a local muggle named Tom Riddle and her father throttles her upon finding this out. Being a witness to this abuse, Bob Ogden, a representative of the Ministry, arrests Morfin and Marvolo, finally freeing Merope (HBP 211). Merope is also the only character who has a scene in the series but no dialogue. She is portrayed as utterly powerless in her life which is extremely significant because she gives birth to the most powerful dark wizard of all time, Lord Voldemort.
Hermione Granger is arguably one of the best female role models in any children’s book. She’s tough, brave, smart, outspoken, and is so much more than a side-kick to Harry Potter. Hermione’s brains and cleverness have constantly saved our hero, Harry, throughout the series. Because of Hermione’s great detective work, she discovers who the Sorcerer’s Stone belongs to in the first book of the series and it is also due to her that Harry was able to get through the tough obstacles guarding the Stone (SS 219). Her talent only becomes more prevalent and impressive as the series continues. Hermione solves the mystery of what creature has been attacking the students at Hogwarts in Chamber of Secrets and cleverly avoids being killed by the creature herself (CoS 290). She even solves mysteries without anybody asking her to. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione discovers one of her teachers is a werewolf by doing extra work on an essay assigned in class (PoA 345). In Goblet of Fire, she reveals that a reporter, Rita Skeeter, who has been writing slanderous stories about Harry, is an illegal Animagus (GoF 727). Then, in Order of the Phoenix, she blackmails Rita into writing an article about the lies the Ministry had been telling the public which, in turn, made the public realize that Harry was telling the truth about Lord Voldemort (OotP 566).
Hermione is also ready to rebel against oppression and is not afraid of breaking rules if she believes there is good reason behind it. In Chamber of Secrets, Hermione concocts a difficult potion using stolen ingredients to make disguises so Harry and Ron can discover more information about who has been attacking students in the school (CoS 159). Hermione takes charge in Prisoner of Azkaban and uses her Time Turner illegally to save Buckbeak the Hippogriff and Sirius Black from execution (PoA 394). And in Order of the Phoenix, Hermione is the person who organizes the illegal activist group, Dumbledore’s Army so students can have a chance to learn proper Defense Against the Dark Arts (OotP 326). Later in the book, she accompanies Harry on a dangerous and illegal mission to save Sirius Black from torture and death (OotP 736). Hermione has, on numerous occasions, proven that she is not afraid of speaking her mind and fighting for what is right.
This is most exemplified in Goblet of Fire. Hermione learns about the oppression and slavery of house-elves and is deeply moved. Upon finding out that the Hogwarts food is prepared by house-elves, Hermione immediately stages a hunger strike by herself. “”Slave Labor,” said Hermione, breathing hard though her nose. “That’s what made this dinner. Slave Labor.”” (GoF 182). She then gathers information about house-elves and starts The Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (SPEW) and tries to inform her fellow students of the horrors the elves face every day (GoF 224). Hermione even goes down to the Hogwarts kitchen to try and rally the house-elves together to fight for equal rights (GoF 378). Despite a serious lack of interest from her peers and ridicule by her two closest friends, Hermione does not waiver from her beliefs. She even considers taking SPEW into the ministry and pursuing a career in fighting for magical creature rights. Hermione’s efforts did not go to waste. In Half-Blood Prince, Harry begins to feel sympathy for house-elves and this sentiment grows even more in Deathly Hallows. In Deathly Hallows, Ron is concerned for the lives of the Hogwarts house-elves during a dangerous battle and looks for a way to get them out of the castle. However, influenced by Hermione’s words, the house-elves eventually join in the battle at Hogwarts and fight evil along-side the wizards and witches.
Along with fighting for equal rights between magical people and magical creatures, Hermione also demonstrates defiance against any sexism she experiences. In Half-Blood Prince, Harry and Ron immediately assume that the previous owner of Harry’s potion book was a boy. Throughout the book, Hermione continues to point out that the Half-Blood Prince could have been a girl. “The truth is you don’t think a girl would have been clever enough” (HBP 538). This attitude is seen again in Deathly Hallows when Ron complains about his food. “I notice I’m always the one sorting out the food because I’m a girl, I suppose!” (DH 293). This attitude shows that Hermione is not only aware of the inequalities that Muggle-borns and magical creatures face, but also the inequalities that women face all over the world. She is aware of the gender stereotypes of women and is quick to denounce them.
Hermione has also shown little to no interest in keeping up with appearance. She is constantly described as having big bushy hair and large front teeth. This doesn’t seem to bother her until she hits puberty in Goblet of Fire and she slightly shrinks her front teeth (GoF 405). Later in the book, Hermione dresses up for a dance and everyone comments on how different and beautiful she looks, but after the dance, Hermione admits that she would never try to look that way every day because it was too much trouble (GoF 433). This shows that Hermione barley cares about her appearance and is comfortable with her body which is very abnormal for a girl her age. Being raised by muggles, Hermione was exposed to the media we experience every day until the age of 11. She saw the same television adds we saw in the 80’s and 90’s telling young girls that being pretty is what is important to girls. She saw the same billboard, magazine, and newspaper ads with images of what women are supposed to look like. Women of all ages in the real world are struggling to be comfortable in their bodies, but at the age of 14, Hermione shows that she doesn’t care to keep up with beauty standards that are set by most of the world.
Molly Weasley will perpetually be seen as the mother figure. Being the mother of seven children, this might be expected, but before having Ginny and Ron, Molly was part of a rebellious vigilante group called the Order of the Phoenix. She and other witches and wizards fought against the evil Lord Voldemort before his fall in 1981. Her skill is never acknowledged again in the series until the very last chapter of the last book when Molly fights in the battle of Hogwarts. Throughout the series, Molly is the mother of not only the children, but everyone around her. She takes part in the second chapter of the Order of the Phoenix but does not participate in any of the dangerous activities the Order is involved in. Instead, she is assigned the part of caretaker, cook, and housemaid. Her duty in the Order is to make the headquarters fit for living in. This involved cooking meals for everyone that occupied the house, which was at most 15 people at a time, cleaning out the rooms, and making sure the children did not eavesdrop on the meetings. This seems like a waste because we find out that Molly is an accomplished and skilled witch when she murders the most powerful witch of all of Voldemort’s followers, Bellatrix Lestrange.
Bellatrix is almost the opposite of Molly Weasley. Unlike Molly, whose life purpose seems to be to care for her children, Bellatrix’s only purpose in life is to serve the Dark Lord Voldemort. She is a woman who cares for no life but Voldemort’s and shows no mercy despite age, gender, or race. She demonstrates anti-mother qualities in Half-Blood Prince when she says, “If I had sons, I would be glad to give them up to the service of the Dark Lord!” (HBP 35). She further exemplifies this in the final battle of Hogwarts in Deathly Hallows when she duels three teenage girls with the intention of murdering them. Molly sees Bellatrix aim a killing curse at her only daughter, Ginny, and kills Bellatrix in a furious protective rage (DH736).
It is the anomalies like these that form the characters of the series, giving depth and human likeness to them, and the saga itself. And, just like in any meaningful literature, these anomalies allow us to construct our own meanings and locate ourselves within the confines of the text.